A videotaped fight between the tea party-backed New York gubernatorial hopeful and a veteran Albany reporter touched off a media frenzy Thursday, as a new poll showed the once-sleepy race between Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino is tightening.
Paladino — who has pushed back hard against media interest in his 10-year-old daughter from an extramarital affair, whose existence he revealed earlier this year — dropped the first bomb Tuesday, alleging in an interview with POLITICO that Cuomo also had affairs while he was married. Then on Wednesday Paladino fought on-camera with a New York Post reporter after the reporter demanded evidence to back up the allegation.
"Has anybody asked Andrew Cuomo about his paramours?" Paladino told POLITICO during the Tuesday interview in New York City, as campaign manager Michael Caputo chimed in, "when he was married."
Paladino continued, "When he was married or asked him why his wife left him or threw him out of the house? Has anybody ever done that?" he demanded. "What are they doing intruding on my life?"
Paladino offered no evidence of his claim. Cuomo's divorce from Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was a messy tabloid frenzy in 2003, in which his wife was known to have had an affair with socialite Bruce Colley, but no public allegations were ever made about Cuomo.
Paladino made the comment moments after saying he was tired of media inquiries into his daughter, declaring her off-limits.
Cuomo's camp issued a statement saying they wouldnt get in the mud.
Hours after the story hit, Post state editor Fredric U. Dicker approached Paladino at a New York Business Council event near Lake George, about an hour north of Albany, and demanded to know what proof exists about Cuomo.
"He's got kids," Dicker said, prompting Paladino to lash back, "I have a daughter!"
"I want to know why you sent your goons after my daughter, Fred," Paladino shouted. "You send another goon to my daughter's house and I'll take you out, buddy!"
Caputo separated the two men, then told Dicker, "You're off the Christmas list!"
The back and forth came as Marist College released a poll showing a tightening race, with Cuomo leading 53 percent to Paladino's 38 percent and the two basically tied in the suburbs. It's the first poll taken since Rick Lazio, who had a shockingly lopsided loss to Paladino in the Republican primary, dropped out of the race and took his name off the third-party Conservative Party line.
Cuomo has been on air with a solid TV ad buy for the last two weeks, but Paladino doesn't appear to be back on since his primary win.
Caputo, in a blistering statement, accused Dicker of deliberately provoking a confrontation, saying he was acting on Cuomo's behalf — a claim the reporter, in the video, vehemently denied.
Requests for comment from Dicker were referred to a Post spokeswoman.
Paladino's unusual family circumstances -- his wife accepts the daughter, which she learned of after the couple lost their adult son in a car crash last year -- exploded in public over the weekend after The Post ran a front-page story on the relationship. The campaign made Paladinos wife, Cathy, available to the paper, and Paladino initially revealed publicly that he had the daughter when he declared his campaign in the spring. .
The campaign insisted The Post sent a photographer to lurk around the home of the daughter and acted menacing, and said Cuomo had been stirring up interest in his family, but offered no evidence.
Paladino took to the airwaves this morning on 77WABC in New York, saying Dicker is part of the trash he wants to clean up in Albany and comparing him to the politicians the candidate is at war with.
He also insisted, on the radio interview, that he has evidence to prove his claims about Cuomo and said he planned to provide it to POLITICO at some point.
Post editor-in-chief Col Allan brushed back hard against the campaign's claims, with a statement referencing his families.
"Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo's claim about our photographer is untrue.We can only assume Mr. Caputo is confusing our photographer with someone else. Mr. Caputo should check his facts before making charges against Post personnel. In addition, Mr. Paladino should not be surprised by the media's interest in his families, as he has invited public scrutiny of his personal life by running for governor and speaking openly about his mistress and love child."
Caputo shot back, "The Post photographer and a reporter lurked outside the home of Carl Paladino's daughter. The shooter took photographs of the home. He pointed his lens through the window. He chased Carl's daughter to a playground, even forcing her to run across a road dodging traffic."
He insisted again that Dicker sent the photographer and said Paladino is a father first, not just a candidate, and he reacted as many fathers would.
Cuomo, for his part, was off the campaign trail, although his running mate, Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy, said all these discussions were a distraction from the issues affecting New Yorkers.
However, the campaign did air two new ads -- one positive, one negative -- in their attempt to dual-track and define themselves while also defining Paladino.
The Erie County developer rode a wave of tea party anger and a slogan of being mad as hell to defeat Lazio on Sept. 14.
Team Cuomo, which followed a Rose Garden strategy for much of the last two years, has seemed unsure of itself as its tried to combat an opponent who isn't playing by the usual rules.