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Minutes before Carol Schwartz and Patrick Mara kicked off their debate this afternoon on Newschannel 8’s NewsTalk program, Schwartz walked into the studio and introduced herself to a pair of Mara supporters who were accompanying their candidate.

After the introductions, one of them pointed to Mara and joked, “He’s bad news.”

“I know,” replied Schwartz, not joking at all. “I don’t talk to people who put the things that he’s put out about me.”

“It’s all based on the record,” said Mara.

And thus kicked off approximately 15 minutes of what could more accurately called “bickering” than “debating.” On stage before the debate began, the two continued arguing over the veracity of Mara’s anti-Schwartz claims, and the civility level did not improve much when the cameras went live. In general, a lot of time was spent on finger-pointing (literally) and interrupting, making it by far the most entertaining debate of the 2008 local election cycle.

Some highlights:

  • Schwartz talked up her fiscal-reponsibility cred by mentioning the twice-yearly tax-free holidays she’s sponsored. Mara jumped in: “You can’t be a Republican for 19 days, Mrs. Schwartz.” Snap.
  • Mara pressed Schwartz on her votes for budget increases in recent years: “You are remarkably similar to Mayor Barry, who you took on in the ’90s,” he said. But Schwartz zinged him with a comeback: “Excuse me, you’re always talking about some people you revere”—-Mara has expressed admiration for David Catania in particular—-“and they all voted for those budgets, too.”
  • Mara went on the attack regarding the $20 million-plus budget shortfall in the summer jobs program, calling Schwartz “directly responsible” and accusing her of “not exercising proper oversight.” It was a bit of a stretch, especially if you believe the mayor’s claims that even he didn’t know the extent of the problem, but Schwartz got a little too frustrated to parry effectively.
  • Mara also tried to bulldog Schwartz on another oversight boondoggle: the lead-water crisis of 2004, which he said Schwartz was “very slow to react to.” In a slip, Mara seemed to say Schwartz had “put the lead in the water.” Schwartz used an interesting term in response, saying she “honchoed” the effort to fix the problem.
  • Host Bruce DePuyt brought up the fundraising issue; to wit, the loads of downtown money Mara’s collected. Schwartz pressed with specific numbers on the amounts of non-Republican and out-of-town money Mara’s collected, with the disclaimer, “I received that from elsewhere. I don’t know my own.” Mara was ready for that one, citing similar numbers from Schwartz’s 2004 bid. [UPDATE, 8/23: After reviewing the tape, LL is not quite sure the numbers are “similar.” By Schwartz’s figures, Mara in 2008 collected 85 percent of his cash from out-of-towners and “special interests,” whatever that means. By Mara’s figures, Schwartz in 2004 collected half her money from registered Democrats and 20 percent from “special interests.”]
  • DePuyt also brought up the big-picture question: Isn’t Schwartz the only electable Republican in this town? Mara said he was quite electable indeed, boasting “one of the best get-out-the-vote infrastructures in the city.” Umm, if you say so, Patrick.

The verdict: Mara kept on the attack throughout, which was smart, seeing as Schwartz spent most of the debate in a defensive posture, which does not become her. In the end, Mara probably came closer to accomplishing his goals—-attacking the Schwartz record, showing his GOP bona fides—-than Schwartz did to hers—-playing up her experience and record.