Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Monday brought their political road show for their as-yet unannounced Senate candidacies to the political epicenter of New York, for a day of schmoozing with state lawmakers and some tit-for-tat bashing of each other.
Though Giuliani was in town, officially anyway, to testify at a legislative hearing on the governor's proposed state budget, the day was overtaken by politics, politics and more politics after Clinton's campaign last week arranged a visit for her with Democratic lawmakers just a few hours after the New York City mayor left town.
While their paths did not actually cross, the day's events in the Capitol clearly illustrated two campaigns gearing up to take each other on.
Before she even made it to the Capitol, the first lady, in a throwback to the "right-wing conspiracy" claims she raised during her husband's impeachment troubles, said Giuliani would be "beholden to the far right of the Republican Party and fringe groups." She made the latest claim in a downstate appearance after her campaign released fund-raising letters from the Giuliani camp that attacked her as a "leader of the ultra left-wing Democrats."
In Albany a few hours later, Giuliani laughed off Clinton's charge.
"They're doing the right-wing conspiracy? It's deja vu all over again," the mayor said.
By nightfall, Clinton, with the political point already made, didn't expand beyond her earlier comments.
"It doesn't bother me about that kind of attack or effort to stir up money and emotion against me," she said.
Despite his verbal lashings at Clinton, the day for Giuliani was mostly a love fest -- by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. In the past, Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly were always eager to jump on Giuliani during his annual budget testimony trek to the Capitol. Monday, the questioning was remarkably light; two Manhattan Democratic lawmakers gushed over Giuliani's handling of the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, while a third, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, thanked Giuliani for attending a Roswell Park Cancer Institute fund-raiser over the weekend in Buffalo.
Later, after Giuliani met behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican, and then with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, he and Gov. George E. Pataki gathered for a backslapping appearance before the media.
The two top Republicans, who jockey on everything from issues to power, have long had strained relations, going back to 1994, when Giuliani endorsed then-Gov. Mario Cuomo over Pataki.
Only a couple of hours after he criticized portions of the governor's proposed state budget during testimony before a legislative panel, Giuliani, with Pataki at his side, had nothing but praise for the governor.
"He's always given the city fair treatment," Giuliani said.
Pataki returned the praise, saying that the "state is far better off" since Giuliani has been mayor.
The two do sharply differ over the state Republican Party's attempt to kick Arizona Sen. John McCain off the state's March 7 GOP presidential primary ballot. The state elections board Wednesday is likely to bounce McCain off the ballot after a challenge by state Republicans, including Pataki, who are supporting Texas Gov. George W. Bush. The state GOP argues McCain came up far short in collecting the needed signatures to get on congressional district ballots, while McCain's camp has gone to federal court challenging the constitutionality of New York's arcane ballot-access laws.
Before meeting with Pataki, Giuliani, who is backing Bush, said he would probably raise the McCain ballot issue with the governor.
"I just think (the ballot process) would be better if it were open," Giuliani said.
But together, the two men did not want to spend time discussing their political differences. Giuliani preferred to talk about the "overwhelming number of areas" where the two men agree. And Pataki, when asked if he is comfortable that McCain likely will be kicked off most congressional district ballots in New York, said, "I'm comfortable if George Bush wins the presidency."