By Francesca Trianni
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Eliot Spitzer's rival in the Democratic race for New York City comptroller repeatedly raised the prostitution scandal that forced Spitzer to resign as New York's governor during Friday's televised debate, despite having vowed to avoid it.
"There's two tiers of justice in this city," said Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough president who is running against Spitzer in the Democratic primary on September 10.
"There's one for the rich and powerful, and there's one for the rest of us. The truth of the matter is Eliot Spitzer represents the tier where he can escape prostitution and prosecution," Stringer said, referencing the 2008 scandal that earned Spitzer the tabloid moniker "Love Gov."
Stringer, who had been widely viewed as the likely victor until Spitzer announced his 11th hour bid in July, also attacked Spitzer as a divisive loner unable to forge the kind of alliances needed to work with the mayor and seal financial deals to benefit New Yorkers.
"The comptroller has to be a steward, not a sheriff," Stringer said. "You can't always be alone because you start to become an outlier."
Spitzer was elected governor of New York after his years as attorney general earned him the nickname "Sheriff of Wall Street."
"There are times to work with people and times to work alone," Spitzer said. "I was alone when everybody else was running for the hills."
"Look at the totality of my record, who I am, what I've done," Spitzer said. "I made mistakes, but I made a difference."
Spitzer attacked Stringer as an establishment candidate who does not stand up for his constituents.
"What indelible mark have you left?" Spitzer asked.
Stringer cited his 20-year record in city politics, a "steady-hand" and "integrity."
With about a month before the primary, the debate took a surprisingly negative turn, with "harsh" attacks against Spitzer's character, said Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College.
"Spitzer often had to counter-punch, but he was also able to throw some punches here and there." Muzzio said. "The question is: was Stringer too negative? Did he turn off voters?"
A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Thursday showed Spitzer leading Stringer 44 percent to 35 percent, with 19 percent of Democratic voters said they were undecided.
(Reporting by Francesca Trianni; Editing by Barbara Goldberg)