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(CNN) – Eliot Spitzer's opponent tore into the former New York governor Friday as they faced off for the first time in the Democratic primary race for city comptroller.
Five minutes into the debate, barbs were already flying, with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer saying Spitzer was a "colossal failure" as a governor and pointing to Spitzer's prostitution scandal that ultimately led to his 2008 resignation.
"Right now, there's two tiers of justice in the city," Stringer later added. "There's one for the rich and powerful. And there's one for the rest of us. [Spitzer] represents the tier where he can escape prostitution and prosecution because he doesn't truly understand that you have to have one set of rules."
The debate was hosted by WABC, The New York Daily News, Univision and The League of Women Voters.
Stringer was considered the favorite in the Democratic primary for comptroller, until Spitzer threw his hat in the ring in a surprise announcement last month. The former governor now has a sizable advantage and even the lead in some recent polls.
As the city's chief financial officer, the comptroller audits city agencies and manages $137 billion in pension funds.
While Spitzer argued early on in the debate that "ad hominem attacks at this point are really not appropriate for this campaign," the former governor pushed Stringer on his record. He faulted him for spending 20 years in government, 12 of which were in a "dysfunctional" state assembly.
"I have made a mark. I have made a difference," Spitzer said, talking about his own record as New York's former attorney general and his reputation for being tough on Wall Street. "I stand up with independence for what I believe."
Repeating his "colossal failure" attack line, Stringer interjected: "You resigned in disgrace."
He added that Spitzer has been "sidelined" for the last five years, after leaving the state in shambles.
"You put this state in harm's way. Gov. Paterson inherited a mess, and it took a real governor, like Andrew Cuomo to straighten out what you did," Stringer said.
On other topics, neither candidate gave a straight answer on who they would support in the mayoral race, saying they would work with whomever is elected. When asked if they would ever pursue a bid for mayor themselves after serving as comptroller, Stringer did not give a direct "yes" or "no," while Spitzer said, "No, I want to be comptroller."
The primary is set for September 10.