- Associated Press - Saturday, October 2, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo said Friday that allegations about marital infidelity leveled at him by his Republican rival had hurt Cuomo’s family and further turned off voters from politics.

“Let’s not degrade the process and let’s not demean the state and let’s not turn people off with baseless accusations or negativity when we should be talking about them and not us,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo spoke at a news conference on Staten Island, where he was endorsed by the borough’s president, James Molinaro. It was the first time Cuomo has faced reporters since his GOP opponent, Carl Paladino, suggested in an interview published Wednesday in Politico.com that Cuomo may have had “paramours” during his 15-year marriage to Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. The couple divorced in 2005.

Paladino subsequently got into a much-publicized dustup with a New York Post reporter who pressed Paladino for proof of his allegations. Paladino said he would substantiate his claim at some point during the campaign.

But in an interview published Friday in The Buffalo News, Paladino said he has no evidence that Cuomo had been unfaithful. Paladino said he had simply been venting frustration over media interest in the 10-year-old daughter he has acknowledged fathering with a mistress. “It’s not that I was accusing him,” Paladino told the newspaper.

Hours later, however, Paladino appeared to backtrack on that assertion.

“We will at the appropriate time, OK, say whatever we have in our box, at the appropriate time, yes,” he told Fox News Channel on Friday. When interviewer Megyn Kelly pressed him on whether that meant that he did have what he considers evidence of affairs, Paladino said: “What I believe and what is factual out there, we will, at the appropriate time, put out, yes.”

Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment to clarify the statements.

Cuomo said the accusations had been difficult for his three daughters with Kennedy— 15-year-old twins Mariah and Cara and 13-year-old Michaela.

“I talked to them about what was in the newspapers. I explained to them the truth. At the end of the day, he said it, they are baseless accusations,” Cuomo said.

He added, “This is why people are turned off. It’s exactly why people say politics is negative, it’s dirty. It does this state a disservice.”

Paladino’s angry campaign style, patterned after the tea party movement and a wave of voters disgusted with politics as usual, has helped tighten a race that Cuomo once led more comfortably. In recent weeks, both sides have been accused of making the race the dirtiest in New York in memory.

Friday’s financial filings show Cuomo has $19.9 million on hand after spending $7.1 million since mid-July. Paladino had $209,406, but the balance is almost meaningless for the millionaire Buffalo developer. Before his Sept. 14 Republican primary win, for example, he quickly loaned his campaign more than $1 million.

Both campaigns’ access to cash means the airwaves in New York will be flooded with TV ads and mailboxes stuffed with fliers before the Nov. 2 election.

Cuomo, accused of sitting on his big lead in the polls, seemed momentarily knocked off his game after Paladino’s landslide victory in the Sept. 14 primary, as many voters embraced Paladino’s pledge to “clean up Albany with a baseball bat.”

But Paladino’s heated rhetoric, including accusations about Cuomo’s life before his messy divorce and a televised threat to “take out” the New York Post reporter if his tabloid sent more “goons” to photograph his 10-year-old daughter through a window — have surprised even some Republicans and Conservatives just days after both of those parties rallied around Paladino.

Molinaro, a Conservative Party member, said he was endorsing Cuomo because Paladino could not bring about the cooperation necessary to manage New York’s record budget deficit. The Conservative Party endorsed Paladino this week.

“He would not be able to govern New York state. New York state, in my opinion, would shut down if he were governor,” Molinaro said.

Cuomo, for his part, refused to say whether Paladino was temperamentally fit for office, while his surrogates and the state Democratic Committee he directs try to make that case.

“The voters will decide if he should be the governor of the state of New York,” Cuomo said.

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Associated Press writer Michael Gormley contributed to this report from Albany.