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NEW YORK - Gov. David Paterson sharply criticized Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino on Thursday, calling him unfit for public service and questioning his integrity and character.

Paterson, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election. He made the comments at a breakfast forum hosted by the Wall Street Journal, where he shared the stage with his two predecessors, Republican George Pataki and Democratic Eliot Spitzer.

Paterson said he understands Paladino’s anger over taxes and government excess and noted that those feelings are shared by many voters in New York and elsewhere, evidenced by the success of Tea Party-backed candidates in major races across the country. But Paterson warned against allowing such anger to feed into the “shrill and ... pedestrian antics of individuals who are unqualified to hold office at all, let alone be governor or United States senator.”

Of Paladino, Paterson said, “I don’t think he is fit for public service.”

Spitzer, who stepped down as governor after 14 months amid revelations he’d been consorting with prostitutes, said he “absolutely” agrees with Paterson’s assessment of Paladino.

Paladino, a Buffalo real estate developer, trounced rival Rick Lazio in Tuesday’s GOP primary with a fiery pledge to cut spending and “take a baseball bat” to Albany. Paladino will face Democrat Andrew Cuomo, the state Attorney General, in November.

Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo issued a statement criticizing Paterson’s remarks, noting the governor has been investigated for taking free World Series tickets and intervening in a domestic violence case involving a top aide.

“David Paterson is addled, and nearly all New Yorkers are counting down the days until he stops embarrassing this state,” Caputo said.

Since launching his campaign last spring, Paladino has grabbed headlines with a series of blunt and at times intemperate comments.

He’s acknowledged sending pornographic and racially charged e-mails to friends, including one showing President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dressed as a pimp and prostitute. He’s also compared Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Hitler and has suggested housing welfare recipients in converted prisons where they can receive lessons in personal hygiene.

Now, Paladino is sending out landfill-scented campaign materials that slam Democrats. “Something STINKS in Albany,” the mailer says.

Paterson is one of several prominent Cuomo supporters to criticize Paladino since the primary, even as Cuomo has tried deliberately to stay above the fray. Jay Jacobs, chairman of the state Democratic party, which Cuomo controls, called Paladino a “wacko,” and the committee has released a television ad criticizing him for misrepresenting his own long ties to Albany.

Cuomo largely sidestepped questions about Paladino at a Manhattan news conference Thursday, but he did indicate he’s willing to debate him in the coming weeks.

Paterson’s comments were a sharp departure from what he said to reporters Wednesday after Paladino secured his party’s nomination. Paterson said Paladino had a “clean slate” to move forward and that any incendiary comments he had made should remain in the past.

Pataki, who supported Lazio in the primary, said he would be willing to get behind Paladino’s candidacy if he can outline an optimistic and substantive agenda. “It’s based on policy,” Pataki said.

Pataki nonetheless seemed taken aback when told that Paladino had called him an “idiot” in an interview in Thursday’s New York Daily News.

“Obviously, I’m not pleased to hear the man called me that,” Pataki said, adding he would still consider supporting Paladino if he could adjust his demeanor as a candidate. “It’s not just about your policies; it’s about the image you convey to the state,” Pataki said.

Paterson pushed back, saying such comments are further proof that Paladino is unfit to serve.

“If someone is making statements about a former governor, these kind of remarks so diminish the whole conversation that people like that should be called out for what they are,” Paterson said.

Pataki said Cuomo needs to engage more on policy questions during the campaign and make clear how he would solve the state’s fiscal crisis.

“I don’t think it serves the people of New York for Andrew Cuomo to have a Rose Garden strategy,” Pataki said. “If Carl Paladino has to enunciate his agenda, Andrew Cuomo has an obligation to tell us what he’s gong to do.”


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