Joining the headline grabbing tea party-favorite Republican candidate and the scion of New York Democratic politics were a convicted madam, a Black Panther turned city councilman, a retired mailman, a current UPS package handler and a lawyer who moonlights as a screenwriter.
Rather than attack each other, as they have in the New York press in recent weeks, Paladino and Cuomo stuck to pushing their own positions. On policy, the men often seemed to strike the same chord on such things as cuts to Medicaid and support for charter schools.
They did not mention each other directly by name or indirectly once in the 90-minute debate.
The seven-way debate, which included candidates from the Freedom, Anti-Prohibition, Rent is Too Damn High, Libertarian and Green parties was held at Hofstra University on Long Island.
The debate touched on budget cuts, property tax cuts, the environment, job creation, education, public transportation, and corruption.
Cuomo, the race's frontrunner, took the most barbs -- attacked by Libertarian Party Candidate Warren Redlich for taking special interest money and by Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron for advocating state job cuts -- but none directly from Paladino.
"Asking Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino to end corruption is like asking an arsonist to put out fires," said Barron, a left-wing New York City Council member.
Short on fireworks, the debate had its share off zingy punch lines. Anti-Prohibition candidate Kristin Davis, a convicted madam who claimed she provided former Gov. Eliot Spitzer with prostitutes, riffed on Paladino's anti-gay remarks to make a point about not raising taxes.
Raise taxes, she said, and "business will leave this state quicker than Carl Paladino at a gay bar."
Remarking on the oft-maligned downstate public transit body, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Davis quipped that the difference between the agency and her escort business was: "My former agency kept one set of books, and delivered on-time reliable service."
Davis supports a platform to legalize marijuana and casino gambling to raise state revenue.
While many of the minor party candidates used their allotted time to repeatedly push their own agenda, Libertarian Redlich made the most cutting attacks on both mainstream candidates.
Redlich challenged Cuomo to disclose who was behind a $55,000 campaign contribution form a New York City parking lot.
Of Paladino, Redlich said, his "behavior in this campaign is going to keep people home" and he "lacks the temperament to be governor."
Paladino uncharacteristically passed on his one chance to tangle. After Redlich's comment that the Republican had sought to buy favor by contributing money to prior Democratic candidates including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Paladino simply laughed off the comments when his chance to make a rebuttal immediately followed Redlich's comments.
Rather than attack Cuomo, Paladino made his most impassioned comments to support charter schools.
"We have to recognize the shame of taking hundreds of thousands of 5- and 6-year-olds and putting them in dysfunctional urban schools," he said.
Cuomo, the state's current attorney general, saved his ire to attack corruption.
"We have to have zero tolerance for corruption, on both sides of the aisle," he said. "If you break the law you will go to jail."
The rarely seen third party candidates sometimes hewed so closely to their single platform, that the debate's audience, even other candidates and the moderators could not help but crack a smile
Jimmy McMillan, candidate for the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, a former mailman and self-describe karate expert, wore a pair of black gloves to offset his bushy gray mutton chops.
At the end of virtually every statement he made, McMillan would remind the audience, "the rent is too damn high."
At one point Cuomo agreed.
"The rent is too damn high," he said.