Lazio Calls Debate Criticism 'Sexist'

Sept. 20, 2000 -- Stung by apparent charges that he was too aggressive during last week’s New York Senate debate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Rick Lazio said Tuesday such criticism of his behavior was “sexist.”

Lazio, the Republican nominee, left his podium during last week’s forum in Buffalo and strode over to Mrs. Clinton’s side of the stage brandishing what he said was a contract to ban soft money from the campaign. The first lady did not accept the offer.

After the event, Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, called Lazio’s behavior “menacing.”

Last Thursday, the first lady dismissed it with a jibe at Lazio, saying “the thing that probably prepared me best in dealing with things like that was having two younger brothers.”

Tuesday, Lazio responded during a campaign stop in Buffalo.

“The idea that somehow that there’s a double standard because you’re a man or a woman, and you can’t make a point forcefully if you’re a man, and the person you’re making the point with is a woman, I just think that’s sexist,” he told reporters.

Lazio added, “I don’t think people in the Senate worry about whether you’re a man or a woman.”

In response, Mrs. Clinton’s communications director, Howard Wolfson, said “Today the political world was rocked by the bizarre accusation that Rick Lazio has been the victim of sexism. Poor Rick. Let me be the first to offer him my support.”

Gender Prominent in GOP Letter

Clinton’s gender is prominent in the latest fund-raising letter sent by state GOP Chairman William Powers. He uses the term “woman” five times in the new letter, sent on behalf of his party’s candidate.

“I have high hopes that you’ll help us … stop this ambitious, ruthless, scheming, calculating, manipulating woman from fooling voters,” Powers writes. In a postscript, he adds: “Hillary Clinton is an angry woman.”

Asked about the emphasis on gender, Power’s spokesman Dan Allen said, “There’s nothing behind that … If we use the words ‘Hillary Rodham Clinton’ 50 times it gets kind of redundant, so you’ve got to use other words.”

Lazio Closes Soft Money Account

The Lazio campaign also announced Tuesday it is closing its “Friends of Rick Lazio” soft-money committee. The Clinton campaign had called the committee a symbol of Lazio’s “hypocrisy” in light of his call for a ban on soft money, the term for unregulated donations from unions, individuals and corporations that generally cannot be directly given to a candidate’s campaign.

“All the money has been returned to the individual donors that gave the money and that account has been closed down,” Lazio said.

The fund had less than $87,000 in it, according to the latest filings, but since January 1999, it raised almost $390,000 and spent just over $300,000.

Mrs. Clinton did not answer a reporter’s question about the closing of the PAC.

—ABCNEWS’ Stephen Yesner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.