The four trailing Democratic candidates for mayor launched a frantic attempt to derail Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s momentum during last night’s final, awkward mayoral debate. The primary election (thankfully) is now under a week away.
The debate, which was marked by an overly-assertive moderator, as well as the eagerness of the candidates to paint their opponents as corrupt, saw former Comptroller Bill Thompson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn challenge de Blasio once again on whether his left-leaning approach was genuine, and whether he was acting more as a tactician than a true progressive.
“We need a leader, not a cheerleader,” Bill Thompson said, referring to de Blasio’s evasiveness regarding his past positions.
Quinn and Thompson focused on the recent allegation that de Blasio had accepted campaign money from landlords who had appeared on his “worst landlord” list, put out by his Public Advocate office.
“Once a landlord does the right thing, we commend them,” de Blasio said. “If they chose to make a donation, that’s up to them, but we would not let them off the hook.”
Bill Thompson used the opportunity to portray de Blasio as pandering. “Bill de Blasio is once again doing one thing and saying another. Just like on term limits, he flip-flopped.”
Quinn piled on. “This is classic Bill. Talking out both sides of his mouth.” (Quinn also took money from these landlords.)
de Blasio found a strange ally in former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who called out the landlord-donor affair as having little substance and unrelated to the issues at stake.
In a turn from last debate however, de Blasio shot back at Quinn by pressing her on her slush fund scandal, which took money away from councilmembers based on political favors.
“Councilmen Vallone and Crowley have said their member items were taken away. Quinn used member items as a form of political control,” de Blasio said, pressing Quinn on whether she ever used the slush fund to intimidate members to vote a certain way.
Quinn deflected the charge, and pointed out that she worked to reform the member item system, which she claims is now heralded as a model nationwide.
“Mayors inherit problems. It's how we solve them that makes the difference,” Quinn said.
The night got off to a contentious start when Comptroller John Liu used his first speaking opportunity to bash the Campaign Finance Board for excluding candidates Sal Albanese and Erick Salgado from the debate, as well as denying him matching funds based on a fund-raising scandal. Liu continued to speak out of turn throughout the night, letting voters know one last time that he has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, and portrayed himself as a victim of unfair media coverage.
“Clear me or charge me, no one's going to derail me,” Liu said. “We tried playing by the rules, and none of those worked out.”
The other candidates voiced their agreement with Liu that the CFB had treated him unfairly, but none seemed eager to share the stage with the two candidates trailing most in the polls. Still, the use of polls to determine who should appear at the debate seemed legitimately undemocratic.
The moderators from NBC New York, Telemundo, and the Wall Street Journal frequently cut off the candidate’s and gave them unreasonable amounts of times to answer complex questions—sometimes as little as 15 seconds (as Daily Intel put it, "Second Worst Moderator Question: Explain your position on stop-and-frisk in 15 seconds"). And the debate questions themselves were often ridiculous. The first question asked was if the mayoral candidate’s were currently facing any financial hardship. Obviously not, they all answered, wasting a valuable ten minutes in a sixty-minute televised debate (the full debate was 90 minutes, with the last half hour online only). Here's the whole debate:
The moderators also attempted to get the candidates to say whether they'd run for a second term if there was an uptick in crime. Quinn and de Blasio declined to even answer the question.
Devoid of much in the way of substance, the debate once again focused on de Blasio, with a fading Quinn and Thompson trying to convince New Yorkers they were falling for a “pie-in-the-sky” dreamer, who would not be able to stand up to Albany to deliver his tax on millionaires that would provide money for education.
“If you want the status quo,” de Blasio said. “Vote for them. But if you believe in the will of the people, that we will get this done, vote for me.”
The primary is on September 10th.