It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for New Yorkers, between a mass shooting at a Brownsville block party, a major power outage in Manhattan, and a dangerous heat wave. But Mayor Bill de Blasio put all of that aside on Wednesday night, for his appearance in the second Democratic primary debate. The mayor enthusiastically vowed to “tax the hell out of the wealthy” and got heckled by protesters urging him to "Fire Pantaleo."
Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who fatally choked Eric Garner five years ago last month, is currently awaiting the outcome of an administrative trial, and the most serious outcome is that he could lose his job and his pension. (The Department of Justice announced recently that it would not be filing civil rights charges against Pantaleo.)
The ongoing controversy surrounding Pantaleo’s status arose numerous times during the nearly three-hour debate. Early on, protesters disrupted both de Blasio and Cory Booker’s opening statements, chanting “Fire Pantaleo!” loudly enough that the debate briefly had to be paused while the demonstrators were removed from the theater. Though the chants were most noticeable during Booker’s statement, they were clearly aimed at de Blasio.
“We could not sit silent while @NYCMayor Bill DeBlasio [sic] misrepresented his positions on Stop and Frisk and continues to employ the police officers who killed #EricGarner,” activist Tamika D. Mallory explained on Twitter. Here’s video of the moment, via Slate:
Later on, the mayor was asked directly about the Garner case by a moderator and fumbled to explain why Pantaleo is still on the force. “I know the Garner family,” de Blasio said. “They’ve gone through extraordinary pain. They are waiting for justice and are going to get justice. There’s finally going to be justice.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the mayor’s opponent and fellow New Yorker, was asked if de Blasio's response was adequate: "No. He should be fired. He should be fired now." The audience cheered.
Kirsten Gillibrand, responding to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, says NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold, should be fired. pic.twitter.com/mj1QzUf9aO
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) August 1, 2019
De Blasio spent much of the debate aggressively questioning Joe Biden’s progressive credentials, perhaps noticing how much attention Kamala Harris received for doing precisely that during the first debate in June. During his opening statement, the mayor took credit for a range of local progressive wins (“we got rid of stop-and-frisk and we lowered crime; we raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour”) and then called out Biden and Harris by name. “Joe Biden told wealthy donors that nothing fundamentally would change if he were president,” de Blasio said, referring to comments Biden made at a recent fundraiser for major donors. “Kamala Harris said she's not trying to restructure society. Well, I am.”
Later, in a tense moment, de Blasio confronted Biden for failing to stop the millions of deportations that occurred during the Obama administration. “Did you say those deportations were a good idea?” de Blasio asked Biden directly. “Or did you go to the president and say, ‘This is a mistake, we shouldn't do it,' which one?”
The vice president fumbled in search of a coherent answer, though he did seem marginally sharper than at the last debate. At one point, when de Blasio questioned him about his stance on NAFTA, Biden awkwardly joked, “I love your affection for me.”
de Blasio: "Are you ready to say here and now that you will you oppose a new NAFTA?"
Biden: "Yes. ..."
de Blasio: "I consider that a victory"
Biden: "I love your affection for me" #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/sAzpWOnCHq
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 1, 2019
In the absence of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (who both participated in the previous night’s debate), the mayor seemed highly determined to establish himself in a national setting as a progressive firebrand. Channeling his inner Sanders, he repeatedly denounced the rich, signaled his union support, and said things like “When I am president, we will tax the hell out of the wealthy.” (During his closing statement, he even revealed his new domain name: “TaxTheHell.com.”) In one particularly weird aside, he also accused Trump of being “the real socialist."
"The problem is, it's socialism for the rich."
De Blasio waited a beat, but there was only silence.
While de Blasio literally towers over his Democratic rivals on the debate stage, his poll numbers are less imposing. Last month the mayor was polling at around 1 percent after his considerably better debate performance in June.
Anyone who has ever had a minimum height requirement on a dating profile is responsible for Bill de Blasio having enough confidence to run for president while polling at 0%.
— Josh Gondelman (@joshgondelman) August 1, 2019
It's unclear how low his poll numbers will have to sink for de Blasio to suspend his presidential ambitions. This may have been Hizzoner's last debate: to qualify for the next one in September, candidates have to have 130,000 unique donors and garner at least 2 percent support in four polls. Oh well, there's always that mayor gig.