On Wednesday, WNYC and NY1 will host the first televised debate featuring candidates who are running in the competitive and crowded congressional race to represent one of the most liberal parts of New York City.
The two-hour 10th congressional district debate will start at 7 p.m. and take place just two days before early voting begins ahead of the August 23rd primary. It will be broadcast on both NY1 and WNYC. The debate will be co-moderated by WNYC’s Brigid Bergin and NY1’s political anchor Errol Louis.
Viewers who do not subscribe to Spectrum can view the debate for free on its streaming app. WNYC listeners can tune into 93.9 FM or go to wnyc.org.
The rare open House seat in the 10th congressional district comprising lower Manhattan and parts of northwest Brooklyn has drawn 12 candidates, but only six have been selected to take the debate stage based on their fundraising:
- Daniel Goldman, a MSNBC contributor and former Trump prosecutor
- Liz Holtzman, a former House representative, district attorney, and NYC comptroller
- Rep. Mondaire Jones, who currently represents parts of Westchester County
- Manhattan State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou
- Manhattan City Councilmember Carlina Rivera
- Brooklyn State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon
Polls show that the race is tightening around Goldman, Niou, and Rivera, but the close margins combined with what’s expected to be low turnout for an unusual August primary suggest that those trailing could still pull off an upset.
The debate will be an opportunity for candidates to solidify or reconfigure their standing. Gothamist spoke to four veteran political experts: Bruce Gyory, Neal Kwatra, Hank Sheinkopf, and Basil Smikle. Here are four things they will be watching for Wednesday night.
Who will the candidates attack?
Candidates tend to attack the presumed front-runners, especially in crowded debates. “That is more revealing than what they say,” Gyory said.
During a Zoom forum hosted by Politics NY last week, Goldman gleefully nodded to the fact that he was fielding the most accusatory questions from his opponents, which included Jones and Niou. “Must mean something, right?” he said.
Sheinkopf argued that Goldman, who has never served in elected office before, is a logical punching bag given his sizable war chest.
“Because he has the financial advantage, they have to keep him on the defensive,” Sheinkopf said.
As an heir to the Levi Strauss clothing fortune, Goldman is the wealthiest candidate in the race. He recently donated $1 million to his own campaign, according to campaign finance records, growing his total contributions to over $2 million.
On the flip side, candidates who go on the attack run the risk of elevating their rivals, Smikle said. And those leading in polls may prefer to adopt a so-called “Rose Garden” strategy — a reference to a president who elects to stay on the White House grounds to project the power of his office. The term has also been used to describe candidates who want to appear dignified and above the fray.
Overall, Smikle said a live televised debate is an important moment in the race and the candidates who come under pressure must remain “unflappable.”
Kwatra, who most recently consulted on former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign for the congressional seat until he dropped out, said the debate was unlikely to change the minds of those watching. Most viewers who tune into a mid-August debate tend to be well-informed or “high-information voters,” he said.
“There are very few undecided voters who are going to be tuning into this debate,” Kwatra added.
He said the campaigns will be focused on giving supporters and potential donors their best closing arguments, which could take the form of a video clip that circulates the next day on social media.
Will there be a ‘banana peel’ moment?
Experts say the debate will test which candidates can best express their fluency on the issues as well as their ability to deliver points that get viewers nodding their heads.
But the campaigns and media will also be watching for potential controversies. According to Gyory, the question becomes, “Does anybody slip on the proverbial banana peel?”
For many, it was exactly such a jaw-dropping slip-up that occurred during the NY-12 debate last week when both Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, two longtime sitting members of Congress, declined to express support for President Joe Biden’s re-election bid. (Maloney later tried to walk back her comment.)
The moment reverberated on social media and made headlines.
According to Smikle, a strong debate performance is unlikely to catapult a candidate in this race, but a mistake can certainly inflict damage. Given that candidates are vying to be a freshman representative for a heavily liberal district, those who don’t answer questions well will raise doubts in the voters’ minds.
“They may say, ‘Well, this person can’t debate. How are they going to perform against today’s Republicans or how are these candidates going to stand up to Trumpism?’” said Smikle.
They may say, ‘Well, this person can’t debate. How are they going to perform against today’s Republicans or how are these candidates going to stand up to Trumpism?’
Two rising progressive candidates to watch: Rivera and Niou
Both Rivera and Niou come into the debate with momentum from positive polling as well as key endorsements.
Rivera won the early backing of Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a prominent progressive lawmaker whose district overlaps with the 10th congressional district.
Niou, meanwhile, scored an endorsement from the Working Families Party, an influential grassroots organization that gave her access to its campaign and fundraising apparatus.
Two days before the debate, Niou secured the backing of the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, while Rivera announced on Sunday that Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine had endorsed her.
“I’m looking at Carlina and her momentum,” Smikle said, adding that the debate will test whether there is “substance to that momentum.”
Gyory said that while the race remained fluid, he viewed Rivera as coming the farthest by assembling the widest range of endorsements that include the influential 1199SEIU health care workers’ union and important political clubs representing the LGBTQ community, namely the Stonewall Democratic Club and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.
Both women share a progressive track record. Rivera advocated for legislation that created a first-of-its kind abortion access fund, which helps pay for people to travel to New York City to obtain abortions. Niou, meanwhile, has sponsored state legislation to combat racial discrimination and sexual harassment, and was a vocal critic of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned amid scandal last year after being accused of sexual harassment.
Niou is generally regarded as the most left-leaning candidate in the race. Rivera, who has raised money from high-profile members of the real estate industry, has defined herself as a pragmatic progressive.
Sheinkopf likened the two candidates to Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley, who both unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic mayoral primary last year.
Both Garcia and Wiley performed very well in the areas that make up the new district.
Can Holtzman capitalize on a key endorsement?
Holtzman enters Wednesday night’s debate as being the best debater among the group of six candidates, according to experts.
“She can debate everyone under the table,” Smikle said. “The question is how many of the voters know who she is?”
But Sunday’s endorsement from The Daily News editorial board boosts her name recognition and defines her as the wildcard candidate in the race.
As a lifelong pro-choice lawmaker, she has won the backing of Gloria Steinem and the National Organization of Women.
From the start, seasoned political observers warned against counting out Holtzman, the 80-year-old trailblazing female lawmaker who was first elected to Congress during the Richard Nixon era. At the first forum in May, she credited the nation’s “dark times” for spurring her to launch another run. “I took on Richard Nixon and I can take on Donald Trump,” she said during her introductory statement.
Sheinkopf said debate watchers should expect Holtzman, a Brooklyn native, to be forthright and not pull any punches during the debate.
“She’s feisty,” Sheinkopf said. “That feistiness is something that will appeal to people.”