As early voting draws near for the August 23rd primary, six leading congressional candidates sought to make closing arguments on how they could be the best advocate for one of New York City’s most liberal districts.

The two-hour event, co-hosted by WNYC and Spectrum News/NY1, was the first televised debate in the race for the 10th Congressional District. It offered voters a chance to hear the candidates’ views on a range of issues from climate resiliency, former President Donald Trump and bail reform. Following a protracted redistricting process, the new district now covers Lower Manhattan and parts of northwest Brooklyn — a solidly blue district where the primary will likely determine the victor in the November election.

For the most part, the debate — which was moderated by WNYC’s Brigid Bergin and NY1’s Errol Louis — was a civil affair. But there were several sharp attacks from the candidates against Daniel Goldman, an ex-prosecutor and MSNBC analyst who helped impeach Trump. An heir to the Levi Strauss clothing fortune, Goldman recently contributed $1 million of his own money to his campaign.

Recent polls show that the race has tightened around three candidates including Goldman, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera and Manhattan-based state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.

“You’re a walking campaign finance loophole,” said Rivera, whose City Council district represents parts of Lower Manhattan, at Goldman. “You are essentially trying to buy this election.”

Moments earlier, Westchester County Rep. Mondaire Jones and former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman pressed Goldman to explain why he owned stock in Fox News, the conservative cable news outlet.

“How could you allow that to happen?” Holtzman said. “I just find it puzzling. Because when you're a congressperson, you can't blame your stockbroker. The buck stops at your desk.”

In another tense moment, Jones asserted that he had spent more time in the district compared to Goldman.

“Because he has spent all of the pandemic at one of his many summer homes,” Jones said, referring to a story by Politico that found Goldman was away from the city during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

The scrutiny revealed how much of a threat Goldman, who has never been elected to public office, is in one of the most crowded and competitive midterm primaries in New York.

Goldman did not directly answer his rivals’ accusations, instead defending himself by saying that his record as a federal prosecutor spoke for itself.

With regards to his stock portfolio, he suggested that he and other candidates were “invested in the market in general.”

Goldman made his own digs, mostly at Jones. He more than once referred to Jones as “the gentleman from Rockland,” a reference to where Jones grew up.

Jones, who earned national prominence as one of the first openly gay members of Congress, has drawn accusations of being a carpetbagger — a politician who seeks office in an area they have no ties to — after he elected not to run in his own Hudson Valley district against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who leads fundraising efforts for House Democrats.

Compared to the other candidates, Niou and Brooklyn Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon refrained from attacks.

Differing views on bail reform

Although many of the candidates expressed similar views on the protection of voting rights and immigration reform, questions about crime and bail reform exposed slight differences on where they stood in the political spectrum.

Niou and Jones said the answer to tackling crime was pouring more investments into social services and expanding the safety net for those in poverty.

“The root causes of crime is definitely poverty,” said Niou, who is the most left-leaning candidate in the race.

Goldman, meanwhile, appeared to closely echo one of the talking points of Mayor Eric Adams, who has tried to push Albany lawmakers to further roll back changes in bail reform.

“Whether or not the data says that it's safe or not, there is a perception in the city that it is not safe,” he said. “And one of the reasons for that is the perpetual recidivism that is going on.”

He added, “We cannot allow people to just continue to cycle through the system because it's demoralizing to the cops, and it gives everyone a perception of danger.”

Holtzman, a former Brooklyn district attorney, also left open the possibility of revisiting bail reform. But she began her remarks by invoking Kalief Browder, the Bronx teen who was sent to Rikers Island after being accused of stealing a backpack. He later committed suicide in his home.

“We can’t have a revolving door,” she said. “On the other hand, we can’t have the old system we had.”

Holtzman entered the debate as somewhat of a wildcard who over the weekend won the endorsement of the Daily News. Known for her role in the investigation of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, the 80-year-old lawmaker has said she was spurred to run because of the specter of a Trump re-election.

Trumpism and East River Park

Asked about Trump and the Republican Party, the candidates had slightly differing views on the degree to which Trump posed a threat to the country. Jones pointed out that Republican tactics like voter suppression had long preceded Trump, while Goldman argued that Trump had wrought a more dangerous era.

“Before Donald Trump, we didn't have January 6th,” he said, referring to the takeover of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing insurrectionists. ”We didn't have a coup attempt to overturn the election.”

Rivera faced the most criticism for her support of the razing and redevelopment of the East River Park on the Lower East Side. The project, which was years in the making, is designed to combat climate change and the rising sea levels but was deeply unpopular with the community.

“They feel betrayed,” Jones said of Lower East Side residents. “They feel as though their councilmember made a promise to them that was then broken.”

Should Biden run again in 2024?

Like the 12th congressional district debate WNYC and NY1 co-hosted last week, the candidates were asked if they’d support President Joe Biden’s run for re-election. The answers varied, with the candidates saying that the decision was up to Biden.

But Niou offered the most non-committal response.

“We have to be strategic that we are winning seats up and down the ballot,” she said.

All told, 12 candidates are vying for the seat. The candidate with the highest name recognition, former Mayor Bill de Blasio, withdrew from the race last month after several polls showed him badly trailing the field. His name, however, will still appear on the ballot. De Blasio’s name was raised during the debate’s lightning round, in which candidates were asked whether they sought and would accept his endorsement. They all declined.

Political experts have argued that the outcome will hinge on targeted turnout efforts by individual campaigns for an unusual August 23rd primary when large numbers of residents leave town.

As a result, absentee ballots could be a decisive factor in determining a victor. As of late Wednesday, the city Board of Elections reported that it had mailed nearly 19,600 absentee ballots to voters. Of those, a little over 2,700 had been returned so far.

The story has been updated.