Last night, two-thirds of the mayoral candidates participated in a debate sponsored by NY1, Gothamist, WNYC, Capital New York and Citizens Union: Republican candidate Joe Lhota and Independent Adolfo Carrion appeared to offer their views for the future of New York, while Democrat and clear frontrunner Bill de Blasio opted to sit out. Carrion scoffed at de Blasio's "Rose Garden strategy," calling it "disrespectful," and Lhota said de Blasio was insulting New Yorkers by not being there. But the debate gave viewers a pretty good look at the lesser-known Lhota and Carrion.
In de Blasio's absence, Carrion and Lhota spent more time defining themselves, instead of directly attacking the frontrunner. Both men concede there is inequality in the city: Lhota would help fix that by increasing jobs and diversifying the city's economy while Carrion said the two-party system was failing New Yorkers and promised to make sure New Yorkers were skilled for tech-heavy jobs. Carrion added that the minimum wage should be raised to $10 and that the city needed to invest in tech infrastructure.
Neither candidate agrees with de Blasio's strategy of taxing the 1%, or the $500,000-year earners. Carrion wondered, "Where do you stop"—will those earning $400,000 be taxed next? What about those making $200,000? He also doubted Albany would pass a tax increase, which Lhota agreed with, and pointed out that when the federal income tax was raised, people in New York left.
Carrion and Lhota also agreed that stop-and-frisk shouldn't be abolished: Carrion emphasized community policing (vs. "drive-by" policing), with residents knowing their beat cop (during his youth, he recalled that Officer Murphy would ask him if he did his homework when he was playing basketball). Lhota pointed to the 1968 Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio showing why police are allowed to stop, question frisk. Lhota did concede that police officers need to be trained, "There's no room for racial profiling."
Another big issue for New Yorkers is how unaffordable housing has become. Carrion said he would call a state of emergency for housing and would want the city to invest in 200,000 more housing units. Lhota's plan would be to offer 60,000 new units and rehab 90,000. The former MTA chairman also said the rise in rent was attributed to high property assessments and water bills.
A day after thousands of charter school students, parents and supporters marched, Lhota positioned himself as a champion of charter schools, saying he'd double them and wouldn't charge them rent—a marked difference from de Blasio, who thinks charter schools should pay rent. He also touted the fact that the majority of charter schools serve minority children and are in low-income neighborhoods.
Carrion said that charter schools were another way of offering parents school choice, and that the city had to reform existing public schools. As for charter school students getting a half day to march in the rally, Carrion thought that was fine, since it was a great civics lesson, plus charter schools have a longer day and longer year.
The candidates were asked what they would ask de Blasio if he were there: Lhota queried, "How can you call yourself a true progressive?" when he opposes charter schools, while Carrión asked, "How can you call for tax increases when you know the people in Albany won’t approve them?"
Since de Blasio's Sandinista-supporting past has been publicized, debate panelist Brian Lehrer asked Lhota about supporting Barry Goldwater. Lhota said he liked how he was pro-gay rights and pro-choice, but not Goldwater's views on civil rights, and noted how Hillary Clinton used to be a "Goldwater Girl."
Carrion explained his arrest in Vieques, noting that he was rallying for the rights of Americans, versus de Blasio's support of the "murdering" and "raping" Sandinistas. Carrion also complained about the political process, how de Blasio wasn't properly vetted by the press because they were busy focusing on Anthony Weiner's foibles. Lhota had also said of de Blasio, "Bill, on many, many issues, is an extremist, and it needs to come out, and it needs to be known."
The lightning round offered some unusual insights into the candidates:
- Lhota wouldn't appear on Al Jazeera; Carrion would
- Lhota thinks there might be enough bikes lanes; Carrion thinks there should be more
- Lhota thinks the NYPD is doing enough to investigates pedestrian injuries/deaths by car; Carrion doesn't
- Neither support non-citizen voting
- Both think that large donations to parks groups like the Central Park Conservancy should be shared with other parks
- Re an e-cigarette ban, Lhota supports limiting e-cigarette use by age while Carrion, who seemed confused that it was even an issue, said he wouldn't ban them
- Neither would pull public funding from an arts institution if there was a controversial exhibit
- The last foreign city Lhota visited was Rome, while Carrion was in Jordan
- Carrion would like the renegotiate some of the Yankee Stadium deal, Lhota wouldn't
The candidates had to explain what they felt were Mayor Bloomberg's best and worst accomplishments. Carrion lauded Bloomberg's development of NYC as a tech-center, with the building of Cornell campus and welcoming firms like Google to the city. However, Carrion, who could think of a "few items" Bloomberg didn't do very well on, declared that the mayor failed with education, by not inspiring more people involved with public education to care more and not innovating enough.
Lhota could not stop singing the praises of Bloomberg's sustainability initiatives, insisting that in 20 years, we'd thank him for them. His quibble with Bloomberg is not holding town hall meetings in all five boroughs, to really hear the issues from New Yorkers (naturally, it's something that Lhota wants to resurrect).
Polls show Lhota trailing de Blasio by nearly 50 points and Carrion barely registers, with about 2% of voter support. So Carrion tried to engage viewers by reminding them he's just like them—his family lived in the Lower East Side projects but then they were able to buy a house and a part of the NYC dream—and that the two-party system has been failing everyone. Lhota referenced his Bronx, working-class roots (his dad was a cop, his grandfathers were a taxi driver and firefighter) and promised to expand the economy, reform education and make the city more affordable for New Yorkers.
Next week, there's a debate with all three candidates. The general election is on November 5th.