Democratic nominee for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer faced off against Republican opponent John Burnett in their first, and perhaps only, televised debate last night. And, in keeping with most of the other debates this election season, the hour-long session was fraught with feisty personal attacks, as the candidates traded barbs about their qualifications, political affiliations and whether or not the government shutdown would drown New York in sadness and debt.
Stringer, the Manhattan Borough President, is currently the frontrunner in the election, having already notably bested fellow Democrat Eliot Spitzer in last month's primary. And Stringer, who along with Burnett sat down with moderators Errol Louis (NY1) and Brian Lehrer (WNYC), made sure to point out he'd spent decades in public service; he also focused a lot of attention on Burnett's GOP affiliation, heavily tying him to the current GOP-spearheaded shutdown in Washington, D.C.
But Burnett, an East New York native, a Wall Street executive and relative newcomer to the political scene, isn't about to go down without a fight, and he came out swinging at the NYC Campaign Finance Board-sponsored event, arguing right off the bat that Stringer wasn't qualified for the finance-heavy gig. "At the end of the day, the shareholders don't care about about your political affiliation. They care about the return, and how you're managing that corporation. At the end of the day, it's about the investment," he said.
Burnett didn't shy away from any verbal barrage. "You have no experience in auditing, you’ve been in politics for 25 years, and you owe a ton of favors. I’m surprised you still even have your own soul," he told a visibly thrown aback Stringer. "Maybe you actually sold that off a long time ago." He also argued that Stringer, a trustee on the city's pension fund board, attended very few of the board's meetings and was therefore unqualified to oversee the city's pensions. "You just don't show up," he said, noting Stringer had only attended 15 out of 125 board meetings that year. "You're a failure."
Stringer defended his own record, outlining his accomplishments in public service that had "made a difference in people's lives." And he made sure to tie Burnett both to his "friends on Wall Street" and his embattled political party. "What do you say to the people of New York City today, your party is shutting down the government and trying to put urban America out of business, especially our city, where the hardship would be devastating—all because your party does not want to see 927,000 people get insurance from the Affordable Care Act?" he asked during the cross-examination round.
Burnett, meanwhile, claimed he disapproved of the shutdown, supported the Affordable Care Act (though he believed the administration should delay it for a year), and said that people should stop playing the two parties against each other, like the "Crips versus the Bloods." He added that Stringer associating him with the Republicans in Congress was like "me saying that he goes around taking pictures and Tweeting his private parts," or "saying he goes around with hookers because some other Democrat did it." Burn.
As for the issues relevant to the role of Comptroller, Burnett advocated for a healthcare trust fund, union contract reform and a higher level of transparency in the position; he also argued against Bill de Blasio's plan to tax the city's 1 percent of earners, saying it would stifle already lackluster jobs growth. Stringer, meanwhile, said he believed the contract process should begin earlier, advocated for reducing the money the city pays to money managers on Wall Street, and wanted to bring back the commuter tax that was done away with in the late 1990s.
Both Burnett and Stringer said they approved of the job done by current Comptroller John Liu, and Stringer commended him for his work with the city's failed City Time program. And both candidates voiced support for their party's respective mayoral candidates, Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, each skirting a question asking if they saw any red flags in their party's candidates' economic plans.
Also of note: the ever-entertaining lightening round, which focused heavily on the candidates' personal money management and use. Only Stringer had paid over $1,000 for a suit (once) and had been late on rent, and he usually takes $100 out of the ATM. Burnett, meanwhile, said he gives panhandlers money "everyday," takes $260 out of the ATM, and did not support a governmental bailout of Detroit. Neither have spoken to Spitzer in the past two weeks. And when the candidates were asked what neighborhood would see a boom in property value soon, Stringer pointed to certain areas in the South Bronx, while Burnett, failing to name one specific neighborhood, first mentioned Texas and Houston before picking his native borough. "I think Brooklyn," he said. "Brooklyn is kind of weird."