The five leading candidates for New York City mayor engaged in a lively but controlled discussion on Thursday night about a wide range of issues—from policing and gun violence, how they would work with Governor Andrew Cuomo, street safety, and even their preferred superpower.
Hosted by WCBS-TV, the one-hour format, strict time limits, and a smaller group of candidates—Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang—produced the most brisk and entertaining televised debate in the race so far. Adams was a last-minute addition; the Brooklyn borough president had initially said he would skip the debate to attend a vigil for a 10-year-old who was shot and killed in Far Rockaway. But on Thursday morning, Adams reversed course and announced that he would participate in the debate after all.
This was the third televised Democratic mayoral debate (this time around hosted by Marcia Kramer and Maurice DuBois), and the last one before early voting begins on Saturday, June 12th. A final debate is scheduled for next Wednesday, less than a week before the primary on June 22nd..
Here are some of the important moments.
The Campaigns Threw Another Raucous Pre-Debate Party
Like the second debate last week, the campaigns kicked off the event outside WCBS’s studios in Midtown with pep rallies that featured props, signs, chants and dances galore.
Once again, Paperboy Prince, the ebullient rapper-candidate rolled up in his “love tank” bus, but this time, he joined in on the fun with the rival campaigns.
Adams Is Asked Where He Lives
The moderators wasted little time in addressing one of biggest and more remarkable controversies of the race: where does Eric Adams live? Following a Politico story on Tuesday that raised discrepancies on public records over Adams’s address, the borough president invited reporters to his Brooklyn basement apartment in an effort to prove that he lives in the city and not in New Jersey, where he co-owns a condo with his partner. But conspiracy theories have lingered and his opponents were asked if they believe that Adams does in fact live in New York City.
Two of his rivals, Andrew Yang and Maya Wiley, pounced on the question. Yang, the former presidential candidate who has dropped in recent polls, was quick to attack Adams, calling the issue “troubling” and using the opportunity to cite multiple ethics investigations when Adams was a state senator. (No wrongdoing was ultimately found.)
Yang also accused Adams of being “hypocritical” for attacking him for leaving the city with his family for his second home in New Paltz during the pandemic last year. “He’s been attacking me from New Jersey, ” he said.
The tour of the apartment in Brooklyn, he concluded, “raised more questions than it answered.”
Wiley began by saying New Yorkers did not care about where Adams lived but then similarly raised the ethics investigations. She also pointed to his seemingly contradictory remarks about the merits of the police’s stop-and-frisk tactic, something she has done in previous debates.
“The issue is honesty,” she said.
Kathryn Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner, said the Politico story was “utterly confusing” and asked, “Is this a where’s Waldo moment?”
Pushing the issue aside, she reiterated that she was best qualified “crisis manager” to lead the city through its recovery—and squeezed in a mention of her New York Times and Daily News endorsement to boot.
Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, also got in a zinger, although one not directed at Adams but at the Garden State. “The only time I go to New Jersey is by accident,” he said.
In his defense, Adams reiterated remarks he made in front of his Bed-Stuy home yesterday, along with another jab at Yang.
“I don’t live in New Paltz. I live in Brooklyn.”
Gun Violence Remains A Main Topic
The candidates were asked whether they felt the NYPD should do their jobs without guns, similar to police forces in countries where there is not an epidemic of gun violence. All the candidates said no with the exception of Wiley, who said she was not prepared to make such a decision on the spot.
But the question led to a discussion about how to stem gun violence, an issue which has dominated the late stages of the race. The candidates offered some differing approaches. Garcia argued for a “multi-pronged” approach, calling for the involvement of police along with mental health professionals to engage with troubled individuals, more investment in mental health services and supportive housing, and the enforcement of Kendra’s Law, which provides court-ordered treatment for mental illness for those unable to do so voluntarily.
Stringer and Adams both stressed intervention at an early age. Stringer touted his education plan which would expand daycare and after-school, and require two teachers in every elementary school classroom. Adams said he would install mandatory dyslexia screening at an early age and reform the foster care system.
Wiley spoke about introducing trauma-informed care in schools, one of the keystones of her plan to address crime and gun violence.
Striking an outraged tone, Yang spoke of Alex Wright, a man who was arrested for striking an Asian woman in Chinatown for no apparent reason. Afterward, it was discovered that he had been arrested multiple times over the last year.
Yang argued that the city needed to review every law, including bail reform, as well as processes, that allowed such an attack to occur.
“We have to examine every step of the process that allowed Alex Wright to be on our streets,” he said.
Stringer Gets Asked About Second Accuser
Stringer entered the debate with his campaign damaged by two accusations of sexual assault. Last week, Teresa Logan accused Stringer of unwanted touching, kissing, and sexual harassment when she worked as a waitress in his Upper West Side bar in 1992. The accusation follows that of Jean Kim, a lobbyist who alleged that Stringer groped and kissed her without consent when she worked as a volunteer on his campaign two decades ago.
Stringer said both allegations were “untrue.”
At one point, Kramer pressed Stringer on what he meant by his comment to the NY Times in which he said, “It was all a bit of a mess.”
He replied by saying he was misquoted and that remark referred only to his bar business.
At the same time, he added: “If I made anyone in my entire life uncomfortable, I apologize for that.”
Wiley Is Asked About “Agents Of The City”
As counsel to de Blasio, Wiley notoriously invoked the argument that the mayor’s email communications with outside advisers and lobbyists were private because they were acting as “agents of the city.” The episode has hung over her candidacy, raising questions about whether she would be fully transparent as mayor.
Asked about it by one of the moderators, Wiley said, “All I did was I gave advice that one gives to a client and it’s a client’s decision.”
Who’s Ready To Work With Cuomo?
The candidates were asked how they would work with the state’s famously ego-driven and controlling governor, a topic that has come up before in Zoom forums. Stringer argued that as a former state assemblyman, he knew how to work in Albany and would gain leverage by working with state legislators. Adams said he would put any differences aside and make sure he and Cuomo represent “Team New York.” Meanwhile, Wiley said she was already familiar with working with the governor’s office having worked in City Hall and that she would rally constituents to help the city in negotiations.
Yang suggested he would forgo making “cheap political points” to have a productive relationship with Cuomo. Once again, he cited his relationship with the governor’s brother Chris Cuomo.
Stringer seized the opportunity to attack Yang, a political newbie, and accuse him of being “naive.”
“This is not how Albany works,” he said. “Albany will go after you. Albany will collapse you.”
But in what may have been the best response given the fact that Cuomo is now embroiled in a sexual harassment investigation, Garcia gave a nod to her gender.
“Women leadership matters,” she said.
Adams Calls For Stricter Regulations On Second-Hand Marijuana Smoke
The candidates were asked about complaints arising from second-hand marijuana smoke in residential buildings. Under its newly legalized status, marijuana can currently be smoked anywhere tobacco is allowed.
Of the candidates, Adams was the only one who voiced his support for more restrictions on marijuana smoking. “We need to have clear instructions,” he said. The other candidates said second-hand marijuana smoke should be regulated like tobacco.
Adams was also the most wary of legalization, saying children should not be encouraged to smoke marijuana.
Wiley, Garcia and Stringer said the city should treat second-hand marijuana smoke in residential buildings the same way tobacco smoke was treated. Meanwhile, Yang said that apartment buildings should “designate particular areas” for marijuana smoking.
A Fun (And Fantastical) Lightning Round
Props to WCBS for coming up with the most inventive lightning round questions heard yet in the mayoral race. They kicked off the series by asking the candidates which superpower they would prefer: flying or invisibility. Although invisibility would come in handy for campaign espionage or driving to a second residence in Jersey, everyone chose flying.
Here were some other good questions and their responses:
What city site would you name after former mayor Rudy Giuliani?
Adams: Rikers Island
Wiley: A dump
Yang: An anchor at the bottom of the sea
Garcia: Sewage plant
Stringer: Affordable housing at Trump Tower
What was the last item you bought?
Wiley: Paid for somebody’s mental health service
Adams: Bought sneakers for a homeless man
Stringer: Roses for wife
Garcia: Ticket for her daughter’s post-graduation trip
One thing you can’t live without
Yang: His wife, Evelyn
Wiley: My kids and my cats
Adams: A hot bubble bath with warm roses. “Men like that too,” he says.
Stringer: Coffee in the morning with Sweet’n low. (He then whips out one from his wallet.)
One word that describes you
Adams: Workaholic (Why didn’t he say “Grind”?)
Stringer: Comeback kid