The eight leading candidates for New York City mayor will take part in one final televised debate on Wednesday night that will be hosted by WNBC, marking one last chance for voters to see the contenders present and argue over some of the pressing issues facing the city.
The fourth mayoral debate, which starts at 7 p.m., comes just six days before the primary on June 22nd. Early voting began on Saturday and will last through Sunday.
The debate, which was organized by the city’s Campaign Finance Board, was originally set to be only one-hour but last week the network announced that it would expand the event to two hours. The participants are: Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang.
How To Watch It
WNBC will broadcast the first hour on Channel 4, starting at 7 p.m. (at 8 p.m. it will only be available to stream). Viewers can also watch on WNBC’s digital platforms, including nbcnewyork.com, the NBC 4 App as well as on their Apple TV and Roku channels. NYC Life TV, channel 25.1, and the Spanish network Telemundo Channel 47 will also broadcast the entire debate.
For those with cable, here are the channels for NYC Life TV:
Spectrum, FiOs, RCN, DirecTV, and Dish – 25
Optimum | Altice – 22
Comcast – 1025
The moderators for the debate will be WNBC’s David Ushery and Melissa Russo, Telemundo 47’s Allan Villafana, Telemundo 47 anchor, and Politico’s Sally Goldenberg.
Here are some things to watch for as the candidates take the debate podium one last time.
2-Hours With 8 Candidates In The Final Stretch Means Things Could Get Messy
Last week’s debate hosted by WCBS was a relatively tightly-controlled affair that nonetheless still featured plenty of interesting and unexpected moments. But that debate had the benefit of being only one hour with five candidates. The return to a longer format with eight candidates, several of whom have not reached double digits in recent polls, could potentially result in a lot of interjections, attacks, and candidates talking over one another.
“It will likely be more chaotic because the candidates won’t be able to control themselves,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political consultant. “They are fighting for their lives.”
David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, also said he expects a “noisy” debate.
He said that the larger field is a detriment to getting voters to narrow in on the frontrunners. It does, however, give viewers the chance to develop their relative preferences within the context of ranked-choice voting. “With that said,” he added, “you’re not going to rank eight.”
The perceived frontrunners will likely be aggressively jockeying one another, but Birdsell said the lower tier of candidates—Donovan, McGuire and Morales—may also try to seize the moment the best they can.
“If you know you’re going to lose, why not throw some bombs and see what is going to happen?” he said.
Garcia Comes In With A Surge
Garcia, the former city sanitation commissioner who was once considered a dark horse, has gained momentum with each passing week since earning an endorsement from the New York Times. A Marist poll released Monday showed Adams in the lead with 24% support among likely voters, trailed by Garcia with 17%. But another new poll showed Garcia winning through RCV:
there will be arguments about polling methodology. but just in case tonight’s debate wasn’t going to be tense enough, a projection of garcia beating adams thanks to RCV will inject even more urgency. https://t.co/fHdNfUXhxa
— chris smith (@chrissmithnymag) June 16, 2021
Prior to that, a Friday fundraising update from the city’s Campaign Finance Board revealed that Garcia raised $703,000 between May 18th to June 7th, more than any of the other candidates, including Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who raised $618,000.
“When I decided to run, many people told me that commissioners don’t become mayors, and that I could never raise the money. Opponents and friends said I should try to get hired by the next Mayor instead of running to be the next Mayor,” she said, in a statement. “But make no mistake: this woman can and will win.”
In another demonstration of her rising status, Adams on Monday convened a group of sanitation workers who have argued that Garcia oversaw a pay inequity between women and minority workers at the Sanitation Department.
Garcia, however, brushed off the allegations, saying she had increased minority chiefs and leaders in the department by 50% and she would go further as mayor.
She also managed to get in a dig at Adams: “I’m happy to talk to Eric about my track record, because I actually have one.”
Entering the debate, Garcia will likely stay with the argument that has gotten her this far: that she’s the most competent person to manage the city out of a crisis. It’s a strategy that risks leaving some voters wanting more.
“I think Garcia’s great weakness is not projecting a rationale for a candidacy beyond competence,” Birdsell said. “Competence matters but you want to say what your competence will bring about.”
Sheinkopf agreed, arguing that the epidemic of shootings had dramatically changed the nature of the race.
“Oftentimes people in elections are not looking for managers, they are looking for heroes,” he said, adding, “It’s hard to make a manager heroic.”
One aspect of her candidacy that could make her heroic is becoming New York City’s first woman mayor. Garcia has increasingly leaned into her gender in recent days, raising it at last week’s debate.
On Tuesday, as she was campaigning on the Upper East Side, several male voters walked up to her and told her they wanted a woman mayor.
“I hear that a lot from men,” she said, with a grin. “It’s sort of as an aside, like I’m secretly telling you my secret thoughts that I want a woman.”
A man just walked up to Kathryn Garcia and said the best job he’s ever had was given to him by a woman. He says he’s voting for her. Too many men, he told me. However he did say that Eric Adams is his second choice.
— Elizabeth Kim (@lizkimtweets) June 15, 2021
Adams Will Need To Fend Off More Attacks
As the frontrunner, Adams has witnessed a wave of scrutiny and intensifying attacks from his opponents, with the questions over his residency being the very first topic addressed at last week’s debate.
Over the weekend, comments about the benefits of virtual learning that Adams made during a February Zoom interview went viral.
“You could have one great teacher that’s in one of our specialized high schools to teach three to four hundred students who are struggling in math, with the skillful way that they’re able to teach,” he said.
With public school families unhappy with remote learning, the remark quickly touched off a torrent of criticism led by Yang and Wiley. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has endorsed Wiley, also weighed in on Twitter, accusing Adams of wanting to defund schools to pay for more policing.
Adams, who has not said he would defund schools, responded by saying that his comments had been taken out of context. “There’s nonsense online that I want 400-person remote classrooms,” he said, in a tweet. “In fact, I said we could have opt-in online seminars for HS students. Truth is I led the fight for in-person classes because I have a learning disability and know personal attention is key.”
There’s nonsense online that I want 400-person remote classrooms. In fact, I said we could have opt-in online seminars for HS students. Truth is I led the fight for in-person classes because I have a learning disability and know personal attention is key. https://t.co/vUITDYF1zx
— Eric Adams (@ericadamsfornyc) June 12, 2021
Taken together, the controversies suggest how rivals have been trying to shift the conversation away from public safety and onto issues of integrity and other policy matters. Adams, a former police officer, has climbed the polls as concerns about crime and shootings have increased.
“They’ve got to get Adams off the pedestal and they’ve got to try to make him look stupid,” Sheinkopf said. “They’re not going to attack him on crime, they’re going to attack him on competence and character.”
Can Wiley & Yang Make Strong Closing Arguments?
Of the candidates in the top four, Wiley and Yang face the most pressure to deliver winning debate performances. Polls have suggested that Wiley has gained momentum, while Yang has lost some. The Marist poll placed Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, in third place, with 15% of support—only two percentage points behind Garcia. Meanwhile, an Emerson College poll last week put Wiley in second place, following an endorsement by Ocasio-Cortez.
Over the weekend, her supporters, including AOC, packed Irving Plaza for a fundraiser featuring The Strokes that was billed as the first full capacity indoor concert in New York City.
Yang, meanwhile, fell to third place in the Emerson poll with 15% support. He fared worse in the Marist poll, placing fourth place with 13% support. And an internal poll showed that Yang had dropped to second place after Adams. Prior internal polling had consistently showed Yang in the lead.
Asked about the polls on Tuesday, Yang said his internal polling showed that it was “anyone’s race” and that he had the momentum.
Yang has often campaigned with a jocular style and infectious energy, as evidenced by his carefree dancing at Sunday’s Puerto Rican parade.
But in recent weeks, Yang has shown a sharper side with attacks on Adams and even Garcia, who he has endorsed as his second choice.
Experts say that the former presidential candidate may be better off reverting to his old self during the final debate.
“He’s got to stress what’s worked for him so far,” Sheinkopf said. “That he’s part of the new generation who will save the city because they love the city and they don’t have a political agenda.”
He said that Wiley, on the other hand, needs to continue to make her case to progressives by showing that she’s the candidate who can “stop police abuse, put our money into our communities instead, and make New York City the beacon of justice and opportunity.”
The former MSNBC commenter has been skilled at interjecting and scoring quick points during debates. However, in the last debate, her reluctance to answer a hypothetical question about whether she would consider taking away guns from the NYPD drew some criticism.
Birdsell argued that, unlike Yang, a debate strategy of attacking her opponents benefits Wiley and her agenda.
“She’s the justifiably outraged champion of equity,” he said.