There was a very tall target in tonight’s mayoral debate in the form of Bill de Blasio.
The latest front-runner in the topsy-turvey race took repeated hits from his rivals at a heated debate where the candidates faced off on issues ranging from income inequality to driving while texting, with less than three weeks to go until primary day.
One of the first shots came from former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who criticized Mr. de Blasio’s plan to tax the rich to fund universal full-day pre-kindergarten as “a tax in search of a proposal.” Mr. Thompson pointed to Mr. de Blasio’s time on the City Council when it approved a property tax hike, characterized tonight as damaging to working and middle class New Yorkers.
“Let’s tell the truth, Bill. No more of the flip-flopping or saying things when it’s politically convenient for you,” said Mr. Thompson in front of the NY1 audience gathered at Midtown’s Town Hall theater.
Mr. de Blasio, of course, shot back, accusing Mr. Thompson of being out of touch with the needs of public school parents. “Mr. Thompson has not offered a plan,” the city’s public advocate argued.
But this back-and-forth was just a prelude to the fireworks to come when the candidates were invited to ask one opponent a question.
Capitalizing on his unique position on stop-and-frisk legislation, Mr. de Blasio asked City Council Speaker Christine Quinn why she opposes a bill that would expand the definition of racial profiling and allow those who feel wronged by the NYPD to sue in the state court. Along with an inspector general bill, the Council is expected to override the mayor’s veto of the bill tomorrow despite Ms. Quinn’s personal opposition to the profiling bill.
“Unlike the public advocate who’s really good at telling other people what to do, but not always so good at getting things done himself, I tomorrow will put legislation into effect that will have permanent monitoring of our police department,” Ms. Quinn responded to applause from the largely pro-Quinn crowd. She went on to blast Mr. de Blasio for misleading the audience, noting that racial profiling is already illegal. “The public advocate should stop misrepresenting the facts!” she said, drawing cheers.
Like almost everyone on stage, Mr. Thompson directed his question at Mr. de Blasio, doubling down on criticism of an ad the campaign released that claims he is the “only” candidate who would end the stop-and-frisk era. “Stop lying to the people of New York City!” Mr. Thompson shouted.
In a jujitsu move, Ms. Quinn, who appeared far more relaxed than last week, punted her question, asking Mr. Thompson whether he was satisfied with Mr. de Blasio’s answer. (For the record, Mr. Thompson was not, further accusing his opponent of flip-flopping on term limits and City Council member items. “Will the real Bill de Blasio please stand up?!” he asked.)
Even former Congressman Anthony Weiner piled on in a weird roundabout attack, pointing to an effort by Mr. Thompson’s campaign to get Ms. Quinn’s office to turn over documents from the slush fund scandal. “So there are no surprises before, during or after the primary election, can you assure us that in that report, Mr. de Blasio is not implicated in any way?” he asked Ms. Quinn, noting that Mr. de Blasio was the assistant majority leader at the time.
Both Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Quinn seemed dumb-founded by the implication–prompting Ms. Quinn to come to Mr. de Blasio’s defense.
“Casting aspersions on the public advocate like that is just outrageous, and I want to make it very clear that anything Mr. Weiner is trying to point to, I don’t even have any idea what he’s talking about,” she said.
For his part, despite the attacks and perhaps even enjoying them, Mr. de Blasio seemed to be reveling in the attention after the debate.
“I guess we must be doing something right ’cause almost every question was directed my way,” he told reporters who flooded the stage after the taping. “I think that means our message is getting through and the public is paying attention.”