Rivals Launch Attacks on Adams During the Mayoral Debate and Confrontation Over Policing and Ethics
The candidates' focus on Eric Adams, particularly on his residency status, reflected his early lead in the race for New York City mayor.
The leading Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City clashed bitterly over political visions and personal ethics in a debate that began with sustained attacks on one candidate, Eric Adams, over residency and transparency concerns.
Shortly before early voting begins and less than two weeks before the city's June 22 Democratic primary, which will almost certainly determine the city's next mayor, five leading candidates gathered on Thursday for an in-person, penultimate debate focused on public safety, managing the mayor's relationship with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and qualifications to lead the nation's largest city.
The one-hour debate took place at an impasse in an extraordinarily consequential race, as several candidates battled controversies and sparse public polling indicated a close and unpredictable race that will be decided by ranked-choice voting.
It began on a highly charged note, with four of the five candidates onstage being asked whether they believed Mr. Adams, the presumed leading candidate, actually lived in New York City, following a Politico New York report that Mr. Adams used conflicting addresses in official records and was spending nights at Brooklyn Borough Hall during the campaign's home stretch.
Mr. Adams, who has stated that he temporarily relocated to Borough Hall following the pandemic to focus on his workload, has stated that his primary residence is an apartment in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He also co-owns a co-op in Fort Lee, New Jersey, with a partner.
“Unfortunately, Eric has not only been dishonest, but he has been hypocritical,” charged Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate and perhaps Mr. Adams's most persistent critic, on Thursday's stage. “For months, he attacked me for not being a New Yorker. Meanwhile, he was launching an assault on me from New Jersey.”
Maya D. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, alluded to additional controversies, including an investigation into Mr. Adams' fund-raising practices, and stated that "the issue is honesty."
Mr. Adams responded, "I worked as a police officer in Brooklyn, became a state senator elected from Brooklyn, and am now the Brooklyn borough president." Mr. Yang, who spent a portion of the pandemic at a weekend home in New York's Hudson Valley, continued, "I understand what people are concerned about on the ground because I am on the ground." I live in Brooklyn, not New Paltz.”
Mr. Adams' participation in the debate, which was co-hosted by WCBS-TV, was in doubt. He indicated on Tuesday that he would forego the event in favor of attending a vigil for a 10-year-old killed in Queens gun violence. He reversed course on Thursday. Between those dates, a firestorm erupted over Mr. Adams's residency.
Apart from the content of the questions, the barrage of attacks reflected Mr. Adams's position in the race: He has risen to the top of available polls as he pushes a message he claims is focused on public safety and criminal justice. Mr. Adams has discussed issues of rising gun violence and other crime more than any other candidate, at a time when polls indicate that public safety is a top priority for New York Democratic voters. During the debate, the candidates discussed gun violence and hate crimes.
“We have seen an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, but we have also seen an increase in anti-Semitism,” said Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, who was far more assertive during Thursday's debate than she has been in previous contests. She continued by outlining strategies for addressing mental illness and homelessness as part of the solution.
And, as was the case in previous debates, some of the most stark divisions in the field emerged over public safety issues, as Ms. Wiley staked out some of the most left-leaning positions on the stage.
When asked whether they supported the idea of taking guns away from New York Police Department officers, all candidates except Ms. Wiley stated that they did not. She avoided direct response, instead emphasizing the importance of "smart policing."
“I am not prepared to make that decision during a debate,” she stated, adding that "the mayor's job is to ensure public safety." Safety is the first priority, and as mayor, I will ensure the safety of New Yorkers.”
The response contrasted with that of Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, who, like Ms. Wiley, sought to appeal to New York's most progressive voters.
Mr. Stringer stated categorically, "We are not taking guns away from police officers." “We're going to ensure that we build a police force that is focused on eradicating violent crime while also protecting our children's civil rights.”
Additionally, Ms. Wiley argued passionately that investments in the social safety net, particularly a proposal for more trauma-informed care in schools, would go a long way toward preventing violence like the Queens shooting.
“Justin Wallace is not dead,” she stated, referring to the 10-year-old. “He is dead because we in this city have never implemented the very thing that communities like the Far Rockaways, Washington Heights, and Mott Haven have been pleading for, which is trauma-informed care in our schools, as outlined in my plan.”
Mr. Yang delivered an impassioned critique of a law enforcement system that allows people who have been arrested multiple times to remain unsupervised, citing an incident in which a man was accused of punching an Asian woman.
“The people of New York deserve to feel safe on their own streets,” he stated. “We must ensure that people who require assistance receive it, regardless of their capacity to raise their hands and seek assistance.”
On the whole, the debate was more civil and orderly than the previous encounter, which devolved into a brawl at times. Without a doubt, there were key points of agreement: All five candidates onstage stated that New York should consider renaming slaveholder-named sites.
However, distinct differences in policy and politics were also evident. The candidates sparred over the most effective strategy for dealing with Mr. Cuomo, given the historically tense relationship between governors and mayors in New York.
“I've spoken with Governor Cuomo several times, I worked with his brother at CNN, and I'm willing to work with anyone who will help us deliver for the people of New York,” Mr. Yang, a former CNN contributor, said. “Our interests are entwined because the state's recovery is contingent upon the recovery of New York City.”
Mr. Stringer responded, "Andrew, your approach is naive." “This is not the way Albany operates; Albany will pursue you. Albany will destroy you if you do not understand that the forces in the state are opposed to us receiving the funding we deserve.”
Mr. Stringer has positioned himself as a seasoned government official with a progressive policy platform. His ability to engage younger left-wing voters, on the other hand, has been harmed by allegations earlier this spring that he made unwanted sexual advances during a 2001 campaign, which he denied.
A second woman accused Mr. Stringer last week of making unwanted sexual advances while she worked at a bar he co-owned decades ago. Mr. Stringer stated that he had no recollection of Teresa Logan, the woman who made the allegations, but expressed regret if he had met her and made her feel uncomfortable.
“I want to be held accountable to anyone, press or otherwise, who wishes to investigate what happened 30 and 20 years ago,” he stated. “Unfortunately, finding a way to communicate that in the midst of a campaign has been difficult. Now it is up to voters to evaluate my 30-year service record and personal history and determine who is the most qualified candidate for mayor.”
“Any sexual conduct must be viewed as acceptable by both parties,” Ms. Wiley interjected. Mr. Stringer stated that he concurred.
Ms. Wiley is attempting to establish herself as the Democratic Party's standard-bearer for the left, as part of her effort to build a coalition of voters of color across the ideological spectrum, as well as white progressives.
Throughout the last week, prominent progressive lawmakers and leaders have made a concerted effort to rally support for her campaign: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed her last weekend, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams did the same on Wednesday.
Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, had also been battling for support from the left-wing grass-roots, but she terminated dozens of workers this week, according to the union, amid a campaign uprising and fight over unionization efforts. She, along with two other candidates who have participated in previous debates, were not invited to Thursday's debate: Shaun Donovan, the former federal housing secretary, and Raymond J. McGuire, a former Citi executive.