Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Democratic challenger William Thompson went head-to-head Tuesday in a debate where each candidate touted his record in education, crime reduction and improving prospects for middle class New Yorkers.
The debate started off with an unscripted audience outburst. Before Mayor Bloomberg could even begin his opening statement, a protester began screaming “what are you doing here?” “We voted for term limits!”
Term limits – and Bloomberg’s move earlier this year to ask the City Council to overturn them – was one of the most contentious aspects of the hour-long debate, the first of two ahead of the Nov. 3rd vote. A second debate is set for Oct. 27th.
City Comptroller Bill Thompson, the Democratic candidate, said Bloomberg, who is running as an independent, “betrayed the trust” of voters when he asked the City Council to amend the term limits law.
Thompson, appearing in one of his first opportunities during the race to speak publicly on a big stage, also accused the mayor of distorting his record on everything from education to pensions to supporting the middle class.
“I’ve spent my time campaigning and trying to point out the legitimate differences. The mayor has spent an obscene amount of money to distort my record,” Thompson said.
Bloomberg hammered back, saying when Thompson served as President of the City Board of Education “schools were much more violent…. test scores were much lower.”
“I think it’s fair to say that people understand that schools are a lot better than they were,” Bloomberg said.
Thompson said comparing the records were "apples to oranges." When Thompson served as president, there was no mayoral control of schools.
He said if he had the additional funds Bloomberg had "I would have done a better job." "I helped bring reform to an institution that lacked it for decades," he said.
The billionaire mayor has also attacked Thompson's performance overseeing the municipal pension funds as Comptroller – something Thompson again called a distortion of his record.
Thompson, who has seen Bloomberg spend millions in television commercials accusing him of "pay to play" politics and mismanaging the system, took the chance to hit back at the accusations.
"The mayor has engaged in pay-to-endorse politics, let's be honest. He's made donations to organizations in that individuals have turned around and endorsed him," Thompson said.
As for the pensions? Thompson said the mayor of New York City chairs the board of four of the city's five pension funds.
"The mayor has voted on every investment decision that has come to him," he said.
The recession got scant attention, but Thompson said the Bloomberg administration of “squeezing” out New York’s middle class amid skyrocketing rents, hikes in water and electricity and two MTA fares increases in a year.
Bloomberg kept his line that his experience is key to improving the financial outlook of the city. "People are worried about how they will pay their rent, their mortgage. Today the key is to focus on what will make this city better. Now is not the time to stop," he said.
The wide-ranging discussion also included talk about improving the health of low-income New Yorkers and the NYPD’s controversial stop and frisk policy – which has elicited calls of racial bias.
In closing arguments, both men praised the other’s golf game.
In a lightening round, moderator Dominic Carter of New York 1 asked if State Senate Majority leader Pedro Espada was better at the job than Joe Bruno. “Yes,” answered Thompson. Bloomberg issued a resounding “no” followed by a laugh.