Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. are going toe to toe in the first of two mayoral debates -- with this session expected to focus mostly on term limits, the economy and who better understands working New Yorkers.
Both campaigns have high hopes for their candidates tonight, but neither man is a gifted debater.
In fact, the mayor and comptroller each appear slightly ill at ease in debate settings, the New York Times reported today. Both are uncomfortable attacking their opponents, preferring to list their accomplishments, and both tend to display subtle non-verbal reactions to being put on the defensive.
For Bloomberg, this means sighing audibly. Thompson has been known to be an eye roller. Both can lay on the sarcasm.
The billionaire Bloomberg is running as an independent for a third term -- and he's already vastly outspent his Democratic challenger by millions of dollars. Thompson's campaign managers hope the debate will put him on the map as a viable candidate against the well-funded incumbent.
"I wan't happy with what happened with the (Bloomberg's) third term. I think he's done a great job, but that was done in a way that was not really fair to the people of the city so I'd like to see what someone else has to offer," Lynn Rosenthal of Manhattan said.
Thompson and Bloomberg have generally had a pleasant working relationship over the years -- but it's grown frosty during the campaign, and the debate promises to be contentious.
Thompson, for example, used to praise Bloomberg's handling of city finances. During the campaign, however, he's criticized Bloomberg for raising taxes and fees that squeeze the middle class.
The idea that New York -- always expensive -- has become to costly for the middle class is also expected to be on the table tonight.
"The city used to be a place where you could be a starving artist and live and I just wanna see that atmosphere return to the city," said Jonathan Just of Murray Hill.
Bloomberg once called Thompson the best comptroller the city has ever had. Now he faults the Democrat for not improving education as president of the school board in the 1990s, among other things.
The debate Tuesday evening begins at 7 p.m. and is the first of two; the other is on Oct. 27.
The election is Nov. 3.