After a rowdy first in-person Democratic debate on June 3, Thursday's second faceoff was a toned-down and trimmed-down version, with candidates remaining civil as they discussed congestion pricing, marijuana laws and policing.
But the debate didn't begin nearly as cordially as it ended. Four candidates — Andrew Yang, Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer and Kathryn Garcia — started off by piling on the questions and digs toward Eric Adams. The Brooklyn borough president was a late entry to the debate after canceling plans to attend a service for Justin Wallace, the 10-year-old boy who was shot and killed over the weekend in Queens.
The other candidates jumped at the opportunity to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Adams' residency, after a report questioned whether he lived in Brooklyn (as he has said) or in a New Jersey apartment he co-owns with his girlfriend.
"He sent months attacking me for 'not being a New Yorker,' and meanwhile he was attacking me from New Jersey," Yang said.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
How Ranked Choice Voting Works
The 2021 New York City Mayoral Election is the first citywide race to use the new voting system
Source: NYC Board of Elections • Andrew Williams / NBC
Wiley also went after the frontrunner, saying "New Yorkers want a mayor who is fully forthcoming." Stringer poked fun at Adams, saying "the only time I go to New Jersey is by accident."
Adams stood his ground, once again insisting that the Bed-Stuy garden apartment is where he lives. Earlier in the day, he released his E-ZPass records over the past years, showing 10 Hudson River crossings at the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel. Most came last fall and summer.
"This is what Andrew wants to hold his hat on. Is Eric seeing his lady friend? That's his platform?" Adams said before the debate Thursday. He also acknowledged that he sometimes took public transportation as well.
At the debate, Adams did admit that he sleeps in his Brooklyn Borough Hall office many nights, but repeated he primarily lives in the apartment. But Yang, who trailed Adams and Wiley in the most recent poll but got a new endorsement from the city firefighter's union, wasn't buying it.
"We've been on dozens of forums together. I've never seen that basement apartment in my life," he said.
Adams, who called himself the "blue-collar candidate" at the debate, owns the Brooklyn building he showed to reporters, and repeatedly failed to report on his tax returns rental income he collected from tenants there. He blamed his accountant for giving him bad advice.
"I know the voters care about the issues facing the city, they want a mayor who's transparent," Garcia said.
After the targeted start, the candidates discussed an array of topics in a more subdued and respectful manner, especially in regard to speaking time limits.
One of the issues discussed was the idea of taking guns away from NYPD officers. Four of the five candidates on stage (lower polling candidates like Ray McGuire, Shaun Donovan and Dianne Morales were not invited to participate) shot down the idea of disarming police, with Wiley being the only one to not give an answer.
"I am not prepared to make that decision at a debate," she said.
Wiley, fresh off a surge she called "Maya-mentum" that showed her in second place in the latest Emerson poll, did aim some barbs at Stringer. She accused him of using his position as city comptroller in order to to slam another rival in the race, Garcia, for hiring a shady contractor to deliver meals during the pandemic. The complaint stems from an audit Stringer's comptroller office released this week that accused Garcia of wasteful spending when she was one of the leading figures in the de Blasio administration guiding the city's COVID response.
"You have been the person who has actually used your office to do audit reports against Kathryn Garcia, that really started after it was in your personal interest," Wiley said.
Stringer tried to counter, saying that the audit was initiated before Garcia was thinking about running for mayor. But Garcia also jumped on the timeliness of the audit's release.
"I want to thank Maya for pointing out that you started in July and just released it now. There's no politics involved?" she asked.
The politics between candidates continues to intensify as early voting is scheduled to begin Saturday. Before primary day itself, there is still one more Democratic debate in the race — which will be held Wednesday, June 16, hosted by NBC New York.