Less than a week before primary day, the leading Democratic contenders for New York City mayor sparred in the final debate that got heated at moments, but also served as the candidates' last chance to make an impression on voters.
WNBC-TV co-hosted the debate with Telemundo 47/WNJU-TV, POLITICO, Citizens Budget Commission, and New York Urban League. The eight participants — Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Maya Wiley, Andrew Yang, Scott Stringer, Ray McGuire, Shaun Donovan and Dianne Morales — answered an array of questions ranging from policing, affordable housing, homelessness, even who they'd want performing at their inauguration.
In the first topic, candidates were given the chance to give their 30-second elevator pitch on important topics impacting the city. Andrew Yang and Dianne Morales were given the chance to answer why people should return to NYC after leaving during the pandemic.
"I understand why you are concerned abut New York City, you're concerned about safety," Yang said, before touting his recent endorsement from the police captains union, which he said he earned "because they know that we will prioritize real change."
After answering in Spanish, Morales said that the city now has an opportunity to "confront and face the systemic and structural inequities" that have created a divide in communities.
Maya Wiley and Ray McGuire were asked about a hypothetical situation in which a biotech company wanted to move into or out of Queens, but was hesitant and demanding tax breaks. Wiley touted the city's wide talent pool, while McGuire referenced his work experience in banking which he said he'd use to get the company to stay.
Eric Adams and Shaun Donovan were asked about the upcoming possibility of a rent freeze for nearly one million apartments. Adams, who fought back against the notion that he preciously sided with landlords, said a rent freeze would be needed, as would a mortgage freeze or some form of compensation for small property owners, or else risk a major economic impact on the city's Black and brown communities. Donovan said that the city is on the verge of the worst eviction crisis it has ever seen.
Scott Stringer and Kathryn Garcia tackled the challenges facing police recruiting in the city amid a national reckoning on race and law enforcement. Stringer said that with reforms, potential recruits will "want to serve this great city," and that greater emphasis will be placed on recruiting city residents, particularly people of color. Garcia similarly honed in on change in the department, saying it will be possible for the NYPD to continue "keeping all of us safe, and respecting everyone, regardless of the color of their skin."
The first major topic addressed by all of the candidates concerned public safety, which led to a testy exchange between Yang and Adams. After Yang one again referenced his endorsement from the police captains union, he said that a major reason they backed him was Adams' decision to tell people to "take matters into their own hands and confront their neighbors over illegal fireworks." Yang went on to say that a woman who did this was killed, and a captain told him it was "the most irresponsible thing he'd seen from a public official."
Adams repeated what he said on Tuesday, saying that he did not ask for the union's endorsement. But Yang did not relent, saying that Adams met with the lieutenants union and called the captains union, which Adams once again refuted. Adams said he didn't get the endorsement because of his opposition to stop-and-frisk and other police measures.
After each candidate addressed their public safety plans, the candidates were asked if they were looking for more police on city subways amid an increase on crime on public transit. All but three candidates raised their hands in support of that, with Stringer, Morales and Wiley saying no.
When asked about the possibility of making school days longer, in an effort to make up for lost class time due to the pandemic, once again all candidates said they would support it, except for Stringer and Morales.
In an interesting twist, the next question posed a hypothetical to the candidates: Under their administration, would they offer current Mayor Bill de Blasio a job?
Every candidate said they would not, although Adams, McGuire and Stringer each said they would seek his advice on certain matters, like McGuire saying he would reach out regarding pre-k.
Yang said not only would he not offer de Blasio a job, but "he wouldn't want a job with my administration." Wiley was a bit softer on her response, saying she wouldn't offer a position to someone who wasn't asking for one.
(De Blasio, for his part, had a fairly withering assessment of the candidates the next day, saying at his daily news conference "no one won, in my estimation" and latter adding "I thought it was a pretty uninspiring debate.")
After addressing new ideas to fight homelessness and how the candidates can get undocumented city residents to stop being afraid to come forward for services, each candidate was asked to identify what they thought was the worst idea they had heard from one of their opponents.
Both Garcia and McGuire said defunding the police was not the correct response, with McGuire's response eliciting an emotional response from Morales.
After saying that both defunding the police and a return to stop-and-frisk would be bad for Black and brown communities, Morales said to McGuire "How dare you assume to speak for Black and brown communities as a monolith. You cannot do that."
"The defund movement was actually started by young Black and brown people, you can't erase them in that way. It may be your truth, but it's not the truth for the community as a whole," Morales charged.
After saying he was going to speak for the communities once again, Morales said that he couldn't speak for them because "I am a member of that community, and you are certainly not speaking for me."
Morales said the worst idea she had heard also related to police, but it was that a majority of the candidates supported "flooding the subways with more cops." Wiley answered similarly, going after Adams for supposedly wanting to bring back stop-and-frisk and the NYPD's anti-crim unit. Adams denied that he wanted to have stop-and-frisk return.
For his own answer, Adams went after man of Yang's platforms. That came after Yang said the worst idea he heard was Adams' suggestion to bring a firearm to church. Stringer said that Yang's previous ideas for "TikTok homes" and putting a casino on Governor's Island were the worst he had heard.
The candidates were also grilled on whether there was a problem they didn't know how to solve. Most mentioned education, while Wiley and Morales talked about getting the city city better suited regarding climate change, infrastructure and green energy. Green initiatives were also a common refrain among most of the candidates when asked about what their big project for the city would be.
In a later lightning round, the candidates seemed to be more on the same page with one another. All but Yang agreed that some form of composting should be required (Yang said that while he "loves" composting, he wasn't sure how to pay for it). Meanwhile, none of the candidates were ready to call for a ban on natural gas for cooking and/or heating in new construction.
In another lightning round to wrap up the debate, the candidates addressed how much sleep they get in a night (most said six hours, while Adams said he gets around four and a half some nights). The candidates also listed what they would want to ban as mayor, with all but Yang and McGuire saying that different forms of unhealthy or processed foods and meals need to be eliminated from the city. Yang said he would clamp down on the illegal ATVs that many have complained about throughout the city, while McGuire wanted to do away with healthcare deserts.
In a lighter round of questioning, candidates answered who they'd want to perform at their inaugurations. Here were their replies:
- Maya Wiley: The Strokes
- Shaun Donovan: Kasami Washington
- Dianne Morales: Rita Moreno
- Andrew Yang: Dave Chappelle and Bowen Yang
- Eric Adams: A homeless man who he's heard play on West 4th Street
- Kathryn Garcia: U2
- Scott Stringer: Performer for children
- Ray McGuire: Mary J. Blige, Diddy, Nas, Run DMC, and having Notorious BIG's music play as well
Before the debate even started, hundreds of supporters for all the candidates gathered outside NBC studios at Rockefeller Center. The raucous crowds all loudly cheered as each of the candidates arrived, with Ray McGuire saying that the turnout shows how the "polls haven't been right in a long time."
Most of the candidates said before the debate that their goal was to speak directly to the voters before Tuesday's primary.
"Even my protesters today came to me later and said, 'you need to be our mayor," Adams said.
"This city is worth fighting for. And we're going to need a mayor to have the greatest comeback for our city," said Stringer.
"We're going to get things done for this city, we're going to make it a livable, safe place for families," Garcia said.
"I hope to make it clear to New Yorkers that I am the candidate offering the most opportunity for transformation for New York City and that this is our moment in time," said Morales.