The debate was spirited, at times fast-paced and occasionally awkward, with the eight candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York engaging with one another in a virtual format that left little room for the usual onstage theatrics. Here are five takeaways.
Crime and policing became the dividing line.
The topics of crime and police reform came up early, and quickly became the clearest line dividing the candidates. Moderates like Andrew Yang drew sharp contrasts with more progressive candidates like Maya Wiley.
“Let me be clear, defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City,” Mr. Yang said.
But Ms. Wiley and Dianne Morales argued in favor of shifting resources away from the police.
“Safety is not synonymous with police,” Ms. Morales said.
Yang acted, and was attacked, like a front-runner.
Mr. Yang, who was considered among the leaders if not the top candidate in polls, was treated by the other candidates as a front-runner, repeatedly fielding attacks from other candidates.
Scott M. Stringer, the city’s comptroller, targeted Mr. Yang’s lack of governmental experience, saying the city cannot afford a “mayor on training wheels.” Eric Adams said that Mr. Yang’s taking credit for Democrats winning the runoffs for the U.S. Senate race in Georgia was “disrespectful and appalling.”
And it was clear Mr. Yang did not feel like he needed to go on the offensive, as he largely abstained from any attacks, sticking to his agenda and talking points.
Maya Wiley came out swinging.
Before she entered the mayor’s race, Ms. Wiley spent nearly three years as a commentator on MSNBC and NBC News. During the debate, she put the skills that she honed there on full display.
She interjected with her policy positions in key moments, speaking sharply in soundbites. When attacked, she maintained her composure, firing back with a quick set of talking points. She rarely rambled.
And she brought research to the table, drawing on past remarks that other candidates made in speeches or interviews. When she and Mr. Adams were sparring over his views on crime and policing, he suggested her criticism of him was not based in facts.
“Eric,” she said, “this is a newspaper article. This is facts.”
The virtual format made for some awkward moments.
For months, the candidates have appeared in virtual forums, similar to the one used during Thursday’s debate. It was an array of talking heads locked into a Brady Bunch grid.
Understand the N.Y.C. Mayoral Race
- Who’s Running for Mayor? There are more than a dozen people still in the race to become New York City’s next mayor, and the primary will be held on June 22. Here’s a rundown of the candidates.
- What is Ranked-Choice Voting? New York City began using ranked-choice voting for primary elections this year, and voters will be able to list up to five candidates in order of preference. Confused? We can help.
The virtual format had its limits, though. When one candidate was on-screen, viewers couldn’t see how the others reacted. The first time all candidates were asked a question, everyone spoke at once. At one point, a moderator, Josefa Velasquez, half-seriously threatened to put candidates on mute if they ran on too long.
Still, as the night went on, the interruptions and attacks mounted. In one segment, candidates were given a chance to cross-examine one another with questions. The exchanges, which mostly targeted the race’s front-runners, Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams, grew contentious, resembling the heated in-person debates of past campaigns.
They talked a lot, but here’s what they didn’t discuss.
It is impossible to cover all of New York City and its issues in two hours, even over Zoom. But a number of issues that have been central during the campaign were barely mentioned tonight.
Mr. Yang’s comments, for example, about the conflict between Israeli and Palestinian people, which roiled the mayor’s race this week, never came up.
The city’s transit system, a vital component of its pandemic recovery and a frequent sore spot for Mayor Bill de Blasio, was barely mentioned. Though the subway came up in reference to both crime and homelessness, its financial and structural problems did not.
Climate change, a growing concern for a city of eight million people shoved onto a collection of islands and peninsulas, was only mentioned as an aside.
And though candidates said they were eager for the city to reopen and for the economy to recover, little attention was paid to the uncertain future of Manhattan’s vast office space, which sits largely empty but is key to the city’s financial health.
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