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Good thing this was a virtual debate!
New York City’s Republican mayoral hopefuls went straight for the jugular during their first official debate on Wednesday night — hurling verbal jabs and taking swipes at each other’s records in what seemed more like an oral boxing match.
Right from the opening bell, Fernando Mateo, an advocate for taxi drivers and bodega owners, took aim at his opponent, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, accusing him of not having the red bona fides to run on the GOP line.
“Today were going to take the mask off his face and show every Republican who the true Republican is,” Mateo said during his opening statement on the Spectrum News NY1-hosted debate.
He also blamed Sliwa for bail reform and the movement to defund the NYPD, without going into details.
Sliwa then hit at Mateo for blaming law enforcement for the closure of his restaurant on the Hudson River waterfront, La Marina, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019 over massive debt — and following the drug arrest of a manager.
“You were running a criminal enterprise,” Sliwa charged. “All of the sudden you discover you have love for the police.”
During a segment on policing, Sliwa snapped that Mateo “hasn’t ridden the subway” and wouldn’t know how to solve mayhem in the city’s transit system.
“Curtis is a comedian he’s a wannabe actor, he’s a wannabe phony actor who’s lied his entire career to get attention,” Mateo lashed back.
“You should be a train conductor,” Mateo joked, after Sliwa touted his efforts to deal with subway crime.
“It’s not my fault that I can afford to take a cab,” Mateo said.
Host Errol Louis stepped in repeatedly to stop the squabbling.
Sliwa barked: “Fernando you have associated with organized crime,” apparently referring to the La Marina scandal.
Host Errol Louis then stepped in to stop the squabbling.
But round two was just as heated, with Sliwa attacking Mateo over his ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pay-to-play fundraising scandal.
He even held up a photo of his opponent laughing next to the mayor, prompting Louis to chide, “no props.”
“I think his red beret is too tight on him,” Mateo quipped, a reference to the Guardian Angels’ iconic hats.
Mateo admitted to The Post in 2016 that he raised campaign cash for de Blasio, a Democrat, and funneled it through an unemployed Brooklyn woman in what looked like a straw donor scheme. He was never charged with wrongdoing.
Both candidates were asked if they believe that former President Donald Trump was actually the victor in the 2020 election. Sliwa said no.
Mateo said yes, and bragged that he once spoke at the Republican National Convention, while saying that Sliwa “never voted for Trump.”
Asked about the coronavirus shutdown, Sliwa said he wants to “refund the police” and hire more cops, adding that safe streets and subways would bring back jobs. He also said he wants to “completely open up” nightlife.
Mateo, meanwhile, said he’d want to give a 10-percent tax break to small businesses. He also slammed Gov. Andrew Cuomo, accusing him of being “slow to react” and not following the science when it came to the pandemic.
The two then got into yet another shouting match, with Mateo making fun of Sliwa for his animal-advocacy platform — and the dozen adopted cats he houses in his Upper West Side studio.
“Curtis Sliwa is a Guardian Angel. He should be a train conductor. He’s not a Republican,” Mateo said.
Sliwa admitted that he became a Republican right before the lockdown in March 2020, and that he has had a “love hate relationship” with Trump going back 30 years.
Louis eventually had to mute the pair.
But the opponents ended up having a lot more in common than they appeared to realize, as they agreed on nearly all the topics in the lighting round, including not requiring public school students to wear masks, wanting to eliminate speed cameras — and both liking the musical “Jersey Boys.”
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