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With the Democratic primary elections only a few weeks away and polls showing several candidates in or near the leadership, the anticipation for Wednesday night’s debate was quite high. Eight candidates faced each other face-to-face – albeit from CDC-approved distances – and engaged in two hours of frenetic verbal combat, possibly more theatrical than substance.
There are five food stalls here. And for more, read our full summary of the debate.
During the second hour of the debate, the moderator gave each of the eight candidates the opportunity to ask a competitor a question. Four of the contenders targeted Eric Adams, the President of the Brooklyn District and a front runner in the race.
“Mr. Adams said he carried a gun into church, he asked off duty officers to carry guns into church,” said Maya Wiley, a former attorney for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “He said he will carry a gun as mayor and maybe even give up his command. Eric, isn’t that the wrong message to tell our children not to pick up the guns? “
Later, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang – who also got hot for his centrist platform – delivered the harshest criticism of the night of Mr Adams, pointing to the various times in his career when he was being investigated.
“They don’t obey the traffic laws,” said Mr. Yang. “You are unprincipled.”
In general, Mr. Adams responded to the attacks with ease, a smile and, in the case of Ms. Wiley, a show of condescension.
“I really want you to understand this issue,” Mr. Adams said to Ms. Wiley before beginning an explanation of how off duty officers sometimes intervene in crimes with good results.
In response to Mr. Yang, Mr. Adams defended his integrity and criticized Mr. Yang’s lack of political experience in the city.
The issue of public safety in New York City, similar to the first debate last month, dominated the second mayoral debate from the start.
The first question asked candidates to explain whether it was possible to fight crime – the number of shootings in the city rose 77 percent this year compared to the previous year – while at the same time resources are being diverted from the police many of the more left-wing candidates have suggested.
Mr. Adams, a former police officer who does not support the curtailment of the police force, spoke grimly about gang wars and, more personally, about the loss of a childhood friend to gang violence. Kathryn Garcia, the former hygiene officer under Mr de Blasio, emphasized the importance of taking guns off the street.
Scott Stringer, the city’s auditor, took the opportunity to attack Ms. Wiley, who is also vying for support from the party’s left flank. Mr Stringer said Ms. Wiley served as a “stamp” chairing the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles civilian complaints about the police.
Most of the candidates insisted that the debate be conducted personally. But the format change did not seem to bring about the more substantial political discussion that the candidates and many voters had hoped for.
Instead, the debate was a chaotic, stormy two-hour debate, with candidates repeating topics of conversation that had already been presented and attacks that had already been polished.
Mr. Adams seemed frustrated by the clashes. At one point he complained to a moderator: “I really hope that we have the discipline to allow us all the allotted time frame.”
The moderator replied, similarly irritated: “You now have your chance, Mr. Adams.”
With all the barbs flying between the candidates, one contender seemed to be conspicuously staying out of the mix: Ms. Garcia.
Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams have been attacked multiple times, which is consistent with being considered top candidates in the race. But Ms. Garcia, who appeared to be gaining momentum in the race after approval by the New York Times editorial staff and was the subject of attack in the run-up to the debate, largely escaped the attention of the other candidates on Wednesday night.
When the candidates were asked to ask another candidate a question, no one addressed Ms. Garcia.
It was only towards the end of the debate that Mr Stringer criticized Ms. Garcia as part of the de Blasio government.
Ms. Wiley, an attorney and former MSNBC commentator, came out strong during the second debate, chasing two of the top performers and ignoring moderators’ calls to meet the deadline.
Ms. Wiley, who wore a bright red blazer that helped her stand out on stage, not only accepted Mr. Adams for guns, but also criticized another front runner in the race, Andrew Yang, and said his nonprofit was ineffective its goal to create jobs. Mr. Yang promised 100,000 jobs, Ms. Wiley said, but “created 150.”
During the first hour there were moments when Ms. Wiley controlled the hectic pace of the debate, even though she frustrated the moderators by refusing to stop when asked.
During a question about stopping crime, a presenter, WABC’s Bill Ritter, repeatedly tried to get Ms. Wiley to stop talking. “MS. Wiley,” said Mr. Ritter, “I appreciate it.”