NYC Crime, Schools Draw Divide in First Debate for Mayor

The eight top Democratic candidates for New York City mayor participated in their first televised debate Thursday, zeroing in on how to revive a city reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a two-hour debate held via video chat, the largest-ever field of candidates in a mayor’s race took on issues of crime, the economy and the health crisis while dealing with mishaps common to pandemic debating: Forgetting to mute, scripted answers read off a screen, virtual cross-talk, and clumsily raising hands to talk.

NYC Crime, Schools Draw Divide in First Debate for Mayor

They will compete in the June 22 Democratic primary, the first mayoral race in the city to be decided by ranked voting, and painted two different visions on how to approach a recovery in the most populous city in the U.S., where the unemployment rate is double the national average.

The night was marked by the cheerleading of former presidential contender Andrew Yang, the public safety distress calls of Brooklyn Borough President and retired cop Eric Adams, and the ideological progressiveness of nonprofit executive Dianne Morales and civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley.

Divisions Over Policing

The Candidates sparred over how to deal with the increase in shootings, which rose in April by 166% from a year before, as well as other forms of crime and transit problems. One issue is whether more police officers will help reduce crime quickly or whether mental health professionals should be providing more intervention.

“I grew up in the 1970s when there were more than 2,000 homicides a year, I understand we can never go back to those days,” said city Comptroller Scott Stringer. “I also want to say in this moment we can’t go back to the Rudy Giuliani style of law enforcement.”

Adams refuted claims by former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia that more gun buybacks would reduce crime. He said the other candidates’ focus on long-term prevention programs weren’t enough and touted intervention, including a proposal to create a plainclothes unit to aggressively seek out gun-carrying criminals.

Wiley, Stringer and Morales opposed the idea, recalling a similar operation, the Street Crime Unit, that was disbanded. Yang also assailed Wiley and Morales’ pledges to take away money from the New York Police Department, saying “defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City.”

Adams Says He’s Not ‘Too Conservative’

Adams was put on the defensive as a former Republican and a pro-police candidate in the era of Black Lives Matter who recently received the endorsement of the conservative New York Post. Adams pointed out that former President Barack Obama also carried the Post’s endorsement in the primaries.

When asked whether he was “too conservative” to run the city, he vowed that “I’m a Democrat.”

He said when he talks about shrinking city government, “it’s saying that we are inefficient in this city, and inefficiencies are creating the inequities and injustices.”

Yang Owns Up to Sparse Local Voting Record

Yang was asked why he had never voted in a New York City mayor’s race and why he was absent from key issues, including mayoral control of schools and stop-and-frisk policing. “I’ve been active in other ways,” he said.

He added that he was one of many registered Democrats who voted in the presidential elections but wasn’t involved locally. He touted the money he raised to help swing the U.S. Senate during the Georgia runoff elections earlier this year and said New York City’s current crisis prompted him to action.

He added that as a public-school parent he felt a personal connection to making the schools better and the streets safer. Other candidates quipped at Yang: “This is not time for a rookie as mayor,” said Shaun Donovan, a former city housing commissioner.

Stringer Again Refutes Allegation

Stringer again denied allegations that he had groped a woman who volunteered for his 2001 campaign for public advocate. He said he believes all women should be allowed to make allegations in a safe space, “even if it’s inconvenient to me.” He said he will continue to explain his viewpoint to voters, who “will have to decide in the next few weeks.”

Zinger on ‘Daddy’s Problems’

Donovan sidestepped questions about why he has relied on a multi-million dollar independent campaign fund backed by his father, which elicited a review by the city’s Campaign Finance Board. “This is not an issue I’m hearing about or that people are focused on,” he said, pointing out that Stringer also benefited from political action committees. When Donovan said Stringer used the same practice in the past, Stringer retorted, “don’t get me involved in your daddy’s problems.”

Schools and Vaccine Requirements

Candidates were split on whether coronavirus vaccines should be required in schools. Wiley, Adams and former Citigroup banker Ray McGuire said children shouldn’t be required to get Covid-19 vaccines to attend public schools. Garcia, Yang, Donovan, Stringer, and Morales said otherwise. All the candidates said they wouldn’t require teachers to be vaccinated.

Adams and Stringer were the only two candidates who said they would support allowing some students to continue to attend classes remotely. Garcia and Adams said the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test should remain the only criteria to get into the city’s elite specialized schools, a practice that has been criticized for perpetuating racial segregation in public schools.

On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants all kids to come back into school buildings in September and that he has no plans to require kids or teachers to get the vaccine. When asked about the debate in a WNYC radio interview, he said residents needed more information from candidates to be able to vote for the city’s next mayor.

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