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New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.
Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig, file
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.

Primary gets pugilistic

Politics | Democratic mayoral candidates clash in the final debate before the primary, and Weiner melts down

NEW YORK—With a cacophony that echoed cab drivers shouting on the streets of New York, the city’s Democratic mayoral candidates clashed in the final debate of the campaign on Tuesday night. 

“All of us have a lot to say,” one of the debate moderators noted. 

The city is about to elect its first new mayor in over a decade. The primaries next Tuesday could determine the winner, though the general election isn’t until November. Bill de Blasio, the public advocate for New York, continues to lead Democratic polls by such a margin that he may avoid a runoff. The Democratic nominee is all but sure to win the general election, with registered Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans in the city seven to one. Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller, and Christine Quinn, the city council speaker, are de Blasio’s closest rivals, and each have turned on the frontrunner with ferocity. The Republican primary also takes place Tuesday.

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Last night, the candidates worked to characterize de Blasio as a flip flopper who takes any position to please any constituency. The one area where his challengers seemed to have a point was on term limits: De Blasio fought against Michael Bloomberg’s bid for a third term, but now says he wouldn’t enact term limits. De Blasio, who looks about a head taller than all his challengers, stayed calm and aloof, never raising his voice or allowing himself to get animated. 

The moderators dwelled on topics that have been worn to threads in this campaign, like the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy and the city’s looming budget crisis. The candidates made little news. No one offered any plans for the impending negotiations with the city’s unions on massive retroactive pay increases—all candidates dodged by saying they wouldn’t negotiate contracts in the media.  

Former congressman Anthony Weiner, now near the bottom of the polls after a brief visit to the top, provided the evening’s entertainment, like a man with nothing to lose. When one of the moderators interrupted him while he was speaking, he quickly jabbed, “You do the questions, I’ll do the answers.” When the moderators asked de Blasio if he would run for a second term if crime went up, he demurred, saying the question wasn’t fair. John Liu, a former city comptroller who is at the bottom of the pile in polls, countered that it was. “It’s a ridiculous question, John,” Weiner returned. Later Liu responded to a question about term limits by talking about a tax on millionaires. Weiner objected, “John, you’re slowing me up, you’re slowing me up. I stated it perfectly on term limits.” 

Topping his evening shenanigans, Weiner got in a long shouting match with a Jewish voter on Wednesday. The man, Saul Kessler, told Weiner that his past indiscretions were morally “deviant” and he shouldn’t be running for public office but stay at home with his family. “What rabbi taught you that you were my judge?” Weiner blasted back. “What gives you the moral authority to judge me?” The viral incident, occurring at the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, probably marked the end of Weiner's mayoral aspirations.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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