NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The three Republican candidates for mayor fielded an assortment of questions Wednesday night, on issues ranging from stop-and-frisk and public housing to the city’s free condom program.
While taking occasional jabs at each other, former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota, businessman John Catsimatidis and Doe Fund founder George McDonald agreed on many of the issues during their debate.
CBS 2’s Maurice Dubois moderated the event, along with a panel including 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa, CBS 2 political reporter Marcia Kramer and El Diario La Prensa’s Marlene Peralta, at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Dubois began by asking the candidates — all of whom support the stop-and-frisk law enforcement policy — how they would react and if they would change their positions if one of their own children were stopped.
McDonald said his son, John, would not get stopped, “and that’s the whole point.” He said the focus should be on the underlying causes of crime in the areas where people are stopped, questioned and frisked most frequently.
He said the reasons some neighborhoods are struggling are all economic, and the focus should be on correcting issues such as unemployment and the school dropout rate.
Both Catsimatidis and Lhota said they would ask their children about the circumstances of the stop.
“I do have a son named John, and I would stay to him, ‘Well, what did you do to provoke it? I would say to him, ‘Were you dressed funny? Were you walking funny, looking funny?’ I would try to explain it to him,” Catsimatidis said.
He said stop-and-frisk needs to be maintained because the priority should be to keep people safe, “and not to protect criminals.”
Lhota said if his daughter, Kathryn, were stopped, he would explain that the 1968 U.S. Supreme ruling Terry v. Ohio allowed police officers to stop, question, and if necessary, frisk any person drawing suspicion.
“If all of those three things actually did happen, I would ask what actually did happen,” Lhota said, adding that he would take action if there were doubts.
The candidates exchanged jabs early on. When they were asked about their health and whether they are taking any medications, McDonald redirected the question toward Catsimatidis and asked why he has not released his tax returns.
Catsimatidis dismissed the question, saying McDonald is “just back to his old tricks.”
And while none of the candidates agreed that New York City Housing Authority developments should be privatized, each detailed a proposal to improve conditions and reduce crime in the developments. Lhota and Catsimatidis got into a spat about their proposals.
Catsimatidis claimed 325 public housing buildings account for 20 percent of the crime, and a police officer should be stationed in each of those buildings 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Lhota said such a plan simply was not workable, as it would take 3,000 police officers off the streets.
“I’m disappointed in your mathematics,” Catsimatidis retorted, saying the 325 buildings in question would only require 1,200 officers.
“So we’re going to give some people police protection and not others?” Lhota said.
For his part, Lhota called for making sure affordable housing is preserved and funded properly in the city, rather than privatizing anything. Catsimatidis also called for a program in which residents could buy their public housing units at “a very, very cheap rate” of $25,000 to $30,000, while McDonald called for using large public housing apartments now occupied by just one person for homeless families.
The candidates drew some laughs in the room when they were asked about Democratic mayoral candidate Christine Quinn’s proposal to increase the size and quality of free condoms distributed by the city, although the question did draw some serious attacks on Quinn and other Democratic candidates.
Catsimatidis said he disagreed with distributing free condoms to underage people, even though a free condoms program is already in place.
But since a free condoms program does exist, Catsamiditis said, “I think we should buy the best, strongest condoms we can get.”
McDonald said exuberantly: “Whatever condoms we use, I want them made in the City of New York. I want to use the purchasing power in the City of New York — all kinds of jobs.”
But Lhota criticized Quinn for raising condoms as a campaign issue at all.
“You want to see the ultimate in pandering? It’s exactly what Christine Quinn did,” he said.
That remark prompted an attack by McDonald on another Democratic candidate on another subject. He complained about Democratic frontrunner Bill de Blasio’s call to raise taxes on high-income earners when he “knows he can’t do it.”
“It’s the great divide in our city,” he said. “We can’t do that, and we can’t pander to the taxpayers.”
The candidates all agreed plans to develop and fortify the waterfront in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. McDonald said he would name the proposed Seaport City — a development that would be constructed on new landfill along the East River — after Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
They also addressed issues of testing in New York City Public Schools, and whether they would reopen Broadway in Times Square and Herald Square to improve traffic congestion — an idea none of them said they would implement as the first choice.
In their closing statements, each of the candidates touted their deep roots in New York City, combined with a look toward the future.
“I grew up in New York City on the poor side of town. I owe New York City everything I have. I made a lot of money and I don’t hide from it,” Catsimatidis said, adding that he now wants to give back.
He said he will ensure that the streets remain safe, and added that he would freeze all city taxes “until we determine where the budget really is.”
Lhota noted that his father was a New York City police officer, his paternal grandfather a firefighter and his maternal grandfather a taxi driver. As mayor, he said, he would look toward the future and focus on moving onward.
“I want New York City as a place where we can live, where we can work, where we can have fun – but most importantly, a place where we can raise our families,” Lhota said.
McDonald again took the opportunity to slam some Democratic candidates’ call to raise taxes on high earners, touting his experience in helping the homeless in New York City by leading them to find work.
“We have a clear choice in this election between what you see on TV – tax the rich – which is the handout society — and work, which is the hand up. That’s the choice that we have,” McDonald said. “It’s a clear choice to me, and I hope it is to you.”
WCBS-TV, WCBS Newsradio 880, 1010 WINS, El Diario La Prensa and Common Cause NY teamed up to sponsor the debate, which was sanctioned by the Campaign Finance Board.
The Republican Party has dominated the Mayor’s Office in the recent history. Democrats have not had a mayor in office in the last five terms — first with Rudolph Giuliani serving from 1994 through 2001, and then with Bloomberg — who began as a Republican and later an Independent — having served since.
But a recent poll said whoever wins the Republican primary will have an uphill battle to fight against the eventual Democratic nominee.
A Marist poll released recently showed Lhota maintaining his frontrunner status. Catsimatidis, who is funding his own campaign, has seen his numbers move slightly higher since launching a series of negative ads.
McDonald remained in last place in the poll in these final weeks before the primary.
Among the Democrats, a newly released Quinnipiac University poll shows Public Advocate de Blasio pulling ahead of his fellow Democrats among likely primary voters.
For complete Election 2013 coverage, click here.
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