De Blasio repeatedly accused Lhota of “fearmongering,” while Lhota accused de Blasio of failing to keep promises and being soft on crime.
CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois served as moderator for the debate at the City of University of New York Graduate Center. Early on in the debate, Lhota argued that de Blasio will be soft on crime and will take New York back to the dark days of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, as he articulated in a recent ad.
The ad shows images of 1970s New York while suggesting that such scenes will return if de Blasio is elected. The images are juxtaposed with the scene of a group of bikers attacking sport-utility vehicle driver Alexian Lien in Upper Manhattan last month.
“Bill de Blasio served in the administration of David Dinkins, and during that period of time, we had 2,000 murders a year; the last time we had a race riot in the city of New York,” Lhota said.
Lhota claimed de Blasio does not believe in supporting the Police Department, and would bring the city backwards. He argued that stop-and-frisk must be changed, but maintained.
“What’s important is that we cannot handcuff the Police Department,” he said.
But de Blasio said he believes in a strong police force, and thinks the NYPD is doing a good job. While Lhota said he believes an Inspector General for the NYPD is not necessary, de Blasio called it a useful form of check and balance.
He also blasted Lhota’s ad more than once.
“Mr. Lhota should be ashamed of an ad that tries to divide us; that’s based on fearmongering,” he said.
Later, de Blasio said the ad amounted to “race baiting” and shows images of riots. Lhota raised his voice and pointed his finger at that remark, as the candidates launched into a prolonged shouting match.
“You want to throw out the race card? Let’s talk about the various different mass cards put out for the thousands of people killed in the city. Let’s talk about the report card for the kid being kept in failing schools. Let’s talk about the scorecard that says New York City is the highest-taxed city in the country,” Lhota said. “Don’t tell me I throw out the race card. There’s nothing racial in there. Bill, you cannot stoop that low and bring that up.”
“He can be as upset as he wants to be,” de Blasio replied. “The bottom line is his ad depicted images of riots and racial imagery.”
“What racial imagery?” Lhota said.
“Go look at your own ad,” he said. “Anybody who looks at that ad knows what he’s up to and it’s what his boss, Rudy Giuliani, used to be up to, and it’s not what a mayor should be doing.” Lhota served several positions in Giuliani’s administration.
“I am getting sick and tired of you impugning the integrity of Rudy Giuliani,” Lhota shot back. “He was the man who created the renaissance in this city, and started all the programs to make all New Yorkers safe and expand our economy and jobs.”
But de Blasio said Giuliani was indeed a divisive figure, and not a model to follow.
“Rudy Giuliani did divide us consciously, and it hurt this city and held us back, and we’ve done a lot better since then,” de Blasio said.
“What color is the sky in your planet?” Lhota responded as the candidates talked over each other.
De Blasio also defended his plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten by raising taxes on the wealthy, despite reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said such a plan would be “dead on arrival.”
De Blasio said Cuomo had not, in fact, said any such thing. He said Cuomo had told him he “will keep an open mind in the issue,” and argued that people want support for schools and would think it was fair to tax the wealthy.
“Those who are doing very well – a half million or more – they’re doing better all the time… so we can safely say there will be popular support,” he said.
But de Blasio did not directly answer a question by DuBois about what would happen if his plan did not work out, and Lhota quickly jumped on him for it.
“Bill de Blasio doesn’t have a plan B,” Lhota said. “He just told you by talking as long as he did without ever hearing of a plan B.”
He accused de Blasio of “making promises over and over that he can’t keep,” and added that a tax hike definitely will not affect just the rich.
“For those of you in the middle class, you’d better hold onto your wallets,” he said.
He said safe streets, as an example, are a civil right, but tax hikes are a “civil wrong.”
“Mr. de Blasio doesn’t know the difference between a civil right and a civil wrong,” he said.
In response, de Blasio characterized Lhota as a supporter of Milton Friedman-style economics.
“Mr. Lhota is offering a Republican, trickle-down vision of tax cuts for the wealthy, tax cuts for corporations,” and would create a huge hole in the city budget, de Blasio argued.
The candidates also debated the issue of charter schools. Lhota said charter schools should be supported while de Blasio wants to “annihilate” them.
Lhota argued that by proposing that some charter schools should be charged rent and have restrictions placed on where they locate, de Blasio is trying to eliminate them.
“The reason why parents marched on the Brooklyn Bridge a few weeks ago was because Mr. de Blasio was threatening to annihilate the schools,” Lhota said. “If you start charging them rent or not co-locate in schools, it is wrong.”
De Blasio said Lhota was mischaracterizing his position.
“As to Mr. Lhota’s fearmongering, I don’t want to annihilate charter schools,” he said. “I said we should work with the cap; and good charter schools, we’ll continue to work with; and charter schools that aren’t doing their job, we’ll push them to do better. And the wealthy ones should pay rent; ones that don’t have a lot of money shouldn’t.”
He said charter schools often do “dislocate” the needs of the traditional public schools that most New York City pupils attend.
When the candidates were allowed to ask questions of one another, de Blasio attacked Lhota for seeking the support of a Tea Party group in Staten Island and “commented that in many ways, your philosophy was similar.”
“Bill, you talk about tea so much, you remind me of the Mad Hatter,” Lhota fired back. “I was invited to go talk to the Tea Party. I went out there and talked, and there are some things that I agree with them on. I agree with what they believe in, in the Constitution. I totally disagree with what they did in Washington.”
Lhota was also asked about some of his past remarks. Shortly after Superstorm Sandy when he was serving as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Lhota remarked that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had acted “like an idiot” in his remarks on when the Midtown Tunnel would open.
Lhota said a New York Times reporter happened to be tailing him all day, and he was angry when he had already announced the tunnel would reopen the following morning at 6 a.m., only to hear Bloomberg say the tunnel likely would not reopen for weeks or months.
He also clarified the remark in which he was accused of calling Port Authority police officers “mall cops.” He said he had actually said Port Authority police should work more closely with the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies, rather than acting like “mall cops,” when it comes to stopping crimes such as human trafficking.
But de Blasio characterized Lhota’s remark as part of a pattern of abrasiveness.
“There is a pattern here. Let’s be clear,” he said. “He said a moment ago, I will annihilate charter schools, and I would destroy aid for Sandy if I made sure the people got jobs. He called the mayor an idiot. He called law enforcement officials mall cops. He insulted law enforcement officials. That’s not what a mayor does.”
The candidates did agree on some issues. Both supported plans for Seaport City, a planned development that would protect the eastern section of Lower Manhattan from Superstorm Sandy.
The candidates also both spoke against the new green all-borough taxis that have begun running in the outer boroughs, saying livery cab services should be supported instead. Both candidates also said horse carriage rides should end in New York City.
In his concluding statement, Lhota said a vote for de Blasio would be a vote for a downward spiral for the city.
“We are one mayor away from unsafe streets, unsafe schools, and unsafe fiscal policy. I’m the only person who has the experience to keep our city strong, safe and protected. Mr. de Blasio does not,” Lhota said. “Here’s my question for all of you out there. In two weeks, when you go to vote on November 5, for your sake, for your child’s sake, do you want your vote to be safe or sorry?”
De Blasio did not address Lhota’s policies in his concluding statement, but instead returned to his theme of a “tale of two cities.” He said as mayor, he would focus on the need for affordable housing, community hospitals, and other amenities to benefit all.
“I’ve been saying throughout this campaign that we’re living a tale of two cities right now. Some folks are doing very well in our city. A lot of folks are struggling. Our middle class is disappearing,” de Blasio said. “We can’t keep living this way. The status quo is not acceptable, and won’t help us be strong and great for the future.”
Lhota was trailing de Blasio by 44 points in a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday. That marks a slight improvement from the 50 point deficit he faced in the last Quinnipiac poll, which was released Oct. 3, and is rapidly running out of time before voters go to the polls Nov. 5.
CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported Lhota’s problem may be one of demographics. Democrats have a 6-1 edge in Democratic enrollment, and voters have only chosen a Republican in a crisis – Rudolph Giuliani when there was a crime wave, and Michael Bloomberg – who has since become an Independent – after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The new Quinnipiac poll surveyed 973 likely voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
De Blasio and Lhota’s third and final debate is scheduled for Oct. 29.
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