NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Having easily won renomination in the Democratic primary, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday faced Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis and independent Bo Dietl in a heated and raucous first general mayoral debate.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, shouting was the main theme of the debate – from both the audience and the candidates themselves.
With the crowd cheering and jeering loudly from beginning to end, the debate was held at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. Errol Louis of NY1 moderated, with panelists Grace Rauh also of NY1, Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias, Brian Lehrer of WNYC, and Gloria Pazmino of Politico New York.
Dietl noted his background as a steelworker, an NYPD detective, and a businessman who would “get things done” as mayor.
He said as a police detective, he worked as a decoy.
“I was mugged 400 times. I was stabbed. I was shot at. I was hospitalized 30 times. I helped the people of New York City,” he said.
He added that he has since run a successful security and investigative company for 32 years, and has been “working my whole life to get things done.”
Malliotakis, a state assemblywoman representing parts of southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, said de Blasio had been ineffective as mayor.
“Bill de Blasio has abused the working class, spending more of our money and getting no results,” she said.
Malliotakis noted that her parents were immigrants from Greece and Cuba, and she was the first in her family to attend college and earn an MBA. She said she wanted to ensure that all New Yorkers would have the same opportunities.
She said she would improve schools, address the homelessness crisis, and “ensure once and for all that we fix our subways.”
“I’m ready to clean up his mess,” Malliotakis said of de Blasio.
De Blasio said Dietl and Malliotakis were both “right-wing Republicans who voted for Donald Trump.”
“I’m a proud Democrat and I’m a proud progressive,” de Blasio said.
He touted what he said were his achievements as mayor.
“We have a city that is now the safest big city in America. We have more jobs than ever before. Our graduation rate is up. Our test scores are up. We’re making progress in the city. I need your help to continue the progress,” he said.
Dietl protested de Blasio’s characterization of him.
“I’m a registered Democrat and I do not like Donald Trump, and I do not like what he’s done,” Dietl said.
Dietl said he had indeed voted for Trump, but “would take that vote back tomorrow.”
Dietl and Malliotakis went on to attack de Blasio’s record on the homelessness crisis. Dietl said there are homeless families with children around Penn Station, and said, “This mayor’s done nothing for the homeless.”
Malliotakis said de Blasio had “mishandled” the homelessness crisis, and said the city was wasting $4,000 a month per room, per family for families at the Pan Am Hotel in Queens. She said the money could be used for supportive housing and focusing on mental health.
De Blasio retorted that First Lady Chirlane McCray had herself launched a mental health initiative to focus on the root cause of mental health issues, and also said his administration had launched the largest affordable housing initiative in any city.
He added that as to the homelessness crisis, he had gotten more than 60,000 New Yorkers into shelters and better housing, and ensured that people who were being evicted had free legal services, among other initiatives. He also said the city was working for permanent solutions so as to stop putting homeless people up in hotels and cluster housing sites.
De Blasio further noted a plan to stop moving homeless New Yorkers a borough or two away, and instead helping them remain in their own communities as they get back on their feet.
But Malliotakis protested that de Blasio was now talking about keeping homeless people in their own neighborhoods, just after reports that his administration said it would pay a year’s rent for any homeless New Yorkers who would relocate outside the city.
She also said de Blasio was calling for major spending to build homeless shelters in neighborhoods where they are not wanted.
On the issue of taking New Yorkers out of poverty – a major theme in Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign – Malliotakis said de Blasio has focused too much on the minimum wage.
She said the minimum wage is always meant to be entry-level, and raising it is not a long-term solution.
“The idea that I have is to provide opportunities to individuals to gain a skill so they can join a union; they can start their own businesses,” she said.
But de Blasio said Malliotakis voted against a minimum wage increase in Albany, and recently said the government should not set the minimum wage.
Meanwhile, Dietl accused de Blasio of campaigning on a “tale of two cities” where lower-income and middle-class New Yorkers are suffering, but not really fixing the problem.
“You think the people of New York are idiots out there?” she said. “You know what you’re doing.”
On the state of the subway system, which has been a topic of heated controversy this past summer, Dietl and Malliotakis both said the city should chip in more money for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as the state has asked it to do.
For a point of comparison, Dietl said, “If my kids are riding on a school bus and the bus needs brakes, and I have the money to fix it, I’m going to fix it.”
Of de Blasio, Dietl said: “He talks about his $4 billion surplus. Why didn’t he take the half a billion dollars; us it to help fix those tracks?”
Malliotakis said the city does have a responsibility toward the MTA and she said de Blasio is not living up to that responsibility. She said she would work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to solve the issues and deal with the funding question.
“Are you afraid of Governor Cuomo?” Malliotakis said to de Blasio amid both cheers and boos.
De Blasio replied, “I am very comfortable taking on the governor when he’s wrong and when he’s doing something that doesn’t help New York City, and I’m comfortable working with him when he does the right thing.”
He said his major issue when it comes to MTA funding is that he does not believe the state has done its own part. De Blasio said two years ago, the city gave $2.5 billion to the MTA without any legal order to do so.
But this time, he said, “I was concerned that the state was not taking its own responsibility for the situation.”
“There was $456 million diverted from the MTA budget to the rest of the state budget, that was earmarked money for the MTA that the governor and the legislature diverted away from the MTA,” de Blasio said, adding that Malliotakis herself had voted to redirect the funds.
The mayor maintained that a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers was the best way to increase funding for the subway.
On the issue of the NYPD and public safety, Malliotakis disputed de Blasio’s claim that New York City is the nation’s safest big city, saying the claim is not true for women. She said there had been a 25 percent increase in felony sex crimes.
Malliotakis also took issue with de Blasio’s move to decriminalize quality of life offenses such as public urination and littering.
She also slammed de Blasio for appointing a judge who has been blamed for allowing Jose Gonzalez to go free on bail despite 31 prior arrests. Gonzalez was later accused of the murder of FDNY EMT Yadira Arroyo, who was struck and killed by her own ambulance when it was stolen in the Bronx in March.
De Blasio accused Malliotakis of using “classic right-wing Republican scare tactics,” and said the statistics showed that crime in New York City has indeed gone down for four straight years.
De Blasio said, “I’d like a little more respect for the hard work of our officers and the people in the community working with them.”
Dietl claimed nine out of 10 police officers would leave the city and find another job if given the offer, because of the mayor. He drew attention in particular to violence and crime in city schools.
“In our schools, you don’t know what’s going on. In our schools today, kids are assaulting other kids; they’re not getting arrested. They’re bringing weapons, and they’re not getting arrested. They’re flushing drugs down the toilet. And he’s letting it happen,” Dietl said of the mayor.
Dietl called for waiving the two-year college degree requirement for NYPD officers and said it could “get our inner-city kids in our Police Department and make it more community-related.” He also said he would pay officers overtime to work in city schools on off-hours.
Later, Dietl and Malliotakis both called for keeping the Rikers Island jail complex open. De Blasio has called for the closure of the complex and has announced a plan to do so.
Malliotakis also took issue with de Blasio’s controversial trip to speak at a protest rally in Germany only hours after NYPD Det. Miosotis Familia was killed in July.
In turn, de Blasio slammed Malliotakis for what he said was her support of President Trump. Later, Malliotakis also took issue with panelist Rauh after she suggested that the assemblywoman was “having it both ways” with Trump – sometimes distancing herself from the president, but recently saying Trump was “right” when he said NFL players who did not stand for the national anthem should be fired.
“I feel that you’re carrying the mayor’s water right now,” Malliotakis said to Rauh.
She said she would say so when she agrees with Trump and also when she does not.
“That is my relationship with everyone,” Malliotakis said.
Rauh also brought up past quotes from Dietl, including reports that he blamed a “Muslim guy” who works for the state for his New York tax problems, called his attorney a “Jewish lawyer,” and said the African-American judge who ruled that he could not run for mayor as a Democrat looked like First Lady McCray.
“You’re wrong about what you just said,” Dietl retorted. “All I said was the judge was very familiar looking as the mayor’s wife with two beautiful eyes and a smile. I never used the word African-American, so how dare you use that, and how dare you imply that?”
De Blasio said if Dietl was to bring up a judge’s race or gender, he was “no better than Donald Trump when (Trump) said a Mexican judge is going to rule against him.”
The debate was frequently interrupted by a loud and exuberant audience. Right as the candidates were introduced, a crowd began chanting, “Four more years!” But members of the crowd also booed just as Mayor de Blasio introduced himself for the first time.
“Guys, you’re not going to stop the debate,” moderator Louis said. “Please don’t do that.”
But the cheers and jeers for each candidate continued as the debate went on, and one man was later ejected from the venue.
Meanwhile, on two separate occasions, Dietl’s microphone was also cut off because, Louis said, he kept interrupting.
The next mayoral debate is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the CUNY Graduate Center studio. The second debate is sponsored by CBS2 and TV 10/55, 1010 WINS, WCBS 880, the New York Daily News, Common Cause New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, and CUNY.