NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The rising gun violence and threat to public safety dominated the first New York City mayoral debate between the eight leading Democratic contenders Thursday.

As CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reports, the Democratic mayoral primary is just under six weeks away, and there are deep divisions among the contenders about whether to cut the NYPD budget. The question is generating the most heat.

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“I’m a 6’4″, 200-pound Black man. I want to have the police protect me and not profile me,” Ray McGuire said.

With the Times Square shooting and ever increasing gun violence and subway crime dominating the headlines, it was no big surprise that in their first major debate, the eight leading Democratic mayoral contenders tried to either defend cops or defund them.

“We actually need to recognize that police respond to crimes. They don’t prevent crime,” Dianne Morales said.

The division was pronounced when the candidates were asked if they would send more cops to police the subways. Only half the candidates raised their hands.

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The sharpest exchange was between defund-the-cops proponent Maya Wiley and former cop Eric Adams. Wiley implied Adams supported the controversial stop, question and frisk policies.

“How can New Yorkers trust you to protect us and to keep us safe from police misconduct?” Wiley said.

“Every time you raise that question, it really just shows your failure of understanding law enforcement,” Adams said.

“Having chaired the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, I certainly understand misconduct,” Wiley said.

“I told everyone at the beginning of the race, once candidates start getting desperate, it’s going to get really nasty,” Adams said.

There were a number of embarrassing questions. For example, why did Andrew Yang fail to vote in New York City mayoral elections?

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“I’ve certainly been active in other ways,” he said. “I helped swing those two races in Georgia.”

Shaun Donovan was asked about the propriety of his dad running a super PAC that has poured millions of outside money into his campaign.

“There are dozens of these groups supporting almost every candidate that’s in this race, and in fact,” Donovan said.

“Not every candidate,” Morales said.

Scott Stringer had seventeen of these groups when he ran for comptroller in 2013,” Donovan said.

“Don’t get me involved in your daddy problems,” Stringer said.

Wiley was confronted with the fact that she worked for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I quit five years ago. I voted with my feet,” she said.

Bringing back the economy was another important topic.

Kathryn Garcia pointed out that the pandemic had forced many women to stop working.

“Which is why we need free child care for those who are making under $70,000 a year,” she said.

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With ranked choice voting, the candidates were asked who their supporters should choose as number two. Two chose Garcia, but four copped out and chose no one.

Marcia Kramer