Mayor Bill de Blasio, the front-runner in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary, said he’s made New York City safer, fairer and more affordable, a claim rival Sal Albanese rejected in their second and final debate Wednesday.
Standing at angled lecterns, the two Democrats sparred at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan, six days before the Sept. 12 election.
De Blasio, who’s outpaced Albanese in polling and fundraising, is on track to trounce Albanese: a July 27 poll conducted by Baruch College and NY1 news found that among Democrats, 57 percent would vote for de Blasio, with 3.5 percent for Albanese.
In the debate, Albanese said he supports a proposal to charge drivers to enter central Manhattan and toll the currently free East River bridges. A version of the plan, which aims to reduce congestion and lower other bridge tolls, is backed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had long called it untenable.
Revenue would fund the city’s moribund subway system. De Blasio has proposed his own plan — a “millionaire’s tax” on top earners to pay for the transit upgrades — and affirmed his longtime opposition to congestion pricing. He called the idea “a regressive tax.”
De Blasio repeatedly refused to state his position on calls to remove the Christopher Columbus statue from Columbus Circle by activists and some lawmakers who argue the explorer committed genocide against American Indians. The mayor said the decision would rest with a blue-ribbon panel whose members he will name soon to examine all of the city’s controversial monuments.
“I don’t think it makes sense for me to opine issue by issue,” de Blasio said, calling himself “a proud Italian American.”
Albanese considers the panel political cowardice.
“What he’s done with this commission is create more schisms,” Albanese said.
Early in the debate, pressed by moderator Maurice DuBois of WCBS-TV, de Blasio defended his team’s fundraising practices against the conclusion of state and federal prosecutors, who said in March that the team came precipitously close to violating the spirit of anti-corruption laws.
“I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to,” he said, saying he’s satisfied with the city’s current campaign finance laws.
Said Albanese, repeating a line he’d used in the past: “We need a higher standard for mayor than not being indicted.”
De Blasio said the city is safer even though the police stop, question, frisk and arrest fewer people.
Although the NYPD has instructed officers to issue summonses instead of arrests for most petty crimes, including low-level marijuana possession, the mayor said that buying marijuana on the street should remain illegal. The position puts him at odds with his left flank, which considers the laws to be disproportionately and unfairly enforced against minorities.
“There still is arrest for smoking marijuana, selling marijuana, other categories. I think these are the right laws right now. I think we’re going to have a chance to review them going forward as we see the experience of other states and other cities,” the mayor said.
Albanese, who said he thinks the laws against marijuana are ineffective, said that marijuana should be legalized, even though he doesn’t have personal experience with the leaf.
“I hope you don’t think I’m a square,” he said, “but I’ve never smoked marijuana.”
De Blasio said he smoked marijuana “once or twice when I was at NYU” — his undergraduate alma mater.
But, he doesn’t smoke it anymore, although, “some days, I wish I did.”