New York City’s election season officially kicked off Wednesday night with the first mayoral Democratic primary debate sponsored by the city Campaign Finance Board. You didn’t watch? Here is some of what you missed, from Sesame Street to Italian-Americana:
Two tango on stage
They were Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has a 35-point lead over Republican Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis, according to a July Quinnipiac poll that didn’t include primary opponents.
And Sal Albanese, a former City Council member who has run unsuccessfully for mayor in the past, including a 2013 run where he got less than 1 percent of the primary vote. De Blasio and Albanese were the only two candidates who cleared the debate sponsorsa hurdles. Meaning there was also. . .
The person in the Big Bird suit
This mostly silent figure was shepherded up and down the block outside the debate by former NYPD detective and Roger Ailes’ private investigator, Bo Dietl, who tried but failed to run as a Democrat and therefore could not qualify for the debate.
Dietl called the Big Bird character “the mayor’s cousin” — because, you know, de Blasio’s tall.
The Boston Red Sox hat. . .
Purchased by outsider Democratic candidate Bob Gangi, who did not raise enough money to qualify for the debate, and opted to do some street theater near 94th Street. That involved debating the merits of policing strategy not with de Blasio but with the flatbrim on a stick. De Blasio is a well-known Boston fan.
Should New York be like Athens, Greece?
“I want to make New York City a modern Athens,” Albanese said. By that, he might have meant improving the cityas democratic process (he later described ways toward fuller public financing of elections).
Apparently Spartan, de Blasio countered with, “I don’t want us to be an Athens; I want us to be the best New York City we can be.”
A compliment and a jab
De Blasio said Albanese “did something brave” when he served in the council: Albanese sponsored legislation in support of the LGBT community in the 1980s, a bold stance at the time.
Sal, in one of a number of quick-to-the-draw rejoinders, said “I thank you for the compliment, but I’m very suspicious.”
A trip to Disney
“If Mickey Mouse was the mayor wead still have crime going down,” Albanese said, grumpily noting that crime numbers had been dropping since before de Blasio took office, though most indexes have continued dropping.
A substantive difference
Albanese criticized de Blasio for “politicizing police” after the fatal shooting of an emotionally disturbed woman last year in the Bronx by Sgt. Hugh Barry. But he did not name either the sergeant or the woman.
De Blasio defended his stance, that Barry was to blame for the death, and was able to land one of his most effective and emotional lines of the night: “Her name was Deborah Danner.”
Albanese also said he would make changes on Rikers Island but not close it. De Blasio was once in that camp, calling the closure of Rikers Island only a “noble idea.” But this year he came around to calling for an eventual closure. Without someone like police reformer Gangi onstage and compared only with Albanese, that belatedness seems early.
Something to watch
Albanese returned again and again to affordability in the city, a key issue for both of the candidates. De Blasio says his affordable housing plan, including building or preserving 200,000 units over 10 years, will make the difference for New Yorkers.
Albanese said the mayor isn’t doing enough, citing stories of New Yorkers who tell him of their rent difficulties. He also tied the pain of the rent check to de Blasio’s close ties with the real estate industry, a likely future lane of attack. If you think NYC is more affordable now, “please vote for him,” Albanese challenged.
And finally, Christopher Columbus
The two Italian-Americans were asked their positions on whether the city should take down a statue of Columbus, a call which has been raised for years but escalated in the wake of protests over Confederate memorials nationwide.
Albanese, who immigrated from Italy at a young age, called it a “slippery slope.”
De Blasio said, “I’m gonna be very clear about this” before being not very clear. He declined to name the statues he wanted thrown on the scrap heap of history, citing a 90-day review he announced to study the issue.
But reviews are the sweet currency of elected success, what incumbents use rather than costumes or cartoon character attacks. On to debate two!