Hospital closures were violently pushed to the forefront of the election Monday as activists and politicians rallied for and against candidates outside the site where St. Vincent's hospital is being converted into luxury condos.
In a heated exchange with supporters of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one man slapped both state Sen. Brad Hoylman and a campaign intern after being asked to leave a press conference.
"I have so much pent-up anger," said George Capsis, publisher of the WestView newsletter, after the incident. Though the newsletter was quoted in a release announcing the event, Capsis said he was a de Blasio supporter.
Capsis said he was emotional because his wife died two days earlier in a Bronx hospital. If St. Vincent's had not closed, Capsis said he could have spent more time with her.
"That man, and the politicians like Quinn, turned their back on the community," Capsis said.
Earlier, when Hoylman and other Quinn supporters tried to praise her efforts to save St. Vincent's, Capsis and other hecklers drowned them out with cries of "Shame on Quinn!" and "Lies! Lies! Lies!"
Even after being slapped, Hoylman, who represents the West Village, continued to contrast Quinn's record on hospital closures with that of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. He said that in addition to fighting to save St. Vincent's, Quinn was able to facilitate the opening of a 24-hour urgent care center in the neighborhood.
"It's another thing to show up at rallies and wave placards and it's another one to actually get stuff done," Hoylman said, questioning de Blasio's involvement in the fight to save St. Vincent's.
De Blasio, who is also running for mayor, flatly denied any notions that he was using hospital closures to gain traction in the election.
"This is a lie. I can go chapter and verse over the meetings I attended, the rallies I attended, the efforts I made to save St. Vincent's," de Blasio said at a rally with healthcare workers across the street from the hospital.
Civil rights activist and musician Harry Belafonte, and actresses Susan Sarandon and Cynthia Nixon, joined the rally in support of de Blasio, noting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg allowed 12 hospitals to close during his tenure.
"Since we can't get the ears of our mayor, we'll get a mayor that'll give us the ears we need," Belafonte said.
Sarandon and Nixon lamented the loss of St. Vincent's, which was the third largest hospital in the city before it closed.
"After 9/11, this is where everyone gathered to give blood," Sarandon said.
Nixon noted the hospital served gay men during the AIDS crisis when other hospitals turned them away.
"We cannot let what happened to St. Vincent's happen to hospitals all over the city," Nixon said.
Amid a loud chorus of supporters, de Blasio preached respect in fighting against hospital closures.
"People are going to have strong views," de Blasio said, referencing the slapping incident.
"But I want to emphasize we have to respectful, always peaceful, in expressing our views," he said.
Quinn, who was not at the press conference where the slaps occurred, said she was "deeply upset" by the incident.
"There is no place in this city – let alone a political campaign – for violence or intimidation of any kind," she said in a statement.
Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders