Though there are several Democrats vying to be the next mayor of New York City, just two will face off tonight at the first Democratic mayoral debate.
Incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio will debate lawyer and former City Councilman Sal Albanese Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side.
Attorney Richard Bashner, police reform advocate Robert Gangi and entrepreneur Michael Tolkin are forced to sit out because they did not meet requirements set by the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB).
According to CFB data from Tuesday, de Blasio has raised more than $4.8 million for his campaign, while Albanese raised $191,200. Tolkin raised more than $8.2 million, but remains excluded because he forgave a personal loan to his campaign so media sponsors denied him as he is not participating in the CFB program.
In addition to being the fundraising frontrunner, de Blasio has also been leading the polls, but that doesn’t deter Albanese’s confidence in his chances.
“I’m feeling very ready. We’re exactly where we hoped we’d be — on the debate stage, one-on-one with Mayor de Blasio,” his campaign said. “This debate will give a larger segment of the public an opportunity to see exactly who I am, where I stand on the issues and why I would be a good mayor.”
Albanese believes the drastic difference in funding is what makes him stand apart.
“Everywhere I go, people tell me that they are looking for an alternative to Mayor de Blasio, someone who has the experience, the ideas and also the willingness to be a true reformer,” he said.
De Blasio plans to highlight his past four years in office, including affordable housing, education and “things we just did with the City Council, like making sure anyone facing eviction has lawyer to stop illegal evictions and harassment by landlords,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “I’m going to talk about crime going down for four years in a row. I think that’s what people want to talk about. And they want to know what’s next, what’s going to make it better and how are people going to afford to live here.”
Though both de Blasio and Albanese are seasoned — this is the latter’s third run for mayor — both have been practicing for their faceoff.
“I have been preparing. We’ve done a number of prep sessions,” de Blasio said Monday. “I never take anything lightly. I’ve been an underdog in essentially every race I’ve been in. This is a different dynamic, but it doesn’t change my preparation.”
Albanese prepped all weekend, “and we had Democratic public advocate candidate David Eisenbach play the part of Mayor de Blasio. David knows the issues and — bonus — he has the height.”
The other candidates weigh in
Robert Gangi, who plans to protest outside the debate: “The debate sponsors are doing a disservice to New Yorkers by not providing them an opportunity to hear from all candidates who’ve qualified for the primary ballot. The powers that be have continued to move the bar for debate participation in a way that, whether by intention or not, has the effect of creating a fundamentally unfair and undemocratic process. These actions box out differing voices from the election process and reinforce rather than reduce the central and influential role that money plays in our politics. New Yorkers deserve, New Yorkers need better.”
Mike Tolkin: “It is grossly unfair and sets a dangerous precedent for the sponsors to arbitrarily make up new rules on the fly. Many of the New Yorkers I speak with, whether it be in the streets or in conversations through social media, have told us that that this is the first time that they have felt heard; that this is the first time they are excited to get involved in politics. I do not understand why anyone, let alone the independent media, want to keep our campaign out of a debate. It is the responsibility of the media sponsors to ensure that New Yorkers are empowered to make the most informed choice on Election Day.”
Bo Dietl, a registered Democrat who is running as an independent: “‘Big Bird’ de Blasio has carefully orchestrated tonight’s sham of a debate with only one other candidate, which does not represent the entire field. Although I am a registered Democrat and ‘Big Bird’s’ main opponent, I will wait for the general debate when ‘Big Bird’ and all the other candidates have to face me. I will tell the candidate my feelings. I am going to ask him, my major opponent to show his true mettle and debate me in every borough!”
(Richard Bashner’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment at press time)
A political expert on the debate
Joseph P. Viteritti, professor of Public Policy at Hunter College, will release “The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York” Sept. 5. While the mayor is the central focus, the book also offers an in-depth history of city mayors from Fiorello La Guardia to Michael Bloomberg.
Metro: Your thoughts on this mayoral election?
Joseph P. Viteritti: There’s not much of a contest this year it seems. Most polls indicate Bill de Blasio is on his way to being elected.
With issues from transit to Trump facing New Yorkers, is there one element that could make or break a candidate?
No, I don’t think so.
What are your thoughts on the CFB?
Our campaign finance law is one of the best in the country, and any law is going to have a cutoff point on who should be included … somebody is going to be left out. It’s a bit lopsided now because you don’t have strong candidates now to challenge the mayor, which is unfortunate in a way because I think it would be a healthier democratic process if there were.
De Blasio won with 73 percent of the vote in 2013. Do you think if he wins the primary, he’d see numbers like that again?
I will not be surprised if you see an outcome that is very similar to what it was four years ago. Unfortunately, you’re probably going to see a low turnout, which is unhealthy for the democratic process.
What can candidates do to encourage voters to get out?
I don’t think there’s a magic equation. I think people have lost faith in the democratic process, they understand that money matters, they’ve become much more cynical, and in a situation like this where you have someone who is probably going to walk away with the contest, some people will say, ‘It’s already settled. Why bother?’
5 fast facts about the first Democratic debate
WHO: Incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio and lawyer and former City Councilman Sal Albanese
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 23, 7-8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Symphony Space (2537 Broadway)
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: NY1 / NY1 Noticias (TV) and WNYC (radio). NY1.com will also have a live stream.