(Reuters) – The leading Democratic contenders for New York City mayor, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, faced harsh attacks from each other and a half dozen rivals during a televised debate on Wednesday.
With less than three weeks until the June 22 primary election, the eight contenders traded barbs on education, experience and the economy, though the issue of public safety dominated much of the evening amid a spike in shootings and other crimes. The primary winner will be heavily favored to win November’s general election.
Yang, who has been at or near the top of most polls, was the target for much of the incoming fire. At one point, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, a liberal candidate, accused the more moderate Yang of being a “Republican,” while Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former MSNBC analyst, criticized Yang’s record of job creation as a businessman.
Yang – whose sunny disposition has been a hallmark of his campaign – took some shots of his own at Adams, a former police officer and state lawmaker who has faced some ethics inquiries during his career.
“We know that you’ve been investigated for corruption everywhere you’ve gone,” Yang said, calling Adams “unprincipled.”
Adams, who denied wrongdoing and accused Yang of getting his facts wrong, attacked Yang for leaving the city during the pandemic and for never having voted in a city election before.
“How the hell do we have you become our mayor, with a record like this?” Adams asked. Yang responded by defending his experience as a surrogate for national Democrats, including President Joe Biden, during last year’s election.
Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation chief who has gained ground on Adams and Yang in recent weeks, largely stayed out of the fray as she continued to offer herself as an experienced government hand.
The candidates spent much of the two-hour debate clashing over policing and crime, with polls showing public safety is voters’ top concern. As shootings and murders have risen in New York and other cities, many Democrats have backed away from the calls to “defund the police” that gained traction amid anti-police brutality protests last year.
Adams, who has put crime at the center of his campaign, vowed to increase the number of officers patrolling the city’s subway system, while Yang called for a “massive recruitment drive” for new officers.
Stringer, however, argued that more policing was not the answer, while Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive and liberal who supports defunding the police, called New York’s police budget the “most bloated” in the country.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)