This afternoon marked Anthony Weiner’s first appearance in a mayoral debate, and despite his lack of practice, he seemed at ease sliding into the thick of things. The race’s Democratic candidates — with the notable exception of Christine Quinn, who declined to attend — gathered at NYU’s Kimmel Center to discuss education policy and less-than-subtly court the favor of the powerful United Federation of Teachers. Even before the debate began, Weiner was something of the central focus, with camera crews nearly boxing out poor old Sal Albanese to get a good shot of the former congressman.
Weiner did his part to keep that attention throughout the debate, making an effort to stand out by literally being the only candidate to stand up when he gave remarks. Along with an easygoing demeanor and a constant stream of jokes, Weiner’s rolled up sleeves gave off a “cool substitute teacher vibe” to the many students in the audience. Through the various ludicrously named rounds of the debate, Weiner was also one of the few candidates to have any serious differences with his opposition.
In the “crossfire” round, Weiner reiterated his stance that so-called problem kids need to be “focused on like a laser beam” and possibly removed from classes, stating that “the last thing you need is a disruptive child [in the classroom]” — a policy that the rest of the candidates eschew in favor of more progressive punishment. In the yes or no “lightning round,” he was unique in being the only candidate to answer a definitive “no” when it came to whether he’d lessen the NYPD presence in schools.
Being different didn’t necessarily play well with the audience though. Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, told Daily Intelligencer that “Weiner certainly carved out a place for himself as being anti-progressive discipline … which was disappointing for us to hear.” Crowd favorites seemed to include Bill DeBlasio and John Liu, both of whom received smatterings of applause after some of their statements.
As for Quinn, who pulled out of the debate around the time Weiner RSVP’d, she received a number of boos when the moderator derisively explained that she couldn’t make it despite their attempts at rescheduling to accommodate her. Certain moments of the debate seemed like something of a trial in absentia for Quinn. One question about co-location of schools was directed at her by name, then fielded by the rest of the candidates.
The popular targets at the debate were certainly Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg, but with a respectable performance this afternoon, strengthening poll numbers, and a long, unpredictable road ahead, it may not be too long before the rest of the field starts gunning for Weiner as well.