Key Moments From the Second NYC Mayoral Debate

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photos: Getty Images/Shutterstock

The second New York City mayoral debate shifted from Zoom squares to a traditional debate stage, resulting in more energy and more interruptions: “If you’re going to yell, do it one at a time,” a WABC moderator pleaded at a particularly contentious point. While the issues still focused on police and public safety, and the candidates focused on calling out frontrunners Eric Adams and Andrew Yang, several moments during the two-hour event mirrored the developing trends of the race.

Below are the highlights from the second contest, less than three weeks out from the June 22 Democratic primary.

Stringer accuses Adams of wanting to return to the policing practices of the Giuliani era

The evening’s first confrontation with Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams came from comptroller Scott Stringer, who alluded to the policing methods that the former cop has previously endorsed, including stop and frisk. When asked if he was directing his comment toward any of the candidates specifically, Stringer said that he was “certainly” pressuring Adams. Civil-rights attorney Maya Wiley soon took the momentum from Stringer, wondering why the city needs new investments in the NYPD, as Adams has called for, when we have “thousands of police officers in patrol cars sitting around the city” and noting that taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on police-misconduct lawsuits. Adams responded to both candidates by saying he attempted to reform the system from within when he was an NYPD officer, to which Stringer responded that the former cop endorsed a badge first, “ask questions later” approach to policing.

Stringer also took an opportunity to go after Wiley, who often cites her time on the Civilian Complaint Review Board to back up her plans to reform the NYPD, calling her a “rubber stamp” for the Police Benevolent Association, one of two primary NYPD unions.

Yang wants to hire more cops

In his first comment on policing on Wednesday night, Yang made his policies very clear: He would simply hire more police officers following a retirement spree in the wake of protests against police brutality last summer. While Yang encouraged the city to recruit thousands of new cops, he did not mention that the city had already done so, attracting 14,000 applicants for the next police exam.

Morales responds to her campaign’s collapse

Moderators asked the progressive candidate about the state of her campaign — thrown into chaos last week amid a unionization drive, protests against Morales herself, and allegations of abusive management — and how that disorder “might follow [her] into City Hall.” She responded by telling voters she was a “successful manager” of organizations with “decades of experience” and that “as soon as [she] became aware” of the allegations involving management “harm,” she intervened. While most of her language was rather vague on the matter — the “actors in question are no longer with the campaign” — she did note that her team grew from 13 to 90 people within the past six weeks. Though that growth rate is fast, it’s also quite common during the home stretch in major elections.

The front-runners go after one another

Referring to his decision to leave New York during the pandemic and his refusal to vote in mayoral elections up to this year, Adams asked of Yang: “How the hell do we have you become our mayor with a record like this?” Yang responded by saying that he started an “anti-poverty movement” (referring to the stimulus payments following his support for a universal basic income) and that he “moved to Georgia” to help with the Senate runoffs in January. Adams responded with a canned line delivered impeccably: “You can’t run from the city if you want to run the city,” adding that voters should not rank Yang because he “may flee again.”

Yang then responded by pointing to the multiple corruption investigations Adams has faced throughout his career: “You have been investigated for corruption everywhere you have gone.” (At this point, Stringer butted in: “I think you’re both right — you both shouldn’t be mayor.”) Yang closed out the contentious part of the questioning period by mentioning Adams’s advice last year for New Yorkers to confront their neighbors about fireworks noise, which he claims resulted in the death of a Brooklyn woman named Shatavia Walls, who was shot in such a confrontation.

Wiley and Stringer go hard after Yang

Progressive candidates pounced at the opportunity to highlight Yang’s inexperience in government. Wiley hit Yang on his record at Venture for America, a nonprofit designed to boost employment in shrinking cities that reportedly only created 150 long-term jobs. Stringer told him “you don’t have any idea about the budget,” after Yang criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio on the topic. Then Stringer raised Yang adviser Bradley Tusk’s comment that Yang is “an empty vessel.” Stringer pivoted to say he disagreed: “I don’t think you’re an empty vessel. I think you’re a Republican who’s focusing on things that won’t bring back the economy,” like hype-houses and a casino on Governor’s Island.

Nobody comments on the sexual misconduct claim against Stringer — again

When moderator Bill Ritter asked Stringer “is Jean Kim lying” about the sexual misconduct claim she made against him, Stringer said that “women should be heard … and then the facts kick in.” He added that “there have been inconsistencies” in her story, and that he has “denied the allegation.” Just as in the first debate, none of the candidates followed up to press him on the allegation.

The candidates rank their votes

A speed round offered to the candidates resulted in a light moment. While many candidates said they were focused on the race and not their personal ranked-choice decision, Shaun Donovan said Wiley and Yang answered Kathryn Garcia. Stringer, however, dismissed the question outright: “I can’t even deal with this right now.” Perhaps the most cutting answer came from Garcia, who said, “If I had a second choice I probably wouldn’t have got into this race.”

Yang would take de Blasio’s endorsement

When asked if any of the candidates would welcome an endorsement from Mayor Bill de Blasio, only one candidate raised their hand. Despite knocking de Blasio for his approach to the city budget, Yang motioned that he would welcome a co-sign from Hizzoner. He was also the only candidate to raise their hand when the field was asked if they would accept an endorsement from the embattled New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.

The gang teams up on Adams

In a segment in which candidates asked the other candidates a question, one politician was more popular than the others:

After asking Adams in the first debate about carrying a gun, Wiley grilled him again why he has said he would carry a firearm as mayor, even to church. “Eric, isn’t this the wrong message?” she asked. “We’re saying not to pick up the guns.” While Adams pointed to his record in Albany working to ban high-capacity-ammunition magazines in New York, Wiley doubled down, saying “I’m a mom” and that we “don’t want off-duty police officers with guns in churches.” Adams then said that anytime any mayor heads into a religious service “those guys with you are carrying guns” and that he claimed he once stopped an attack on the subway when he was carrying a weapon off-duty. Not to be outdone, Stringer asked Adams how he felt about hedge-fund billionaires donating to both him and Yang: “What do you think about the hedge-funders hedging on you?

Yang’s final message: “I hope the Knicks are winning”

In the night’s closing statements, Yang gave a shoutout to the city’s preferred, albeit much worse, basketball team. Unfortunately for him, the Knicks were down 57 to 50 at the time, and lost the game to the Hawks — and with it, their first playoff series since 2013.

Key Moments From the Second NYC Mayoral Debate