nyc mayoral race

Key Moments From the First New York City Mayoral Debate

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photos: Getty Images

The general-election season in New York this year has been pretty quiet, with Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa on the streets recording videos making fun of the current mayor and Democratic nominee Eric Adams enjoying a little downtime before he most likely becomes the city’s 110th mayor. But with less than two weeks until Election Day, a ritual appeared from the old days when general elections, not the Democratic primary, really meant something to the November outcome: On Wednesday night, the candidates appeared onstage at 30 Rock for an hour of debate, name-slinging, and beret-wearing. Below are highlights from the relatively well-behaved event, considering the candidates’ comfort with conflict.

A disagreement on vaccine mandates

On several policies — including ending the practice of carriage horses in Central Park and maintaining the Gifted and Talented programs that Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to close — the Brooklyn borough president and the Guardian Angels founder agreed on broad strokes. But the candidates separated themselves considerably on the stiff vaccine mandate announced Wednesday requiring all municipal workers to be vaccinated by October 29. While Adams said that de Blasio’s decision on the matter was “correct,” he added that he would have conferred more directly with union leaders. (Roughly 69 percent of the NYPD and 60 percent of the FDNY is vaccinated.) Sliwa opposed the mandate outright, saying that “we don’t have enough police officers as it is.”

An issue of ‘trust’

On two different occasions, moderators asked Sliwa about problems with his reliability: Why should voters trust a pro-cop vigilante to support the NYPD over a former police captain, and why should they trust him at all, considering his lies about Guardian Angel exploits in the early 1980s? For the first question, Sliwa cited the fact that he was the only candidate onstage who has explicitly planned to hire more police officers. As for the false heroics, Sliwa said that he was “immature at the age of 25” and regretted staging crimes for the Guardian Angels to solve. He then quickly pivoted to making fun of Adams for hanging out “in the suites with the elites and TikTok girls.” For his part, Adams — pretty much whenever he was faced with an ad hominem attack — referred back to Sliwa’s history of “made-up crimes so he could be popular.”

Adams still won’t say how often he sleeps at his own home

One of the more peculiar and persistent critiques of the Democratic candidate is his opaque answers when asked about where he actually lives. On Wednesday night, he refused to directly answer when asked how many times in the past six months he had stayed at the Bed-Stuy apartment that he claims is his primary residence. “I don’t jot down the number of days I’m there, but that’s where I lay down my head,” Adams said, adding that on occasion he “puts my foot up at the desk” at his office at Brooklyn Borough Hall, where he moved in at the beginning of the pandemic.

A telling difference in tone

While Eric Adams was one of the candidates more likely to seek out discord during the primary debates, he was quite restrained onstage Wednesday — a change in demeanor that almost certainly has to do with the seven-to-one advantage he enjoys in registered voters by party. As Sliwa made fun of him, went long on time, and criticized the Democrat’s summer vacation — “Who goes to Monaco?” — Adams mostly kept his answers short and his tone congenial. But on occasion he did strike back, saying that Sliwa “makes up things like he made up his crimes.” And when asked if he cared to respond to a direct attack from the Republican, Adams declined, saying that he was there “speaking to New Yorkers, not speaking to buffoonery.”

Key Moments From the First New York City Mayoral Debate