Democratic New York mayoral hopefuls clashed Wednesday night in a primary debate as they outlined their plans to respond to a surge in crime.
It was the first in-person debate for the eight qualifying Democratic candidates -- a previous debate had been held virtually. It came 10 days before early primary voting is set to start, on June 12.
Progressive candidates collectively distanced themselves from the specifics of their plans to reallocate New York Police Department funds. It's a marked change from the previous debate in May, during which several candidates boasted the amount of money they planned to direct away from the department.
This time they spoke in more general terms. Former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan who has pledged to direct $3 billion away from the criminal justice system said the mayor should be "focused on both safety and respect."
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, "Policing matters, but do it in a fair and just way."
Maya Wiley, former counsel to Bill de Blasio, who has promised to redirect $1 billion in NYPD to schools, called for "smart policing."
Other more moderate candidates stated their opposition to the notion of defunding the police and have instead called for more investment in law enforcement.
"The defunding of police is not the right approach for New York City," said former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
"We have gone from a pandemic of COVID to an epidemic of gun violence," Garcia said calling for efforts to stem the proliferation of illegal guns in the city.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer, endured sharp attacks for his defense of stop and frisk and past comments that, if elected, he would carry a gun. Adams also tied public safety to pandemic recovery.
"No one is coming to New York in our multibillion dollar tourism industry if you have 3-year-old children shot in Times Square," Adams said. He later added, "If we're going to turn around our economy, we have to make this city a safe city."
Some of the most intense moments were barbs traded between Adams and Yang, who have been considered frontrunners in the crowded field. Adams framed Yang as uncommitted and unprepared to run the nation's largest city, while Yang attacked Adams' integrity, referencing allegations of corruption.
"You weren't on the ground, you started discovering NYCHA when you were running for mayor -- you discovered violence when you started running for mayor," Adams said. "You can't run from the city if you want to run the city."
"We all know you've been investigated for corruption everywhere you've gone," Yang said. He later added, "You've achieved the rare trifecta of corruption investigations."
Among the mayoral hopefuls, a few have emerged as serious contenders in the homestretch of the campaign that has been largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to Yang and Adams, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia has gained momentum after endorsements from The New York Times and the New York Daily News.
Wiley has risen as a top progressive choice after New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer's campaign was marred by a sexual assault allegation and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales' campaign has faltered after a staff strike accusing Morales of preventing workers from unionizing. Stringer has denied the allegation and Morales said she's worked to address the needs of her staff.
Democratic candidates will face off in one more debate before the June 22 primary. That debate will be held on June 16.
The two Republican contenders will debate June 6 on ABC-owned station WABC-TV.