Dems Debate: Not Easy Like Sunday Morning

Categories: Citystate
WCBS and The New York Times decided to free up the format of their televised debate this morning, and Anthony Weiner pounced, applying his recent strategy of attack to a wider set of targets. With candidates encouraged to "jump in" at will, Weiner leapt—slapping not only his favorite target Fernando Ferrer (as Freddy was talking, you could hear Weiner off camera but the only words that came through were "tax increases … tax increases") but also his rival for third place in the polls, Gifford Miller.

Sporting a fortunate grey streak on the side of his youthful head, the council speaker became visibly angry, lashing out at Weiner's contention that you can pay for high teachers salaries by trimming waste. "The congressman's cut is frankly paid for by gimmicks," Miller said to which Weiner retorted, "If you don't think you can cut out waste—at least five percent that I've proposed—you shouldn't be mayor." They snapped back and forth repeatedly, with Miller at one point passionately gesturing about the difference between the expense budget and the capital budget. Weiner and Virginia Fields got into it over the borough president's suggestion that you can pay for higher starting salaries for cops simply by rearranging budget priorities. And Weiner both criticized his party for failing to come up with new ideas, and paid homage to the traditional principles of the Democratic party.

Ferrer, playing the frontrunners hand, stayed largely to the sidelines, chiming in now and then with broad phrases like, "I'd like to answer the question you asked three minutes ago: Mayor Bloomberg is a Republican," and "With all due respect there are three crises facing this city" and then listing them: high dropout rate, affordable housing, high unemployment.

That's not to say Ferrer escaped questioning. Host Andrew Kirtzman hilariously asked Ferrer where he'd been for the first three years of the Bloomberg mayoralty, and the Times's Jim Rutenberg quizzed Ferrer over his infamous remark that late-term abortion was "barbaric." "That was in response to a politically charged term," Ferrer said. "My word was in response to that politically charged question." Ferrer also managed to get in a defense of his stock transfer tax, which he said "mom and pop investors" would be more willing to pay than the tuition to send their kids to private school. This did not address the question of whether a higher tax would shift market action out of New York City, but Ferrer also mentioned that his tax plan would pay for technical aid to Wall Street.

Speaking of politics, Miller finally did a decent job of explaining one of the Demorats' lead attack lines against Bloomberg: that he's a GOP stooge. The speaker pointed out that he mayor had vetoed legislation on equal benefits for same sex couple and on increasing access to food stamps. And Al Sharpton made it into the debate questioning again, with Kirtzman asking the candidates if they thought the Rev. was a force for good in the city. The answers were predictably positive.

Weiner pressed his tough guy role even into the yes/no section, faulting his rivals for failing to answer the questions simply enough. The congressman has drawn parallels between his run and Ed Koch's 1977 campaign, and his portrayal of the "angry outer borough white ethnic" certainly sounds familiar. Will any of those people vote on September 13?

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