The next mayor will inherit the New York Police Department at one of its most critical junctures in recent history. And questions over how the force — the nation’s largest — will operate were central throughout the first debate in the general election.
Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa, the two candidates, clashed over matters of day-to-day police tactics, the potential reinstatement of a plainclothes police unit and how to address concerns of mental health problems that fuel some acts of violence on public transit.
On stop-and-frisk, which at its peak involved the stops of hundreds of thousands of people who were often young Black and Latino men for weapons that rarely materialized, Mr. Sliwa, the Republican nominee, attempted to suggest that Mr. Adams would support the abuse of the practice.
“I would not do what one of his main supporters, Michael Bloomberg, did,” Mr. Sliwa said, “which has to have 700,000 predominately men of color be stopped and frisked with a quote system that was put on.”
Mr. Adams, a former police captain and the Democratic nominee, shot back that his record as an officer and politician showed he had “protected Black and brown and low-income New Yorkers” from police abuses.
“My son was a victim of stop-and-frisk in the city,” Mr. Adams replied. “I never call for aggressive police tactics, I call for appropriate police tactics.”
After last summer’s protests over the murder of George Floyd, public pressure to shrink police budgets and rein in the department’s mission has mounted. At the same time, the number of shootings and murders in the city rose last summer to their highest levels in at least a decade and have remained well above prepandemic levels ever since.
The department is also dealing with a crisis of public confidence. Documents released over the last year have shown how abusive officers almost always remain on the force, often receiving little to no punishment, even when instances of police brutality have been substantiated by department or city investigators.
In one clash, Mr. Sliwa criticized Mr. Adams for not interviewing Hispanic and Latino candidates to be the next police commissioner. Mr. Adams, who has said he would select a woman of color for the role, replied that Mr. Sliwa did not know who he had interviewed and told him to focus on his own plans.
Mr. Adams attempted to strike a stance he took throughout the primary season, detailing a measured approach to policing overall, while emphasizing public safety as a core campaign issue. He has said he believes in responsibly trimming fat from the police department’s budget.
“I’ve been clear on this message for the last 35 years,” Mr. Adams said. “I have not changed at all.”
But Mr. Sliwa, who has also emphasized a commitment to public safety, criticized Mr. Adams for his position on the budget, saying he not only believes the funding should be kept intact, but that he believes it should grow. And he attacked Mr. Adams’s previous remarks that he would carry a gun as mayor.
“I’m in the inner-city all the time, I don’t wear a bulletproof vest, I don’t carry a gun. I never have,” Mr. Sliwa said. “I’ll tell you, if you’re going to reach young men who are using guns in violent actions, you cannot say ‘Do as I say but not as I do.”
Curtis Sliwa is admittedly facing near impossible odds in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. But if he has any shot of staging a miraculous comeback, it did not start tonight. Sliwa punched and pestered, but he failed to rattle Eric Adams or change any dynamic of the race.
The debate is over and was immediately followed by Eric Adams’s latest ad. Thanks for joining us!
Immediately after the debate, WNBC-TV, which broadcast it live, runs an Eric Adams ad, a reminder of Adams’s large fund-raising advantage over his opponent.
As we wrap, another reminder that early voting begins on Saturday and runs through Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 2.
“I’m speaking to New Yorkers, not speaking to buffoonery,” Eric Adams says when asked if he wants to respond to Curtis Sliwa.
Lightning round question time! Curtis Sliwa wants to ban carriage horses. Eric Adams, not really answering the question, says he’ll work with the union to find a better alternative “if need be” to moving people around Central Park.
Now comes the fast-talking-pitchman portion of events. Both candidates have been asked how they would sell New York City to people who have left town. Eric Adams played ball. Curtis Sliwa didn’t answer the question.
We’ve arrived at the classic softball portion of any debate, with a little twist. Both candidates are giving their pitch for coming to New York right now.
Curtis Sliwa calls for tenant management of NYCHA, which houses more than 400,000 New Yorkers.
Protecting New York City from the increasing flood risks that come with climate change is an issue fresh on voters’ minds after the remnants of Hurricane Ida killed 15 people, most of them from basement flooding.
Both Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa promise to address floods by improving drainage, flood warning systems, flood-resilient construction and coastal flood barriers.
In the debate, though, the candidates clashed over their approaches when asked to name three things they would do to prevent more flooding deaths. Mr. Adams focused on better warning systems and clearer plans for measures to take during major cloudbursts.
“We’re going to institute a clear response plan,” he said. “We learn from terrorism, you don’t wait ‘til the day when a plane attacks.”
Mr. Sliwa called for more sea walls to be built, noting that one planned in Staten Island remained unbuilt nine years after Hurricane Sandy’s coastal flooding devastated the area. “People have no faith in politicians like Eric Adams or Bill de Blasio or others,” he said.
Mr. Adams — who unlike Mr. Sliwa has made sure to frame the flooding problem as part of the larger dangers of climate change — noted correctly that the recent flooding was from downpours, not storm surges from the sea.
“It had nothing to do with sea walls,” he said, declaring that applying antiquated methods to a modern problem won’t work: “This must be intervention and prevention.” (Mr. Adams does not oppose sea walls, but he sees them as one of many tools that must be applied differently according to the needs and ecology of each area.)
While Mr. Sliwa offers a four-point policy plan that does not mention the changing climate, Mr. Adams has a plan that promises to address climate challenges, including extreme heat, sea rise and intense storms, in every neighborhood. He vows to speed the implementation of plans begun by the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations, like expanding green roofs and wetlands restoration.
Mr. Adams has also talked about addressing the city’s contribution to climate change by reducing fossil fuel burning and phasing out gas-fired power plants, though he has not specified a timeline. Nor has he said whether he will make it a priority to implement and expand a city law requiring large buildings to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases. Real-estate groups, which backed his campaign, are seeking to limit the law and maximize loopholes.
Eric Adams always brings questions back to his biography. When asked about his plan for street vendors, he says he was a vendor as a kid when he sold lemonade outside of his house to help his mother buy food for his family. Adams has also claimed that he was a squeegee man as a teenager to earn money.
The next mayor’s influence over the congestion pricing scheme will be ultimately limited. The mayor gets one appointment to the board that will create the fee scheme, but the tolling program will be overseen by the state.
Curtis Sliwa is clearly targeting his Republican base, where congestion pricing and vaccine mandates are not believed to be particularly popular.
Curtis Sliwa, meanwhile, is opposed to congestion pricing, which he says would “crush” middle-class residents using cars to commute from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
As the state moves forward with a plan to introduce congestion pricing into parts of Manhattan, Eric Adams reiterates his support for the plan, but he wants to see more waivers and exemptions.
The candidates were both asked how they would balance the introduction of e-bikes and scooters into the city with safety concerns. The moderators didn’t note this, but cars kill more New Yorkers than either of those conveyances.
Eric Adams is casting himself as the safe streets mayor. He is likely to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024 has gone off the rails during his last year in office.
During the Democratic primary, Eric Adams leaned heavily on his biography of growing up poor. Adams mentions that his family was on the verge of homelessness as a child for the first time tonight, during a question about supportive housing.
Curtis Sliwa suggests empty space in Hudson Yards and other new developments could be transformed into housing for the homeless with included social services.
Eric Adams is asked why his plan to create supportive housing for mentally ill homeless people, in part by turning empty hotel rooms into apartments, does not include doing so in Manhattan, where the most hotels have shut during the pandemic. He says that Manhattan hotels will fill back up as the city comes back.
It now requires two or three moderators to get Curtis Sliwa to stop speaking. Eric Adams has complained throughout the debate about Sliwa not following the debate rules.
Many incidences of violence across the subway system have involved people with documented histories of “emotionally disturbed person” calls — but the city has struggled to address deeper mental health issues during the pandemic.
Curtis Sliwa says as mayor he would investigate ThriveNYC, the mental health organization run by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife. The organization set out to tackle substance abuse, depression and suicide, but has been dogged by questions over how it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars.
Eric Adams says he will help mentally ill homeless people by partnering with organizations like Fountain House and other supportive housing providers that have been effective in helping them find stability.
Curtis Sliwa, when asked what he would do to fix the city’s mental health system, doesn’t really offer specifics but says he will get people into mental-health facilities to get treatment they need. But he promises to investigate ThriveNYC, the mental health effort run by the current mayor’s wife.
Eric Adams has said that the day after he takes office, he will fly to Florida and implore New York businesses to come home. Curtis Sliwa has other plans. On his second day in office, he says he would move into the warden’s house on Rikers Island, and stay there until the situation at the jail complex improves.
Curtis Sliwa calls Eric Adams Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “ally” as he criticizes the mayor for waiting so long to visit Rikers Island as it descended into chaos.
City officials have proposed closing the Rikers Island jail complex by 2026 — and Eric Adams agrees that it should be closed, without addressing that specific timeline, viewed by many as potentially challenging.
Questions earlier about where Eric Adams lives and vacations stem in large part from the fundamental lack of transparency that has surrounded his campaign. As the mayoral front-runner, he has declined to release a public schedule on many days.
Eric Adams says basement apartments should be brought up to code to prevent deaths like those of people who drowned in illegal apartments during the post-Ida floods. Curtis Sliwa notes correctly that it’s difficult to get owners to do that, and adds a dig that Adams has a possibly illegal conversion in his Brooklyn townhouse.
The candidates are asked about how they will make illegal basement apartments — where many people died during the Ida floods — legal and safe, as they are an essential source of cheap housing. Eric Adams says the city should allocate money for the apartments to be renovated.
Throughout the race, there has been a significant degree of confusion surrounding the question of where Eric Adams resides.
Given the confusion surrounding his residency, and how he accounts for his real estate on his tax returns, a moderator asked Mr. Adams how the electorate could trust him.
Mr. Adams said, as he has in the past, that he takes responsibility for omissions on his tax returns, and then blamed his accountant, who he said was homeless.
“He went through real trauma,” Mr. Adams said of his accountant. “And I’m not a hypocrite, I wanted to still give him the support that he needed.”
Mr. Adams also insisted, again, that his primary residence is in Brooklyn.
Mr. Adams owns a multi-unit townhouse in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn in which he says he keeps an apartment. In one of the more bizarre moments of the mayoral primary, he gave a media tour of that apartment, with reporters observing non-vegan food items apparently belonging to Mr. Adams’s son. (Mr. Adams has been a vegan for years.)
But Mr. Adams also co-owns a co-op in Fort Lee, N.J., with his partner, and he has said that he moved into Brooklyn Borough Hall for a time after the pandemic arrived. During the primary, Politico New York reported that Mr. Adams used conflicting addresses in public records and that he was still spending nights at Borough Hall.
He has had to refile his tax returns in part because of irregularities concerning his residency, the news outlet The City reported. The outlet also reported that the city is seeking to inspect his Brooklyn residence following an allegation of an illegal apartment conversion on the property. His campaign has said he intended to rectify those issues, though the complaint remains active.
Mr. Sliwa recently led a journey from Manhattan to Fort Lee “to find out where Eric Adams really lives.”
Though as Eric Adams pointed out, the flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida had little to do with sea walls, which protect low-lying coastal areas. Flooding occurred across the city.
“We were caught off guard” by flash floods, Eric Adams says, and says he would improve warning systems and flood resiliency. He’s got a detailed plan for fixing flood protections. Sliwa says the city needs to build sea walls, designate flood zones and clean sewers and drains more regularly.
The most pressing question on gifted and talented education for both candidates is whether they would continue the use of the widely criticized admissions exam for incoming elementary school students, which Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would permanently end.
But it will be up to the next mayor to decide whether or how to use that exam, which is given to 4-year-olds against the advice of many proponents of gifted education.
The high-stakes test, which is typically administered in January, has helped create a cottage industry of test preparation for young children in New York City.
The city’s advisory school board rejected the contract for that exam earlier this year, leaving Mr. de Blasio, who has sharply criticized the test, without a clear admissions system.
Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa have said they would keep the gifted program in place, but they have not provided details on whether they will continue administering the test, overhaul it or replace it with some other form of screening.
During the debate on Wednesday, Mr. Adams said that the city should re-examine the admissions exam, while making sure to expand opportunities for “accelerated learners, make sure it is in every district in our city and every ZIP code.”
“I made it clear that we need to look at that exam,” he said. “I don’t believe a four-year-old taking the exam should determine the rest of their school experience. That is unacceptable.”
Mr. Sliwa also reiterated his support for expanding the gifted program to all schools, noting that his son was one of thousands of students who took the test and “lost out.”
“We seem to be taking it out on Asian families and Southeast Asian families because they’re doing so well,” Mr. Sliwa said. “We need to expand gifted and talented so it is in all schools, even if only three or two children qualify.”
One of the strangest elements surrounding Eric Adams’s incorrectly filed taxes is that he says his tax preparer has been homeless for multiple years.
Eric Adams refuses to say how many nights he has slept in his Brooklyn apartment in the last six months. He says he spends time in Brooklyn Borough Hall as well.
On the question of where Eric Adams really lives that has dogged his candidacy, he once again blames his accountant for putting a wrong number on a return.
In one of the candidates’ sharpest disagreements, Eric Adams says New York should remain a “sanctuary city” limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Curtis Sliwa says it should not and rattles off a list of gangs that he says immigration authorities are hunting.
Shoutout to “the TikTok girls,” who if you’re not in Gen-Z or glued to your phone, are Charli and Dixie D’Amelio.
Neither candidate takes the bait when asked who would have their support in the race for governor next year.
Curtis Sliwa, the Republican mayoral nominee, is unquestionably a long-shot candidate, given New York City’s overwhelmingly Democratic tilt, and the view among many political observers that he is a fundamentally unserious public figure.
While some New Yorkers remember him with fondness for his early work with the Guardian Angels, which he founded, or his ubiquitous news media appearances, Mr. Sliwa has also admitted to faking crimes for publicity. And on the campaign trail, he is perhaps best known for living in a 320-square-foot studio apartment with more than a dozen cats.
Mr. Sliwa will likely use the debate to highlight his central campaign themes, touching upon issues including public safety, animal welfare and confronting homelessness.
The debate presents a chance for Mr. Sliwa to surprise viewers with a sober-minded demeanor that matches the mood of an anxious city. But he is more likely to aggressively challenge the Democratic nominee, Eric Adams, on a variety of subjects, including questions of his residency.
Mr. Sliwa can also be a brawler onstage, as seen in his first major debate in the Republican primary against Fernando Mateo, where the men traded insults and continued to yell at each other, including while muted.
But even some political strategists were barely aware that the debate was occurring, suggesting that Mr. Sliwa will be able to do little to move the dial much with the general public.
For Eric Adams, the Democratic mayoral nominee, the debate imperative is clear: Do no harm.
Given the overwhelming Democratic tilt of New York City, Mr. Adams heads into the matchup as the clear front-runner, and few political observers expect that there is much that could unfold in the debate that would meaningfully change that.
Still, it has been months since Mr. Adams found himself at the center of a debate-stage clash, and many Democrats believe he would be wise to stay above the fray no matter how much Curtis Sliwa, his Republican rival, seeks to provoke him.
Instead, the debate offers a chance for Mr. Adams to lay out his vision and emphasize unity before a city that last saw him in the midst of a crowded and contentious Democratic primary battle.
Mr. Adams is best known for his public safety plans, but the debate may also challenge him to offer details about how he would handle the many other problems New York City confronts.
More broadly, it will be a moment for Mr. Adams to show that he understands the mood of a city that is by turns optimistic about continued reopening, and deeply anxious about the lingering pandemic and its attendant health, educational and economic consequences.
The four moderators for this evening’s debate have been asking questions of public figures for decades.
In fact, David Ushery, a news anchor for WNBC-TV in New York, has been interviewing prominent people since he was an 11-year-old host on “Kidsworld,” a news show where he interviewed Walter Cronkite. Mr. Ushery grew up near Hartford, Conn., and has written for the Hartford Courant and the Los Angeles Times.
Sally Goldenberg, the tireless City Hall bureau chief for Politico New York, got her first job in journalism in 2002, at New Jersey’s weekly Hillsborough Beacon, where she did the police blotter and covered school board meetings. Ms. Goldenberg recently broke the news that Mr. Adams — who had declined to say where he had gone on his post-primary European vacation — had vacationed in Monaco. She enjoys the Olympics and old-school R&B.
Melissa Russo, WNBC’s political and government affairs reporter, has covered four mayors and is known for her tough investigations of issues affecting children, which have focused on problems at the New York City Housing Authority and the Administration for Children’s Services. She likes photography and a capella music.
Allan Villafaña, an anchor for Telemundo 47, was born in Puerto Rico, studied journalism at Ohio State University and spent time in Miami, where he worked as an anchor for Mega TV. An animal lover, he recently brought two dogs — Petunia Marie and Yoyo Jesus — to the blessing of the animals at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in New Jersey on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.
There is more to Curtis Sliwa than his 16 cats and his famous red beret.
Mr. Sliwa, 67, has received more attention over his small army of rescue cats than anything else on the campaign trail, as he wages a long-shot bid as the Republican mayoral candidate.
But Mr. Sliwa has been a celebrity in New York City for decades.
He became famous in the 1980s for leading the Guardian Angels, a civilian crime-fighting group. He became a conservative radio host known for saying outrageous things. He survived a shooting that left him with five bullet wounds and testified at a federal trial against John A. Gotti, the Gambino crime family scion.
He got involved in politics, and led the Reform Party of New York State; in 2018, the last statewide election, the Reform Party drew the fewest votes for governor among 10 parties on the ballot. He became a Republican last year and decided to run for mayor, winning a bitter primary in June against his longtime friend Fernando Mateo, a restaurateur.
Mr. Sliwa has focused on a law-and-order message, and he has criticized former President Donald J. Trump and said that he did not vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 or 2020.
He acknowledges that there have been few parallels to his campaign.
“Who at the age of 67 is running around wearing a red beret and a red satin jacket and going out there like a crime fighter and a superhero from our days reading comic books?” Mr. Sliwa told The New York Times over the summer. “That’s a bit eccentric.”
Eric Adams’s message during the Democratic primary was that he would be a blue-collar mayor whose lived experiences matched those of everyday New Yorkers.
By focusing on his biography of growing up poor, suffering abuse at the hands of police and then joining the department to try to change it from within, Mr. Adams, 61, successfully argued that he would be able to focus on public safety while preserving civil rights.
Had a chance to catch up with New York’s finest on the campaign trail this weekend, and to express my gratitude to these officers for all that they do to keep our city safe. pic.twitter.com/yB4gkjfJb7
— Eric Adams (@ericadamsfornyc) October 17, 2021
If elected, Mr. Adams would be only the city’s second Black mayor.
After the June primary election, Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and a centrist, proclaimed that he was “the face of the new Democratic Party,” and vowed to “show America how to run a city.”
He has since worked to significantly expand his base, courting the city’s business community, holding several fund-raisers and consulting with former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his team about how to govern.
Mr. Adams’s primary campaign focused on crime. Although the issue remains a significant focus for him, he has also begun to lay out some of his other ideas, calling for neighborhoods such as SoHo in Manhattan to be rezoned to create more affordable housing; pledging to build hundreds of miles of new bike lanes; and promising to keep and expand the city’s gifted and talented program in public schools after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he was phasing it out.
In the months since Eric Adams won a highly contested Democratic mayoral primary in June, most of his focus has been on fund-raising, vetting potential administration officials and preparing for his likely transition to the mayoralty.
But for at least one hour, Mr. Adams will be forced to devote some attention to his Republican opponent, Curtis Sliwa, as they go head-to-head on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the first of two official debates among the two leading candidates for mayor of New York City.
The one-hour debate will be aired on WNBC-TV Channel 4 and also on Telemundo, Channel 47, in Spanish.
NYC Life TV will offer a simulcast on Channel 25.1.
The debate will also be livestreamed on NBCNewYork.com, Telemundo47.com and Politico New York.
A team of reporters from The New York Times will provide live commentary and analysis for the debate, which will be moderated by four journalists: David Ushery, a news anchor for WNBC-TV in New York; Sally Goldenberg, the City Hall bureau chief for Politico New York; Melissa Russo, WNBC’s political and government affairs reporter; and Allan Villafaña, an anchor for Telemundo 47.
With Election Day less than two weeks away, the two major-party candidates running for mayor of New York City will face off at 7 p.m. Wednesday in their first of two televised debates.
The clear front-runner is Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who won a competitive Democratic primary in June and who holds a strong lead in fund-raising, endorsements and in party favoritism: Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by nearly seven to one in New York City.
His Republican opponent, Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels subway patrol group, has struggled to gain momentum as a candidate, and is expected to use the debates to attack Mr. Adams, who has largely ignored him on the campaign trail.
The candidates have already traded barbs in recent weeks ahead of the Nov. 2 election. Mr. Adams called Mr. Sliwa racist and said that he was making the campaign a circus. Mr. Sliwa has criticized Mr. Adams’s campaign against a whistle-blower police officer in the 1990s and has raised questions over where Mr. Adams lives.
Both candidates have focused on a law-and-order message. But Mr. Adams, a former police captain, has treated the election almost as an afterthought, proclaiming himself as the future of the national Democratic Party and holding meetings on his likely transition to the mayoralty.