It’s usually the case that everyone attacks the front-runner. But in last night’s public advocate debate – the last televised one before the primary – it was Bill de Blasio who got the incoming fire from the rest of the candidates.
It’s a validation that de Blasio is the most likely to get into the run-off with front-runner Mark Green, whose two stints as public advocate in the 1990s and previous runs for higher office, have given him unequaled name recognition among the competitors.
At last night’s debate, when each candidate was allowed to ask one another a question, they all chose to direct their attention to de Blasio.
Green asked about de Blasio’s habit of giving the Council’s member-item money to local organizations whose members later turned around and donated to his campaign. It’s a widespread practice, but it looks unseemly. Green, never having been a legislator, clearly figures it’s a good line for him pursue.
Eric Gioia – who started the night off by calling his opponents “insiders” – said Green and de Blasio were waging debates among themselves that “don’t have meaning” in the lives of everyday voters. He also said some of the “outrage” on display was “fake” and that they were “coming up with issues to try to distract voters.”
Then, Gioia demonstrated exactly what he was talking about, asking de Blasio about the support he gets from the Working Families Party and whether that violated city election rules. “The vendors on your campaign disclose their payrolls? Do the vendors on your campaign disclose their pay roles?” Gioia asked him. After de Blasio said that information was “disclosed fully,” Gioia repeated his question. “But do the vendors on your campaign disclose their payrolls?”
Later, his aides said it was a relevant issue because it addressed whether or not de Blasio had been compromised by special interests in a way that will influence how he’ll manage the office.
De Blasio said he’s complied with the spirit and the letter of the Campaign Finance Board rules, and they’ve continued giving him matching funds, a sign that he’s in good standing with them.
“Let me bring it back to the people who are listening to the show,” said the fourth candidate in the race,
civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who grouped Gioia in with de Blasio and Green as “insiders.”
(At one point earlier in the debate, Siegel yelled out “Eric, you’re an insider.”)
When it was Siegel’s turn to ask questions, he asked de Blasio about the city’s treatment of protesters arrested during the Republican’s national convention here in 2004, and the slush-fund scandal in the City Council.
“Why didn’t you say anything or do anything on those two instances?” Siegel asked.
De Blasio said Siegel’s work on the R.N.C. arrests was commendable, and that he fought for greater disclosure after the slush-fund scandal.
“We took instant steps to make changes and there are changes,” de Blasio said.
Politically, the interesting thing was that everyone seemed to agree that they needed to go after de Blasio rather than Green. It’s universally assumed that Green’s high name recognition will lead him to either win the election outright or be in the run-off.
“I tried to focus tonight on serious issues, like empowering public school parents, and changing how the city Planning Commission deals with development issues,” de Blasio told me afterward. “I found a lot of my opponents didn’t want to talk about those issues. They seemed to be more interested in my campaign.”
Gioia spoke afterward about his focus on de Blasio’s ties to the Working Families Party and their alleged violation of campaign spending rules. “And it’s not me, by the way, it’s the Campaign Finance Board, which has begun issuing unprecedented opinions on this. It is major news organizations, and the editorial boards of the three major daily newspapers agree that what we think is happening presents a clear and present danger to the campaign finance system in New York City.”
It’s worth noting that the “clear and present danger” didn’t prevent one of those daily newspapers, The New York Times, from endorsing de Blasio.