Mayoral Hopefuls Discuss Their Role Models

The scene right before John Liu arrived.

The scene right before John Liu arrived.

Across the breadth of policy issues, the Democratic candidates for mayor this year tend to share similar viewpoints. However, there are some notable exceptions, and at a debate sponsored by The New York Observer and 92Y, another one was revealed last night: their mayoral role models.

The first two candidates to speak, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, couldn’t choose just one mayor. Rather, the pair saw themselves as pulling from the best attributes from four and cited Ed Koch’s spirit, David Dinkins’s compassion, Rudy Giuliani’s toughness and Michael Bloomberg’s vision.

“I’ve been asked that question before and I’ve made sure that I haven’t alienated former mayors,” Mr. Thompson joked. “Look, I think as you look back at the mayors we’ve had as mayor of New York–at least in my adult life–we’ve had mayors that have represented a number of different things and I think that’s what you try to take away. … You want to take parts from and emulate them and that’s the type of mayor that I would be–the best of all worlds, if you will. The best.”

“There are things you’d want to take from all of them in different ways,” said Ms. Quinn. “You want to take all of that together and find the best ingredients.”

Not every politician on stage wanted to sample the full mayoral palate, however. To wit, Comptroller John Liu–who arrived from another event in the middle of this question–directly stated his admiration for Mr. Dinkins.

“When I got out of school, Mayor Dinkins was running for mayor and I volunteered on his campaign,” he said. “I would take him as my role model mainly for the reason that he expanded opportunities for so many people who didn’t have opportunities before. I think that’s something we need to get back to.”

Mr. Liu nevertheless offered some humorous support for Mr. Giuliani’s famous crusade against the city’s squeegee men, as well as some more sincere praise for his leadership in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.

“Rudy Giuliani was able to get, I guess, … people to stop washing their windshields,” he explained. “For some reason a lot of people liked that. I appreciated that because it was always difficult to get going once the light turned green until Rudy came along! And then I do certainly admire his management after 9/11.”

Like Mr. Liu, the final two candidates could cite just one former mayor–Fiorello LaGuardia in their cases–as an administration they would hope to emulate.

“Fiorello LaGuardia … is my ideal of a mayor because he was truly independent,” former Councilman Sal Albanese said. “He took on party bosses, he put together a fusion ticket of citizens around the city and got to City Hall without being indebted to special interests. That’s why he had such a great tenure as mayor. … And he’s someone that I would consider a role model.”

“I’m going to say the greatest mayor I think we’ve had–I wish I met him, I never got to–was Fiorello LaGuardia,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio contended. “I don’t think it’s even close. Look, Fiorello to me was the exemplar because he epitomized an activist government and a government that got things done but with a compassion and a sense of fairness.”

Mr. de Blasio was also the lone candidate to offer an anti-role model of sorts, as he suggested some of his opponents were wrong to want any piece of Mr. Giuliani’s mayoralty in their own.

“I got to say to my colleagues, I respect your even-handedness, I just don’t have a lot good to say about Rudy Giuliani, who I think profoundly divided us,” he said, again touting the LaGuardia administration’s inclusiveness. “In the case of Rudy, I think, sadly, his legacy is a lot of division that took a long time to overcome.”