Editorial: Cheap Shots

As Mr. Dooley once said—or was it Aristotle?—politics ain’t beanbag. Those who choose to solicit our votes and submit themselves to the many indignities of electoral campaigns know full well that the gloves are always off, especially in New York. If you can’t take a rhetorical punch, you’d better find a different line of work.

That said, the hostile spectacle that greeted Council Speaker Christine Quinn when she addressed a mayoral forum on public housing the other night was downright brutal, and unfairly so. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, one of Ms. Quinn’s primary rivals, hardly covered himself in glory as he egged on the crowd, which was happy to toss a few metaphorical rotten eggs in Ms. Quinn’s direction.

The event was sponsored by Local 237 of the Teamsters union and the Community Service Society, a nonprofit advocacy group whose members still haven’t gotten over David Dinkins’s defeat in 1993. Ms. Quinn arrived at the event while it was under way and was greeted like Alex Rodriguez at Rangers Ballpark.

To give you an idea of the level of discourse, several in the audience shouted, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Ms. Quinn, who is no slouch when it comes to high-decibel give-and-take, could barely get a word in amid the torrent of abuse from audience members. Security guards were required to bring the event to order.

Passionate debate has a place of honor in New York. But there is a line, and it’s not particularly fine, between impassioned argument and bullying. This event obliterated that line. You’d like to think that the folks in attendance were interested in hearing the candidates’ ideas. Instead, many seemed more intent on shutting down debate.

Mr. de Blasio, no fool, took the room’s temperature and made sure to add his own criticisms of the speaker, taking a swipe at her before she arrived—there’s a brave man—and continuing to make sure the speaker’s loud critics knew full well how much he disagreed with her and most of what she stands for.

What a difference between Mr. de Blasio’s comportment the other night and Ms. Quinn’s reaction last year when members of an audience personally insulted Mayor Bloomberg. That event was called to rally support for the controversial living-wage bill, which the speaker supported and the mayor opposed. As Ms. Quinn began to speak, somebody in the audience yelled out, “Pharaoh Bloomberg,” leading Ms. Quinn to reply, steely-eyed: “In a democracy, people have the right to have different views, and we do not have the right to then call them names.” She walked out when the loudmouth refused to apologize.

Mr. de Blasio might have said something similar at the housing event. But he didn’t.

A lost opportunity—and a moment of revelation as well.