Candidates Take No Prisoners in Final Democratic Debate

(Photo: Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal)

Tonight’s debate. (Photo: Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal)

The final debate between the Democratic rivals for mayor turned especially catty tonight–especially when the show moved from broadcast television to an online feed–as the candidates made their final pitches to voters one week before the primary.

Once again, front-runner Bill de Blasio had a giant target on his back, but this time the constant digs seemed to take their toll, with the public advocate constantly on defense over his policy plans as well as his record.

“He will say anything depending on whose votes he’s trying to get,” said Christine Quinn, who once led the public polls and ignored Mr. de Blasio, but now finds herself in third place as she hits him on a whole range of issues.

“Why should the people of the City of New York believe you, Bill, given your history, given the fact that that history has been one of doing things that are in your self-interest,” added former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who accused Mr. de Blasio for flip-flopping on his own laundry list of issues, including tax increases and term limits.

Even the moderators seemed to pile on: “Straight up, Mr. de Blasio: Did you flip on terms limits?” demanded the Wall Street Journal‘s Michael Howard Saul. “Straight up!”

For his part, Mr. de Blasio, towering over his rivals, tried to deflect the criticism. “Lot of inaccuracies tonight, so let me set the record straight,” he repeated. Still, he did his best to stick to his main talking point: after 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, people are longing for change.

“I say, in fact, the people are ready for it. The people demand that we tax the wealthy so we can fix our schools!” he declared, defending his central policy proposal, raising taxes on the rich to fund universal pre-kindergarten. Critics on stage and the at moderator’s table suggested it was delusional to assume the State Legislature would approve the proposal during an election year, as is required by law.

But most interesting, perhaps, were the tactics employed by the other two candidates on stage, both recovering from scandals and trailing badly in the polls.

City Comptroller John Liu, who was denied millions in crucial matching funds in the wake of a campaign finance scandal, seemed to be out for blood, repeatedly attacking his rivals, as well as the City’s Campaign Finance Board, The New York Times and the debates moderators, with whom he constantly sparred.

“Bill, Bill, cut the nonsense here!” he exclaimed at one point, attacking Mr. de Blasio for coming late to the table in supporting living wage legislation.

“You signed on at the every end to protect your own butt from the liberal and progressive movement that was chiding you for opposing or at least not supporting that important living wage legislation,” he said. “You need a reality check.”

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, meanwhile, seemed to operate almost outside the debate, sizing up each of his rivals and calling out the questioners when he thought their inquiries were a waste of time.

“I think I’m prepared to rule on this,” he said following one heated back-and-forth about the living wage legislation.

At one point, he offered his assessment of Ms. Quinn’s attack line of the day: criticizing Mr. de Blasio for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from bad landlords on his much-touted “Worst Landlords Watchlist.”

“I’m not voting for Bill de Blasio, I’m voting for me, but no one’s fought harder to stand up to slumlords. I mean, that’s not the good issue to hit him on,” he said, dismissing the attack as “pretty ridiculous.”

Later, an exasperated Mr. Weiner chastised Mr. Liu for not running with an attack line.

“I set you up perfectly … you’re slowing me up here, kid!” he quipped.