CHELSEA — Public Advocate candidates Letitia James and Daniel Squadron got personal in their attacks Tuesday night in the one and only debate before Democratic voters head back to the polls for the Oct. 1 runoff.
Squadron landed the first blow in the debate, challenging James’ transparency after she failed to release her tax returns, before attacking her record in the City Council.
“For years you hid from your constituents that you were a landlord. For years you failed to disclose your rental income,” Squadron charged, claiming that James was the “only citywide candidate” not to release her income taxes “despite pledging in a debate to do exactly that.”
“In an office that’s all about transparency, that’s all about making sure New Yorkers can trust you, don’t you think those issues should raise real doubts?” Squadron asked.
James repeated that she would release her taxes, promising to Squadron that she would do so on Wednesday, but not before accusing him of having ties to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I recognize that you are a close ally of Mayor Bloomberg, someone who was endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg, someone who once worked for Mayor Bloomberg, someone who once carried the water for Mayor Bloomberg in Albany,” James said.
“The truth is that Councilmember James stood with Mayor Bloomberg 98 percent of the time,” fired back Squadron, who also criticized Bloomberg throughout the Democratic debate.
James called Squadron’s attempts to tie her to Bloomberg “laughable.”
“The record is clear: Letitia James is a fighter on behalf of those individuals whose voices have been ignored,” she said.
The debate quickly descended into potshots on either side. After Squadron pressed James to release her tax returns, the councilwoman said she hoped he would release details about his “trust fund.”
James went on to say she is someone who came from “humble beginnings, whose mother scrubbed floors and whose father was a janitor.”
A visibly upset Squadron called James' statement “innuendo” and “a personal attack” that he said “has been going on the entire campaign.”
“I don’t have a trust fund,” Squadron said. “My family and I were victims of the Madoff scheme and we lost everything.”
James didn’t stop there. She hammered Squadron over not endorsing fellow Democrat Bill Thompson in the 2009 mayoral race and for being the first to help Bloomberg retain control of the New York City schools in 2009.
But James’ most consistent criticism of Squadron related to his role in the funding deal that saw luxury condos rise in Brooklyn Bridge Park, shortly after Squadron entered office as a state senator in 2009.
“You told [voters] during the campaign that you would not build housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park,” James charged. “You betrayed the trust of your constituents.”
Squadron denied the charge, saying the accusation “raises the question as to whether voters can trust Councilmember James.”
“There was a plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park that included building housing at the moment I was elected [in 2008]. I said, I don’t like that plan, I’m going to do something about it,” Squadron said, claiming he was “successful in reducing and delaying” the housing that was ultimately built.
On the issues, the candidates were mostly aligned in their positions.
Both Squadron and James declared that they would be strong checks on the possible mayoralty of Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio. However, both voiced their support for de Blasio’s bid, and neither one would respond to moderators’ questions about what issues they disagreed with de Blasio on, even as they anticipated eventually butting heads.
The runoff is expected to draw an even smaller fraction of Democratic voters than the primary did on Sept. 10, and could cost the city $13 million — or more than six times the annual budget of the public advocate’s office.