NEW YORK CITY — Bill de Blasio took heat from his Democratic opponents during Wednesday night's mayoral debate, as the contenders repeatedly accused him of "flip-flopping" and being a "Billy come lately" on key issues.
While a previous debate saw the Democratic candidates unite to attack Council Speaker Christine Quinn, this time the contenders turned their venom on de Blasio, who surged ahead of Quinn to become the race's frontrunner in a poll last week.
"Let's tell the truth, Bill. No more of the flip-flop," Bill Thompson told de Blasio in a rancorous exchange over taxes and school funding during the 90-minute debate at The Town Hall.
The debate saw particular hostility between de Blasio and Quinn, fanned in part by a heated exchange earlier in the day between de Blasio’s wife and Quinn over an interview in The New York Times. Quinn claimed the comments by Chirlane McCray insinuated that Quinn couldn't be trusted on issues such as childcare because she didn't have children, while the de Blasio camp said Quinn had grossly misinterpreted the comments.
Asked by debate moderator Erroll Louis of NY1 about the comments, de Blasio said his wife "meant no offense. My wife was speaking about the issues... It was, I think, a respectful and substantive statement."
Quinn hit back, saying the comments were "very hurtful because they raised the question of whether or not I have children is relevant...to how hard I fight for families. I fight very hard for families."
At another point in the debate, Thompson and Quinn launched an unexpected tag-team attack on de Blasio, beginning with Thompson asking de Blasio to take down a campaign ad in which he claims to be the only candidate who wants to “end a stop-and-frisk era that targets minorities.”
“Stop lying to the people of New York City,” Thompson told de Blasio, noting that many of the seven Democratic candidates support ending the city’s stop-and-frisk policy.
De Blasio responded that he was the only one willing to do all three things necessary to truly eliminate stop-and-frisk, including removing Ray Kelly as police commissioner, installing an NYPD inspector general and approving an anti-bias bill that would make it easier for those who believe they were racially profiled by police to file lawsuits.
Shortly afterward, Quinn turned to Thompson and asked, “I want to know if you were satisfied with the answer you just got [from de Blasio]?”
Thompson said he was not.
“First, Bill, I don’t need lectures from you on this issue,” Thompson told de Blasio, claiming de Blasio’s response was “part of a pattern” of dishonesty.
“Speaker Quinn supported overturning the term limits, and I disagree with her strongly about that. But in 2005, when you wanted to be the speaker of the New York City Council, you supported changing term limits through legislation,” Thompson added.
Thompson went on to skewer de Blasio for “flip-flopping” on other issues, such as the use of member items, ending his tirade by asking, “Will the real Bill de Blasio please stand up.”
De Blasio defended himself, saying he had opposed the City Council's move to overturn term limits in 2009.
Another hot-button issue Wednesday night was how much the wealthy ought to be taxed, with Comptroller John Liu, Former Rep. Anthony Weiner and de Blasio all saying that the rich should pay more than they do now.
“Those who make less [should] pay less, and those who make more, pay more,” Liu said, warning of a “wealth divide that is continuing to break our chances for a full economic recovery.”
Referring to New York City as the “capital of the middle class,” Weiner said he would reduce taxes for those making under $150,000 and raise them for those making $1 million or more.
De Blasio said raising taxes on the city’s wealthy would be a way to pay for universal pre-K and expanded middle school after-school programs.
“The greatest investment we can make in fighting inequality in the long run is to get more kids a good education,” he said.
Quinn and Thompson, however, said they would only raise taxes as a "last resort."