NEW YORK CITY — In his first primary debate of the season, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday fought back against jabs from Democratic challenger Sal Albanese, who charged the incumbent has failed to lead the city out of crises surrounding transportation, homelessness and affordable housing.
The mayor also came under fire for taking contributions from real estate developers and for a pair of corruption probes that ended with no charges filed.
The two battled over their vision of New York City, agreeing on a need for affordable housing and transit fixes, but offering varying opinions on how to go about it.
De Blasio — who is favored to win the the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary, as well as the Nov. 7 general election — opened the debate at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side by touting his first-term record.
"Four years ago I ran to take on the inequality crisis in this city, the tale of two cities," de Blasio said, repeating the motto used frequently during his 2013 campaign.
Since taking office Jan. 1, 2014, the city has built more than 24,200 affordable housing units, which includes a mix of new construction and preserved units, he noted. The mayor also launched a universal pre-K program and reduced stop-and-frisk practices within the NYPD, while the city has seen four straight years of lower crime and a new method of community relations with Neighborhood Policing, he said.
"We've got a lot more to do to make sure this city truly is for everyone," de Blasio said.
Despite his accomplishments, the mayor spent much of the debate on the defense and repeatedly said his challenger had his facts wrong.
Albanese, who also ran in the 2013 primary, took shots at the mayor's corruption probes and travel outside of the city, as well as his failure to show up at the scenes of train derailments and police shootings.
"I think we need a higher standard than the mayor not being indicted," he said, regarding probes into the mayor's fundraising, which ended with an admonishment by prosecutors but no charges being filed.
The city's drop in crime is merely part of a long-term trend that began during Mayor David Dinkins' term, Albanese said, and de Blasio shouldn't get to take the credit.
"If Mickey Mouse was the mayor, we'd still have crime going down," he joked — one of many quips that drew laughs and cheers from the crowd, which sounded skewed in support of Albanese.
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De Blasio countered most of the jabs by questioning his challenger's facts, staying on message as a fighter for the most vulnerable residents.
“I’m looking forward to the sentence where you have your facts straight,” he told his opponent.
This is the third time Albanese, who represented neighborhoods in Brooklyn in the City Council from 1983 to 1997, is running for mayor.
When asked by the moderator why his chances are better this time, Albanese said voters are ready for a change.
"I look forward to leading New York City as a reformer and bringing about change, real change, and listening to neighborhoods. It's always tough to run as a reformer, but I think this time is different," he said.
The event also featured a boisterous crowd of supporters, activists and mayoral candidates who were not chosen to participate in the debate.
Bob Gangi, a Democratic candidate for mayor, said the debate "robbed New Yorkers of the opportunity to hear a fully informed discussion on issues that matter to them."
He and other candidates, including Mike Tolkin, were not asked to participate in the debate. In Gangi's case, he didn't meet the economic threshold for fundraising. The debate's organizer, NY1, chose not to include Tolkin due to his lack of engagement during the campaign, the station said.
Outside the event, a group of de Blasio supporters chanted "four more years" and danced along to a band playing outside.
Bo Dietl, a registered Democrat who is running as an independent, marched up and down Broadway with a person inside a Big Bird costume.
The debate ended with each candidate's final pitch to voters.
"This is your city, this is not the city that belongs to the wealthy and the powerful," de Blasio said. "This is your city."
Speaking to reporters after the event, Albanese said he hoped voters saw him as an alternative to the heavily favored mayor.
"I think we did enough to show that people have an option," he said. "The feeling is that this mayor is unbeatable, and that's just not true."