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In Defensive Debate, Mayor Says He'll Fight to Keep NYC 'For Everyone'

By Katie Honan | September 7, 2017 9:56am

NEW YORK CITY — In the final debate before next week's primary election, Mayor Bill de Blasio and lead challenger Sal Albanese sparred Wednesday night over the incumbent's record — arguing about affordable housing, policing, education and the mayor's protests against President Donald Trump.

For de Blasio, it was an opportunity to convince voters he deserves another term to make sure New York City remains "a city for everyone."

For Albanese, considered a long shot in the Sept. 12 primary, it was another chance to present himself to voters as a worthy alternative to the current mayor.

"Who are you, and what qualifies [you] — anything you've done recently to be mayor of our city?" moderator and CBS 2 anchor Maurice DuBois asked Albanese to kick off the debate, which was held at the CUNY Graduate Center.

The 68-year-old former City Councilman, who ran ran for mayor in 1997 and 2013, said he has the right mix of public and private sector experience to run the city.

"I am the New York City story," he said, referring to his immigration to the United States from Italy as a child, attendance at public schools and graduation from CUNY before becoming a teacher. He spent 15 years in the City Council, and more recently worked in finance.

"I have a passion for helping New Yorkers," he said. "My vision is to make the city more livable."

With his opponent in charge, Albanese said New York City has become a more difficult place to live.

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De Blasio, who has presided over the city as crime numbers have dropped to record lows, vehemently disagreed. He said he's made building affordable apartments a requirement for new developments, has introduced universal pre-K, and has worked to secure tenant protections.

"We had a rent freeze for two years — that's never happened in the city's history," de Blasio said.

During he tenure, the city has brought incidents of stop-and-frisk down 93 percent, and crime has gone down all four years he's been mayor.

"We are the safest big city in America, and we're getting safer," de Blasio said.

The hour-long debate featured questions ranging from school overcrowding to a scandal involving the Boston Red Sox stealing signals from the New York Yankees.

During his chance to ask Albanese a question, de Blasio referred to an article that quoted his opponent as saying he would try to work with President Trump, instead of fighting him.

"I’ve said, Donald Trump only understands strength," the mayor said. "The only way to deal with him is to stand up to him.”

Albanese said he found Trump's policies "abhorrent" but recognized he has to work with federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"I don’t want to get into a personal grudge match with him like you did," he said. "You went out and protested in front of his building. You’re the mayor of the city of New York.”

Both candidates were also asked if they smoked marijuana, and if they believe it should be sold on city streets.

In 2014, de Blasio and the NYPD announced they would stop arresting most people caught with 25 grams or less of marijuana, and would issue a summons instead.

De Blasio — who has been asked before if he and his wife smoke it at Gracie Mansion — said he only smoked "once or twice" while he was a student at New York University, but joked "some days I wish I did."

Although he is in favor of legalizing marijuana, Albanese admitted he's never smoked it.

"I hope you don't think I'm a square, but I've never smoked marijuana," he said, noting it was all around him in college but he "just couldn't ingest smoke into my lungs."

The candidates closed out the debate with their final pitches to voters, with Albanese vowing to stop "unfettered development" and improve transportation.

De Blasio laid out his accomplishments — and said he needed another four years to get more things done.

"This is your cit ... it has to work for you," he said. "I need your support to continue this work... so we can make sure New York City is always a city for everyone."