By the end of the first general election mayoral debate Tuesday night, there was a gum-chewing security guard in a dark blue suit pacing the aisles practically daring rowdy audience members to keep up the shenanigans. They did.
It was that kind of debate as forty-point-poll frontrunner Mayor Bill de Blasio faced off against Republican challenger Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis and former NYPD detective and prospective movie star Bo Dietl, running on his own ballot line. The candidates’ supporters came in force and were happy to see the proceedings descend into something approaching farce.
The very active crowd
Though the audience had been asked by NY1 anchor Errol Louis to stay quiet, there was booing, yelling and cheering throughout, even with the security guards pacing the Symphony Space auditorium. It didn’t stop one individual from yelling something about de Blasio going to jail, visions of a “lock her up” chant at a Donald Trump rally. The heckler was promptly thrown out.
“Good night sir,” Louis said. And things got uglier from there.
The wild man in the room
This might have been some New Yorkers’ first glimpse of Dietl, whose private-eye company has done work for former Fox executive Roger Ailes and is now shooting scenes for a movie also starring Ice-T in which Dietl plays a cop turned mayor.
Dietl speaks in the run-on sentences of a guy trying to yell one last thing through the closing D-train doors at the person who accidentally bumped into them two stops earlier.
Tuesday night, he was asked about his plan for accountability at the NYPD and started with the phrase “All we hear is this and that.” He eventually answered by saying he’d slash the college credits requirement for officers as a way to get “inner city” kids into the department. He says he has “evolved” on incarceration and other issues and now supports “jail reform” but sees no problem with Rikers staying open. In fact, here’s a decent summary of his Rikers remarks: He called former corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte a “nincompoop” who was mostly “fishing in Maine” (Ponte left the job after the revelation that he used city resources to facilitate trips out of state). Dietl also challenged de Blasio to “lock up for two days. Me and you. General population.”
The Republican challenger tried her best to jab de Blasio without resorting to quite the tactics of the raging prophet to her left. She was clearly the mayor’s target — de Blasio repeatedly challenged her record and interpretations. She hit back in turn with the eyebrow-raising critique that NYC was not the safest city in the world “if you are a woman,” given an increase in felony sex crimes despite the overall drop in city crime.
She somewhat effectively challenged de Blasio’s very repeated attempts to tie her to Trump, who she voted for and has supported. She said she was focused on New Yorkers and would challenge Trump when he hurt New York.
She continued criticisms about the mayor’s handling of quality of life in the city, claiming it was getting dirtier and less livable. Yet neither she nor Dietl spent much time, if any, on policy alternatives.
...and de Blasio floats above the fray
That helped de Blasio avoid any real damage in the 90-minute contest. His night was best exemplified by this exchange with Dietl regarding a new jails plan:
BdB: “I have never called for five new jails.”
Dietl, yelling: “Four!”
BdB, serenely: “Thank you.”
He kept to his general pronouncements about universal pre-k and affordable housing units. He addressed Dietl directly only once, to deplore a comment Dietl had made on the campaign trail comparing an African-American female judge’s looks, without cause, to the appearance of de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who is African-American.
The mayor didn’t need to do much more as chaos descended around him, with the audience repeatedly interrupting the debate with boos and shouts of “You’re lying.” On-stage interruptions from Dietl were so frequent, the moderator shut his microphone. Dietl also hummed a song while de Blasio talked, blew kisses to the crowd, the audience loving the whole thing while security ineffectually patrolled.
Things ended with Dietl saying to de Blasio, “You’re a lying Big Bird,” referring to the Sesame Street character. Malliotakis interjected “Mr. Mayor, don’t lecture me.”
“Ok. Yeah, I think that’s gonna do it,” said a somewhat deflated Louis in closing. The audience streamed for the exit.
That was that.