After an endless array of Zoom panels, the eight top contenders in the Democratic mayoral primary are set to square off on TV and radio beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday during the first city Campaign Finance Board-sanctioned debate of the 2021 primary season.
Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang are slated to appear, less than six weeks before the June 22 primary, which is likely to decide who leads New York City in the pandemic’s wake.
The debate is organized in partnership with NY1, WNYC/Gothamist, THE CITY, Citizens Union, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Social Work Votes (Columbia School of Social Work & Latino Leadership Institute).
Moderator Errol Louis of NY1 will ask the mayoral hopefuls questions, along with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer and THE CITY’s Josefa Velasquez. Candidates also will field pre-taped audience questions gathered by THE CITY and partners.
With Yang and Adams trading off modest leads in recent polls, both seem likely targets of the other hopefuls — even with the new ranked choice voting system that’s designed to entice candidates to play nice.
Stringer, who faces a sexual misconduct allegation that led to several endorsers yanking their support, may also have to field tough questions from the other candidates — four of whom have called for him to end his campaign. The city comptroller has denied the allegation.
For candidates picking up traction, including Garcia, who won the endorsement of The New York Times Editorial Board this week, Wiley and Morales, the debate will provide an opportunity to make waves and perhaps gain wider recognition as the primary approaches.
Big Bucks in Play
Standout moments in the debate could become fodder for future ads, as campaigns ramp up spending for the final five weeks before the primary with “undecided” still leading some polls.
Candidates became eligible to participate in the debate if they met the CFB’s criteria, which include appearing on the ballot and by mid-March raising and spending 2.5% — or $182,150 — of the expenditure limit under the CFB’s public matching funds program. Seven of the eight candidates have qualified for public matching funds, receiving a total of $23,296,632 as of April 22.
McGuire, who has opted out of the program, was invited, as well.
Independent expenditure committees are also raising money from deep-pocketed donors to spend on behalf of choice candidates and influence voters with outreach campaigns. Those groups operate separately from the candidates’ campaigns and are not beholden to the same fundraising limits. So far, groups have popped up to boost Yang, Donovan, McGuire and Adams.
Thursday’s debate is the first of three between Democratc contenders before the primary. Another will take place on June 2, and the “leading contenders’’ will debate again on June 16.
THE CITY and the other partners from Thursday’s debate are scheduled to co-host the first official debate between Republican mayoral candidates Fernando Mateo and Curtis Sliwa on May 26. That session is also slated to feature some questions from readers of THE CITY.