Four of New York City’s Republican candidates for mayor and one Independence Party candidate touched on a wide range of issues Wednesday morning at a breakfast forum hosted by Crain’s New York Business, the first panel this election cycle to not include a single Democratic candidate.
The candidates began the debate by assigning Mayor Michael Bloomberg a numeric grade, on a scale of 1 to 10, and despite Bloomberg’s moderate politics, most gave the mayor high marks, with Independence Party nominee Adolfo Carrion giving him an 8 on the low end and George McDonald the only one to give Bloomberg a 10.
When the discussion turned to income inequality, a topic that the Democratic candidates have harped on over the past couple of months, Joe Lhota, the former chairman of the MTA, downplayed the disparity by pointing to similar income trends throughout the country, in what amounted to neither a confirmation or denial of the problem.
“We’ve seen statistics that show that New York is not any different or any worse with inequality than what’s happening in the United States of America,” Lhota said.
Lhota responded more eloquently than supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, who stammered in answering the question and said he had “lost his train of thought.” In general, Catsimatidis made a poor showing at the forum after a similarly difficult performance last week at the Daily News‘ education forum, and provided little in the way of substance.
George McDonald, the founder of the Doe Fund, was animated in delivering his answers, often raising his voice, and circled many of his responses back to the city’s rising homeless population. His most notable moment came when the candidates were asked whether city workers deserve raises in future years, to which McDonald said that any negotiations over pay raises would start with how to pay for workers’ health insurance.
“[The city workers] have to participate in paying for health insurance,” McDonald said. “The state’s done it forever…the Citizens Budget Commission has recommended it. The time has come for the city and its employees.”
Carrion deflected the question, saying, “Any candidate for an executive position that has to negotiate contracts with labor and publicly divulges their strategy is a fool.”
On the subject of paid sick leave, normally anathema to a pro-business audience, Manhattan Media publisher Tom Allon took a contrarian view as the only candidate that would support the legislation should the City Council finally vote to pass it. Manhattan Media is the parent company of City & State.
“I want my people to have five days’ sick leave each year because when they come to work sick and they infect four people next to them, that’s bad business,” Allon said. “What we should do is couple sick leave with incentives to small businesses to put in wellness programs in the workplace.”
Toward the end of the forum, the moderator of the discussion, Crain’s columnist Greg David–who had kept strict time limits on the candidates’ responses throughout, even cutting them off mid-sentence–baited Lhota by calling his former boss, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a “jerk.” Lhota served in the Giuliani administration as a deputy mayor.
Lhota responded by touting the growing economy and jobs created under Giuliani. After the forum, according to reported accounts, Lhota said, “Using a pejorative to describe Rudy Giuliani in a forum like this is unfortunate, but that’s what columnists do. They have the right to say whatever they want, and Greg did say whatever he wants. I think he was wrong.”
At the conclusion of the debate, David delivered the results of a “snap poll” of audience members on who they thought was the best candidate. Lhota led with 63 percent, with Catsimatidis coming in second at 20 percent (though his numbers may have been skewed by a large contingent of supporters in the audience) and McDonald third at 10 percent.
Tags: 2013 Mayoral Race, Adolfo Carrion, Crain's New York Business, George McDonald, Greg David, income inequality, Independence Party, joe lhota, John Catsimatidis, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, paid sick days, pay raise, Republican mayoral candiate, Rudolph Giuliani, Tom Allon