Campaigns & Elections

Adams and Sliwa face off in last mayoral debate

The two candidates have one last chance to make their cases in a lopsided contest.

Eric  Adams and  Curtis Sliwa arriving at the first mayoral debate.

Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa arriving at the first mayoral debate. lev radin/Shutterstock

With early voting underway, a new poll reinforcing Democrat Eric Adams’ commanding lead, and just one week left until Election Day, the second and final New York City mayoral debate was a chance for both candidates to solidify their pitches to voters. But Curtis Sliwa, the Republican founder of the civilian crime fighting group Guardian Angels, has a lot more ground to gain if he wants to catch up to Adams. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, is heavily favored to win given that Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans in New York City, and his strong fundraising advantage.  

Last week, at New York City’s first mayoral debate, Adams and Sliwa sparred on seemingly every topic under the sun, from their positions on municipal vaccine mandates and accelerated learning, to the fate of Rikers Island and a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Adams stuck to the policy questions posed to him and resisted Sliwa’s attempts to goad him into arguments about his criminal justice record or the controversy about his residency. 

Early voting in New York City’s elections began on Saturday, Oct. 23, but turnout has been modest so far. The city Board of Elections reported 45,009 check-ins at poll sites on Monday, three days into early voting.

Ahead of this debate, Adams and Sliwa have traded their fair share of personal barbs, with Adams attacking Sliwa’s credibility and Sliwa characterizing Adams as elitist. 

Here’s where the candidates stood on key issues in their second and final debate:

Adams and Sliwa open with a lively debate on policing

Tuesday’s debate opened with the subject both Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa have made hallmarks of their campaigns: policing and public safety. Asked the first question of the night about the use of the controversial tactic known as stop and frisk, Adams noted that his own son has been stopped and frisked, and noted that the tactic has been used to target young Black and brown New Yorkers. “A tool that's abused is no longer a tool, it's a weapon,” Adams said. Asked to give an example of an appropriate use of stop and frisk, Adams suggested a scenario in which someone calls the police to report someone in front of their home who has a gun.

Sliwa came out swinging against Adams, criticizing the Brooklyn borough president for saying earlier in the day that his approach to public safety will include collaborating with gang members who have been accused of murder. “You haven't even met with the police unions, and you're meeting with gang leaders who are responsible for bodies,” Sliwa said. Adams responded that he is meeting with people who have committed crimes to get them out of gangs.   

Sliwa continued to attack Adams for lack of support for police during protests in the summer of 2020. “Where were you Eric Adams? … You didn’t defend the police at all. You abandoned them,” he said.

Both candidates said they would expand Gifted and Talented

When asked about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to end the city’s Gifted and Talented program, which has been heavily criticized for contributing to racially segregated classrooms, and replace it with Brilliant NYC, which would focus on teacher training, both candidates said they would expand upon the existing program. 

Sliwa said he would expand the number of gifted and talented opportunities, noting that his two sons failed to get into the program while many Asian students have been successful. “They beat out my two youngest sons for gifted and talented. They deserved it,” Sliwa said.

Adams also said he would expand the existing program but would add screening for learning disabilities and mentioned that he had not discovered that he had a learning disability until he reached college. “Let's also focus on those children that learn differently,” Adams said. “Those who have learning disabilities, dyslexia, let's make sure we provide educational opportunities to them.”

Vaccine Mandates for municipal workers

On the issue of requiring city employees to be vaccinated or take unpaid leave, Adams criticized de Blasio’s approach. He noted he was a municipal employee as a police officer. “I was one of them. … I protected this city,” Adams said. Without saying he would repeal the mandate, he critiqued de Blasio’s messaging on the vaccine mandate. “I would have communicated with the unions.”

Sliwa tried to draw a connection between Adams and de Blasio and emphatically opposed the vaccine mandates. “Stop this madness. Do not fire these people on Friday,” he said.

Buffoonery prevails

In a repeat of the first mayoral debate, Sliwa’s trustworthiness was called into question after being portrayed by Adams as a “clown.” Moderators noted that Sliwa fabricated crimes he said were committed against him and the Guardian Angels in the early nineties. As he did last week, Sliwa brushed off the question, saying that the fabrications were a mistake he made in his youth. Sliwa then attempted to turn the question to Adams, noting the controversy around Adams’ residency.

Adams, so far, is staying above the fray. “You're acting like my son when he was 4 years old. Show some discipline,” Adams told Sliwa.

Sliwa slams Thrive

When asked about what budget cuts each candidate would make if elected mayor, Sliwa took shots at Thrive, the city’s mental health program, which he said has cost taxpayers millions of dollars but has made little impact on the city. “It will not continue with me,” Sliwa said.

Sliwa then pressed Adams on whether or not he would get rid of the program. “Now acknowledge that you would disband Thrive, if you happen to be elected mayor of the city of New York,” he said, before accusing Adams of refusing to criticize the program due to having a close relationship with de Blasio.

Adams said he would ask every city agency to make “3% to 5% cuts across the board,” to tackle the city’s budget. “No layoffs because we're not going to impact those low-income employees, civil servants,” he said.

Candidates ask the questions

Moderators gave candidates the ability to ask each other one question. Sliwa asked Adams whether, in the unlikely scenario that Sliwa prevails, Adams would support him in his mission to save the city. Adams said yes. 

But Adams then went so far in his effort to not engage with Sliwa that he refused to even ask him a question, saying that his mission is speaking to New York City voters. “There is not one question I have for Curtis,” Adams said. 

Rikers Island jails

Asked if he supports closing Rikers Island and replacing it with smaller borough-based jails, Adams said he would go forward with the existing plan to close the jail by 2026.  “It is a mess, and I was there over a month ago,” he said. He also said the crisis would be alleviated by expediting cases in the court system and providing better mental health care for people incarcerated there.

A solution for basement apartments

In the middle of a nasty nor’easter on Tuesday, candidates were asked what they would do about illegal basement apartments in New York City – units where several New Yorkers were found dead after the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the city over the summer. The fate of basement apartments is complicated by the affordable housing crisis, and moderators asked where people would be housed if those units were shut down. 

Sliwa said that he would shut the units down and hold landlords responsible for renting them out by fining them, noting that Adams lives in a basement apartment. Adams said that the city has to work to identify apartments at risk, but said people should not be forced to leave their homes. “I would not displace them and further aggravate our housing crisis. We need to deal with the immediate concerns with storms,” he said.

One candidate delivers plan to tackle homeless crisis, the other not so much

Moderators asked both candidates how they would handle the ongoing homelessness crisis, asking what they would do to curb the growing number of people experiencing homelessness, Sliwa said he has a proven track record helping people sleeping in the streets as a Guardian Angel. “All you got to do is look at my track record working with the emotionally disturbed and homeless for 42 years, as leader of the Guardian Angels,” Sliwa said. “We've been out in the streets, tending to their needs, getting them food and clothing, these lost souls.”

Adams said that he would tackle the problem by creating permanent housing, as opposed to shelters, creating housing subsidies for children and families, and ensuring that judges properly make use of conservatorship laws to help those who are unable to care for themselves. “(We) need to get out of the shelter business and into the housing business,” said Adams.

Voting for non-citizens

Adams said he supported voting rights for green card holders, but said it is an issue that state lawmakers have authority to address. “Hopefully the state lawmakers will look at that,” he said. 

Sliwa said he does not support voting for non-citizens. “The only thing you can’t do with a green card is vote. It’s a privilege.” Sliwa then brought up City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who carries the bill to allow non-citizen voting in the City Council, stating falsely that Rodriguez is not a citizen. Rodriguez is in fact a citizen, and responded to Sliwa over Twitter after those comments. “To be clear, I became an U.S citizen in 2000 and have been voting ever since,” Rodriguez said on Twitter. “Curtis should not assume that just because I have a strong accent, Dominican roots, and I’m fighting to restore the right for our immigrant brothers and sisters to vote in municipal elections that I am not a citizen.”

Grading de Blasio

Asked to evaluate Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, Sliwa gave the current mayor an F grade. “He has taken a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball to the city that we love,” Sliwa said. Sliwa said that de Blasio’s best success was universal pre-K, and that everything after that has been downhill.

Adams gave de Blasio a B+, complimenting his work on education and IDNYC, but noting that homelessness has been the current mayor’s biggest weakness.

Congestion pricing

Asked about the state’s plan to impose a congestion pricing tax on vehicles in Manhattan’s Central Business District, Adams repeated his position that congestion pricing is crucial, but that some waivers should be allowed.

Sliwa is against congestion pricing, calling the program a tax on outer borough residents. He also suggested that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority could find revenue by focusing on combating fare evasion.

Taxi drivers

New York City’s taxi medallion crisis is reaching a boiling point, as medallion owners continue a hunger strike to call for increased debt relief from the city. Adams and Sliwa both avoided getting specific when asked how they would help taxi drivers, but both agreed that the city should focus on helping individual medallion owners, not the large fleet companies that own many medallions. We cannot ignore those everyday hardworking American men and women who thought they were buying into an American dream that turned into a nightmare,” Adams said. 

Outdoor dining

Candidates were asked if they would continue to allow outdoor structures for restaurant dining, a common occurrence as the pandemic prevented indoor dining due to COVID-19 risk. 

Adams said he would continue to allow outdoor dining, with improved safety measures for the restaurant structures. “I think it brings a great energy,” he said. Sliwa disagreed, saying the structures are an eyesore that were only necessary because of vaccine passport requirements, which he also opposes.

Unsurprisingly, Adams is pro-bike

Adams, an avid bike rider, said that he would promote bike riding in the city and prioritize safe biking, emphasizing the need for multiple ways to get around the city.

“I will do it (bike) with my eldest like we did at Restoration Plaza,” Adams said. “I will encourage young people to ride their bikes, to and from schools, because it can help reduce childhood obesity by doing exercise. And yes, I would make sure that we have proper enforcement so that people are not cycling in dangerous environments by using their bikes.”

Candidates try to make nice

Asked to say something nice about their opponent, both landed on an animal theme. “The cats,” Adams said of Sliwa. “I tip my hat off to Curtis and what he’s doing with cats.” Sliwa has made animal rights a key campaign issue, and lives with over a dozen cats.

Sliwa focused on another animal-friendly choice, complimenting Adams’ promotion of a healthy and vegan lifestyle.“I hope one day to be a vegan,” Sliwa said. “I’m like at the vegetarian stage.”