7 NYC mayoral candidates field questions at forum

During a forum at the Central Synagogue in

During a forum at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, NYC mayoral candidates debate the issues facing the city, specifically focusing on education. (Feb. 26, 2013) (Credit: Nancy Borowick)

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Seven candidates vying to be mayor of the nation's largest city fielded questions Tuesday night over how they'd steer its mammoth education system, answering inquiries from how to retain the best teachers to whether to impose a merit pay system.

The candidates' differences were sometimes split along party lines. The four Democrats at the forum said they don't support merit pay for teachers, while the three Republicans said they do. The event was sponsored by the Daily News and Metro IAF, a network of 150 religious institutions, housing and tenant groups.

The Democratic candidates attending were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller Bill Thompson. The Republican attendees were former Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota, Gristedes chairman and chief executive John Catsimatidis, and publisher Tom Allon.

Held at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, the packed event was the second of three forums sponsored by the partnership and one of several that have brought the candidates together to spell out their agendas. Candidates took questions from a variety of New Yorkers: a student, a teacher, a parent, a principal and a rabbi.

"There is no reason why teachers are all treated identical," Lhota said of teacher pay. "It should be based on performance. It should be based on how difficult the subject matter is."

Quinn said teachers have been maligned by politicians.

"I've heard far too often from teachers that they feel that they've been vilified, and we need to stop that," she said, adding that she supports a mentoring program that would pair experienced teachers with first- and second-year teachers.

De Blasio promised to empower parents and provide full-day instruction for 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers. "As mayor, I would like to be held accountable for reducing class size," he said.

Allon said he favors selling "air rights" in publicly owned buildings to developers in exchange for building more classrooms.

The event was not without demonstrations. A dozen protesters outside said Quinn doesn't deserve to be mayor. They held signs, one with Quinn seeming to kiss Michael Bloomberg, reminding voters of Quinn's support of the mayor's efforts to change the term limit law, which allowed him to run for a third term.

With Zachary R. Dowdy

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