Public Advocate Bill de Blasio became a bigger target befitting his rise in the polls in a debate Wednesday night as his Democratic rivals for New York City mayor disputed his claim of leading fights against stop and frisk and hospital closures.
Two other top-ranked candidates -- City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former Comptroller Bill Thompson -- were united in saying de Blasio misrepresented their positions on the NYPD practice.
A recent de Blasio campaign ad bills him as the "only" candidate willing to reform stop and frisk. But Quinn, Thompson and others have called for an end to excessive stops.
"Stop lying to the people of New York City," Thompson told de Blasio in a cross-examination segment of the debate.
De Blasio defended himself as stop and frisk's fiercest critic. He has called for a new police commissioner, an independent inspector general and a law banning racial profiling, he said. Thompson opposes two City Council bills to create oversight and make it easier to sue cops for racial profiling. Quinn has said she might keep Kelly and supports only the oversight bill.
Quinn used her cross-examination question to keep the heat on de Blasio. "I want to know if you're satisfied with the answer you just got," she asked Thompson rhetorically.
"In professional wrestling, they allow tag teams," de Blasio quipped of being cornered.
But Quinn defended de Blasio when former Rep. Anthony Weiner posed a question on whether she was sitting on undisclosed reports that might tie de Blasio to a 2008 City Council slush fund scandal. "Casting aspersions on the public advocate like that is just outrageous," Quinn said.
With less than three weeks to go until the Sept. 10 primary, Quinn, de Blasio, Thompson, Weiner, Comptroller John Liu, former Councilman Sal Albanese and minister Erick Salgado met at The Town Hall in midtown Manhattan for the televised debate carried on NY1.
A recent poll showed de Blasio and Quinn are statistically tied for first place.
Hospital closings in the city was another topic that resulted in heated exchanges. De Blasio blamed Quinn for the 2010 shuttering of St. Vincent's Hospital in the West Village. De Blasio has filed a lawsuit to prevent the closure of another facility, Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, and was arrested at a July protest.
Liu and Albanese derided his arrest as a stunt. Quinn went after de Blasio's supporters, including actress Susan Sarandon, saying some were opposed to a rezoning process that could have saved St. Vincent's.
The debate also exposed divides pitting de Blasio versus Quinn and Thompson on taxes. The signature proposal of de Blasio's platform is the hiking of taxes on the wealthy to fund universal prekindergarten and after-school programs.
"Your proposal is almost a tax in search of an idea," Thompson said, adding that prekindergarten can be alternately financed with untapped state funds. Both he and Quinn said they would be reluctant to see higher taxes but wouldn't be opposed to it entirely. Thompson said he would do so as a "last resort, not a first option." Quinn said she would do it "progressively."
On congestion pricing -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg's defeated plan to impose charges on vehicles entering Manhattan business districts -- Quinn, Liu, Albanese and Salgado said they support it, while de Blasio, Thompson and Weiner opposed it.