Mayor de Blasio and his primary challenger Sal Albanese traded punches on cops, corruption and Columbus as they squared off in their final primary debate Wednesday night — with the mayor doing plenty of bobbing and weaving.
The face off was the second of two debates held before the primary Tuesday — giving Albanese his last, best chance to raise his profile among New Yorkers, while de Blasio sought to promote and defend his record.
Albanese found fodder against his fellow Italian-American in the debate over what to do with the Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle. De Blasio is forming a commission to study monuments across the city, and has declined to give his personal opinion.
“I don’t need a commission to tell me it should not come down,” Albanese said.
“It’s very divisive, Bill, and you know it,” he said. “You don’t have the guts to say no.”
De Blasio still would not take a stance, though he said he would not change the name of the Columbus Day parade or the holiday for public schools. “I understand why so many Italian Americans feel deeply about this issue,” he added. “They went through discrimination. To this day, Italians are horribly stereotyped.”
Albanese also seized on the cops who turned their backs on de Blasio at slain officers’ funerals, saying the mayor has demoralized the police force — one of many criticisms that de Blasio dismissed as factually “not true.”
The mayor was also pressed to revisit comments where he said he had warned his biracial son Dante to be careful in interactions with police, which angered many officers.
“I want to see that conversation change for hundreds of thousands of parents,” he said, adding “I look forward to the day” when such warnings would not be necessary.
His son, he said, “is an adult now and he makes his own decisions,” but he’d still urge him to closely follow all instructions if stopped by police.
De Blasio, who has largely focused on his record, came into the debate hoping to also highlight the need for a mayor who would talk tough against President Trump. He used a question to Albanese to ask how he’d deal with the President, saying Trump “only understands strength.”
Albanese said he finds Trump’s policies “abhorrent” and would stand up to him “aggressively,” but wouldn’t get into a “personal grudge match.”
Albanese went with a tougher attack for his question to the mayor, saying de Blasio had lied when he promised to produce a list of donors who were denied favors by his administration. He published an op-ed last Friday, offering few specifics.
“Why did you lie to me?” Albanese said.
De Blasio again dodged, calling Albanese’s statements “factually untrue.”
“I gave prominent examples and clearly well-known public examples where people asked and didn’t get what they wanted, no matter how rich and powerful they were,” he said.
The two pols differed sharply on several issues, including congestion pricing and the legalization of marijuana.
“I have a very firm opinion that we need to legalize marijuana,” said Albanese, citing tens of thousands of arrests for low-level pot possession that have continued under de Blasio, overwhelmingly targeting blacks and Latinos.
Hizzoner opposes legalizing pot — and said he’d smoked it only “once or twice while I was at NYU” and doesn’t “currently.”
“Some days, I wish I did,” he quipped.
Albanese, saying he hoped he didn’t sound like “a square,” said despite his stance on the issue, he’s never smoked pot.
“I went to college where everybody was smoking it around me. I just couldn’t ingest smoke in the lungs,” he said.
In another stark disagreement between the two Democrats, Albanese pushed for congestion pricing, which would charge drivers to enter the most congested parts of the city to raise money for transit.
“It’s irresponsible not to do that. The traffic situation is out of control,” he said.
De Blasio opposes the policy — and insisted the millionaire’s tax he has proposed to fund the MTA “can and will pass,” even though the state Senate has said it won’t happen.
“I’ve never supported congestion pricing. I think it’s a regressive tax,” de Blasio said.
Albanese is a former City Councilman who has run for mayor twice before, and was taking his best shot at unseating the heavily favored incumbent after bigger-name Democrats took a pass on running. He was the only Democratic challenger to qualify for a primary debate according to Campaign Finance Board rules.
Hopefuls who didn’t make the cut — including Bo Dietl, Bob Gangi, and Mike Tolkin — made their case to the public outside. “He can’t bitch slap me the way he does Sal Albanese,” said Dietl, an ex-detective running as an independent after failing to register as a Democrat in time.
The face off took place at CUNY Graduate Center and aired on CBS2 News, sponsored in part by the Daily News.
The pols found one last thing to disagree on in baseball, where de Blasio admitted his “faith has been shaken” by accusations his beloved Boston Red Sox used an Apple watch to steal signals from the Yankees.
“If these allegations are true, they absolutely should be punished,” he said.
Albanese felt no such inner conflict. “I hate the Red Sox,” he said.
With Kerry Burke