The fiery New York City mayoral debate Wednesday night made it crystal clear that the stars of the race remain Eric Adams and Andrew Yang, who were the focus of attention — and the focus of each other’s attention.
They were not only the most impressive performers of the night. They were the only impressive performers of the night.
Former sanitation chief Kathryn Garcia may have gotten flashy endorsements that have raised her profile and brought her into the top tier with 19 days to go before the primary, but she came across as a total also-ran.
If you closed your eyes, you might have mistaken her voice and tone for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar — the similarity was eerie, actually — but Klobuchar knew how to break out of the pack and put herself forward. Garcia had nothing interesting to say.
The anti-star was Maya Wiley, who did everybody on stage a favor by staking out a seemingly unending series of lunatic positions in astoundingly long-winded answers that made the other seven candidates — including other progressives who share her views — seem both far more reasonable and far more likable.
In taking every opportunity to run down the police and talk about moving money away from the New York Police Department, Wiley led the field in seeming wildly out of touch with the public-safety issue we all know is preoccupying New Yorkers.
Indeed, the latest Emerson poll shows that concerns about crime and homelessness (the two are intrinsically related) are the chief issues for 32 percent of the Democratic electorate; housing comes in at 17 percent; everything else is in single digits.
So she did Adams the inestimable service of throwing him the sucker pitch he drilled out of the park. She complained about retired Police Officer Adams’ remark that he would be carrying a gun with him as mayor and his support for off-duty officers packing heat, as well. “Eric,” she asked, “isn’t this the wrong message to send our kids? We’re telling them not to pick up the guns.”
Adams told a story about a time he saved someone on a subway from an armed assault and pointed out state law gives off-duty officers the authority to carry a weapon. With crime surging beyond belief and a candidate for mayor suggesting police officers with guns make us less safe, Wiley made Adams sound entirely reasonable.
Yang was the other sensible voice on criminal-justice matters. He was the only one of those on stage who actually spoke for the victims of crime when he pointed out that Alexander Wright, the homeless criminal who sucker-punched an Asian woman on the streets of Chinatown this week, shouldn’t have been out and about. “Our city failed the woman who was assaulted,” he said.
Yang was sensible on a range of other issues, too, from needing to keep schools open to helping small businesses recover from the pandemic — and for the crime of bringing up real-world matters, Scott Stringer, who is deservedly watching his wildly mediocre career as a progressive hack go up in flames, actually accused him of being “a Republican.”
Ray McGuire, the successful banker with the most impressive private-sector résumé, again showed he really has no answer to the very simple question of why he wants to be mayor or what he wants to do.
The same was true of housing guy Shaun Donovan, who seemed so out of place, he came across like one of those weird third-tier sitcom actors from the 1980s who occasionally got a guest-starring gig on “The Love Boat.”
Yang and Adams went at each other hammer and tongs in the final half-hour of the debate, when they were allowed to address each other directly and both showed spirited aggression in their lines of attack.
Their scrappy confrontation was the final sign that as we head into the final weeks of this strange race, even with the hard-to-follow ranked-choice voting system mucking up the picture, Yang and Adams are the combatants who matter.