NYC Mayoral Forum Liveblog

by: Living Liberally

Thu Jul 02, 2009 at 17:13

By Josh Bolotsky & Justin Krebs

As promised earlier today, we're liveblogging from the Working Families Party's Mayoral Forum, at the Hotel Trades Council Union Hall in midtown Manhattan. We'll be joined by two leading Democratic candidates, Bill Thompson and Tony Avella, and the incumbent Michael Bloomberg. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts for us, please let us know in the comments, and we'll try to reflect those interests in our coverage.

You can also watch it live here.

7:55 Thompson finishing up.  They all handled themselves respectably.  People are ready for dinner in back.  Is it a standing O for Bill or for the food line?

Thanks to Charles, Levitan and crew for welcoming blogging and getting wi-fi back up.

And thank you, WFP, for planning this forum a 3-minute walk from Rudy' is Drinking Liberally night (and we're late!).  Come on out to keep the conversation going.  -jk

7:50 From Thompson's case for his electability: "This is not 2005. The economy was booming, people liked where they were. This is 2009, the economy is failing, people are scared and want change in City Hall." -jb

7:48 To the final question, from Dan Cantor, about convincing WFP Thompson could beat the Bloomberg behemoth, Thompson just had the first laugh-out-loud line of the night:  "I'll quote someone who said, 'Rich guys don't always win.'"...which was Bloomberg's defense of spending $100 million on the campaign just 40 minutes ago.

A second reference to Obama too... -jk

7:47 Judging by this forum, one line that is going to be used against Bloomberg consistently is that hat his response to every economic question is "But we love the rich." Oh, and "Why is Michael Bloomberg willing to run on the Republican line if he doesn't believe in parties?" -jb

7:46 Uh-oh, Bill...people in the backroom are starting to eat.  You're competing with food!

Good answer on the pride of running on party lines...and asking "Can anyone imagine Barack Obama on the Republican line?" got some laughs. -jk

7:44 By the way, we're not the only ones watching.  Public Advocate candidate just made this his Facebook status update: "is not impressed that the Mayor said at the WFP forum that calling 311 is a solution for tenants facing eviction from their home. Wrong answer!" (He's a WFP endorsed candidate) -jk

(earlier commentary below the fold)

Living Liberally :: NYC Mayoral Forum Liveblog
7:42 Homelessness.  I think all three candidates understand it's a problem.  I don't believe any of them are cold to it.  How can you be?  In New York, you pass the homeless every day, and while you may need to blinder yourself to not feel the sorrow on an hourly basis, you don't forget it's there.

I don't know why the city hasn't done better over the past years.  Although, while I've heard real sympathy from the others, I have not heard solutions. -jk

7:38 Thompson has given these answers often before.  So they're good answers...but not surprising or exciting.  His answer on schools: "We need to bring parents in."  This isn't a strike against him, but I feel like people aren't energized.  Then again, we've been sitting in uncomfortable chairs for two hours.

He got applause for bringing art back into schools.

He's also beating on Giuliani...surprised that didn't draw bigger reaction. -jk

7:35 Now we return to the mother's specific question on her child being in a successful Harlem public school about to be downsized. Interesting in that it begins as a sort of inverse to Bloomberg's answer - he "supports charter schools, BUT..." In this case, the 'but' is that they only cover a small percentage of students. Talks about how failing schools improved through an intensive effort - and "we involved parents." Now transitioning to how standardized testing doesn't solve everything, and we need to put arts and music back in schools. Is this woman going to get an answer tonight that has anything to do with her child, even in the form of passing reference? Kind of remarkable. -jb

7:28 How does Thompson distinguish himself from Bloomberg's record on development?  He talks about the jobs not only during construction but the jobs that will be there a lifetime...and says the "Bloomberg administration has not done a good job."  But he didn't actually offer a specific critique.

Also, interesting rhetorical moment.  "New York City has not done a good job," he began to say, then seemed to hold himself and said: "The Bloomberg administration..."  That's the balancing act. -jk

The Spanish-language question just got asked.  Thompson knew it was about paid sick leave, and didn't get the translation.  He wasn't quite as sure as Bloomberg though.

As Mayor, he would work to develop a law for paid sick days.-jk

7:27 How do YOU pronounce "comptroller"? -jk

7:24 Here's the tough part for Thompson.  "Over the past 8 years..." begins his indictment of the Mayor and his appeal for change.  But he's also been a citywide official (one of 3) over those same 8 years.  He has to take on the challenge of claiming some serious achievements, but still criticize those same years.

He also said "new direction" which was a big Democratic Party phrase over the past few years.  I can't take it seriously, though, ever since someone pointed out to me that it was a homophone for "nude erection."

Thompson, by the way, is getting solid applause.  And he clearly feels at east with WFP. -jk

7:22 Not a good job keeping the stage warm for Thompson, who is entering now - the energy has dissipated enormously between the long conversational speech on fundraising, and the minute-or-two-long "what now?" breaks. People are getting end-of-school-day restless...a different, more tired vibe by this point. -jb

7:20 There has been a 10-minute break for WFP fundraising...with a delightful appeal...but it feels like a weird interruption.  Is Thompson late?  Or did they just want to break it up?  Or, do you do the appeal before everyone speaks so we all stick around? -jk

7:10 Tony Avella gets applause as he leaves.  He's like the Tinkerbell of this race -- if the audience just claps enough, he'll come back to life.

Bill Thompson, the presumptive Dem front-runner, is up next. -jk

7:06 Avella also called Thompson the machine candidate.  He has to beat him, before he can even think about the Big B.

He's tackling both in the closing.  "Bill Thompson has stolen the [David and Goliath] argument from me."  I'm the candidate "not selling his soul."

What about Reverend Billy? -jk

7:05 Avella's getting towards the end now. "I'm not going to stand here and say I'm going to beat Mike Bloomberg, but I will say that I'm the only game in town." He's the ethical principled guy, and the only true independent, and to beat an incumbent with Bloomberg's $100 million, you need a true 2nd choice - "a complete contrast, the real David against Goliath." He's been told be political reporters that if he won the primary, his race against Bloomberg would get national attention, because it is the average guy against the billionaire. - jb

7:01 "Term limits" mentioned for the first time.  "That's the worst thing he did," Avella says of Bloomberg.  Gets applause.

Working Families was the leader in the fight against the term limit power grab.  But interestingly, the micro-site for that fight -- -- now is a dead link.  (Fortunately it's live elsewhere on their site.)

Was it a promise that they wouldn't bring it up with the Mayor in order to get him in the door?  Having Bloomberg here lends additional legitimacy, but was there a deal to keep this topic off the table?  

A throw-down over the issue wouldn't have been a useful debate...but clearly there are those in this crowd that wanted to hear it. -jk

6:56 Would get rid of the Rent Guideline Board -- calling it a "farce" and a "landlord-based organization"

The next questioner begins by thanking Avella for help in Harlem development fights.  

Avella now talks about a homeless person across the street from the forum.  "I gave him a few dollars, and gave him my card." -jk

6:52 "It would be my pleasure, as Mayor, to say 'Joel Klein, you are fired.'"  Got applause.  Then he called Klein, what Bloomberg called a reporter recently:  "a disgrace."  Then some folks booed, as though to say "the Mayor has supporters here." -jk

6:45 First question about development.  Unions love it; community organizers are wary.  WFP is both.  Avella is saying we need standards.  "We are giving the developer a privilege" when we approve their projects. -jk

6:40 Council Member Tony Avella opens by saying this is the largest forum he's been at.  Gets applause.  "And thank you for letting me follow Mike Bloomberg...because that's exactly what I'd like to do at City Hall."

He's the long-shot Dem...but he also tends to be a bit edgier than Thompson, which could play here.

"I'm running for Mayor for one simple reason:  I am fed up with how the system is running today."  Getting more there's a contingent here trying to make clear that they take him seriously. -jk

6:36 Bloomberg finished right as wi-fi returns.  Go for it, conspiracy theorists!  His final answer had to do with the fact that "money doesn't buy elections," and he's not ashamed of the money he's spending.

He got some applause for it, and some jeers.  WFP is having an internal debate.

His closing statement hits jobs -- calls for people being able to get healthcare, take days off when sick, etc.  "You wouldn't want a Mayor you'd always agree with."  

Closes with a mention of a swearing in ceremony for new citizens he attended this morning.  One man in front stands up for an ovation as he leaves.  Good amount of applause, but not total. -jk

6:35 We're back!

6:34 His answer on money in campaigns is by far the worst, on both substance and politics, of the evening. Instead of addressing the core question (as Justin mentioned, a running trend here), he's starts by talking about his election, and then talking about how there's no such thing as a truly, perfectly fair election. "Some people go to better schools, are luckier in their backgrounds..." This gets boos and murmurs. No one here is satisfied - imagine if instead of answering the question on green jobs, the full substance of his answer was, "Well, there's no such thing as a perfectly green economy..."

He then talked about how "The rich people don't always win," claiming if you look at elections with millionaire candidate, they only win in a small percentage - "You can't buy an election with money - people are too smart for that - you can use it to get a message out," and he's unabashed, he says, about using it to talk about his message. I can't imagine who this answer helped him with. -jb

6:33 Dan Cantor asking about money in campaigns.  Is it a valid concern that he spends so much?  Why not agree to a level playing field in the spirit of fair play? -jk

6:31 Points to Albany as an example of the need for non-partisan elections; but says he won't take it up again unless "there's a clear political road to get there."  He got burned on this in 2003.  By WFP, and others.  He bankrolled a referendum, and lost.  But he suggests that non-partisan elections would help WFP break free from having to choose between party candidates. -jk

6:29 On question about spending in tough economic times, he gave an answer that led the woman behind me to murmur, "He didn't answer the question."  A lot of that.  Then again, there may be some of that all around. -jk

6:25 Should the homeless have priority for section 8 housing?  Bloomberg says section 8 should be used to prevent homelessness, keep families in their home.  "We've made the shelter system more humane and civilized.  Unfortunately that means it's more attractive to go to."  Really?  Attractive? -jk

Follow up: should eviction laws be strengthened?  "It's up to Albany, up to the courts."  He then said it's hard to get evicted, and you should call 311 if you know anyone getting evicted. -jk

6:22 "Could [Joel Klein] have better people skills?  We all could!"  Got laughter. -jk

6:21 This lack of wi-fi is definitely an argument for me to get comfortable with Twitter. -jk

6:20 Question on Joel Klein: "The chancellor has become a lightning rod - instead of bringing in constituencies, he's had a tendency to alienate them - I understand your belief in loyalty and managerial autonomy - is there something you can do to remove frictions, however? I'm not going to ask if you're going to remove him -", and Bloomberg interrupts with an "I'm not." In case anyone was wondering. -jb

6:18 Question about charter schools serving so do we improve schools for the many?  He's against vouchers; in favor of "fair funding" to get more funds to poorer neighborhoods.  It's interesting -- he says schools are better.  The questions believes they are not.  I guess it depends on how people are feeling their experience in reality. -jk

6:17 What's interesting is the degree to which the questions depend on personal examples of hardship, which the mayor's answers provide not even the slightest attempt to claim will be rectified. The current question on charter schools regards a mother whose child attends a successful public school in Harlem, is doing well, but their school is about to be downsized to make way for a charter school. One expects a candidate to have a perfunctory, "I understand your situation, and we'll do our best to make sure that, whatever the larger city policy on charter schools, we ensure that children like yours remain recipients of excellent public education." Instead, an almost non-sequitir-ly standard-issue answer that begins, "First of all, I'm a big believer in public schools, I went to one..." and ends with "If there's anything I'm proud of, it's the public school system here in the last 7 years," and at no point assuages the fact that, yes, a successful school in a historically ignored neighborhood is about to be shortchanged. Weird. -jb

6:16Follow-up: do you support legislation mandating minimum level of sick days?  Mayor says he's asked Deputy Mayor Gibbs to work with WFP "to see what we can do" -- "the devil's in the details." -jk

6:13 Second question asked in Spanish.  The Mayor responded as though he understood it -- is his Spanish that good, or do the candidates know the questions in advance?  It's about paid sick days.  He doesn't think anyone should get fired for taking days off; he made a point of not closing schools during the swine flu because he didn't want to burden the parents. -jk

6:09 The "most popular" question from the online submission process is about ensuring high labor standards for city development.  The Mayor points to his record.  He just mentioned Coney Island.  Also Greenpoint / Williamsburg.  "Well paid," "good jobs"... -jk

6:07 He said a sentence in Spanish and boasted of standing with Acorn.  Says he endorses principles of President Obama's healthcare reform. -jk

6:04 Mayor Bloomberg enters to mix of boos in the applause.  Still no wi-fi.  He looks comfortable.  Just winked at someone. -jk

6:02 They just sang "Working Families Together."  Started hokey.  Got rousing. -jk

5:59  Interesting.  The guy explaining the rules made a point to say that all three candidates were in support of, and leaders on, marriage equality.  

He then said that he wanted to see how they would support development of new residences which, he made clear, meant union jobs.  He then said something negative about affordable housing being built by non-union labor.  I'll have to look at it.

He then took a moment to say he supported carriage drivers in Central Park...a slap at Tony Avella, who has been opposed to the treatment on horses.

They then let us know there's a blue form for members to rate candidates...but not a formal vote tonight. -jk

5:58 Wi-fi here is down.  Oh well.  Future, where are you?  Maybe we can ask the candidates about universal broadband. -jk

5:52 We're right now going through a series of union representatives, officially introducing the forum, speaking of the efficacy of WFP, etc. Interesting that it's being presented explicitly as a night of asking tough questions to entrenched politicians: "We pin the politicians to the wall, for positive answers to our questions, for the people." is serving as a "whoo!" line. -jb

5:49 The kind of crowd that applauds spontaneously when a speaker announces what union they're here to represent. Nice. -jb

5:45 The event is now formally starting. Meanwhile, just got a list of the questions, more or less, that they'll be asking the candidates - will upload as soon as I can get a picture up. -jb

5:41 Also here are Bloomberg's team know, the long-time Democratic operatives.  Maura Keaney -- formerly at Unite-HERE and Speaker Quinn's office -- and Senator Clinton's state director Karen Persichilli Keogh. - jk

5:34 Dan Cantor, head of WFP, is the guy in the middle with the tie.  (Taken from my CREDO Katana)

5:30 Seats starting to fill up now. I recognize this is pure hypothetical, but one really has to wonder how this scene would be different with Anthony Weiner here - and, by extension, a more heated (and perhaps more prone to court progressives?) Democratic primary.

5:24  Who is here?  A bunch of union politicos, including Kevin Finnegan of 1199.  He's also not wearing a tie, so it must be ok.  Also here are NY1 reporters -- they make me happy.  Not so many of the usual Democratic personalities...which makes sense since this is the Working Families Party. -jk

5:23 On the screen upfront is a series of newspaper excerpts and blurbs touting the viability of the Working Families along the lines of, "with the State Senate poised to turn Democratic, the Working Families Party could find itself controlling much of the agenda in Albany." If only we knew then what we know now... - jb

5:21 Not much to do now but wait and listen to the soundtrack - a combination of standard protest music (e.g. Fortunate Son) and Michael Jackson (e.g. Man In The Mirror, Wanna Be Startin' Something) - jb

5:20 They're playing "Man in the Mirror."  Even a Mayoral Forum needs to acknowledge the times...-jk

5:19 Interesting mix in this crowd.  Some of it looks and feels very grassroots -- members of the Working Families Party lined up in folding metal chairs in a Union Hall, with rock music charging us up.  At the front tables appear to be the moderators -- some wear jackets and ties, others are casual.  

The reporters we're sitting next to looked at us suspiciously.  "Are you press?  This is the press section..."  We just smiled.

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Thanks for being here! (4.00 / 1)
This is a good room.

Working Families Party online street team was here

Following the Debate on Twitter (4.00 / 1)
Search the HashTag #WFPNY to follow the comments on Twitter.  It is a completely fascinating conversation.    

Reverend Billy (0.00 / 0)
I love the WFP, but am wondering why Green Party mayoral candidate William Talen wasn't included in the forum. Justin, Josh too, come out to the drumming circle 1st Amend-a-thon on Saturday, 4 p.m. in Union Square. No rain in the forecast and it should be a perfect day. It'll be fun to see you there. Bring your cungas!


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