Fernando Ferrer knew that the two televised debates form his last, best hope against Mike Bloomberg, so he attacked from the word “go” in Sunday’s joust, mentioning in his first answer the school dropout rate, the rising poverty numbers, and Mike Bloomberg’s vetoes of City Council measures to ease access to food stamps. When Mayor Mike tried to explain his $63 million in campaign spending so far by saying, “I’m trying to get my message out to every community in the city. I don’t have a big Democratic machine,” Ferrer countered that the mayor’s largesse “does distort debate.” Ferrer had a ready answer to the question of what he would undo that Bloomberg has done: Atlantic Yards. “I object to the lack of transparency,” and the use of eminent domain and large number of luxury apartments, Ferrer said. And later, he said “there isn’t a better example of the two New Yorks” than the juicy subsidies deal that Goldman Sachs received to locate in Lower Manhattan.
But as the contest on WABC 7 wore on, Bloomberg gave well-prepared answers to the questions on taxes and affordable housing, and Ferrer continued to pause during his replies as he collected his thoughts. On black and Latino joblessness: “The school system failed those people,” Bloomberg said, “We’ve got to open up the unions and we’ve got a historic agreement with the unions.” On closing or reopening firehouses, Bloomberg promised to look at the numbers, while Ferrer said he would reopen four immediately. The mayor made the case for altering the mix of office and residential space at Ground Zero; Ferrer said the office space was needed.
There were good exchanges on Bloomberg’s support for the GOP and the goodies that has or hasn’t gained for the city. When Bloomberg lamented the number of guns on the street and tweaked Ferrer for campaigning with NRA-friendly Howard Dean, Ferrer faulted the mayor for funding the party that has made widespread, unchecked gun ownership a policy goal. “You gave them money, Mike, and you can’t have it both ways,” Ferrer chided. “You can’t disclaim responsibility for the policies you support politically and financially.”
While Ferrer sometimes wandered in his answers, Bloomberg also drifted at times (“It’s a different world,” the mayor said at one point. “Everyday it’s a different world.”). Both fumbled facts: Ferrer referred to a Nets arena in Manhattan, and Bloomberg said of school tests that “all the professionals say that they’re not getting easier,” when in fact some say just the opposite. Ferrer fended off a question about his comments on the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo by saying, “I’m a human being and I made mistake by speaking carelessly” and adding that the shooting death at the hands of cops “should never have happened and was a stain on this city.”
Channel 7 skipped the “lightning round”; the only short-answer question on this test was, “What is your pet peeve?” Bloomberg complained that everybody wants more services but doesn’t want to pay for them. Ferrer griped about ticket blitzes, and a city that knows more about how many parking tickets one owes than what is happening to all those kids who don’t graduate on time.