NEW YORK — New York City’s sleepy mayoral race briefly jolted awake on Tuesday night, as the second and final TV debate between Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa devolved into a verbal fistfight.
Sliwa, the long-shot Republican nominee and Guardian Angels founder, was no angel on the debate stage, setting an adversarial tone almost immediately as he ripped Adams for saying that he would meet with gang members to fight gun violence.
“That makes no sense at all!” thundered Sliwa, disregarding an opening question about stop-and-frisk policies. “You haven’t even met with the police unions.”
As the interruption-prone Sliwa steamrolled past rules for the debate, which was held at WABC’s studios on the Upper West Side, Adams fired back.
“You’re acting like my son when he was 4 years old,” said Adams, the well-funded and heavily favored Democratic nominee. “You want to be the mayor of the City of New York? Start with discipline.”
Sliwa responded by imploring Adams not to be a “robot.”
It was an ugly — and entertaining — final act in the city’s policy-light mayoral race, which has widely been viewed as an extended coronation for Adams ahead of Election Day on Nov. 2. In the city, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than six to one.
The fiery tone in Tuesday’s tilt marked a major departure from the first debate. In that showdown, Adams mostly ignored Sliwa’s attacks, which were significantly less aggressive.
On Tuesday, Sliwa shouted and flailed his arms, his face threatening to turn as red as his signature beret. When Adams mentioned the thrice-divorced Sliwa’s child support payments, the Republican exclaimed: “Scurrilous!”
“How dare you bring my family into this,” Sliwa said. “Keep our families out of this!”
Adams, a former NYPD captain, hammered Sliwa for faking crimes to boost the Guardian Angels, and Sliwa charged that Adams lied about his residency during the primary. Adams has said he lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, but has acknowledged often sleeping in at his office in Borough Hall. He has a second home in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The debate ultimately calmed — despite continued shouting, finger-pointing and arm-waving from Sliwa — and the candidates settled into familiar pitches. Sliwa painted himself as a friend of the homeless; Adams touted his plans to gird the city for climate change and to convert outer-borough hotels into supportive housing.
The pair presented divergent views on a range of topics, with Adams supporting congestion pricing and Sliwa opposing it; Adams approving of COVID vaccine mandates and Sliwa slamming them; and Adams giving Mayor de Blasio a B+ grade while Sliwa declared he “can’t wait until” the mayor exits office.
Their demeanors were mismatched too. Adams, despite engaging Sliwa in attacks early on, mostly remained composed amid the onslaught, flashing broad smiles.
When both candidates were given a chance to ask each other questions, Adams declined.
“My goal today is to speak to the voters,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president.
And the debate ultimately ended on a friendlier note: Both candidates jumped to praise each other when asked to provide a positive remark about their respective rival.
Adams lauded Sliwa’s work with animals. “I commend him for what he’s doing around cats,” Adams said. (Sliwa has more than a dozen.)
Sliwa, in turn, praised Adams’ vegan diet.
The theatrics seemed unlikely to change much in the race. A survey published by PIX11 on Monday showed Adams carrying support from 61% of likely voters, and Sliwa picking up support from 25% of likely voters.
Ahead of the debate, Adams said he was taking his second showdown with Sliwa seriously. “I’m a guy that believes you take nothing for granted,” he said Monday. “I’m spending hours on prep. I’m doing my reading, my research.”
But when the debate came to a close around 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, he seemed ready to move on from Sliwa, whose campaign he has called a “circus.”
At 8:15 p.m., he was due at the Fortune Society’s Annual Gala, a philanthropic event in Midtown Manhattan.
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