Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa offered different visions for New York City in their first debate on Wednesday night, disagreeing over everything from vaccine mandates to keeping a statue of Thomas Jefferson at City Hall.
Mr. Adams, the Democratic nominee, tried to remain calm while Mr. Sliwa, his Republican opponent, lobbed a barrage of attacks and tried to tie Mr. Adams to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is deeply unpopular among many New Yorkers.
Mr. Adams criticized Mr. Sliwa for admitting to faking crimes for publicity as the leader of the Guardian Angels — and for not following the rules of the debate, calling Mr. Sliwa’s confrontational and often random debate style “buffoonery.”
Beyond trading barbs, there were some substantial policy differences between the candidates ahead of the general election on Nov. 2.
Here are five takeaways from the debate:
A disagreement over a vaccine mandate for city workers
Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said he supports Mr. de Blasio’s new vaccine mandate for public workers that was announced on Wednesday.
But Mr. Adams said he would have worked more closely with labor leaders to figure out a way to reach an agreement together.
“I believe the mayor’s action today was correct,” Mr. Adams said. “I would have handled it differently.”
Mr. Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels and a former radio host, said he opposed the mandate and worried that it could lead to the loss of some police officers.
“I disagree with Eric,” Mr. Sliwa said. “I feel that we don’t have enough police officers as it is.”
Attacks over past lies and a Brooklyn apartment
Mr. Adams repeatedly sought to depict Mr. Sliwa as a liar and criticized him for interrupting and not following the debate rules.
“Can he please adhere to the rules?” Mr. Adams asked one of the moderators.
Mr. Sliwa said that he had apologized for making up crimes during the 1980s to try to attract more attention.
“I made mistakes,” he said. “I was immature at the age of 25 and did things I should not have done. I know my opponent, Eric Adams, similarly has done things that he’s apologized for.”
Mr. Sliwa sought to rattle Mr. Adams and was mostly unsuccessful. When questioned by one of the moderators, Mr. Adams refused to say how many nights he had slept at the Brooklyn apartment where he claims to have lived during the last six months.
Mr. Adams, who has faced questions over his residency, said he sometimes works at Brooklyn Borough Hall until 4 or 5 a.m.
“I don’t jot down the number of days I’m there, but that’s where I lay my head,” Mr. Adams said of his apartment.
The men disagreed on another hot topic — the planned removal of the Jefferson statue from City Council chambers. Mr. Adams wants it gone; Mr. Sliwa said it should stay.
Different visions for schools
The candidates offered opposing plans for the city’s schools. Mr. Adams wants to set a vaccine mandate for public school students — a departure from Mr. de Blasio.
Mr. Adams said that schools already require vaccines for diseases like measles and that a mandate would help protect students from the coronavirus. For families who decide to keep children at home, Mr. Adams said he was “open to a remote option.”
Mr. Sliwa, who noted that he has three sons in public schools, said he opposes a vaccine mandate for students because it could cause some students to stay home. “We need them in school learning,” Mr. Sliwa said.
Both candidates have concerns over Mr. de Blasio’s decision to end the gifted and talented program for elementary school children and said they want to expand the program.
Mr. Adams said that the city should re-examine the admissions exam for the program while increasing opportunities for so-called “accelerated learning” to every ZIP code in the city.
“I made it clear that we need to look at that exam,” he said. “I don’t believe a 4-year-old taking the exam should determine the rest of their school experience. That is unacceptable.”
Mr. Sliwa reiterated his support for bringing the gifted program to all schools, noting that his son was one of thousands of students who took the test and “lost out.”
Sliwa ties Adams to de Blasio and rich New Yorkers
To hear Mr. Sliwa tell it, Mr. Adams is spending his time hanging out with high rollers, and also Mr. de Blasio.
“I am the people’s choice,” Mr. Sliwa said. “Eric Adams is with the elites in the suites, the TikTok girls, trying to sort of live up to the Kardashians.”
Mr. Adams does in fact seem to enjoy New York City’s nightlife. Just days after he won the primary, he was spotted at Rao’s in East Harlem, one of the city’s most exclusive restaurants, dining with a Republican billionaire.
In September, Mr. Adams reportedly spent two nights in a row at Zero Bond, a private club in SoHo. And he has spent much of the post-primary season raising money from the donor class, including from several billionaires. He also took an undisclosed vacation to Monaco, which is known for its high-end casinos and idle rich.
“Who goes to Monaco?” Mr. Sliwa asked in disbelief.
Mr. Sliwa also sought to tie Mr. Adams to Mr. de Blasio, whose approval rating dropped after his failed presidential run. Mr. de Blasio is, in fact, an ally of Mr. Adams after quietly supporting him during the primary.
“How about we do something novel and stop trusting these politicians like Eric Adams and de Blasio?” Mr. Sliwa said.
Adams wants to close Rikers; Sliwa says he would move there
The next mayor will take office with the city’s jail system in crisis.
The Rikers Island jail complex has descended into violent chaos, with many correction officers refusing to show up to work. Fourteen detainees have died in city custody so far this year.
Mr. Adams reiterated his support for Mr. de Blasio’s plan to close the jails on Rikers Island and replace them with smaller jails in different boroughs. But Mr. Adams also suggested uncertainty about the sites where those jails are supposed to go. Mr. Sliwa opposes the de Blasio plan outright.
But replacing Rikers is a long-term plan. More immediately, Mr. Adams said he would “stop the bottleneck” and get detainees to court so they can be freed or serve their time. He would also tell the officers who are not reporting to duty to return to work, where he would offer a safe environment. He did not specify how.
Mr. Sliwa suggested that he would take a hands-on approach as mayor. He said that on Jan. 2, he would move to the warden’s house on Rikers Island and personally supervise the jails and offer support to the correction officers working there. He said he would also hire 2,000 additional officers, relocate emotionally disturbed inmates to state facilities and break up the gangs inside the jail.
“I can say that, because I’ve been on Rikers Island,” said Mr. Sliwa, who claims to have been arrested more than 70 times.
In 1994, for example, the police arrested Mr. Sliwa after he prepared to paint over an art exhibition in a Brooklyn park that depicted assassinated police officers.