By Robert Press, Op-Ed
Of the seventeen candidates running in the special election for NYC Public Advocate only ten came to Lehman College Friday night, for a televised debate on Bronxnet Television. They were Assemblyman Ron Kim, Journalist Nomiki Konst, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Assemblyman Michael Blake, Attorney Jared Rich, Councilman Rafael Espinal, Activist Benjamin Yee, Attorney Dawn Smalls, Activist Anthony Herbert, and Activist David Eisenbach.
Missing from this debate were seven other candidates Councilman Jumaane Williams, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilman Eric Ulrich, Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, Attorney Manny Alicandro, Teacher Helal Sheikh, and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker who has ended her campaign, but remains on the ballot.
The debate started off going off topic on the questions, and even at points became a shouting match as candidates tried to show each other up. That resulted in responses and counter responses with other candidates speaking out, resulting in host Gary Axelbank having to regain control of the debate at times.
Key questions included Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr.'s support of candidate Ydanis Rodriguez, which when questioned he said that the For Hire Committee Diaz Sr. had chaired did good work for the taxi industry which is in trouble now. Other candidates chastised Councilman Diaz Sr. going as far as saying he should resign. Assemblyman Michael Blake was asked about the one thousand dollar contribution he gave to Councilman Diaz's campaign. Blake replied that he asked for the money to be returned when the LBGT community asked him to, but he was called out for that by others.
The topic of rezoning came up as in the Bronx part of the Jerome Avenue area is being rezoned. Assemblyman Blake said that rezoning results in gentrification. This led to candidate Konst going after Councilman Espinal for the rezoning going on in his district. Espinal replied that it is easy for someone who has not stepped foot in my district to criticize the rezoning. and that led to other candidates jumping in with comments.
The subject of Amazon came up to which Councilman Espinal chastised Assemblyman Blake for signing the letter to bring Amazon to Queens. this led to a varied back and forth with other candidates jumping in also.
Candidate Dawn Smalls got into a discussion with other candidates as to what legal powers the Public Advocate had on NYCHA, saying that one candidate was wrong by mentioning that they would sue NYCHA. She said that being an attorney who has handled problems at NYCHA the Public Advocate can not sue NYCHA, and that was the reason for a federal monitor on NYCHA.
Overall this was a good debate, but few of the ten candidates could come up with good sound reasoning as to why voters should vote for them. The winner of this debate to me was candidate Dawn Smalls who had the knowledge of the subject matter asked giving the most informative answers without going off topic. The losers were the seven candidates who did not show.