This one’s shaping up to be a battle royale.
The stage is set for a bruising showdown Wednesday night among the crowded field of Democrats vying to lead the Big Apple, as the 2021 mayoral candidates gear up for their first in-person televised debate of the primary season.
The forum — set to air from 7 to 9 p.m. (see below for how to watch) and hosted by WABC-TV Channel 7, the League of Women Voters and Univision — is one of the few remaining opportunities for the eight contenders to make a stand and reshape the debate before early voting in the contest begins June 12.
“We’re getting close to crunch time, so I’m curious to see how pointed some critiques will be and how specific they will be from one candidate to the next,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University.
“In the first few Zoom debates, people were very polite and trying to figure out how to become best friends and I don’t think we’ll expect to see much of that this evening,” Greer said.
One frontrunner, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, even joked about the likely ferocity of the debate tonight, as the ex-cop told supporters during a morning rally he was considering wearing his NYPD bullet-proof vest.
“I was trying to find a larger suit so I could put my old vest on,” he told rally attendees on Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza. “They are going to come.”
The first televised debate, on NY1 on May 13, was lackluster with few fireworks, likely due to the virtual Zoom format, where the candidates had little opportunity to mix it up.
But that appears unlikely to hold for tonight’s face-to-face showdown.
The top three contenders in the June 22 primary — Adams, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia — have dispensed with pleasantries in recent days and sharpened their attacks on each other.
Adams slammed Yang’s campaign as a “joke” and lobbed veiled shots at Garcia, arguing that New Yorkers “don’t need a manager, we need a visionary,” in a clear shot at the longtime technocrat.
Yang, who never voted for mayor before jumping into the race, has ditched his happy-go-lucky campaign style for new attacks, labeling Adams and Garcia products of the city’s political establishment.
“Eric Adams is business as usual,” he said, blasting the longtime Brooklyn pol on Tuesday.
And when it comes to Garcia, he’s begun labeling her an acolyte of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“We need someone very different than Mayor de Blasio — and Kathryn, despite her service to the city, is part of an administration that a lot of New Yorkers know has not worked,” Yang recently told WNYC host Brian Lehrer.
It’s a stunning about-face for Yang, who repeatedly promised to hire the longtime bureaucrat to manage City Hall’s day-to-day functions until she nabbed the New York Times’ endorsement and rocketed upward in the polls.
Meanwhile, Garcia has fired back at both, describing Yang in the hours before the debate as someone who doesn’t know where “the light switches” are at City Hall.
“Andrew is a lovely guy, but this is a hard job, and requires you to really understand how government works, how labor unions work, how the budget works,” she said on MSNBC’s breakfast chat show, “Morning Joe.”
Adams and Yang have traded places for the No. 1 spot in polls over the past few months. Garcia has risen in the ranks after receiving the coveted Times endorsement on May 10.
Meanwhile, the forum provides a crucial chance for candidates stuck in the race’s second tier to break out, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, former Obama Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, ex-Citigroup executive Ray McGuire and nonprofit leader Dianne Morales.
“It’s the last chance for Stringer to reboot, the last chance for Maya to make hay out of her anti-police comments, it’s the last chance for McGuire to show why he’s gotten all that money. It’s the last chance,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic strategist.
Stringer was knocked from his place toward the front of the pack following a sexual harassment allegation by a former political associate. He has denied the claim.
Wiley, an MSNBC commentator, put her TV experience to good use in the last debate, earning a good chunk of the airtime, and is trying to fire up and consolidate progressive voters with a new anti-police TV ad.
Donovan and McGuire have failed to gain traction in the polls despite having the most TV and radio spots.
Morales’ campaign, meanwhile, is on the verge of implosion after half her staff staged a strike last week claiming unfair pay.
For his part, Gracie Mansion’s current occupant, de Blasio, told reporters Wednesday that he would like to hear the candidates drill down on their plans for the city.
“I want to hear what about them makes them able to move this city forward in this incredibly sensitive time — and not just political answers or vague answers, but what about them as a human being is going to allow them to move us forward,” Hizzoner said.
How to watch:
Longtime anchor Bill Ritter will moderate Wednesday’s debate on WABC-TV/Ch. 7 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The second hour of the debate from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. will be broadcast on WABC’s website and other platforms.
You can also watch the second hour over the air on Channel 7.2 and on these cable channels:
Charter (Spectrum): Channel 1240
Optimum: Channel 110
Comcast: Channels 790 or 1177
Verizon Fios: Channel 467