In front of a packed house, in the roughly six-hundred seat sanctuary of Brooklyn’s Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, seven Democratic candidates for New York City Mayor spurred the audience, and at times each other, to consider some of the city’s most pressing challenges.
Hosted by The Jewish Press and moderated by radio host Nachum Segal, the forum represented the first time all seven Democratic candidates – Sal Albanese, Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Erick Salgado, Bill Thompson, Anthony Weiner – appeared together since Weiner announced his candidacy two weeks ago. Each answered questions submitted by the paper’s editors over the course of roughly two hours, offering their unique perspectives.
Beginning with a topic of significant concern to the Orthodox Jewish community, the first question concerned the city’s requirement that parents sign a consent form to allow the act of metzitza b’peh during ritual circumcisions.
Many of the candidates criticized Mayor Bloomberg for not including religious leaders in the policy-making process but did not ultimately disagree with the mayor’s policy of trying to make the practice safer for children with stronger regulation.
Quinn said the current requirement is a good one. De Blasio explained that he would “start over” with this issue and would, even before taking office, “get together with community leaders to change the policy to find a way to protect all of our children but also respect religious tradition.”
Reaching back to his immigrant heritage and strong cultural roots, Liu openly denounced any regulation on the practice.
“For thousands of years, this has been a practice that has been observed by people,” Liu said. “It has continued to this day until, for some reason, a particular billionaire mayor of this city decided that he must know better than anybody else over the thousands of years that this practice has gone on.”
In describing Bloomberg’s push for the law, Thompson said, “There was no conversation. It was, this is the way it’s going to be; my way or the highway.”
Salgado, who struck a chord of conservatism throughout the night, and frequently received loud applause, said, “The point is that the government has no right to come and tell the different religious leaders how to conduct their religion.”
Vouchers were brought up by a question on defraying the cost of private and parochial education. Except for Salgado, the candidates opposed directly reimbursing parents for private education, saying the city must focus on the public school system.
Quinn, in a sentiment shared by most of the other candidates, said that even though she did not support school vouchers, “there are ways we should be supportive.”
Many of the candidates lamented the city’s failure to renew Priority 5 and 7 vouchers and asserted that through such programs the city government could help defray the high costs of private education for parents.
The panel also addressed the city’s economic instability and its ramifications. Taking advantage of an opportunity to highlight their fiscal records, Liu and Weiner discussed their long track records in public service. Each of the candidates advocated increased support for law enforcement as well as a strong stand against social unrest in the face of economic difficulties.
Likewise, on the question of the NYPD program of planting informants in mosques as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, the candidates drew few differences, saying that no one group or religion should be targeted, but credible threats must be followed.
Republican Congressman, and former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Peter King came up in the question. Weiner said, “I have to say Peter King for one has precious little to say on the subject given the shameful way he’s targeted people in one particular religion at his hearings.”
When asked why the public should trust them as New York’s next mayor, the candidates began to distinguish themselves based on their past records of success and indiscretion. Liu referenced the many legal troubles that have accompanied his past campaigns, highlighting the thoroughness of the investigations (“I’m the most investigated man in New York,” he joked) and their failure to provide any credible evidence against him.
Albanese emphasized his non-political, private-sector background, and tweaked the other candidates for the erosion of trust that has developed between the people and their representatives.
Avoiding any direct references to his own scandal (aside from “I’m an imperfect person”), Weiner used the question to further highlight his long-standing relationship with the Manhattan Beach and broader New York Jewish community.
The Manhattan Beach Jewish Center is a venue in which Weiner has had a long and successful history, and he took full advantage of the perceived home-court advantage. As the only candidate not wearing a jacket and the only one to stand when delivering his responses, Weiner promised to reward the public if they chose to honor him again with the opportunity to serve. Throughout the entire evening Weiner mustered substantial support from the audience that again cheered him as he conceded his human fallibility but promised to never waiver in his commitment to serving the people.