The candidates at the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club's forum Wednesday night were there to talk about themselves, but many of them did a lot of talking about Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
City comptroller candidate Melinda Katz and public advocate candidates Norman Siegel and Eric Gioia largely kept hizzoner out of their five-minute pitches and subsequent brief question-and-answer sessions with the crowd of over 60 people at Riverdale Temple. Ms. Katz spoke instead about a desire to investigate the city Department of Education; Mr. Siegel discussed wanting to be "the people's lawyer" and enjoying "the zaniness" of New York City, while Mr. Gioia pledged to go door-to-door if elected to get eligible New Yorkers signed up for government-subsized health insurance.
Others held forth on their ability to stand up to Mr. Bloomberg (see video above).
(I've reached out to the Bloomberg campaign and will update the post with their responses to the candidates' comments, if I get them.)
Does this mean the candidates figure the likely Democratic candidate for mayor, City Comptroller William Thompson, has slim chances against Mayor Mike? Is David Weprin, for example, seeking to paint himself as the guy Riverdale should vote for in order to stand up to Mr. Bloomberg for the next four years?
I asked Bruce Feld, a Democratic district leader in Riverdale's 81st Assembly District and a long-time member of the Ben Franklin club.
"It surprised me," Mr. Feld admitted. "It seemed to be prominent no matter what people were running for."
He sought to paint that as a function of the roles the comptroller and public advocate play in New York's strong-mayor government.
"There are institutional rivalries that are built into the system."
In his remarks, City Councilman Bill de Blasio — running for public advocate — said he figured the race would be a lot closer than people expect.
While more or less every candidate invoked education, and one or two mentioned rising water rates, local issues were notably absent from both the candidates' speeches and questions from attendees.
The steep water rate increase going into effect this year is driven in large part by the rising cost of city Department of Environmental Protection capital projects. The plant being built in Van Cortlandt Park to filter water from the Croton watershed upstate was most recently estimated to cost $3.1 billion (up from an initial cost estimate of $1.3 billion) and is one of DEP's largest capital projects.
And the Bronx has served as a testing ground for what appears to be a policy of the Bloomberg administration: taking parkland for non-park uses in exchange for promises of replacement parkland elsewhere, and the jobs associated with building them. The strategy controversially brought $220 million for Bronx parks in exchange for the Croton project. A similar deal struck for the construction of the new Yankee Stadium is expected to bring billions in game tickets, Little League equipment and other benefits over a 40-year period, as well as replacement parks.
Notably absent was Rep. Anthony Weiner, the self-described "quasi-candidate" for mayor.
I have the entire forum recorded — albeit with some technical bloopers here and there.
If there's enough demand for the unedited two-hour evening, I will get all of it online. Give your opinion below.
Also, there will be more candidates forums in the Northwest Bronx soon. What should the candidates be asked?