Mayoral Hopefuls Ditch Kids at Youth Debate

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Last night, more than half of the six New York City mayoral candidates who participated in the city’s first youth-led mayoral forum left after the second question.

Republican John Catsimatidis made his opening statements in which he introduced himself as an “immigrant and among the top businessmen in America,” making it known that he doesn’t need tax payer money to run for office. Then he left the Hunter College event.

City Comptroller John Liu, a Democrat, arrived five minutes into the other candidates’ opening remarks. He said youth need a “school system that is run less like a corporation and more like a place that values higher learning.”

He departed next, followed by Erick Salgado and Sal Albanese.

By the end of the second question on drop-out rates, the five teen moderators outnumbered the remaining candidates on stage: Adolfo Carrion and Randy Credico, who had removed their jackets and rolled up their sleeves at that point.

"Tell [the forum] I'm not gonna make it,” Credico said to Albanese. “I'd rather be here." With this, the 100 or so youth in the audience erupted in cheers.

Adolfo Carrion, the former Bronx borough president and federal housing official who is running as an Independent, claimed zip codes have become the “determinant for success” and he wants to “build a city of equal opportunity for every income level.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, declined participation in the event, according to the organizers. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner did not respond to the invitation.

Those involved were disappointed at the unexpected departures.

"I didn't like that they left,” said Hurmat Hashmi, a junior at Clara Barton High School. “It made me feel like all the hard work we did was for nothing."

Elisa Kaplan, the program director of the Resilience Advocacy Project, which co-hosted the forum, along with Generation Citizen, said she felt the same way.

"The fact that the candidates left was unexpected and disappointing," Kaplan said.

Kaplan worked with 40 young people from all five boroughs who were split up into a planning committee and a mobilizing committee to plan the event. They met twice a week over two and a half months in order to research issues, develop questions and get the candidates to the forum.

The moderators’ questions hit on SAT prep, homeless youth and stop and frisk. The organizers also had a question planned on food justice but the late arrival of many of the candidates required a shortened format.

During the rushed conclusion, a 14-year-old student from Talent Unlimited High School rushed the stage to the organizers surprise. She pleaded with the candidates to reconsider the city’s late placement of students in the “admission by audition” school.

Credico, the only panelist remaining, offered the proactive teen a job on his campaign staff.

Students were not able to ask the candidates why they left before the event concluded, or where they were going.

Resilience Advocacy Project, along with WNYC’s Radio Rookies, will continue the conversation with a live web chat on June 4 at 1 p.m. For a look at the declared candiates for mayor, and their policy positions, check out WNYC's Mayor Tracker.

With reporting contributed by by Brea Simons, Alexandria Griffiths, Brianna Young of the Gateway Gazette, the newspaper for Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School.