As political candidates go, the five Democrats on stage Tuesday night couldn't be more similar. They all rose through New York's Democratic ranks. Four served in the City Council; two have been comptrollers. But judging by the darts aimed squarely at each other, they couldn't have been less happy to find themselves in the same forum.
Comptroller John Liu was asked about his campaign finance fundraising scandal, which resulted in two convictions. Speaker Christine Quinn was asked about the slush fund scandal, which ensnared three council members who were arrested. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was queried on a report that he accepted donations from slumlords. And former Comptroller Bill Thompson was poked about inconsistencies in his position on stop and frisk. And those were just questions from the moderators, on which the candidates were only too happy to pile on.
All of which led Anthony Weiner, who's had his own problems with scandals, to play the role of the referee.
"You know, let me just say this, I'm not voting for Bill de Blasio," said Weiner. "I'm voting for me, but no one's fought harder to stand up to slumlords than Bill has. That's not a good issue to hit him on. He's been good on that stuff. Term limits? Yes, he's flip-flopped on that. His policies aren't as good as mine. But accusing him of being a defender of slumlords is pretty ridiculous."
Weiner, who's now polling in the single-digit, found himself in the enviable position of being able to say anything because he's got nothing to lose.
"You got to see that Anthony Weiner's a really witty guy," sighed Ben Yee, 29, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats and host of a debate watching party at the Playwright Irish Bar. "It was hilarious if you know the candidates but otherwise not hyper-informative."
De Blasio never did put to rest the question of why he supported term limits when he was running for council speaker in 2005. After quite a bit of cross-talk, he finally offered ,"when the mayor did what he did I led the opposition," at which point the discussion devolved into more unintelligible cross-talk.
But de Blasio did manage to rise above the fray when he went after former Comptroller Bill Thompson. "I've called for my tax," de Blasio said, in one of those only-in-New York City moments. "Thompson opposes taxes on the wealthy. So I think what's consistent is that I've talked about inequality."
Earlier in the campaign season, voters seemed to approve of the way Mayor Michael Bloomberg was doing his job, even if they were sick and tired of the three-term mayor. But as the campaign has worn on, voters are getting crankier and crankier about the mayor in equal measures with de Blasio's stunning rise.
And so de Blasio finds himself, a week out, in the lucky position of being in tune with the zeitgeist.