Gotham Gazette: Mayoral Hopefuls Appeared at a Candidate Forum; Then the Conversation Got Interesting

A mayoral race forum on Friday night started with a traditional format, questions asked by journalists and answered by eight candidates seeking to win the crowded Democratic primary set for June, but eventually turned into a late-night, open discussion that became contentious and frank, offering insights into the thinking of some of those seeking to become the next mayor and that of some of the city’s Black civic leaders.

Some candidates — particularly among the five who stayed on the zoom for the late-night discussion that stretched well past midnight — found that simply showing up to listen and offering platitudes won’t be enough to convince the city’s diverse Black electorate that they deserve to hold the highest office in the city. The candidates, for their part, offered candid and at times assertive responses to the questions and criticism that they faced from others on the Zoom call.

Former presidential candidate and recent entrant in the race Andrew Yang attempted to tout his record of activism even as he appeared out of touch with issues affecting Black New Yorkers. Former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire and Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who has endorsed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ mayoral campaign, clashed over McGuire’s lack of experience in city government and more. Former President Obama cabinet official Shaun Donovan defended his work on housing under Mayor Bloomberg. Council Member Carlos Menchaca spoke of “the legacy of white supremacy” in the work of leftist activists while activists on the panel railed against the Democratic Socialists of America and more.

The virtual forum was the latest episode of “The Justice Clapback” hosted by activist and Reverend Kirsten John Foy, founder of Arc of Justice, but was special in that it included a mayoral candidate forum and commemoration of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Candidates were scheduled to be present for a two-hour discussion but several ended up staying the full stretch of just over eight hours of freewheeling conversation as candidates asked and answered questions on education and the Specialized High School Admissions Test, health care infrastructure, policing reform, NYCHA, economic development in communities of color, gun violence, Black maternal mortality, ranked-choice voting and more.

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