It's sometimes hard to develop a strong story line from a debate with seven candidates but last night's Democratic showdown in the mayor's race had a few surprises, including the muted performance of Anthony Weiner.
Weiner, who has received so much attention since joining the race less than a month ago, wasn't necessarily off his game but he was certainly playing a new one. Rarely engaging the other candidates – and also ignoring an attack by Sal Albanese for his support of the war in Iraq – Weiner seemed like just another candidate rather than the glib and feisty politician who has his own C-Span highlight reel.
The most interesting conflicts were between Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. More than any of the other candidates, de Blasio forcefully went after Quinn's record in the Council, portraying her as a lawmaker who signed off on budgets that hurt some of the city's most vulnerable residents. Fresh from rebooting her campaign on Monday, Quinn returned fire, portraying herself as the only candidate who has made tough decisions and delivered results. "Talk is cheap,'' Quinn said several times. For the first time, Quinn also tailored her position that she'd like to keep Ray Kelly on as police commissioner, saying that if he didn't alter the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, she'd fire him. (Would Kelly even want the job now?)
De Blasio clearly thinks that the way to gain some momentum in the race is to move to the left while also taking on Quinn – reminding audience members of her role in overturning term limits and claiming she is a tool of the real estate industry. The other two major anti-Quinns – Bill Thompson and John Liu – did not stand out as much last night. Perhaps Thompson was still glowing in the aftermath of the endorsement of the teachers union that he received shortly before the debate began. (In a damaging moment in the debate, Thompson couldn't name a single policy difference he had with the union.)
For some levity, there was political rookie Erick Salgado, who worried that Mayor Bloomberg's next food fight will be an attempt to ban chicken wings. (As an upstate native, I share his concerns).
While many political observers – and the candidates – have decried the sheer volume of debates and forums on the campaign trail, last night's event was extremely valuable by seeing the candidates interact in front of a live audience. (Memo to politicians: don't oppose building a soccer stadium with a Latino crowd.) We most likely won't see the Democratic candidates square off in a major televised debate again until August. It would help New Yorkers to see more of the wannabees who are trying to succeed Michael Bloomberg. I'll even bring the chicken wings.