"Overture! Curtain, lights! This is it – the night of nights!" – Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
Tonight's debate in the Democratic race for mayor gives the seven candidates a big chance to flourish or flop in front of a live audience at Town Hall – while also making an important impression on NY1 viewers. With less than three weeks to go before Primary Day, this is one of the last chances for undecided voters to see all of the major candidates share a stage in a race where the dynamics have shifted dramatically over the last month. So what are the stakes for each candidate? Here are a few thoughts.
Bill de Blasio
Is he really the new frontrunner in the race? The target could finally be on his back and the other candidates on stage may decide to gang up on him rather than Christine Quinn. (They seem pretty annoyed at his new ad in which he claims he's "the only candidate to end a stop and frisk era that targets minorities.") De Blasio's fired-up populist message is clearly resonating with some primary voters but could it backfire a la Fernando Ferrer in 2001? Uneasy lies the head that wears crown -- especially when you're 6-foot-5.
The debate gives her a major opportunity to bounce back and take on de Blasio, who has surged in the polls. She's praying for some help from her rivals – or at least hoping they won't get in the way by attacking her. Expect Quinn to again talk about being the only candidate who gets things done – and label de Blasio a "pander bear." A weak performance could send her stumbling into third place.
Will the engine ever get started in the Thompson-mobile? While he's confident that he'll get enough African-American support to propel him into the runoff, it's starting to look like Thompson is waiting for Godot. He needs to improve on a weak debate performance last week and stand out on the stage as a voice of reason – and maybe even rise above the fray. While he still has a serious chance of making the runoff, Thompson needs to step up his game on a crowded stage.
It's amazing how in just a few weeks, Weiner went from sucking up all of the oxygen in the room to being almost an afterthought in the race a la Howard Dean. After admitting that he relapsed in a text mess last year, Weiner's loss has been de Blasio's big gain. While it seems unlikely that he can rebound, Weiner is a skilled debater and could seriously damage another candidate in a last-ditch effort to sneak into the runoff. There's a strong chance he's a factor tonight regardless of his political implosion.
Despite a fundraising scandal hobbling his political operation, Liu has relentlessly hit the campaign trail, probably harder than any of his rivals. But that hard work has not paid off with voters, as polls consistently stuck in fifth place. Expect to hear his rivals praise him – with thoughts of getting his support for the Oct. 1 runoff. Liu had a very strong debate performance last week but he'll need an even stronger one to reboot his struggling campaign.
With little campaign cash and virtually no support in the polls, Albanese has nothing to lose. The biggest decision he could make tonight is which of his rivals to attack. Ultimately, it won't help his campaign but it could make a dent in others.
A political neophyte who has little chance in this race, he has provided comic relief in some of the other debates. Unlike Albanese, Salgado has generally avoided attacking the other candidates – meaning that he could be a non-factor in tonight's political calculus. If he's smart, he'll continue to emphasize the fact that he's the only Latino in the Democratic race. And he loves to talk about food.
So be sure to tune in tonight at 7 p.m. – and we'll have a special wrap-up program at 8:30 p.m. On with the show – this is it!