Tuesday, NY1 will host the first of two general election debates for mayor. Since 1997, candidates have been required to take part in debates if they accept public money for their campaigns, although the system has not been without some hiccups. NY1 Political Reporter Bobby Cuza filed the following report on a brief history.
In 1993, Rudy Giuliani and Mayor David Dinkins never debated, unable to agree on terms. Hence, there was a debate that featured an empty chair along with Dinkins and Conservative Party candidate George Marlin.
The debacle led to a 1996 law requiring candidates in the city's campaign finance program to debate.
In 1997, then-Mayor Giuliani debated Ruth Messinger twice, although he did try to get one debate rescheduled so as not to conflict with a baseball game.
"A lot of people between 8 and 9:30 next Thursday night are going to choose to watch the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles," Giuliani said at a press conference before the debate.
"Let me tell you something: They invented something — it's called a VCR," Messinger said to a reporter in response.
Self-funded candidates like billionaire Mike Bloomberg aren't subject to the law and don't have to debate. Bloomberg did choose to take part in several, but not a NY1-sponsored debate in 2005 at Harlem's Apollo Theater, where he was roundly booed.
Instead, Democrat Freddy Ferrer and Conservative Party candidate Tom Ognibene debated alongside an empty lectern.
"I can't imagine anyone who would turn down the opportunity to headline at the Apollo," Ferrer said.
It was ironic, given that in 2001, as a then-political newcomer, Bloomberg pressed Democrat Mark Green for four debates. Green agreed to two.
"Will you promise right now to stop this politics of personal destruction?" Blomberg asked Green on a debate stage.
In a twist, the sponsor for one debate was chosen by drawing out of a hat. The winner, Univision, but then chose not to televise the debate live.
While Bill de Blasio in 2013 did agree to three debates — one more than required — he opted out of a NY1 debate that instead featured Republican Joe Lhota and Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion. As if to prove things don't always go as planned, a later debate was postponed by a day so as not to conflict with the Hurricane Sandy anniversary.