Five progressive candidates for a soon-to-be-open congressional seat in the Bronx are largely agreed on police reform measures, but in a NY1 debate, they sought to draw contrasts with each other, and a contender who decided not to attend.
- Watch the Full Debate for the 15th Congressional District
- How Many Democrats Want to Replace a Retiring Bronx Congressman? Make That 12.
The candidates for the 15th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Jose Serrano squared off in a debate moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis.
City Councilman Ritchie Torres, State Assemblyman Michael Blake, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez, and community organizer Samelys López all expressed support for taking money from the police department and putting it towards other programs.
The lawmakers among them turned to their legislative records for nuance, but those histories also gave their rivals something to criticize.
The five candidates seeking to replace the retiring congressman are among 12 Democrats who will appear on the June 23 primary ballot.
They said that the NYPD in recent instances met protesters with unnecessary force, and that police departments should see their budgets reduced with the funds redirected to education.
Mark-Viverito pointed to her efforts to decriminalize low-level offenses as further evidence of her long-time commitment to criminal justice reform.
But she was asked about her 2015 push to increase the police force by more than 1,000 officers.
“It wasn’t just about increasing cops; it was implementing a community policing program, specifically, to have better interactions,” she said, adding that she now believes reforming police departments isn’t enough and the forces need to be defunded.
Torres, the leading fundraiser in the House primary, discussed his "Cure Violence" initiative to combat gang activity. He also was a target of the other candidates.
López accused Torres of negotiating a “watered down” Right to Know Act, legislation that in part requires officers to inform civilians of their right to refuse a search.
“I negotiated a compromise that for the first time regulated police-civilian interaction, which is something the City Council has never done,” Torres responded when the topic came up against later in the debate.
Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. did not respond to NY1’s invitations to debate, but his name was invoked in the face-off as a threat to progressive values.
Díaz is a social conservative with the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association. A recent poll showed him with a potential lead in the race.