A mayoral debate as hockey fight

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NY1’s event turned into the night that the candidates dropped their gloves


  • The day before the debate, Mayor Bill de Blasio marched in the Columbus Day parade on Fifth Avenue. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

On October 10, I turned off the New York Rangers game on MSG and found that a hockey fight had broken out over on NY1.

In the first mayoral debate, Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped the gloves with his two opponents: Republican Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly, and bellicose media grandstander Bo Dietl, a former New York Police Detective, who appears determined to represent … Bo Dietl.

If this is an indication of how it will go til Election Day on November 7, the New York media corps have a lot to look forward to. What’s more fun than covering an off-the-rails contest like this one?

Come to think of it, the debate had all the hallmarks of a hockey fight: shouting, finger-pointing, accusations, recriminations, the whole shebang. There was little of genuine substance. The dialogue took on the tone of a verbal spat between fifth-graders in a schoolyard: “You’re stupid!” “Oh yeah? Well, you’re stupider!”

It was a 90-minute freak show. NY1’s able moderator Errol Louis somehow gamely held the proceedings together. Louis served not only as a voice of reason but a role model for anchors of future televised debates of all kinds. He took charge — and stayed in charge.

Louis was openly frustrated by the peanut gallery in the studio audience that shrieked repeatedly, reminding me of the hilarious scene in Animal House when Otter mobilizes his Delta buddies to out-shout their foe, Dean Wormer. Yes, the debate was on that level.

Louis appropriately ordered that Dietl’s microphone be shut off a few times because Dietl wouldn’t stop shouting when it wasn’t his turn to talk. Louis refused to let the candidates (read: the ever-present Dietl) veer off course and launch into a self-serving diatribe against one of the other speakers (read: de Blasio).

The money-shot moment of the NY1 mayoral debate occurred nearly at the end. Grace Rauh of NY1, a well-prepared and well-spoken panelist, asked Malliotakis, a Republican, if she sided with Trump or not, because the candidate had taken up both arguments at various times. It was high noon!

Malliotakis, appearing flustered for the first time, promptly accused Rauh of “carrying the mayor’s water.” It was a foolish gambit because NY1, Rauh’s employer, had sued the de Blasio administration in a Freedom of Information petition (and won).

This was the actual point/counterpoint:

Rauh: “You can’t seem to make up your mind about him. are you trying to have it all ways when it comes to President Trump?”

Malliotakis: “I gotta be honest with you, Grace. I feel that you’re carrying the mayor’s water right now.” For the record, Malliotakis added: “When I disagree with President Trump, I will say so.” But the damage was done, for a moment, at least.

Malliotakis appeared to have won points when she lectured de Blasio by saying, “Don’t disparage me.” Whether he actually did that or not is really a moot point. Every woman viewer who has felt that an insensitive guy “mansplained” to her in public might well have been nodding in solidarity with her.

Errol Louis was the big winner. He remained composed and resolute. I trusted him completely. Hey, maybe he should be our next mayor.

Jon Friedman, who recently wrote about rock and roll and nostalgia for this website, teaches at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism.

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