Opinion | The N.Y.C. Mayoral Debate’s Winners and Losers


Welcome to the Times Opinion scorecard for New York City’s second mayoral debate of 2021, which featured the eight leading Democratic candidates on Wednesday night. A mix of Times writers and outside political experts assessed the contenders’ performances and rated them on a scale of one to 10. One means the candidate probably doesn’t belong in Gracie Mansion and maybe not even on the debate stage (though whatever you thought of the debate itself, the sight of the eight contenders in the same room was very welcome); 10 means he or she is ready to take over from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who can’t run again because of the city’s term-limits law.

Gerson Borrero (8/10) — From his clear opening statement to his calm responses showing a person who doesn’t get bent out of shape, Adams handled the attacks against him like a guy who’s comfortable with his current status as numero uno in the race. He won the night.

Mara Gay (8/10) — Much of the second debate focused on public safety, and Adams was clearly in his element. His steady focus on fighting gun violence and education worked well. Adams, a likely front-runner, kept his cool amid a barrage of attacks. “I’m very popular,” Adams joked, as his competitors piled on.

Michelle Goldberg (7/10) — He got beat up a bit and could barely hide his contempt for Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang, but the other candidates still haven’t settled on a coherent case against him.

Christina Greer (7/10) — Linked public safety to the economy, which resonates with voters. Definitely wasn’t the firecracker we’ve seen in previous debates. Less may be more for Adams at this moment, especially as questions pertaining to past statements continue to follow him.

Celeste Katz Marston (7/10) — Smiling and confident, Adams leaned a bit more into the personal story that informs his career and campaign than he did in the first debate. Reined in his tendency to talk down to challengers, but couldn’t shake it completely.

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — Managed to look serene, except when Yang accused him of facing a “trifecta of corruption investigations” by various government agencies. Wiley also wanted to know how he could say he would bring a gun to church.

Grace Rauh (7/10) — Most powerful moment was his back-and-forth with Yang, battling for front-runner status. Adams to Yang: “You can’t run from the city, Andrew, if you want to run the city.”

Brent Staples (7/10) — He brought gravitas, clarity and concision to a chaotic debate. He was especially potent when recounting his experience as a public school student.

Howard Wolfson (7/10) — No major mistakes debating as a front-runner, and strongly wove biographical details into policy answers. Gave as good as he got in the exchange with Yang, but spent way too much time complaining to moderators about his lack of speaking opportunities. No one wants a whining mayor.

Kathryn Wylde (9/10) — Adams served the city in a bullet-proof vest for 22 years and could have used one on the debate stage. But he smoothly parried assaults from all quarters and showed himself a resilient front-runner.

Gerson Borrero (4/10) — For a dude with such an impressive résumé, including having Obama to name-drop, Donovan once again fell short. But at least having his papi’s millions to boost his campaign will cushion his continued fall.

Mara Gay (3/10) — He looked like he had a nice tan, which is maybe something to look into.

Michelle Goldberg (5/10) — I’m still not quite sure why he’s remaining in the race, though toward the end he had a good riff on homelessness.

Christina Greer (4/10) — Donovan needed to make a splash and he did not. Relationships with Biden and Obama (and Bloomberg, which he fails to mention) haven’t translated into clear policy proposals for New Yorkers.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — On the off chance anyone missed it in the last debate, he still used to work for Obama. Did a better job this time of emphasizing his track record on housing. Not the gamechanger he needed, though.

Eleanor Randolph (5/10) — He would make an excellent deputy mayor. He knows the problems and has detailed plans to fix them.

Grace Rauh (5/10) — Fighting for attention — and engaging in budget-one-upmanship with Ray McGuire and Scott Stringer — but didn’t have memorable breakout moments.

Brent Staples (6/10) — Improved his performance over the last debate, wisely hewing to policy prescriptions — and reigning in the preachiness.

Howard Wolfson (7/10) — Like Stringer, Donovan came back from a subpar performance in debate one to make a strong case for himself as the candidate with the track record of implementing bold ideas. But what’s a 15-minute neighborhood?

Kathryn Wylde (7/10) — The brainiac in the field, he makes a convincing case that he is well prepared to run city government. But is that enough?

Gerson Borrero (7/10) — A poised and confident Garcia continued to articulate her solutions for the city’s current problems with what appears to be a reasonable and sensible plan.

Mara Gay (6/10) — It’s still clear that Garcia is a first-time candidate, but she was much better-prepared in this debate and it showed. “I invite anyone on this stage to talk about track records because I actually have one,” she quipped early on. She smartly held her own without attacking her opponents, which worked for her.

Michelle Goldberg (7/10) — No one treated her like a leading candidate, so no one tore her down. She continues to exude down-to-earth competence.

Christina Greer (5/10) — There were quite a few times I forgot Garcia was onstage. Garcia needs to show voters she is not only qualified but actually interested in the discussions pertaining to how to do the job as an executive.

Celeste Katz Marston (7/10) — Her main job was probably to avoid major missteps. She achieved that. Worked in mentions of her big newspaper endorsements; played carefully to women voters. Steady, practical, and never flashy — exactly on brand for her campaign.

Eleanor Randolph (7/10) — Held her own against new critiques of her time as sanitation commissioner. She said that during the worst Covid times, she was told that when people heard the garbage truck, they knew things would be OK.

Grace Rauh (6/10) — Moving up in the polls, but still not shining on the debate stage. Solid performance and points for straight talk, like when she said she’d raise the cap on charter schools after Adams ducked the question.

Brent Staples (6/10) — Clear, calm and specific in her answers, especially on public safety and child care. Made a strong rhetorical move when she asked voters to decide which candidate they most trust.

Howard Wolfson (6/10) — Cornered the market on competency and managed to mention her newspaper endorsements, but missed repeated opportunities to create breakout moments. Why question Stringer instead of one of the other moderates? Why not talk about her multiracial family? It’s time to get personal!

Kathryn Wylde (7/10) — Easy to believe she can solve problems and drive an agenda, but in this forum her passion for achieving a “livable, healthier, safer city” did not come through.

Gerson Borrero (5/10) — The newbie in politics is not going to finish in the top three ranked-choice voting slots, but once again he showed he has a vision for a city that needs more new thinkers with creative solutions.

Mara Gay (6/10) — Until recently, McGuire has mostly campaigned in corporate-speak. But when he talked about supporting undocumented immigrants Wednesday night, he sounded like a city mayor. “They’re New Yorkers,” he said. “We need to respect them. We need to treat them with dignity.” He’s getting better at this.

Michelle Goldberg (5/10) — He has a lot more administrative experience than Yang, but his anti-politician schtick is even less convincing.

Christina Greer (5/10) — McGuire brought receipts but needed to translate them for people just tuning in. What does his extensive Wall Street experience mean for working-class New Yorkers? He needed to lay that out more succinctly. Maybe they’ll got to his website?

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — Used his time to actually inform voters about the details of his platform (and website). Probably didn’t catapult himself into the top tier, but framed himself as serious and detail-oriented enough to merit voters’ consideration.

Eleanor Randolph (7/10) — Finally displayed some of the fight he must have shown in the back rooms of the corporate world. He even challenged the comptroller, Scott Stringer, about his oversight of the city’s massive pension investments.

Grace Rauh (6/10) — At his best when making the case that New Yorkers need someone without government experience to lead the city. “I got receipts.”

Brent Staples (5/10) — He is stuck on the unpersuasive metaphor of city government as the rerun of a bad movie.

Howard Wolfson (4/10) — Gave a strong answer on education, but his total unwillingness to actually mention his tenure at Citi raises fundamental questions about why he is on the stage. When the business candidate can’t mention his business, there is a problem.

Kathryn Wylde (8/10) — New to public service, he has mastered the facts and come up with new ideas for dealing with our toughest issues. Best line: “This is a bad movie playing out at City Hall with the same characters — we simply cannot afford a disastrous sequel.”

Gerson Borrero (5/10) — As a badly wounded first-time candidate, Morales stuck to her campaign platform and articulated the main ideas of the most progressive agenda in this primary. Not distracted. Admirable.

Mara Gay (4/10) — Had a quiet night. The implosion of her campaign seemed to take the wind from her sails.

Michelle Goldberg (4/10) — There’s no way she could have saved her imploding campaign, but she had no good answer for the accusations that her own staff have leveled against her.

Christina Greer (6/10) — By far the most traditional progressive candidate. She did not insert herself into discussions that many assumed she would or should lead in this debate. Curious to see if her base sticks with her through this campaign storm.

Celeste Katz Marston (5/10) — Firmly stood her ground on the left flank of the progressive movement. Likely pleased and held onto her left-leaning supporters, but didn’t necessarily attract many new ones to her cause or provide extra specifics on city problem solving.

Eleanor Randolph (4/10) — Has faced a revolution from her own campaign staff in recent days. Countered that such problems were not uncommon for managers like herself.

Grace Rauh (5/10) — Pulls back to discuss the big picture on public safety, linking the rise in crime to economic instability and housing and food crisis many faced during Covid. But the upheaval with her campaign staff is still a distraction.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Has a lot of work to do to convince voters that her public safety proscriptions are the right ones.

Howard Wolfson (4/10) — Facing questions about authenticity amid a week of internal campaign strife, Morales seemed ill at ease and unsure of her footing.

Kathryn Wylde (3/10) — Her defense of her campaign implosion — that staff quickly grew at a huge rate — suggests that her management of a city with more than 330,000 employees would be a not-so-beautiful mess.

Gerson Borrero (6/10) — While he still looks like he’s thinking, “I coulda been a contender!” Stringer performed better than a candidate who most experts feel has plateaued.

Mara Gay (7/10) — Stringer stayed focused, keeping the spotlight on the housing, health care and public education the most vulnerable New Yorkers need to succeed in an unequal city. It was refreshing.

Michelle Goldberg (8/10) — He was detailed and unflappable and had the night’s most incisive jab at Yang: “You’re focusing on TikTok houses in the midst of a housing crisis.”

Christina Greer (7/10) — Landed quite a few jabs and was definitely on the offensive and much more alert compared with the previous debate. Stringer pushed his way into the top tier during this debate.

Celeste Katz Marston (7/10) — More engaged and aggressive than in the first debate; did a better job explaining how he’d parlay his most relevant work experience — serving as comptroller — into tackling the mayoralty.

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — Went on the attack this time. At one point, he said to Yang, “I actually don’t think you’re an empty vessel, I think you’re a Republican.”

Grace Rauh (7/10) — Do not count Stringer out. He bounced back after a quiet first debate — seizing the spotlight whenever he could. Pitching himself as a progressive with experience.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Competent but did not improve his standing with voters who have doubts.

Howard Wolfson (8/10) — A solid rebound from his lackluster performance in the first debate. Consistently on message as the progressive with the experience to make change happen. A glimpse into what his campaign might have looked like before it was derailed by sexual misconduct allegations.

Kathryn Wylde (7/10) — Showed his mastery of government and renewed confidence after a rough patch in the campaign, making a strong case that he is ready to deal with the challenges facing the city on day one.

Gerson Borrero (7/10) — Like a true neoyorquina running to catch the express train during rush hour, Wiley pushed her way through the crowd of wannabes and made space for her views in a clear and at times vociferous manner.

Mara Gay (5/10) — Could be more concise.

Michelle Goldberg (6/10) — Wiley was eloquent on the scourge of police violence, but she often seemed aloof from New Yorkers’ anxiety about surging violent crime.

Christina Greer (7/10) — The quality of Wiley’s statements were often diluted by their excessive quantity. I am curious if voters just tuning in to this debate (and this race) found her strategy effective or off-putting.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — In the first debate, she came off as commanding and challenging. In this rematch, her repeated interruptions and blowing off time limits weren’t nearly as effective — and could have been seen as grandstanding, even for an accomplished public servant.

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — She was the queen of overtime in the last debate, but remained mostly within her allotted segments for this one. She did manage to lay out a solid progressive platform, noting that the police department is “bloated” and should share some of its wealth with community centers.

Grace Rauh (7/10) — TV savvy and it shows. Strong line of attack against Adams for saying he’d carry a gun as mayor. “Isn’t this the wrong message to send our kids we’re telling not to pick up the guns?”

Brent Staples (5/10) — She seems to have plateaued rhetorically. She lost ground by engaging too much in the attack scrum.

Howard Wolfson (6/10) — Came looking to draw Adams into a one-on-one debate over criminal justice, but was only marginally successful in doing so. She was a spectator to the Adams-Yang exchange and consistently spoke over her allotted time, which became distracting.

Kathryn Wylde (6/10) — “I’m a mom” is not a qualification for mayor. Not believable that she would make public safety job one, but shows she is a good listener as well as an effective talker.

Gerson Borrero (3/10) — Yang’s clearly getting worse at explaining how his lack of voting experience in past New York mayoral elections somehow makes him qualified for the role of mayor. He was the obvious loser in this debate.

Mara Gay (4/10) — Yang is usually good on his feet, but Adams got under his skin, and it showed. His exchange with Adams, who accused him of fleeing the city, was cringeworthy. “I wore a bulletproof vest for 22 years,” Adams said, slamming Yang — who left during the pandemic — as uncommitted to New York. Oof.

Michelle Goldberg (6/10) — The other candidates started out attacking Yang like he was still the front-runner and landed several blows. But he was able to rattle Eric Adams by bringing up his “rare trifecta of corruption investigations.”

Christina Greer (5/10) — Yang has not moved much beyond a diagnostic phase. He understands a crowded debate format, but his policies are Daisy Buchanan: smashing things carelessly, retreating back into his moneyed people and leaving it to others to clean up his mess.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — Stayed the course, but not a breakout performance. Not clear if voters will keep warming to his folksiness or if he sometimes seems overly glib or lighthearted at a troubled time for the city.

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — Let criticism bounce off him like any expert politician. He noted that if he looked short, he was standing next to Ray McGuire who is 6’4.” He said instead of defunding police, New York needs a recruitment drive and more connection to people in communities — “They know who’s trouble.”

Grace Rauh (8/10) — Came under frequent fire — “empty vessel,” “Republican” — but didn’t get rattled. Saved his most brutal line for Adams: “You’ve achieved the rare trifecta of corruption investigations.”

Brent Staples (5/10) — The jokiness has worn thin. He was shaken by predictable — and damaging — questions about his record.

Howard Wolfson (7/10) — Handled his sharp exchange with Adams well and calmly rebutted attacks from other candidates. Some voters may wonder where the Happy Warrior went, though, watching him tear into Adams.

Kathryn Wylde (5/10) — Again with the goofy “Hello New York City” opener (this is a mayoral debate, not “S.N.L.”) and ending with a shout out for a Knicks win. Does he take this race seriously?


About the authors

Gerson Borrero is the host and political editor of “Estudio DC” at HITN and a former editor in chief of El Diario Nueva York.

Mara Gay and Brent Staples are members of the editorial board of The New York Times.

Michelle Goldberg is a Times Opinion columnist.

Christina Greer is a political scientist at Fordham University.

Celeste Katz Marston is a longtime political reporter, a host for WBAI radio in New York and a co-author of “Is This Any Way to Vote? Vulnerable Voting Machines and the Mysterious Industry Behind Them.”

Eleanor Randolph is a former editorial board member of The Times and the author of “The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg.”

Grace Rauh is a former political reporter at NY1.

Howard Wolfson was a deputy mayor under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign and the communications director for her first presidential campaign.

Kathryn Wylde is the president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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