NEW YORK — Two native New Yorkers, each with a history of speaking his mind, squared off in a Republican mayoral debate that at times resembled a boxing ring, though the bell certainly helped.
Candidates Curtis Sliwa and Fernando Mateo participated in a live, in-person debate in PIX11’s Midtown studios; it aired live on PIX11, PIX11.com and the PIX11 app, and was moderated by PIX11’s Dan Mannarino, Henry Rosoff and Ayana Harry.
Miss any of the action? Here are the top moments of the night:
Mateo met with former President Donald Trump — today
Mateo, who described himself on the debate floor as a “Trump Republican,” said he met with the former president on Thursday in Bedminster, New Jersey prior to the PIX11 debate.
“He is very saddened by the state of this city,” Mateo said. “President Trump has compassion for New York and New Yorkers.”
In a post-debate interview, Mateo told PIX11’s Henry Rosoff he believes Trump had a successful term in office; he slammed Sliwa for not supporting Trump. He also said the meeting went “well.”
“I was happy to see the president,” he said.
Mateo said he voted for Trump twice, and would vote for him again if he was on the ticket in 2024. Sliwa did not vote for Trump in 2020.
Mateo also touted his endorsement from embattled Gen. Michael Flynn; Sliwa touted endorsements from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, Rudy Giuliani, and other locally connected Republicans.
“Black lives matter, blue lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, white lives matter”
After answering questions about last summer’s unrest following the death of George Floyd, the candidates were asked if they believe Black lives matter.
“Every life matters, of course Black lives matter, blue lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, white lives matter,” Mateo said.
“Of course, as all people’s lives matter,” Sliwa said, before slamming Antifa for allegedly stoking crowds. “Antifa will not be able to operate in New York City when I’m mayor.” (Antifa is a de-centralized group that is generally left-wing and anti-fascist. It’s been criticized for a confrontational approach, and many conservative politicians have blamed Antifa for violence during protests in New York and other cities, though evidence of organized Antifa involvement has generally not been proven.)
Sliwa calls to dissolve the Department of Education
After slamming critical race theory and touting more history and civics classes, Sliwa said he’d eliminate the city department that oversees schools altogether, calling it a “bloated bureaucracy.”
He started by advocating for teachers who end up paying for school supplies for their students.
“Teachers…should not have to reach into their pockets to pay for supplies of children,” he said.
But where that money would come from would be the byproduct of a major change by a Sliwa administration.
“We have to eliminate the Department of Education; that bureaucracy has to go, because they suck up all the money. Put it into the classrooms, let the teachers teach and pay for the supplies that the children need.”
Sliwa apologizes for past ‘mistakes’ while Mateo holds firm
Mateo was pressed on his ownership of restaurant La Marina, an Inwood establishment plagued with controversy. It was forced to shut down by the NYPD and NYS Liquor Authority following dozens of violations; reports tied drug deals to the location and it later went bankrupt.
“What happened at La Marina was a very sad situation,” Mateo said. “Do you think I would want anyone to come into my business to sell drugs so that I could lose it?”
He became animated and said officers issued several violations for small infractions.
“What happened to be at La Marina, I will make sure that it’s investigated,” he said.
He was asked what he learned from the experience.
“There was really not much to learn because there was nothing wrong that I did or that my partners did,” he said.
Sliwa, on the other hand, unequivocally took responsibility for past public indiscretions. PIX11 aired a clip of Mateo depicting a Mexican stereotype with an accent, and shared inappropriate quotes he’d made to and about former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“I have felt some sexual tension when I have been in her presence,” he said on a radio show in 2015.
“Those were terrible mistakes on my part,” he said Thursday, before saying his comments and “parody” were about MS-13 “gangbangers,” though he said he handled the segment incorrectly.
As for Mark-Viverito: “I apologize, that was totally inappropriate of me,” he said.
He said as a media personality and talk radio host, he’s put his foot in his mouth over the years, but acknowledges his missteps.
“That’s what it takes. You’ve got to apologize for La Marina,” he said to Mateo.
“What happened to me should have never happened. I will never apologize for something that I did absolutely nothing wrong about,” Mateo responded.
Candidates spar over subways, crime and their own net worths
The topic began on subway safety; candidates were asked how they’d make sure the subways are safe for all New Yorkers.
Sliwa invited the candidates to ride the subways, slamming Mateo and other candidates for their grandiose subway plans. “There’s no subway stop up in Irvington-Westchester where you live.”
“I live in the subways,” Sliwa said, before calling for more cops.
Mateo said there needs to me more cops on buses and trains, before diving into the city’s alleged attacks on the rich.
“New Yorkers, like Curtis Sliwa, have become rich haters. I’ve worked my butt off since I’m 17 years old, and I have three homes, and I have a few cars and I can afford not to ride the subways. There’s nothing wrong with that I will welcome back the rich. I will make sure they feel part of the fabric of New York City because we can’t survive without them.” — Fernando Mateo
He concluded by saying that it’s not his fault that Sliwa “makes no money.”
“Excuse me, how do you know about subways when you never ride the subways?” Sliwa said after a discussion about the transit system. “I ride the subways by myself, and I’m proud to be a straphanger…it does not take away from the rich or the wealthy or those that have equity.”
Mateo doubled down, before surprisingly offering his sparring partner a job.
“I don’t feel safe going into the subways. I would offer Curtis Sliwa, my opponent, a deputy mayor’s position for subway services, because he knows a lot about the subways.”
Mateo turned to Sliwa, saying he’d have the “subway expert” advising him on transit matters.
The offer went unaddressed by Sliwa.
Honorable mention: Closing arguments