With the Democratic primary just weeks away and polls showing several candidates in or near the lead, the anticipation going into Wednesday night’s debate was fairly high. Confronting each other face-to-face — though from C.D.C.-approved distances — eight candidates engaged in two hours of frenetic verbal sparring that may have been higher on theatrics than substance.
Here are five takeaways. And for more, read our full recap of the debate.
Adams was attacked like a front-runner.
In the second hour of the debate, the moderator gave each of the eight candidates the opportunity to ask one question of a competitor. Four of the contenders targeted Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and a front-runner in the race.
“Mr. Adams has said he’s carried a gun to church, he has asked off-duty officers to carry guns to church,” said Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “He’s said he will carry a gun as mayor and maybe even ditch his detail. Eric, isn’t this the wrong message to send our kids we’re telling not to pick up the guns?”
Later on, the former presidential candidate Andrew Yang — who also took heat for his centrist platform — delivered the night’s sharpest critique of Mr. Adams, pointing to the various times in his career when he has been subject to investigation.
“You don’t pay attention to the rules of the road,” Mr. Yang said. “You’re unprincipled.”
Mr. Adams generally responded to the attacks with ease, a smile, and in the case of Ms. Wiley, a note of condescension.
“I really want you to understand this issue,” Mr. Adams told Ms. Wiley, before launching into an explanation of how off-duty officers sometimes intervene in crimes to good effect.
Once again, crime dominated the discussion.
The issue of public safety in New York City, much like in the first debate last month, dominated the second mayoral debate from the outset.
The first question challenged candidates to explain whether it was possible to tackle crime — shooting incidents in the city are up 77 percent this year, compared with last year — while simultaneously diverting resources away from the Police Department, which many of the more left-leaning candidates have proposed.
Mr. Adams, a former police officer who does not support cutting policing, spoke grimly about gang wars and more personally about losing a childhood friend to gang violence. Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner under Mr. de Blasio, emphasized the importance of taking guns off the street.
Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, used the opportunity to attack Ms. Wiley, who is also vying for support from the party’s left flank. Mr. Stringer said Ms. Wiley served as a “rubber stamp” as chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which processes civilian complaints about the police.
The debate was messy and missing substance.
Most of the candidates pushed to hold the debate in person. But the format change did not appear to bring the more substantive policy discussion that the candidates and many voters had hoped for.
Instead, the debate was a chaotic, tumultuous two hours in which the candidates repeated talking points they’d delivered before and attacks they’ve already honed.
Mr. Adams seemed frustrated by the clashes. At one point, he complained to a moderator, “I really hope that we have the discipline to allow all of us to have the time frame that has been allocated.”
Sounding similarly irritated, the moderator replied: “You have your chance now, Mr. Adams.”
Garcia largely flew under the radar.
With all the barbs flying between the candidates, one contender seemed to conspicuously stay out of the mix: Ms. Garcia.
Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams were the subject of several attacks, consistent with being seen as top candidates in the race. But Ms. Garcia, who seemed to be gaining momentum in the race following an endorsement from The New York Times editorial board and was the subject of attacks leading up to the debate, largely escaped the attention of the other candidates on Wednesday evening.
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When the candidates were prompted to ask another candidate a question, nobody directed one to Ms. Garcia.
Only toward the end of the debate did Mr. Stringer criticize Ms. Garcia for being part of the de Blasio administration.
Wiley came out swinging.
Ms. Wiley, an attorney and former commentator on MSNBC, came out strong during the second debate, going after two of the front-runners and ignoring calls from the moderators to stay within the time limit.
In addition to taking on Mr. Adams over guns, Ms. Wiley, wearing a bright red blazer that helped her stand out on the stage, also criticized another front-runner in the race, Andrew Yang, saying that his nonprofit was ineffective in accomplishing its goal of creating jobs. Mr. Yang promised 100,000 jobs, Ms. Wiley said, but “created 150.”
In the first hour, there were moments when Ms. Wiley controlled the frenetic pace of the debate even as she frustrated the moderators by refusing to stop when asked.
During a question on stopping crime, one moderator, WABC’s Bill Ritter, repeatedly tried to get Ms. Wiley to stop talking. “Ms. Wiley,” said Mr. Ritter. “Appreciate that.”