Winners and Losers of the N.Y.C. Mayoral Debate

Welcome to the Times Opinion scorecard for New York City’s first mayoral debate of 2021, which featured the eight leading Democratic candidates on Thursday night. A mix of Times writers and outside political experts assessed the contenders’ performances and ranked them on a scale of one to 10: one means the candidate probably didn’t belong on the virtual stage and certainly not in Gracie Mansion; 10 means he or she is ready to take over from the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who can’t run again because of the city’s term-limits law.

Mara Gay (5/10) — Eric Adams seemed a bit off his game. He is often charming, but tonight he veered toward the condescending. His decision to attack Yang for taking too much credit for stumping for the Dems in Georgia didn’t land.

Michelle Goldberg (4/10) — A painfully condescending former Republican.

Christina Greer (7/10) — Adams never shies away from a fight, which may be why so many New Yorkers like him. He is clearly the moderate in the race, and with rising crime in particular neighborhoods, it may be a winning strategy.

Celeste Katz Marston (7/10) — He mainly kept cool under fire, but sounded dismissive at times when parrying rivals’ attacks. Most effective zinger: Going after Yang for talking up his role in Georgia’s Senate races.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (8/10) — He tried hard to maintain his composure when he was attacked by others on the issue of policing. And he tried unsuccessfully to use having been a cop as an asset in these violent times.

Eleanor Randolph (7/10) — Adams came off as Mr. Cool — clearly the polling favorite at this point. When accused of being too pro-police, he parried smoothly that “policing has a role in the ecosystem of public safety.”

Grace Rauh (6/10) — Adams can bring fire, but he didn’t at the debate. Oddly muted. Took some strange shots at Yang. Will Democrats rally around a former Republican, endorsed by the New York Post, who has said he’d carry a gun as mayor?

Brent Staples (5/10) — His central message — “I am the only one who has done x” — is wearying; it comes across as self-satisfied.

Howard Wolfson (6/10) — Adams had a strong first hour but as the evening wore on, he began to lose his cool. The attacks on his record drew blood.

Kathryn Wylde (7/10) — Nailed it on the skills gap as the biggest challenge for long-term recovery. Other candidates erred in challenging him on public safety. He called out the difference between advocates and anarchists — that will resonate with voters.

Mara Gay (4/10) — Did you know that Shaun Donovan worked for Barack Obama?

Michelle Goldberg (4/10) — He had no good answer when called out on the millions his father is spending to boost his race. It’s not a great sign when a debate makes you feel bad for a candidate.

Christina Greer (4/10) — Obama, Obama, Obama. Donovan talked a lot about what he has done with … Obama and is quite vague on what he will do for New Yorkers. His lack of understanding of N.Y.C. politics and power is glaring.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — Decently upbeat, but even under time limits, voters might have expected more detail on his plan to address the homelessness crisis — particularly since he claimed he’d already solved it.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (7/10) — If we learned something about him it is that he worked for President Obama. He reminded us often! He also “solved homelessness.” Really?

Eleanor Randolph (5/10) — This is not his milieu, and he was almost pleading for us to recognize his many talents in crisis management, housing and government.

Grace Rauh (5/10) — He had a rough night, especially when it came to questions about the millions his father donated to a super PAC supporting him. Other candidates looked positively gleeful when Donovan was in the line of fire. Nice kitchen, though.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Preachy about his experience. Exclamations that amount to “I have succeeded at all of this before” are unsatisfying.

Howard Wolfson (4/10) — His attacks on McGuire were inexplicable and unhelpful, especially considering how much ground he has to make up himself. Failed to put points on the board.

Kathryn Wylde (4/10) — Too much about his past, not enough about the city’s future. He was the first to get ugly with his fellow candidates, which is not convincing from someone who is clearly a nice guy.

Mara Gay (6/10) — This isn’t her format, but Kathryn Garcia did what she needed to do. I’d like to see her be more forceful on integrating the city schools.

Michelle Goldberg (8/10) — She exuded cheerful competence. No one criticized her, and both Yang and McGuire said she’d be their second choice. If she had momentum going into the debate, I suspect she’ll have more coming out of it.

Christina Greer (7/10) — A steady hand in all her answers, but her articulation of “efficiencies” is still unclear, especially for poor New Yorkers who never seem to benefit from the sweeping cuts of Bloombergian technocrats.

Celeste Katz Marston (7/10) — Garcia made effective use of limited time to highlight her real-world experience and achievements, but seemed to have to work to package it for voters as a grand plan.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (8/10) — The mentioning of “compost” made her dance but being picked as the #2 choice by two other candidates should have been a more joyful political moment.

Eleanor Randolph (7/10) — She favored the short answers. At ease, she was obviously still glowing from The Times endorsement. She earned praise from a few competitors, and, oddly, wants restaurants to get advance notice about inspections.

Grace Rauh (6/10) — I was expecting more on the heels of the NYT endorsement. She raised the roof for citywide composting, but struggled to land her overall pitch to voters. Everyone should have had signs with their names behind them, including Garcia.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Failed to introduce herself to voters who do not know her — because she laid too far back from the fray.

Howard Wolfson (6/10) — Garcia was plenty substantive but needed to do more to build on her New York Times endorsement.

Kathryn Wylde (7/10) — So grounded! “I have been boots on the ground … delivering for New York City residents each and every day.” She came across as someone who knows how to tackle big problems and get stuff done.

Mara Gay (7/10) — Ray McGuire finally seemed to be enjoying himself, but especially when Shaun Donovan was speaking. He had a great night, offering substantive answers on jobs and education.

Michelle Goldberg (5/10) — Confronting Yang with his nonprofit’s record with Black applicants, McGuire might have cut through the front-runner’s Teflon. But he didn’t make much of a case for himself.

Christina Greer (6/10) — McGuire didn’t have any major missteps nor did he lay out a memorable vision for the city. As the person with the deepest understanding of markets and money, I expected him to lead the charge in all things economic recovery.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — New Yorkers have proven they’re open to having an outsider/businessman run the city. But it’s not clear McGuire landed the absolutely strongest case for why he specifically should be the next one.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (6/10) — It is difficult for successful business leaders to convince voters that such an experience is transferable to government. But he looked as if he was having fun!

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — A seasoned businessman, he knows how to make an elevator pitch, even the complicated stuff about business, housing, education and jobs.

Grace Rauh (6/10) — Best lighting. Made-for-TV mayor. He talked up his record on Wall Street during the financial crisis, and said his economic recovery plan is “the greatest most inclusive comeback plan in the history of New York City.” Catchy.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Thoughtful, but lacks a spark.

Howard Wolfson (5/10) — He gave a detailed and visionary answer on education but, as a total unknown, he needed to do more to introduce himself to voters.

Kathryn Wylde (8/10) — McGuire’s cool temperament, humor and gravitas came across. The adult in the room and the one candidate who focused on private-sector jobs and education as the keys to recovery: “No jobs, no city; no jobs, no dignity.”

Mara Gay (8/10) — When Dianne Morales confronted Eric Adams for saying that white people have led the movement to defund the police, she was on fire. New Yorkers got a look tonight at why her campaign has caught on.

Michelle Goldberg (4/10) — A moderator called her out, fairly, for speaking in lefty generalities rather than specifics.

Christina Greer (7/10) — By far the most progressive candidate in the race. It remains to be seen if New Yorkers are interested in her broad progressive vision at this moment of increasing crime and unemployment.

Celeste Katz Marston (7/10) — If viewers came looking for an unabashed progressive, Morales didn’t disappoint. It remains to be seen if her sweeping answers really addressed their specific questions about here-and-now city crises.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (7/10) — She was short in specifics but rich in understanding how only systemic changes eradicate specific problems.

Eleanor Randolph (5/10) — She got a lot of early time, but stayed firmly in place as the most progressive candidate who wants to upend the system.

Grace Rauh (6/10) — Morales had a strong presence on camera and a deep progressive platform, but Wiley eclipsed her in the fight for the left. I don’t see the debate as a game-changer for her, which she needed.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Needs to leave the vague rhetoric behind — and show how her ambitious programs might get implemented.

Howard Wolfson (8/10) — She staked out the most progressive ground and made a strong case that she would be able to deliver on that vision. If Morales is not elected mayor, she would make a very strong Public Advocate candidate in four years.

Kathryn Wylde (3/10) — Speaks in headlines. She evidently believes anything is possible, which must be why she decided to run for mayor.

Mara Gay (7/10) — Stringer’s polite, serious approach to the debate was smart, and he came across as the adult in a classroom of children. His request for scrutiny of the sexual assault claim against him may resonate with some voters but repel others.

Michelle Goldberg (7/10) — His nebbishy charm and keen, thorough answers, especially on education, were a reminder of why progressives coalesced around him before the sexual harassment allegations.

Christina Greer (8/10) — His performance was a reminder of his 360-degree view of politics. I wouldn’t discount Stringer as we get closer to the June 22 primary and the policy questions get more nuanced.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — He managed to get through without too much turbulence over a former campaign volunteer’s misconduct allegations. He seemed comfortable positioning himself as relatively centrist in this field. Donovan’s probably still smarting from that “daddy problems” crack.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (8/10) — Stringer was a master at showcasing his experience in government as an asset and connecting it to progressive policies.

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — He was trying to be the adult in the room, but he still had to defend himself about accusations that he took advantage of a woman in a former campaign.

Grace Rauh (6/10) — Stringer’s light has been dimmed by accusations of sexual assault, which he has denied. “You have no idea how much I want investigation and resolution,” he said, sounding defeated already.

Brent Staples (5/10) — Clearly experienced, but appears to be treading water.

Howard Wolfson (4/10) — Stringer spent the first hour looking dour and miserable. He perked up a bit in the second half but didn’t do nearly enough to make up the gap between himself and the front-runners.

Kathryn Wylde (6/10) — The tough, feisty side that has brought him past victories did not come through. Recent accusations required Stringer to show humanity (“I’m a failed remote-learning teacher”), but not the way to win a debate.

Mara Gay (9/10) — Maya Wiley did very well. She was at her best when she challenged Eric Adams’s support of stop and frisk and made clear that a safe city doesn’t have to mean a return to outdated policing.

Michelle Goldberg (6/10) — I really want her to be doing better, but given her standing in the polls, she needed to excite and inspire people, and I’m not sure she did.

Christina Greer (8/10) — She reclaimed her time (and the time of a few others). If you didn’t know who Wiley was before tonight, you definitely do now. She gave enough of a broad view for voters to look into her policies if interested.

Celeste Katz Marston (8/10) — Wiley showed she’s not afraid to stand her ground in a tussle, particularly when confronting Adams over police policy. She staked out the “Mayor Mom” positioning early; her answer on bearing responsibility for any missteps of the de Blasio administration wasn’t as forceful.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (7/10) — She was laser focused on chipping away at Adams and very vocal on her progressive credentials. Good at both!

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) — “I’ve been Black all my life” was her big line as she managed to squeeze extra time into every answer, listing her plans and her record as a civil rights lawyer.

Grace Rauh (8/10) — Very strong performance. She made a powerful statement about being Black and knowing what it’s like to fear crime and also fear police. The debate could be the opening she’s sought to become the progressive star of the race.

Brent Staples (7/10) — A concise presentation of ideas, followed up with timely cross-examinations of her rivals. Visuals count — and Ms. Wiley clearly had the best ones.

Howard Wolfson (9/10) — Wiley has spent years debating on MSNBC and it showed. She made a forceful argument for herself and inserted herself frequently and to good effect.

Kathryn Wylde (5/10) — She demonstrated she could control a room, but did not make a case for why she should be mayor. In a city facing big deficits, her New Deal to create 100,000 public works jobs is just not happening.

Mara Gay (9/10) — As the front-runner, Andrew Yang had the most to lose. But he had a good night, emerging as likable by choosing not to attack the other candidates.

Michelle Goldberg (5/10) — Things could have gone worse for him — no one really hammered him on his lack of experience — but both Adams and McGuire tripped him up in different ways on race.

Christina Greer (5/10) — If CliffsNotes were a person. The math still doesn’t add up in far too many areas with Yang: policing, job creation, understanding of racial inequities, governance and how N.Y.C. is actually run.

Celeste Katz Marston (6/10) — Ostensibly, Yang’s big selling point is his energy and that he’s not a creature of government. But his Rose Garden-style answers didn’t totally help him fend off several bruising questions, including about his no-show city voting record.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. (6/10) — Are his national profile and interests enough to explain his absence from so many N.Y. elections? Difficult to swallow, as was obvious tonight.`

Eleanor Randolph (7/10) — Yang bounced into the debate with “Hello, New York City.” He wants a moratorium on business fines and police protections to bring back tourists.

Grace Rauh (7/10) — He shone brighter in presidential debates, but brought enough energy to stand out. Acted like a front-runner, defusing Adams’ attacks on his response to gun violence like this: “I’m with you… you and I are aligned.”

Brent Staples (5/10) — Seemed thrown off guard by questions he should have anticipated. Did not improve his position with undecided voters.

Howard Wolfson (7/10) — Yang easily brushed aside attacks and remained optimistic and affable. He entered as the front-runner and left that way.

Kathryn Wylde (6/10) — We saw the not-so-jolly side of Yang at the debate, especially when challenged on issues of race by fellow candidates. Taking credit for Schumer’s majority leadership was a bit much.

About the authors

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.”

Luis A. Miranda Jr. is a veteran New York political consultant and the chairman of Latino Victory.

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 and 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.

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