NEW YORK -- Prevention of future terror attacks in the wake of a deadly incident just a day earlier was the dominant subjects at the final New York City mayoral debate Wednesday night, CBS New York reports.
Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and Independent Bo Dietl made their case to voters. CBS New York's Maurice DuBois moderated the event at the CUNY Graduate Center studio.
New Yorkers will cast their votes in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
The topics and questions reflected concerns raised by New York voters through social media and at a series of town hall events across the five boroughs.
The debate came one day after a terror attack on the West Side bike path in lower Manhattan left eight people dead and a dozen injured when an assailant plowed into cyclists and pedestrians with a pickup truck. DuBois noted that suspect Sayfullo Saipov, 29, reportedly had attended a New Jersey mosque that had once been under surveillance by the NYPD under a program that Mayor de Blasio discontinued.
Under the program, plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and cataloged Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.
DuBois asked if the city could fight future threats while not infringing on civil rights. De Blasio said his administration is working to do just that.
"Yes, we can prevent terror by intelligence gathering. We can prevent terror by building close relationships with communities all over the city," he said.
He said the NYPD surveillance program that focused on mosques and Muslim communities alienated police officers from the people it needed information from, and also violated rights.
Malliotakis — who currently serves in the New York State Assembly — did not endorse or denounce the discontinued surveillance program. But she countered that the solution is to give police officers "the tools that we need to do their job," and said there should be "no limits to their ability when they get their lead."
She said no group or religion should be targeted, but if the lead is credible, police should be given "the resources needed to do their job."
But Dietl said "yes" to surveillance when it comes to terror prevention.
"What we have to have is effective community relations, but as far as this profiling thing, worrying about it – well, look at it. Just look at this terrorist; what he looks like?"
He said the city "can't have political correctness all the time."
DuBois also noted that the truck attack on Tuesday was similar in its execution to attacks in Nice, France; Berlin; London and other cities worldwide. He asked de Blasio why the city has not taken proactive measures such as putting up bollards ahead of time at sensitive locations.
De Blasio responded that first under Commissioner Bill Bratton and now under Commissioner James O'Neill, the NYPD has resolved to increase the number of officers focused on anti-terror activities. He noted that 2,000 more officers have been added to patrols over the last few years, and a focus on terrorism has been increased based on events overseas.
He also noted that through traffic is no longer allowed during parades and blocker trucks full of sand have been set up to prevent the routes. Bollards have also been placed in some sensitive locations, de Blasio said.
He noted in particular that extra bollards were set up in Times Square after a driver mowed down several people there in May — killing one and injuring 22 more.
"We change constantly with the times," de Blasio said.
But Dietl said the security measures in place are not sufficient, taking a swipe at de Blasio and saying he is "a person that actually takes the subway, not for photo opportunities." Dietl said the crowds in the subway can also be vulnerable.
For her part, Malliotakis said she would have an administration that will be "proactive, not reactive."
"We will have bollards where necessary," she said, adding that talon nets should also be set up to shred a dangerous driver's tires before anyone is struck.
The debate grew heated when it came the issue of crime and prevention. DuBois noted that Malliotakis has repeatedly said felony sexual crimes are up 25 percent in the past three years, while official statistics only show the numbers up 4 percent. Malliotakis said the 4 percent number is only with regard to rapes, and said her numbers come from COMPSTAT statistics.
De Blasio defended the police force and said crime is down across the board. He also said he had never been able to find the statistic about felony sex crimes that Malliotakis was talking about.
"I have asked the NYPD continuously, and here's what we know. Crime has gone down for four straight years," de Blasio said. He added that "the NYPD takes crime against women very seriously."
But Dietl then accused de Blasio of "fudging the numbers" when it comes to crime – focusing specifically on crime in schools. Dietl said Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237 representing school safety officers, had reported that the officers he represents have been told they will lose vacation days if they make complaints with police.
He said Floyd should be put under oath before the City Council on the matter.
De Blasio protested: "We should not be listening to statistics made up by union leaders. We should be listening to the NYPD," since police are in charge of school safety.
The mayor said crime and violence are down in schools over five years. He noted the tragedy in which Matthew McCree, 15, was stabbed to death at his Bronx school in September, but also noted that it was the first time in 25 years that a child suffered a violence death in the classroom.
But Malliotakis said schools are not safe, and said most teachers report they do not feel safe in their classrooms. She also accused de Blasio of removing authority from teachers and principals to control their classrooms thanks to changes in discipline reporting methods, and said students are now comfortable bringing weapons and drugs to schools, bullying other students, and disrespecting teahcers.
De Blasio was later asked about recent testimony by onetime donor Jona Rechnitz. In testimony at the bribery trial of former correction officers' union head Norman Seabrook, Rechnitz has repeatedly accused de Blasioof taking part in pay-to-play politics.
De Blasio has dismissed Rechnitz as a liar repeatedly, and in the debate, he did it again.
"What we now know about him, we didn't know then. He is a liar. He is a felon. Don't believe anything he says," de Blasio said.
De Blasio said Rechnitz was a donor who provided resources at one point, but they did not have a personal relationship, though Rechnitz has talked in testimony his weekly contact with de Blasio, through email, texts, phone calls and communication through the mayor's Campaign Finance Director Ross Offinger.
DuBois asked if de Blasio would release his phone records. De Blasio responded: "This matter has been fully investigated by the federal authorities. They took no further action."
In firing back, Dietl accused de Blasio of corruption and suggested that the mayor should face prosecution.
"When I saw [Rechnitz] testify, I wanted to take a shower. This guy [Rechnitz] is a creep. He's disgusting," Dietl said. He went on to say the mayor had received $200,000 from Rechnitz, but said the mayor yet claimed not to know the former donor.
"You want the people of New York to think we're that stupid that you don't know this guy?" he said.
Dietl said the governor should bring in a special prosecutor "against you," directing his comments at the mayor. He also said the Attorney General should bring in the Department of Justice.
"This city is corrupt like heck," Dietl said.
Malliotakis said the Rechnitz issue was not the only suggestion of pay-to-play in the de Blasio administration.
"I think the question for the public is if they want a mayor who looks for that little loophole; a way to skirt the law and get an intended outcome for him and his friends," Malliotakis said.
The debate was sponsored by CBS2 and TV 10/55, 1010 WINS, WCBS 880, the New York Daily News, Common Cause New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, and CUNY.