NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his record on making New York more affordable and fighting for the city's residents in the first Democratic mayoral debate Wednesday, while opponent Sal Albanese said de Blasio has failed at handling the homelessness crisis and mass transit woes.
The debate was held Wednesday at Symphony Space, at 2537 Broadway on the Upper West Side. Albanese was the only other Democratic contender who raised enough money to qualify for the debates.
De Blasio defended his record on numerous fronts – including his pushes for affordable housing, pre-kindergarten for New York City children, and community policing.
The mayor said more than 2 million New Yorkers have benefited from a rent freeze on rent-stabilized apartments since he took office, and many have also benefited from free lawyers in the case of possible evictions.
But Albanese, who served in the City Council from 1983 until 1988 and also ran for mayor in 1997 and 2013, said de Blasio's efforts have backfired. He took the mayor to task in particular for the homelessness crisis.
"His housing policies have caused serious displacement all over the city," Albanese said.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the state of the subway system was also one of the main topics in the debate. Mayor de Blasio again pointed fingers at the state.
"I've made very clear that it's time for the state to step up and do the things it should have done decades ago to fix the basic operations of the MTA," de Blasio said. "The state of New York took almost a half billion dollars of MTA funds and diverted them. They need to put that money back."
But Albanese accused the mayor of passing the buck.
"For three and a half years, he took the stand that transit was not his job," Albanese said. "I had to personally shame him into taking the subway a couple of weeks ago."
Albanese also dismissed de Blasio's plan for a tax on the city's highest income earners to fund subway repairs, saying such a proposal is dead on arrival in Albany.
De Blasio countered, "We're going to have a Democratic Senate" that will pass the measure.
Meanwhile, de Blasio said the rising homeless population – now amounting to 59,000 – will take time to solve.
"It's not a new normal, but it's a battle that's going to take a long time to win," he said. "And we need to be honest about this. This is a structural problem."
He said the underlying issue is that the overall cost of housing in New York City has outpaced wages and benefits for too many people.
"It can get better. It will get better. We're going to turn the tide. But it's not going to be a snap-your-fingers kind of thing."
But Albanese said de Blasio's housing policies had made homelessness worse in the city.
"Bill de Blasio has contributed to making homelessness worse in New York City, and he's not building affordable housing," Albanese said. He referenced a young firefighter who won a lottery for an affordable housing unit that turned out to have a rent he couldn't afford.
Albanese said de Blasio never even met with his deputy mayor on the homelessness issue, perhaps because the mayor was at the gym.
Albanese did give de Blasio credit for reintroducing community policing in New York City, but not for the fact that crime is on the decline.
"Crime had started to go down the last year of Mayor Dinkins' term. It's been going down ever since. If Mickey Mouse was the mayor, we'd still have crime going down, because we have great police officers. We've got Compstat, and the city has become much wealthier."
But de Blasio said the fact that crime is dropping is a reflection of the fact that his NYPD policies are working.
Albanese also called de Blasio "the least transparent mayor in New York City history," and mentioned that the U.S. Attorney's and Manhattan District Attorney's offices – while not pressing charges – had said de Blasio had acted inappropriately in his campaign financing methods.
"I think we need a higher standard in a mayor than not being indicted," Albanese said.
But de Blasio said, "All those investigations – we were exonerated," and his focus has been on creating affordable housing, expanding pre-kindergarten, and other efforts.
One of the most heated exchanges came when Albanese faulted de Blasio for traveling overseas after the murder of NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia.
"I've never seen anything like that," Albanese said. "You should have stayed right here. You should have stayed.in the city. That was… an unnecessary freebie – that's what that was – at the time when the city needed you."
"Sal, you have not been paying attention," de Blasio said. "Sal, if you were interested, what the people of this city care about it results."
De Blasio also noted his plan to close Rikers Island, while Albanese said not enough has been done to fight violence going on at the jail complex now.
And while de Blasio has been a globetrotting mayor, punching his tickets to Italy, Israel, England, Puerto Rico and Germany with many ports of call around the world, at the debate he put to rest rumors that he would run for president in 2020.
"I'm running for one thing and one thing only – for reelection as mayor of New York City," de Blasio said. "I will serve for four full years."
Albanese took de Blasio to task for being absent from the city too often.
"He was out of the city 100 days," Albanese said. "I can tell you this – if Bill de Blasio gets reelected, the best job in the city will be his travel agent."
De Blasio's vow not to run for president in 2020 might be good news for Gov. Andrew Cuomo – but maybe not. Kramer reported de Blasio only said he wouldn't run – he did not say he wouldn't try to find someone to challenge Cuomo.
Other major issues the candidates discussed included congestion pricing, and the ethics of taking campaign contributions from real estate developers.
Errol Louis of NY1 moderated the debate Wednesday night. Panelists included Brian Lehrer of WNYC radio, Grace Rauh of NY1, Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias, and Laura Nahmias of Politico New York.
for more features.