National Action Network House of Justice Headquarters (291512)
Credit: Google Maps

When and how New York City’s mayoral candidates arrived at the National Action Network’s forum on Wednesday, from the silent, practically inconspicuous appearance of Shaun Donovan to the loud entourage that accompanied Eric Adams, was some indication of their popularity and ranking in the upcoming primary.

Many attendees at the event expected a debate format, but what occurred was one-on-one conversations with NAN’s president the Rev. Al Sharpton, and each of the candidates were hit with the same questions, beginning with their feelings about the date that marked the anniversary of the killing of George Floyd. There were no surprises here and each of them expressed a similar concern about Floyd’s death and how it impacted them personally and the nation generally.

Donovan, a former HUD secretary in the first Obama administration, repeated some of what he had experienced earlier when he was arrested in a peaceful demonstration in downtown Manhattan and charged with disorderly conduct. He said Floyd was calling out to his mother as the convicted Derek Chauvin kneed him to death. “This is a day that every New Yorker should be standing up for,” he said.

“And I would appoint a police commissioner of color,” he added when Sharpton posed the question.

Ray McGuire was next to the podium and of the candidates his workers were very visible up and down 145th Street passing out literature and asking pedestrians to support “Ray for Mayor.” McGuire responded to the questions with answers that rarely departed from the comments delivered at an earlier debate and under questioning by various newspapers. “It’s not about me, it’s about We,” he told Sharpton about the approach to his policies. But the former Citigroup vice chair got the best round of applause on his “cradle-to-career” plan, explaining educational support for all children from pre-kindergarten through graduation and into the workforce.

“It’s time for a change,” Scott Stringer stressed in his session with Sharpton, and he made it clear to the audience of his long and enduring connection to the National Action Network, including his numerous appearances there. The crowd reacted warmly when he announced that he would place two teachers in every classroom. He said, “We gotta get it right” when he discussed his overall community safety program.

Maya Wiley, who at one time was Mayor de Blasio’s counsel, was most effective when she personalized her political background and the activist commitment of her late father, George Wiley. After opening her moment with “We need more jobs,” she noted the terrible number of women who are dying giving birth. And, she added, “We have got to stop the large number of evictions.”

Even before Eric Adams said a word there was a thunderous round of applause and cheers. He was clearly a favorite for the crowd, half of which left after his presentation. And he laid it out with his being abused by the police as a young person, advocating for police reform, and explaining what measures can be taken to reduce the upsurge in gun violence. As he said during his interview with the Amsterdam News, “We have to look beyond the violence in our streets” and the flow of guns from outside the city’s borders. This would be a theme highlighting Kathryn Garcia’s time with Sharpton, as she emphasized “stopping the iron pipeline.”

Interestingly, though Garcia and Andrew Lang were the last candidates at the forum, they are both doing very well in the spate of polling, with Garcia now replacing Yang at the top. Yang told the audience that he would prefer having a person of color as police commissioner, and before he could complete his other policy plans, a protester stood with a sign and a vocal outburst denouncing him. The person was hustled out of the room while still yelling various rebukes.

That eruption gave the forum a break from an increasingly tired routine in which a debate format might have enlivened. Moreover, with each candidate given some thirty minutes to merely repeat what they had said was only new for those who have not been keeping up with the mayoral run, and that may be thousands of New Yorkers. To that end it was informative, and Diane Morales’ no show, according to one attendee, certainly helped to shorten what had already been a pretty long and less than entertaining evening.