NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department's use of the stop-and-frisk tactic, a defining issue in the city's mayoral campaign, was the focus of a prickly Republican mayoral debate.
The three GOP contenders were asked Wednesday night what they would do if their own child was stopped. The candidates all support the practice. Front-runner Joe Lhota said one of his first moves would be to read his daughter the Supreme Court decision that legalizes the practice.
"I (would) give her Terry v. Ohio which was given by Chief Justice (Earl) Warren in 1968 that gives officers the opportunity, based on certain levels of suspicion, to stop someone," Lhota said. He added that he would become upset only if the officer did not follow procedure.
His chief rival, John Catsimatidis, said he believed the tactic would soon be replaced by improvements in technology. And the third candidate, George McDonald, said his son "wouldn't be stopped" since he lives in an affluent neighborhood.
The tactic's supporters, which include Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believe it has driven down crime. Its critics, who include all of the Democratic candidates for mayor, say it discriminates against blacks and Latinos. The Republican mayoral candidates all are white.
A judge has ordered a federal monitor to oversee the practice. The night was punctuated by several testy exchanges over the best methods for maintaining the city's record-low crime rates. Lhota deemed the funding for Catsimaditis' plan to station a police officer in high-crime public housing buildings as unrealistic.
"I was budget director of the City of New York," said Lhota, who worked in former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration and was also head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. "Don't make up numbers."
When Catsimatidis, who is bidding to become the city's second consecutive billionaire mayor, sharply denied that claim, Lhota exclaimed "Why are you so angry?" "I'm not," Catsimatidis yelled. The one-hour debate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York was the first of two in the final 13 days before the primary. It took place the same day a poll showed that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has opened up a significant lead over the Democratic field.
The poll showed de Blasio at 36 percent, just four points shy of the threshold that would prevent a run-off election. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was in second at 21 percent, followed by ex-comptroller Bill Thompson with 21 percent.
On the Republican side, Catsimatidis remains within striking distance of Lhota. In a recent Marist College survey, he trailed Lhota 33 percent to 22 percent, though the small sample size of just 132 likely Republican primary voters produced a margin of error of 8.5 points. Additionally, 30 percent were undecided.
Catsimatidis, who is worth $3 billion and owns an oil refinery and the Gristedes supermarket chain, has already spent $4 million of his own money in the race and is promising more. Catsimatidis and McDonald, who founded a non-profit to help the homeless find jobs, also had several verbal dust-ups, one of which prompted McDonald to quote Lloyd Bentsen from his 1988 vice presidential debate with Dan Quayle.
"I know Mike Bloomberg," McDonald said. "Mike Bloomberg is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Mike Bloomberg." Catsimatidis laughed, saying "He's certainly worth a lot more money than I am." There were a few other light moments, including when the candidates were asked if they would follow Bloomberg's lead and serve for $1.
Lhota and McDonald quickly said no. Catsimatidis said he'd serve for 99 cents "because I'm a grocer." The primary is Sept 10. The general election, which will also include independent Adolfo Carrion Jr., is Nov. 5.