NEW YORK (AP) — At 6-foot-5, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio presented a big target for his Democratic rivals to hurl attacks at during the final debate a week ahead of the mayoral primary.
And hurl they did.
Over the course of the 90-minute televised debate Tuesday night, de Blasio was challenged on his credibility, accused of being a flip-flopper on several issues, criticized for accepting campaign contributions from landlords that he placed on the city's worst slumlords list and critiqued for pushing policy goals that would require approval from state legislators in Albany.
But de Blasio, who just hours earlier learned a new poll put him beyond the threshold that would prevent a runoff, denied the various charges against him, saying his stances on issues were as "clear as a bell."
"This is a city that has always believed in big, bold ideas...progressive changes that help people," he said. "The notion that we can't go to Albany and we can't get what we deserve is old thinking."
A Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday showed that de Blasio was the choice of 43 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, the highest mark any candidate has achieved all campaign and, notably, more than the 40 percent threshold that would prevent an automatic runoff. If no candidate passes that mark on the Sept. 10 primary, the top two finishers advance to a runoff three weeks later.
Still, as the unpredictable and contentious primary race moves into its final week, the candidates took turns bashing de Blasio.
City Comptroller John Liu said de Blasio had "a problem with credibility," asking how New Yorkers could trust him. He twisted de Blasio's campaign theme of "A tale of two cities" into "we may have a city of two tales" if the public advocate is elected.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn went after him for accepting donations from landlords that he placed on a list of the city's worst slumlords.
And ex-comptroller Bill Thompson claimed he flip-flopped on several issues, from term limits to an expanded taxi plan to discretionary funds allotted to city council members.
"It's another example of (de Blasio) saying one thing and doing something else when it's politically expedient for him," said Thompson. "It's time for you to be honest with the people of the City of New York."
The testy debate often descended into an angry free-for-all, as the candidates alternated bashing each other with attacking the moderators, who attempted to keep them to strict time limits.
Many of the candidates tried to minimize de Blasio's agenda, including his signature proposal to raise the taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. That plan would need the approval of the state legislature.
"We can't have pie-in-the-sky promises," Quinn said. She warned that his ideas would "die on the rocks in Albany."
Momentum for de Blasio, who's white, appears connected to an ad campaign centered on his interracial family, his headline-grabbing arrest while protesting the possible closure of a Brooklyn hospital and the defection of candidate Anthony Weiner's former supporters.
De Blasio leads Quinn, who's trying to be the city's first female mayor, among women 44 percent to 19 percent. And he leads Thompson, the race's lone black candidate, 47 percent to 25 percent among black voters.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 750 likely Democratic primary voters. The margin of error is 3.6 percentage points. Weiner is at 7 percent, Liu at 4 percent.
The eventual Democratic winner will face the Republican nominee and independent Adolfo Carrion Jr. in the general election on Nov. 5.