New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Democratic mayoral challenger Sal Albanese sparred at length Wednesday night over several topics, including City Hall’s role in helping fund the struggling mass-transit system.

They debated on a day in which three incidents disrupted service on 11 subway lines.

De Blasio, seeking a second term and running again on a social-justice theme, re-emphasized his support for a millionaire’s tax, which he said could raise up to $820 billion annually over five years to benefit city operations within the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees subway and bus service.

“It’s lasting and will really get to the heart of the matter,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said of his proposed millionaire's tax. Bloomberg News

“It’s lasting and will really get to the heart of the matter,” de Blasio said at the Symphony Space performing arts center on the Upper West Side. “I’d like that to be a permanent tax. You could use that to bond. You could get billions more from that.”

The funding would backstop $200 million for half-price MetroCards for lower-income residents, said the mayor.

De Blasio also called on New York State to replenish roughly $500 million it has taken from dedicated MTA accounts over the years to balance its own general fund.

He said a state Senate flip toward the Democrats would enhance chances of passage.

Albanese, a former City Council member from Brooklyn making his third run for City Hall, called de Blasio’s attitude toward transit “one of his dereliction of duties” and said the millionaire’s tax would be dead on arrival in Albany.

“I want to be the mass transit mayor," said Albanese. "The mayor is a junior partner [to the governor], albeit.

“Bottom line is you have to use the bully pulpit. Increase the city’s share like I would. The city has never done its fair share. Then go to the governor and say governor, we’ve done our fair share, please join us.”

MTA chairman Joseph Lhota and the leadership of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 want the city to draw from its $4 billion in reserves to contribute to mass transit.

Albanese favors the MoveNY congestion pricing plan, which de Blasio opposes. The plan would toll now-free East River bridges and impose a surcharge on vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street while reducing tolls on outer-borough bridges. Supporters say it could generate roughly $1.5 billion in pay-as-you-go funding and up to $15 billion through bonding.

On other matters, de Blasio defended the city's record on budgeting.

“It took the hard work to balance the budgets, to have the greatest levels of reserves in the city’s history and to get 99% of the labor force under contract,” the mayor said.

Albanese called de Blasio’s housing initiative a failure. “It’s a Band-Aid approach,” he said. “His housing policies have produced serious displacement.”

The two also dueled over the mayor’s plan to close the 85-year-old Rikers Island prison over 10 years and move inmates to smaller facilities across the boroughs at an estimated cost of $11 billion. De Blasio said he based the timeframe on the findings of an independent commission.

Albanese said he would appoint a commission “that’s not in Maine most of the time.”

De Blasio and Albanese will square off in the Sept. 12 primary, with the winner to face Republican state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis from Staten Island in the Nov. 7 general election.

Earlier Wednesday, Malliotakis labeled de Blasio as too beholden to donors and friends. She called the mayor’s relationship with lobbyist James Capalino “disturbing.”

Malliotakis called for a ban prohibiting lobbyists from bundling campaign contributions, public disclosure of all city employees lobbied on behalf of a client and a prohibition on city officials soliciting lobbyists, and lobbyists from offering city officials funding for ceremonies and events.

“Today I’m asking a simple question. Who is the mayor of New York City? Is it Bill de Blasio or is it James Capalino?,” she said at a press conference outside 45 Rivington St., the site of a former Lower East Side nursing home flipped to luxury-housing developers.

Capalino, the chief executive of namesake lobbying firm Capalino + Co., has been a financial contributor and bundler of donations to de Blasio’s campaign and to organizations that include the mayor’s now defunct Campaign for One New York. According to Malliotakis, Capalino tripled his fee generation since de Blasio took office.

De Blasio defended his track record on transparency. "Past administrations haven't disclosed all sorts of things," he said.

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”