New York Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his administration's record on budgeting during Tuesday night's raucous debate against two challengers who called his record on finances reckless.
"We have the largest reserves [$4 billion] we've ever had in the New York City budget. We have the highest bond ratings we've ever had. We're fiscally responsible," Democratic nominee de Blasio said during the 90-minute exchange with his challengers, Republican state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis from Staten Island and independent Bo Dietl, a media personality and former city police detective turned entrepreneur.
The reserve buildup, he said, is to "specifically protect us against a downturn or some of the pernicious things we see happening in Washington."
The three frequently interrupted one another before a noisy crowd at the Symphony Space performing arts center on the Upper West Side.
Malliotakis and Dietl said taxpayers have been shortchanged while the city's budget rose to $85 billion from $70 billion, a spike that has alarmed budget watchdogs.
"I spent seven years in the General Assembly, half of which was when Shelly Silver was speaker. I know mismanagement," said Malliotakis. Democrat Silver forfeited his seat when a federal court convicted him in 2015 on corruption charges. An appeals court in July overturned the conviction.
"The mayor has spent $15 billion more but our roads are still broken, our subways aren't running and we have a homeless crisis," she said.
Dietl, whose screaming throughout the debate prompted moderator and NY1 host Errol Louis at one point to cut off his microphone temporarily, called out de Blasio for "$25 million-plus of consultants and special assistants that he tells nobody what they do."
Asked about his plans to improve education, Dietl said: "First, I'd make sure the mayor cannot accept $350,000 in contributions from the teacher's union. Maybe that's why we can't do anything."
Drawing on his law enforcement background, Dietl called for the city's Department of Education to adopt an efficiency metric akin to NYPD's CompStat, which focuses on problem neighborhoods. "I'd also ban the cellphones from the damn classroom," said Dietl. "Let kids learn."
De Blasio sought to make the election a referendum on President Trump. Dietl said he was a registered Democrat who voted for Trump but opposes many of his actions and called him a "lying narcissist." Malliotakis defended herself against suggestions that she has flip-flopped on Trump.
The three varied on transit. De Blasio repeated his call for a millionaire's tax to provide funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-run agency that operates the city's subways and buses. State lawmakers must approve that measure.
De Blasio also defended his move not to contribute an additional $400 million toward the first phase of the MTA's planned $856 subway improvement plan, saying the state over the years diverted roughly $450 million of dedicated transit money to balance the state's general fund.
"Are you afraid of Gov. Cuomo?" Malliotakis asked de Blasio.
"I'm very comfortable taking on the governor when he's wrong and very comfortable working him when he's doing the right thing," said the mayor, whom Cuomo has endorsed despite repeated friction between the two.
Dietl compared the poor condition of transit infrastructure to school buses that lack brakes. "Before any capital spending, I'd fix what we have now."
De Blasio was far ahead in a recent Quinnipiac University poll that surveyed 731 city residents from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4.
The next debate is scheduled for Nov. 1, six days before the election, at the City College of New York Graduate Center.