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Candidates square off in final debate

October 28, 2009 7:43:37 AM PDT
The final debate of the campaign was extremely important for challenger Bill Thompson. The debate was held at our Channel 7 studios on Tuesday night, and seen live on Channel 7 and 7online.com.

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The mayor roared out of the starting gate, slamming Thompson for proposing five billion in new city expenses, claiming that means a tax hike.

"He said so many things I can't keep them straight who he wants to tax, but he's going to tax somebody," Bloomberg said. "My opponent's plans will raise taxes on everybody in this city and make this city a heck of a lot less affordable than it is today."

Thompson pointed out it was Bloomberg who raised taxes when he first became mayor. Thompson has pledged not to raise taxes, but it is true that he has not provided specific revenue proposals to pay for his approximately $4 billion in new programs, like universal full-day pre-kindergarten.

In the last debate two weeks ago, Thompson got high marks, but he needed more of the same tonight to close the gap.

The latest polling gives Bloomberg a double-digit lead. With the election just one week away, Thompson needs to make up ground quickly.

"For Thompson, he needs a game changer. The margin is wide, and it's been widening over our previous poll. He needs to do something to really re-direct a lot of voter attention in a big way," Lee Miringoff of Marist Poll said.

But observers noted that Thompson did not take advantage of several opportunities on Tuesday night. At one point, when asked for specifics on why he'd be a better mayor than Bloomberg, Thompson answered by saying Bloomberg has squeezed middle class New Yorkers out of the city.

Thompson said he would "work to make sure that New York stays an affordable city," but did not say how he would do so.

Bloomberg repeatedly sought to portray Thompson as an incompetent leader, as Board of Education president over the failing school system in the 1990s and as a mayoral candidate who has proposed billions of dollars of new spending without a way to pay for it.

"He didn't get the job done. He failed our students. He failed teachers. He failed the taxpayers. He failed our future," Bloomberg said.

At times Thompson seemed perturbed by the mayor.

"This constant distortion of my record at the Board of Education and spending an excessive amount of money to continue to lie to the people of New York needs to stop," Thompson said.

Thompson accused Bloomberg of being obsessed with test scores instead of real learning.

Bloomberg also ripped Thompson on a lack of job creation.

"The only jobs he's ever created are patronage jobs in the old Board of Education and maybe some money managers and placement agents," he said.

Thompson, for his part, tried to paint Bloomberg as an out-of-touch billionaire whose economic policies have been unfair to working people.

He pointed out that Bloomberg has also raised taxes, including in 2002 after he said he wouldn't during his 2001 campaign, and other times during his eight years in office.

"New Yorkers have watched you increase taxes year after year after year," Thompson said.

During one exchange, Thompson said his plan to bridge the city's budget deficit - projected to approach $5 billion next fiscal year - is to cut out "waste and fat in government."

Bloomberg responded that Thompson "was the comptroller for the last eight years, and if there was all this waste, it's a shame he didn't point it out back then," he said.

Thompson blasted Bloomberg for donating 26-thousand dollars to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who supports Bloomberg.

"This is the just a continuation of the worst kind of politics there is. This pay-to-endorse politics that Mike Bloomberg has engaged in." Thompson said.

Bloomberg has outspent Thompson by $85.2 million to $6 million so far. But how much Bloomberg has spent and how he changed the rules so he could run for a third term have not been issues connecting with voters. Many New Yorkers simply want to know more about Thompson and his plans, not about his complaints.

"It can't just be the money, Bloomberg's spending or the term limits. People know that. You've got to tell voters something they don't know about you and that has to be what you're doing to do as mayor," Miringoff said.

Near the end of this debate Thompson gave the mayor a stunning low grade.

"I think I'll be kind and give the mayor a D-minus," Thompson said.

And when Bloomberg was asked to grade Thompson he was nice.

"It has been a pleasure working with him. I just don't think he's the right guy to run the city. I think that I am," Bloomberg said.

Election Day is next Tuesday. You can count on Eyewitness News for complete coverage of the returns and the speeches on election night.

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