“1990s Democrats have lost almost every major battle to Mitch McConnell and Republicans. Trumpism is on the rise, even if we defeated Trump,” Patel said in his opening remarks of the 90-minute debate. “To defeat it, we need people with new ideas and energy. Tonight you’re going to hear two distinct arguments from three candidates: Two of them are going to be talking about the past, and I am going to be talking about the future.”
By contrast Maloney, who bested Patel’s last two attempts to unseat her, rolled out her resume in nearly every answer to highlight experience over change in an unpredictable race.
“Change does not come easily, but it will come if you never quit,” Maloney said in her introductory comments. She proceeded to tick off a list of accomplishments, from advocating for improved medical care for first responders to pushing for funding for the Second Avenue Subway extension.
The only woman on stage, she also repeatedly reminded viewers of her history supporting abortion rights, while Nadler noted he was endorsed by NARAL’s political arm.
For his part, Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, appeared to struggle at times to articulate his answers, though he evinced more confidence as the debate went on.
“I endorsed Carolyn, despite her unfortunate record on vaccines, because in a contest between you and her, I frankly thought she was the better candidate,” Nadler said when Patel asked why he supported Maloney in 2020, given her past skepticism about vaccines. “I still think so.”
Nadler and Maloney, who call each other friends despite their current rivalry, at times teamed up against Patel, though the long-time Upper West Side congressman pointed to policy differences he’s had with his House colleague.
He opposed both the U.S. invasion into Iraq and the post-Sept. 11 PATRIOT Act, both of which she supported; he embraced America’s Iran nuclear deal, which she opposed.
But the trio was largely aligned on policy in a primary contest that will all but certainly determine the ultimate winner in the deep-blue district.
All three agreed on the need to tackle climate change, though Patel called for more aggressive action than Nadler’s focus on seawalls. Each admonished the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of abortion protections and gun laws. They all took measured stances on police reform, said they feel safe riding the subway and opposed placing metal detectors in subway stations.
And each expressed varying degrees of concerns about casinos that are vying to open in the city.
“I do respect the hell out of your voting record,” Patel told Nadler at one point, when the elder representative asked him about the recent comment in a New York Times profile.
They also all supported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
One political area of disagreement: Whether President Joe Biden should run again in 2024.
Patel was the only candidate to declare he would back Biden. Nadler said it is “too early to say” and Maloney said she “doesn’t believe he’s running for re-election” — although Biden himself has indicated he will.
“The first rule of any debate is do no harm to yourself. The second rule in a Democratic debate in a deep-blue seat is don’t do anything that the Republicans will use to harm your president and his Democratic agenda,” said consultant Stu Loeser, who represented former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and is not working for anyone in this race. “The answers about Joe Biden tonight from some rather experienced Democrats were astounding on that count.”