They may all be Democrats, but those tensions reached a rolling boil between front runners Eric Adams and Andrew Yang.
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"You weren't on the ground, you started discovering NYCHA when you were running for mayor -- you discovered violence when you started running for mayor," Adams said to Yang. "You can't run from the city if you want to run the city."
Yang was quick to respond to Adams' criticism.
"We all know you've been investigated for corruption everywhere you've gone," Yang said. "City, state, even Bo's Department of Justice, you've achieved the rare trifecta of corruption investigations."
It wasn't all personal, but it was tough. Issue after issue exposed deep divisions on policing.
"I fought against stop and frisk for 20 years when I wore the uniform," Adams said.
"A lot of your proposals speak to a badge and a gun first, ask questions later," Stinger said.
With crime soaring citywide, more centrist candidates like Yang, Adams and Kathryn Garcia want to invest in police.
"We have gone from a pandemic of COVID to an epidemic of gun violence," Garcia said. "Make investments in the gun suppression unit to really look at the data and pinpoint where this is occurring."
While progressives like Stringer, Dianne Morales and Maya Wiley want to cut police.
"We are going to stop hiring the next two cadet classes we have a police department that is bloated a $6 billion budget," Wiley said.
It was raucous at times, the candidates repeatedly targeting Adams and Yang, clashing on the pandemic ravaged economy and the question of experience.
"Look at voters who have had decades of government experience how has that ended up now?" Ray McGuire said.
"I invite anyone on this stage to talk about track record cause I actually have one," Garcia said.
Prior to the debate, candidates spent the day stumping ahead of the televised and streaming event.
Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia responded to critiques from former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, saying he should worry about his own lack of a track record.
"Andrew is a lovely guy, but this a tough job that requires you to understand how government and unions work," she said. "But you don't need anyone in there looking for the light switch."
She, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and former US Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan all stopped at the place where another Asian woman was viciously attacked outside a restaurant in Chinatown, asking for more officers in response to increased hate crimes.
"We have a mental health crisis," Donovan said. "The number of people sleeping on our streets and shelters has doubled under Mayor (Bill) de Blasio."
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Yang was also in Chinatown Wednesday, advocating for the Asian community while responding to Garcia.
"I appreciate Kathryn and everything she's done for our city," he said. "And I think most new Yorkers are looking for a change and a different approach."
Yang was addressing what he calls the city's mental health crisis when a man shouting obscenities interrupted the press conference.
"In many cases, they need medication," Yang said. "They need a diagnosis. They need support. Having them walk around until something negative happens is the wrong approach."
That man was later handcuffed and taken away in an ambulance.
"I think it's clear that man was mentally ill and needed help and needed resources," Yang said. "He literally said to me, 'Can you stop the voices in my head?" I think our city needs to do a better job of identifying people who need help and delivering it to them."
The fight for City Hall continued across the bridge in Brooklyn, where Borough President Eric Adams rallied his supporters ahead of the debate.
"We need a mayor that has gone through a lot, so they can help people who are going through a lot," he said. "I am not new to this battle. I'm true to this battle. This is our moment. folks."
Activist and attorney Maya Wiley also held a rally Wednesday, with many of the candidates taking time in the afternoon to prepare for the debate before holding rallies in the moments leading up to taking the stage.
"I'm used to men telling me to shut up," Wiley said. "Anyone who wants to look at what I will do as mayor, I will not bring back Stop and Frisk that terrorized Black and Latino communities."
The mental health crisis along with crime and safety are expected to be the top topics at the debate, as the eight Democratic candidates hit the stage for their first in person debate.
Crowds gathered outside of WABC's studios ahead of Wednesday's New York City mayoral debate.
One person watching the race closely is current mayor, who says he wants to hear specifics from the candidates.
"Not just political answers or vague answers, but what about them as a human being is going to allow them to move forward," de Blasio said. "That's what I'm going to be listening for."
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