Photo courtesy of Council of Senior Centers and Services.
What could have been a quiet forum on issues critical to seniors in New York City became one of the ugliest political showdowns so far in the 2013 election cycle.
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose entry into the race in late May upended the crowded Democratic field, was the target of some of the sharpest attacks in memory from rivals during todays mid-morning forum hosted by the Council of Senior Centers and Services at New York University.
Democratic mayoral longshot Sal Albanese aimed squarely at Weiner for his 1996 Council vote in support of rent deregulation, drowning out questions from moderator and City Limits editor Jarrett Murphy on elder abuse, public transportation and emergency policy post-Superstorm Sandy.
"My good friend Tony Weiner was on the Council at the same time and he promised tenants and neighbors that he was going to vote against vacancy decontrol," Albansese said. And at the last minute he turned around and voted for vacancy decontrol while he stands up here and talks about affordable housing."
Albanese didnt let up even as the audience began reacting to his direct attack on Weiner.
"Policies have consequences," he said as the around 300 crowd members began to murmur. Anybody can get up and make great speeches at election time and not be accountable for their past performance."
Weiner, one of the leading candidates across major citywide polls, didnt take well to Albaneses retelling of the vote.
Weiner explained that the vote he cast wasnt an easy one and that Albany was ultimately responsible for loosening rent control and stabilization laws.
"Look, Ive been confronting demagogues my entire career. Im not going to stop now, and when Im mayor Im going to have to confront them," Weiner said of Albanese before defending his vote. I thought that if I had my druthers between no one getting any coverage and having some wealthier people not getting any more coverage — that choice is clear."
Weiner went on to demonstrate his independence and ability to compromise for the greater good by pointing to his leadership on the federal Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare. Thats when he opened himself up to a new line of attack from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
"Anthony, you didnt get Obamacare — President Obama got Obamacare," de Blasio said to a smattering of applause from the audience. I know you have a tendency to think the world revolves around you, but it was the president."
De Blasio, usually the subject of Albaneses attacks himself, joined the chorus against Weiners Council vote, calling the vote a huge error" and one of the reasons the city is facing an affordable housing shortage.
"Just own it," he added, before accusing Weiner of often deferring to the citys real estate industry.
Weiner pushed back on de Blasios interpretation of events, accusing De Blasio, also a former Councilman, of not understanding what real responsibility to constituents is about — something the public advocates office is not familiar with, since I dont know what the responsibility is of the public advocate," Weiner said.
Things got even more contentious when Albanese jumped in a second time, this time going for the lowest blow of the morning.
"As mayor, you have to keep your word, you have to be true to your word," Albanese said before the audience rebelled with loudening boos and moans. He lied, as he lied about his texting scandal on CNN."
The crowd of older New Yorkers were receptive to all of the forums guests, which also included supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis — who reiterated his liberal Republican" moniker — and Comptroller John Liu.
Neither of the Democratic fields two other frontrunners, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, were at the event, nor were Republican candidates Joe Lhota and George McDonald. Conservative Democrat Erick Salgado was confirmed to attend but didnt show up.
Still, the forums onlookers swarmed around Weiner long after the event ended.
"Everything always sounds wonderful," said attendee Sylvia Cohen of Forest Hills, Queens. They dont do their job, and we seniors have paid our dues. We are continuing to pay our dues, and were getting shortchanged. We need a clean slate, starting with the very top all the way down."
When a reporter asked if Cohen knew who she would vote for, she declined to elaborate. A second reporter asked if the candidate used to represent her Congress. Cohen bit her lips and timidly nodded her head before turning around to see Weiner.
"Sylvia!" Weiner exclaimed. Nice to see you! How are you?"
"I miss you," Cohen told the candidate.
"I miss you too," Weiner told her. I miss you too."
— Chester Soria