NEW YORK — As the unpredictable and contentious Democratic mayoral primary moved into its final week, the candidates squared off for one last debate Tuesday and took turns bashing the contender threatening to turn the race into a rout.
Appropriately positioned at center stage, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, who stands 6-foot-5, towered over his rivals and tried to deflect their relentless attacks.
City Comptroller John Liu said de Blasio had "a problem with credibility." He twisted de Blasio's campaign theme of "A tale of two cities" into "we may have a city of two tales" if the public advocate is elected.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn went after de Blasio for accepting donations from landlords he placed on a list of the city's worst slumlords.
And ex-comptroller Bill Thompson said de Blasio flip-flopped on several issues, including term limits, an expanded taxi plan and discretionary funds allotted to City Council members.
"It's time for you to be honest with the people of the City of New York," Thompson said.
De Blasio denied the charges, saying his stances on issues were as "clear as a bell."
A poll released hours earlier ensured de Blasio would be wearing a bull's-eye during the 90-minute debate. The Quinnipiac University survey said de Blasio was the choice of 43 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, the highest mark any candidate has achieved and beyond the 40 percent threshold that would prevent a runoff.
If no candidate passes that mark on the Sept. 10 primary, the top two finishers advance to a runoff three weeks later. Thompson and Quinn are de Blasio's closest challengers, hovering at around 20 percent.
The debate often descended into an angry free-for-all, as the candidates alternated bashing each other with attacking the moderators, who tried to keep them to strict time limits.
Many of the candidates tried to minimize de Blasio's agenda, including his signature proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. Oddly, former congressman Anthony Weiner, who led the race until his support collapsed amid his latest sexting scandal, came to de Blasio's defense more than once.
Weiner seemed to relish his position on the outskirts of the race, firing off many of the night's best lines.
He acknowledged his foibles, saying he was an "imperfect messenger" for many of his ideas, but defended his congressional record, even saying he beat Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., "like a rented mule" during a debate over health benefits for Sept. 11 first responders. King has frequently disagreed with that assessment.
Momentum for de Blasio, who's white, appears connected to an ad campaign centered on his interracial family, his headline-grabbing arrest while protesting the possible closure of a Brooklyn hospital and the defection of Weiner's former supporters.
De Blasio leads Quinn, who's trying to be the city's first female mayor, among women 44 percent to 19 percent. And he leads Thompson, the race's lone black candidate, 47 percent to 25 percent among black voters.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 750 likely Democratic primary voters. The margin of error is 3.6 percentage points. Weiner is at 7 percent, Liu at 4 percent.
The Democratic winner will face the Republican nominee and an independent in the general election on Nov. 5. Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg is serving the last of three consecutive terms.