Anthony Weiner made his first debate appearance last night as a candidate for New York City mayor as a new poll found him gaining ground in the race.
The new Marist Poll found Weiner trailing his chief rival, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, 19 percent to Quinn’s 24 percent. That was a shift from a Marist Poll in April, when he trailed 15 percent to her 26 percent.
According to the latest poll, the remainder of the field continues to lag behind them, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at 12 percent, former Comptroller Bill Thompson at 11 percent and current Comptroller John Liu at 8 percent.
The poll came as Weiner made his first debate appearance as a full-fledged mayoral candidate at an education forum sponsored by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition of parent and teacher groups that has lobbied heavily against school reforms championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Quinn, a close ally of Bloomberg who backed many of his policies, was a last-minute no-show at the debate—an absence noted by organizers, who called her decision “a big mistake.”
The group said Quinn staffers had repeatedly said she would attend and that they had even scheduled the debate twice around her schedule. But Quinn canceled with no explanation over the Memorial Day weekend, organizers said.
“Quinn is running away from an opportunity to defend her record on education,” Billy Easton, a spokesman for the school group, said.
A spokesman for Quinn did not respond to a request for comment.
But Weiner was a last-minute addition to the debate lineup—agreeing to the appearance Monday after Quinn had informed the group she would not appear.
Arriving at the debate site, Weiner was immediately swarmed by dozens of reporters, who literally ran into each other as they sought to get close to the former congressman.
Weiner arrived on stage before his rivals, and for several minutes he sat at a table set up on a raised platform and answered questions as reporters took video and photos of him and jammed microphones into his face. During the debate, where he was asked questions by a mix of parents and a moderator, Weiner stood to answer each question—while his rivals remained seated.
“This is my first time seeing live fire in the campaign,” Weiner said in response to his first question.
With few genuine policy disagreements among those in the Democratic mayoral field, there were few pointed exchanges between the candidates. But at one point, former City Councilman Sal Albanese took a jab at Weiner, implying he was a late arrival to being involved in education policy.
“Welcome to the fight,” Albanese said, adding that Weiner had been in office “forever.”
“Thank you?” Weiner replied.
Later, the ex-lawmaker took a shot at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has criticized Weiner’s decision to run. Asked what he would do to help restore school funding stripped by state lawmakers in Albany, Weiner said he might “have to fight with Gov. Cuomo. But honestly, he started it.”
The appearance comes just a week after he officially declared his candidacy—nearly two years to the month after he was forced out of Congress after he was busted sexting women who were not his wife.
In announcing his bid, Weiner admitted that he had made “big mistakes” but asked voters to give him a “second chance.”
According to the Marist Poll, 53 percent of those polled said he deserves that “second chance,” while 39 percent said he does not have the “character” to be mayor. Eight percent were undecided. Meanwhile, Democrats were equally split on how they view Weiner: 44 percent said they view him “favorably,” while 44 view him “unfavorably.”
Neither Weiner or his rivals made any mention of the personal drama that forced him from office. But closing out his appearance, the ex-congressman spoke of the good relations and respect he hoped to forge between City Hall and New York City public school teachers if he wins the mayoral race.
“I want my teachers to say, ‘I respect that guy,'” he said.