Voter frustration mounted after candidates in the 1993 mayoral
election failed to meet in a public debate. In December 1996,
the City Council passed a law requiring candidates who run for
citywide office (mayor, public advocate, and comptroller) and join
the Campaign Finance Program to participate in a series of
debates. The purpose of the law, which was first in effect for the
1997 elections, is to ensure that citizens are provided the
opportunity to listen to candidates in forums that allow for
substantive discussions of the issues. Although the Debate
Program is administered by the CFB, the debates themselves are
sponsored by various media, educational, and civic groups, and
All candidates for citywide office who are on the ballot for the primary and/or general election; participate in the Campaign Finance Program; and meet, among other possible criteria, a minimal financial public support threshold are required to take part in one debate prior to the primary and/or general elections. Candidates deemed “leading contenders” participate in an additional debate prior to the election. If a run-off election is held for any of the citywide offices (because no candidate received at least 40% of the vote in the primary), a run-off debate is also held.
Uniform and objective criteria for determining minimal financial
public support criteria and leading contender status are set in
advance of the debates and agreed upon by the debate sponsors.
Candidates who are not participating in the Program may be
invited to debate, and if invited, are permitted but not required
to take part.
Organizations sponsoring one or more of the debates must not be
affiliated with any political party, candidate, or public official, and
they must not endorse any candidates for the pending primary or
general election before the debates for that election are held. The
CFB received a number of applications in early February and
applications, selecting organizations best able both
to reach a wide audience and to run a fair and impartial debate. In the debate schedule, the date, time, and broadcast information for each debate are listed.