Yes, there were the usual questions focusing on term limits, pensions, education and temperament. But after dozens of forums over the last few months for mayoral candidates, Tuesday night’s back-to-back debates earned the distinction of coming up with an apparent original: What would you do to punish men who patronize prostitutes?
The question surprised the candidates, as well as the crowd of more than 600 at Pace University in Lower Manhattan, which sponsored the debates with the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women.
In the first debate, for Republican candidates, the two participants argued for tougher penalties. Joseph J. Lhota, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said bluntly that “johns need to be prosecuted.”
“I have no problem publishing the names of people who were arrested for soliciting a prostitute,” Mr. Lhota continued, before calling for “a john list every day in the newspaper.”
Adolfo Carrión Jr., a former Bronx borough president, went further, saying he would publish their license plate numbers.
About an hour later, it was the Democrats’ turn, and the moderator, Joyce Purnick, a former metropolitan editor of The New York Times, took note of Edward I. Koch’s controversial directive as mayor to a public radio station to read the names of convicted male customers on air, during what was called “The John Hour.”
Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said she disagreed with publicizing the names: “I don’t support reading names or putting them on the Internet.”
Instead, Ms. Quinn said that she favored an “incredibly effective” program in Brooklyn, set up by Charles B. Hynes, the district attorney, that forces “johns” to sit through a program intended to deter bad behavior. “That’s way worse than having it read on the radio.”
Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, and William C. Thompson Jr., a former comptroller, agreed with Ms. Quinn that the names should not be publicized, with Mr. de Blasio saying, “I don’t think that’s the way to be able to end things or change things.”
Only John C. Liu, the comptroller, agreed with Mr. Lhota: “I support the concept.”
But Mr. Liu joked that he did have a problem with the name — “john” — and suggested that the male customers be called “Bills” instead, at least for the night, since there were two Bills on stage.