An attack on the Quinn campaign from de Blasio, and a de Blasio supporter

De Blasio at a press event outside St. Vincent's. (Reid Pillifant)
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The mayor's race came to blows on Monday morning.

At a chaotic counter–press conference that featured supporters of Christine Quinn defending her work to save St. Vincent's Hospital, an elderly supporter of Bill de Blasio came unhinged, screaming at the speakers and slapping both a state senator and a Quinn volunteer.

State Senator Brad Hoylman and former state senator Tom Duane had attempted to defend Quinn's record, over the jeers of a couple dozen anti-Quinn agitators, throughout the event, which had been scheduled for 11 a.m., after de Blasio had announced a noon press conference at the same site, to tout his work to save the city's hospitals.

Duane was taking a final question from the press when George Capsis, the publisher of WestView News, got in Duane's face as he was speaking, calling him a "fatuous idiot" before retreating into the crowd where he slapped Hoylman on the face, and then used both hands to grab and slap a young volunteer for Quinn's campaign.

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When the press approached him after the event, Capsis told a female reporter from The New York Post, "You're very cute. Are you married?"

He then went on to explain his opposition to Quinn as a function of his wife's recent death.

"I have so much pent-up anger, I'm going to tell you something now that I wasn't prepared to tell you. My wife died two days ago," he said, with tears in his eyes. "She was at a hospital in the Bronx. I had to travel an hour and a half to get to see her. If this hospital had existed, I could have walked two blocks and spent time with her through the last hours of her life. That man—and the politicians like Quinn—turned their back on the community."

Asked whether it was fair to hit a volunteer for that, he said, "If you bring him over here, I'll hit him again."

Hoylman declined to press charges after the event, but the volunteer, who fled the scrum crying after the attack, was later seen explaining the incident to two police officers, who reportedly issued a violation to Capsis.

An hour later, de Blasio arrived to a cheering throng of 60 or so supporters, many of whom were members of SEIU 1199, which has endorsed his candidacy, and VOCAL NY, a local activist group.

De Blasio preemptively addressed the altercation, which he said "got a little heated."

"I want to emphasize that we have to be respectful, of course always peaceful in expressing our views," he said. "We're going to let people know what we think but we're going to respect people even when we disagree with them. There's no problem in a democracy having strong differences of opinion so long as we keep it respectful."

De Blasio has long assailed Quinn's role in the decline of St. Vincent's, and he sought to contrast his activism, which included a theatrical arrest to save Long Island College Hospital, with her record on St. Vincent's.

As Quinn's supporters had attempted to point out, the two are very different situations, with St. Vincent's having been a private entity that owed massive debts, while LICH is a state institution that could, conceivably, be saved by an injection of money, or a restructuring by the state government in Albany.

Earlier, Duane had told me that de Blasio was "M.I.A." when it came to advocating for St. Vincent's, and Hoylman said Quinn was "the only one" who had worked on this issue in the mayor's race.

"I'm going to use as diplomatic language I can: that is simply a lie," de Blasio said when asked about the criticism.

"I can go chapter and verse over the meetings I attended, the rallies I attended, the efforts I made to save St. Vincent's; the two conversations I had with Mayor Bloomberg pleading with him to do his job and step in and intervene to St. Vincent's, both times rebuffed; the discussions I had with Mt. Sinai about their potential role in saving St. Vincent's," he added.

De Blasio also gestured at the construction of new residences acorss the street, mocking the "urgent need for luxury condos," and made a populist pitch for his hospital advocacy.

"Usually the losers when hospitals close are working people, low-income people, people of color," he said to cheers from the crowd of mostly union members.

"Let me take a public opinion survey of this crowd: do we need more luxury condos?" he asked. "Anybody here looking to buy your luxury condo? Is the most important thing to you that there be another luxury condo?"

"Noooo," the crowd chanted each time.

He was joined by two of his celebrity supporters, Cynthia Nixon and Susan Sarandon, who each own luxury apartments in the area. (Sarandon owns a $1.75 million apartment just down the block from St. Vincent's, and Nixon lives on the other side of the Village in an apartment she reportedly purchased last year for $3.25 million.)

Sarandon fielded a question of her own after the event, about a New York Post story this morning that reported she had rallied against a proposed expansion of the hospital.

Sarandon said that was a "very old architectural plan that had been explained to everybody was outdated, and also there had been no surveys taken in terms of impact for the area. I don't know anything that happened after that, because I wasn't involved in anything that had to do with that. But I'm certainly a proponent of health care for everyone and I certainly would rather have a hospital in my area."

Later in the day, Quinn issued the following statement about the slapping incidents: "I am deeply upset over the reports I have received about acts of violence directed at a campaign intern and State Senator Brad Hoylman at a campaign event they held on my behalf this morning. There is no place in this City –let alone a political campaign –for violence or intimidation of any kind. I condemn in the strongest possible terms any individual, group, or campaign that would commit or condone such repugnant behavior, and would urge every campaign or individual involved in the mayor’s race to do the same.

"I want to extend my sincerest appreciation to Senator Hoylman, his 2 year-old daughter, Senator Tom Duane, our local community supporters who were in attendance, and my staff for the grace and professionalism that they showed in the face of such abhorrent behavior. I am pleased to say that while shaken up, everyone is doing fine.”