Mayoral Debate: How High Should the Minimum Wage Be?

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Hector Gomez works at a car wash. He makes $5.50 an hour, he says. He’s supposed to get tips, he told the Thursday night mayoral debate at First Corinthian Baptist Church. Yesterday, he got $3 in tips.

This prompted a discussion on the city’s minimum wage, with most candidates backing President Obama’s call for a $9 minimum wage.

Comptroller John Liu, playing to a friendly crowd that sounded like it was booing but was really chanting his name, aimed higher. “$9 buys you a lot more in Buffalo than it does here or in Brooklyn or the Bronx. In New York we need a minimum wage to $11.50 an hour.” The crowd grew friendlier.

So host Brian Lehrer asked the other candidates to react: Was $11.50 too high?

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson began his answer: “I’d like to say get the minimum wage to $20 or $25 an hour,” and the crowd went wild. He quickly made clear that wasn’t what he’s proposing, because it would never happen. “Let’s get something done.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he’d support a broader living wage of $10 for jobs that pay benefits and $11.50 for those that don’t, but supports a $9 minimum wage. So does Speaker Christine Quinn, who also called for a wage indexed to inflation.

Publisher Tom Allon echoed Quinn, adding that sick leave and other benefits are other parts of the compensation picture that need to be looked at.

Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion also supported the $9 wage and indexing.

Former Brooklyn Councilman Sal Albanese supported a rise in the wage but warned against going too high because, “There are a lot of small businesses in the city that operate on a very slim margin.”