The first hour of the debate, co-hosted by WABC-TV, aired on broadcast television and may have been the biggest stage yet for the mayoral candidates, though the station pre-empted the second hour with a game show, “Press Your Luck,” forcing viewers to switch to another channel or an online stream.
After months of staid online forums, the debate on Wednesday took on the trappings of a prize fight, with fans of the candidates holding rallies outside the Upper West Side television studio, waving signs, blaring music and mixing with the contenders.
Inside, several of the candidates appeared eager for confrontation. In the tense exchanges between Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams, Mr. Yang suggested that Mr. Adams’s advice about confronting others over the use of illicit fireworks led to a woman’s death, and Mr. Adams said at another point that people of color are “wrongly accused often in this country” and called on Mr. Yang to apologize for his insinuations on corruption.
Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller who maintained a low profile in the first debate, issued bitter denunciations of several of his rivals. “As your consultants have told you time and time again, they admit you are an empty vessel,” Mr. Stringer said to Mr. Yang, peering over his podium to address the former presidential candidate directly. “I actually don’t think you are an empty vessel. I think you are a Republican who continues to focus on the issues that will not bring back the economy.”
Mr. Stringer, who is casting himself as a progressive with deep government experience, also ripped Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, claiming she had been a “rubber stamp” for the Police Benevolent Association when she chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
And he suggested that Mr. Adams and others believe “the only solution to preventing crime is going back to the Giuliani days with stop-and-frisk and a Republican agenda that put a lot of kids in our criminal justice system.”
Ms. Wiley, who defended her tenure, slammed Mr. Yang’s record leading Venture for America, the nonprofit he ran before running for president, over its record of job creation and how, records show, he failed to recruit many participants of color. And in one of the most revealing exchanges of the night, she and Mr. Adams had an extended back-and-forth over remarks he made about guns.