At the first Public Advocate debate, the 10 candidates on-hand were packed in so close, they could almost literally throw elbows.

Melissa Mark-Viverito: You don't believe in the people making the decision.

Nomiki Konst: I don't believe in lying politicians like yourself.

The stage at Borough of Manhattan Community College will be less crowded Wednesday, at least somewhat. Instead of 10, just seven candidates qualified for this so-called leading contenders debate under rules set by the city's Campaign Finance Board. Each candidate must have raised and spent about $171,000 and received an endorsement from an elected official or major organization.

Three candidates from the first debate didn't make the cut this time: Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, and Councilman Eric Ulrich.

The others are now putting that money to work. Mark-Viverito, a former City Council speaker, was the latest to begin running TV ads last week. Attorney Dawn Smalls has also recently bought airtime, as has Assemblyman Michael Blake.

In a race with such a condensed timetable, money can present challenges. Mark-Viverito, for instance, is expecting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars known as matching funds. But while she waits, she's taken out a $236,000 five-day bank loan.


Oh, and those seven candidates in our debate don't even make up half of the list you'll find on your ballot — 17 names in all.

Our live 90-minute debate will air Wednesday night at 7. Voters will then go to the polls next Tuesday, February 26.