6th District candidates debate hot-button issues


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan
THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Six congressional candidates in the 6th District race sat together for the first time during a forum in Flushing.

The six 6th District congressional candidates mildly duked it out for the first time during a forum in Flushing — addressing hot-button city, state and national issues, like plans to fix the flailing economy and stances on immigration reform.

The hopefuls — Green Party’s Evergreen Chou, Democratic primary runners Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, Assemblymember Rory Lancman, Assemblymember Grace Meng and Dr. Robert Mittman, and Republican contender Councilmember Dan Halloran — split the roughly two-hour meeting, held at Flushing Library on May 21, to introduce themselves and explain the platforms for which they are running.

Each lauded his or her experience, with the elected officials pointing to their plans on advocating for the middle class and improving education, Social Security and the job market, while the two citizen candidates — Chou and Mittman — respectively pushed for peace and change.

The forum was hosted by the MinKwon Center for Community Action. The congressional contenders remained civil, with minor disagreements stemming mostly from the differences between Republican and Democratic philosophies on the economy.

Halloran said the key to reviving the economy and creating jobs is making sure the government “stays out of the way of businesses.” Citing that 98 percent of small businesses in New York have disappeared between 1840 and 2011, he said government should decrease the number of agencies businesses are held accountable to, re-evaluate its tax roles to make sure businesses that are job creators aren’t overtaxed and give incentives to businesses to hire more employees.

Lancman respectfully disagreed, saying deregulating government led to the Wall Street meltdown. He said Wall Street first needs to be reformed — “making it an engine of economic growth, not a potential minefield that could blow up the economy once again” — and small businesses should be provided support and access to credit.

Meng took a different approach and said she believes improving mass transit, highways, roads and bridges would help increase jobs for Queens residents. She also said maintaining “better and closer” partnerships with universities and hospitals would help make Queens a “technology hub” and would stem job growth.

Chou said building more hospitals and engaging in government programs would revive the economy, while Crowley said pulling government spending on Afghanistan would give the country more money to use. Mittman backed Halloran, saying government should be limited and small business should not be overtaxed.

Questions on immigration reform and enforcement directly tied into talks about racial discrimination, when candidates addressed the efficiency of Secure Communities — a federal program that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and repeat immigration violators — and the recent controversial stop and frisk policy.

Crowley — who said she believes in comprehensive immigration reform — said there is a fine line drawn if the illegal immigrant questioned is not a threat. She said she supported a local law passed in the City Council that prevented the Department of Corrections from imposing immigration detainers “on those that were not convicted of any crime and were not doing anything that was considered a serious crime.”

However, Halloran said “being in the country illegally is a crime” itself.

“You cannot reward someone who came here illegally with citizenship, but you can give them a path to permanent residency,” he said.

According to Halloran, illegal immigrants should fill out paperwork, pay the fees and be checked up on 10 years after they are granted permanent status to see that they are paying their taxes and not engaged in criminal activity. In regards to the stop and frisk policy and concerns of racial profiling, he said there is more of a correlation between economics and socio status than race.

While Lancman agreed people who commit serious crimes should not be welcomed in the country and said he is for comprehensive immigration reform, he said Secure Communities became “a mechanism for detaining and deporting” mostly law-abiding citizens and “created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in immigrant communities.”

All six candidates opposed using local law enforcement to deal with immigration issues and said the role should lie in the federal government. They each also expressed support for pulling U.S. troops from overseas — however Halloran and Lancman raised serious concerns over whether or not doing so would gravely impact national security.

Crowley was recently endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 and New York City Building and Construction Trades Council, while Meng picked up support from ATU Local No. 1056 and Lancman from the New York State Public Employees Federation.