Candidates answer questions at Courier mayoral forum


| mhayes@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo
THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

The candidates for New York City mayor debated in Queens at Terrace on the Park on June 7.

The Democratic, Republican and independent mayoral candidates all came together on one stage for the first time since the race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg began.

The Courier hosted its Mayoral Forum on Friday, June 7 at Terrace on the Park with Democrats Sal Albanese, Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson and Anthony Weiner joined Republicans John Catsimatidis, George McDonald, Joe Lhota and independent Adolfo Carrion. Moderator and NY1 anchor Rocco Vertuccio asked questions pertaining to both borough and city issues.

Vertuccio kicked off the event with a question about handling labor contracts for city workers.

“The municipal work force is demoralized,” Albanese said. “Many haven’t gotten a raise in five years.”

The former councilmember said he would do his best to provide retroactive pay for the workforce without raising taxes.

Carrion suggested establishing a cost-sharing relationship with the city’s workforce, while Lhota said workers do not pay their fair share when it comes to healthcare costs.

“We don’t want to go backwards,” McDonald said, adding he would not sign a labor contract that did not include a cost of participation for healthcare by municipal employees.

He also said there are “too many city employees” and that the city should utilize available technology to fulfill the tasks of some jobs.

Weiner agreed the city needs to take control of spending, especially healthcare costs, and utilize local pharmacies and labs to keep “our healthcare money here in Queens.” He was the only candidate to stand while speaking.

The Major League Soccer (MLS) development in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was a source of disagreement, with some candidates taking a pro-development stance and others aiming to preserve as much parkland as possible.

De Blasio, the city’s public advocate, said he lived near the park and has a “personal sense” of how much Flushing Meadows means to people.

“Sports don’t necessarily help out the larger economy,” he said.

However, he said that finding a way to create a stadium that gives an opportunity to keep the same amount of parkland would be a “worthy discussion.”

“I’m all for having a stadium somewhere in the city, but we can’t burden Flushing Meadows,” Lhota said.

He added we should not be taking parkland and using it for other initiatives. Lhota suggested allocating the funds to renovate the New York State Pavilion instead.

City Comptroller Liu, a Queens native, said he wants to make sure there is no alienation of parkland and that it should not be sold to public interests.

Before leaving for another engagement, City Council Speaker Quinn said it is “critically important to have the utmost respect for the community and voice of the local elected officials.”

She added that is why she has been working with Councilmember Julissa Ferreras on the area’s proposed tennis center.

Former Congressmember Weiner said he is pro-development and would love to have MLS in the borough, but first, he joked, he’d “love to have major league baseball here in Queens.”

“I’m a Mets fan. I can say it,” he said with a laugh.

One citywide issue concerned government’s alleged use of violation fines as a source of revenue. The Bloomberg administration has come under criticism by some who fines placed upon small businesses are unfair. Vertuccio asked the candidates what they would do.

Catsimatidis, once a small business owner himself, proposed a “business advocate group” within the city. When business owners are fined and believe it is unwarranted, they would not need to hire a lawyer. In Catsimatidis’ proposal, the advocacy group would fight on the owner’s behalf.

“New York City is at war with its small businesses,” Thompson said.

McDonald said his city sweeping company cleans the streets outside of merchants’ sites and “saves [them] millions of dollars a year in fines.”

When it came to city cultural institutions and the yearly “budget dance” that such organizations experience, all the candidates agreed there needs to be more control over the mayoral budget, saying the confusion should end.

Thompson said the city should put more money into cultural institutions and place art and music education back in the public school system.

PHOTOS FROM THE MAYORAL FORUM

Some candidates briefly showed their claws during the forum’s closing remarks. Albanese made reference to Weiner’s controversial fall from office.

“Weiner is interesting,” Albanese said. “He’s very political and articulate. But I believe it’s important if you want to be the mayor of New York City to have credibility. He’s betrayed the public trust on several occasions. I think that disqualifies him from running for mayor.”

The remark was met with sounds of disapproval from the panel, with McDonald tapping loudly on his microphone.

Moving on, de Blasio described his proposal to tax the “wealthiest New Yorkers so we can have full day pre-kindergarten programs for our kids.”

Catsimatidis called himself “the balance,” saying he has not taken any campaign donations from political contributors.

Carrion said he is running as an independent to “ensure this city of promise gives this opportunity to our generation and future generations.”

Candidates will continue to blaze down the campaign trail until the primary election in September, followed by the mayoral election in November.