The Queens Courier held the Focus on Queens Forum at the North Shore Towers on Wednesday, August 21. Borough President, City Comptroller and Public Advocate candidates from various parties attended and spoke on their ideas for the future of their respective offices.
“Too often, people vote right down the Democratic line on the ballot,” said Bob Ricken, Towers’ Board President. “This gives residents an opportunity to get to know the candidates.”
Felice Hannah, board member and chair of the Political Action Committee, organized the event with nearly every candidate for each office.
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., Melinda Katz and Aurelio “Tony” Arcabascio came out for Borough President. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, John Burnett and Hesham El Meligy for Comptroller, and Cathy Guerriero, Letitia James, Reshma Saujani, Daniel Squadron and Sidique Wai for Public Advocate.
BP candidates address Queens-centric issues
Queens Borough President candidates continue to push through campaign season and participated in the Focus on Queens Forum at the North Shore Towers.
The three candidates were asked various borough-centric questions by moderator and NY1 anchor Tamani Wooley.
Aurelio “Tony” Arcabascio came out as the sole Republican candidate and first discussed his history as a businessman, currently working with North Shore LIJ Hospital.
“I thought it was important for the Republican Party to have a voice,” he said.
Democrat Melinda Katz, former assemblymember and city councilmember, said Queens needs a borough president who can “bring equity to this borough.”
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. said he has spent his life “protecting Queens” and will be the “independent Democratic voice for you.”
Proposals currently floating around the borough were first addressed, namely the United States Tennis Association (USTA) development in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park; a Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium also in the park; and redeveloping Willets Point.
All candidates agreed that first and foremost, parkland needs to be protected.
“I will fight to get money from private companies that make money off of our public spaces,” Arcabascio said.
All candidates support a soccer stadium in Queens.
Katz supports the Willets Point redevelopment and said “hopefully in January we’ll be able to take a fresh look and put a shovel in that ground.” Vallone said we need development there, but he doesn’t support the current plan, and Arcabascio doesn’t think Willets Point is a good site for the project.
Regarding hospitals and health care, all candidates agreed there should be more emergency care, multi-specialty facilities throughout the borough, and that hospital emergency rooms should not be the first go-to place.
“I do believe we need to take a lot of the pressure off of the existing emergency rooms,” Katz said.
Vallone added that if elected he would work with the district attorney and attorney general to reduce fraud and in turn give hospitals the funding needed to stay open.
Next, Wooley, as moderator, brought up the controversial Community Safety Act. Katz supports the bill that would reform the practice.
Vallone said when the bill takes effect, “judges will take over the NYPD.”
“Then we will turn into Detroit,” he said, and called the bill the “most dangerous in the history of New York City.”
Arcabascio took a similar stance and said you “can’t ask the Police Department to not stop someone based on your instinct as a trained police officer.”
During the September 10 primary, voters can decide between Democratic candidates Katz, Vallone or Everly Brown, not present at the forum. Then the Democratic or Republican candidate in the general election on November 5.
Public Advocate candidates take the stage
All five Democratic candidates for Public Advocate came to the North Shore Towers to participate in the Focus on Queens Forum.
“People in our city are really suffering,” said Reshma Saujani, current Deputy Public Advocate and recipient of the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement.
Candidates were each given the opportunity to answer questions by moderator Tamani Wooley of NY1. First, the five answered what sort of legislation they would first propose upon entering office.
Letitia James, a Brooklyn city councilmember and former assistant attorney general, said she would focus on affordable housing, as well as putting a cap on co-op and condo taxes.
Brooklyn State Senator Daniel Squadron said he would create new partnerships for local community education councils, because parent groups need a partnership outside of bureaucracy, while Cathy Guerriero, educator, said she would expand her staff and “put a think tank into the office.”
Saujani, similarly, said she would instate four deputy public advocates for jobs, housing, education, and women and seniors. Sidique Wai, a civilian member of the NYPD, wants to help reform stop-and-frisk and be sure police officers wear cameras on their person.
Wooley then brought up the low grades the city school system just received, and questioned the candidates as to how they would work to improve education.
Guerriero, who has an extensive education background and comes from a family of teachers, said first the mayor should prioritize schooling in the city, and Wai said subjects such as science, math, engineering and math should start at the kindergarten level.
“If you don’t invest in children earlier on and train them to be able to compete for those jobs that are now fast going into the technological field, it’s just not going to work,” he said.
Squadron said schools should become an anchor for students, especially during trying times. He hopes to oversee a different approach to teaching special needs and ESL children as well as give parents a stronger voice.
“We have turned schools into test preps we have taken our tax dollars and invested more in technology than teachers, respecting teachers and reducing classroom size,” James said, who hopes to promote art and physical education courses.
Saujani noted her computer science program for young girls, Girls Who Code, and believes computer science education should be taught in every single high school.
“This job has a vital role to play in a city our size,” Squadron said in closing. “They can make a real difference in people’s lives by focusing on things within its scope and within its power.”
Guerriero said she’s the candidate to “come at your straight, not at angles.”
“I run against a set of politicians. I’m not one. That’s kind of the point,” she said.
James, however, said she recognizes the power of government and knows how to work through it.
“This office has got to do something,” Saujani said. “It’s got to change people’s lives; it’s got to create something.”
Comptroller candidates outline plans
Candidates for City Comptroller joined the Focus on Queens Forum at the North Shore Towers and detailed ways they would approach office as the city’s chief financial advisor.
“The economy of the city is going to rest on places like Queens,” said Scott Stringer, Democratic candidate and Manhattan Borough President, at the forum on Wednesday, August 21.
As Comptroller, Stringer said he would put all contracts and subcontracts online for citizens to see.
“It’s time to end this whole notion that the budget is too complicated for New Yorkers to understand,” he said.
Among other ideas, he made note that if elected, he would bring in community people of expertise in a specific area who would review city contract applications, such as seniors and senior housing.
Stringer said he has two skill sets for the job: “somebody who has been able to work collaboratively to get real things accomplished,” as well as being “fiercely independent” in order to hold city agencies accountable.
“You have to root out waste,” he said.
John Burnett, Republican candidate with a heavy financial background, also attended and spoke about various ideas such as unifying the current five-pension system in city finances.
“It’s five redundant costs,” he said. “Each time the pension fund doesn’t earn its discount rate, we have to cut a check with taxpayer money to find it.”
Burnett, who has a 23 years of Wall Street experience at companies such as Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, said he has the understanding of investments in order to manage the $70 billion annual city budget.
“You have to know how to audit and hold people accountable with respect to the budget,” he said.
Hesham El Meligy is the only Libertarian candidate and also the only accountant, he said. As Comptroller, he would continue current Comptroller John Liu’s participatory budgeting layout as well as take a second look at the MTA, following Liu’s initial audit of the transportation agency.
“It’s taking a look at how the city works,” he said. “The structure of the city itself leads to a lot of waste. We need to put resources in other parts to serve the people better.”
Eliot Spitzer, Democratic candidate, declined to attend the event.
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