The first public debate between Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley and Craig Caruana was contentious.
The competitors faced off in a heated exchange on Monday. It was marked by frequent interruptions, yelling on both sides and cheers and jeers from attending residents of District 30, which includes Maspeth, Middle Village, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, Glendale, parts of Woodhaven and Woodside.
The debate, which The Courier co-hosted, was organized by the Juniper Park Civic Association at Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village.
The showdown exploded from the very first question, which was about the Knockdown Center, a controversial arts hall in Maspeth that has hosted parties and is seeking a liquor license.
Crowley, who is in support of the center, said it will bring jobs and arts to the community.
“Do I support good jobs? Yes. Do I support arts as an economic engine? Yes,” Crowley said. “Now my opponent you will hear opposes this, and I believe it’s because he doesn’t have the ability to think outside the box when it comes to creating jobs.”
Caruana doesn’t believe the center will be used for arts, but as a club based on past parties that it has held.
“It’s not about jobs, it’s about hipsters coming from out of the area, creating a problem…” Caruana said. “This is a club that wants to sell liquor.”
The candidates sparred on various contentious projects in the community, such as the proposed Glendale homeless shelter, truck traffic and the Maspeth Bypass, the Ridgewood Reservoir development project and increased railroad garbage.
Many general questions were asked as well, including how the candidates would improve education, traffic problems, quality of life issues and decrease crime.
Crowley, who has been the councilmember for nearly four years, choose to answer questions based on her accomplishments, while taking jabs at Caruana.
Caruana, who has no experience as an elected official, stuck to his ideas to improve the neighborhood, relying on his background as a native of Middle Village and his work at the Pentagon.
Before the debate even got started crowds of Crowley and Caruana supporters were chanting at each other outside with placards, banners and megaphones for almost 20 minutes.