How will the next mayor use federal aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to create jobs and give needed support to poorer communities?
That's what about 2,000 church, synagogue and union members wanted to hear Thursday night as they crowded into the narrow pews of the First Baptist Church of East Elmhurst. People circulated the thick air with paper fans advertising the "Color Purple" Broadway show while keeping track of the candidates' responses on a "scorecard" given out by the forum's sponsor, Faith in New York, a group of 53 congregations. Outside the rain blew sideways, a much, much tamer storm (but still a bad storm as Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn pointed out) as the one that destroyed many of the audience members' homes in October.
"We are looking for substance," Rev. Marvin Bentley of Anitoch Baptist Church of Corona said, "not empty promises, not rhetoric, but substance."
Unlike other mayoral forums vague and longwinded grandiose statements were not allowed from each of the five Democratic candidates, who were given just 10 minutes — broken down into two 90 second and one four-minute answer and a short closing response to if they would pledge to visit the affected area once elected, which all answered with yes — to respond to questions. Republican candidate Joe Lhota declined the invitation to participate in the forum.
Even with the time limit a man from Far Rockaway said in Spanish "They are all equal. They just talk, talk, talk."
Overall, the crowd responded to former Congressman Anthony Weiner the best. He got loud cheers. He was funny, even addressing the spiritual crowd as "brothers and sisters" and then later making fun of himself for getting carried away.
"He addressed the needs of the people," an older African-American woman who lives in East Elmhurst said.
She also liked Bill Thompson, saying "he also knows what he's talking about."
City Comptroller John Liu seemed upset he had to keep his answers brief since usually he loves to talk, but he got a positive reception.
Public Advocate Bill De Blasio was the most succinct — using specifics as well as connecting to the crowd as a father.
The response to Quinn's answers was mixed. Maybe it wasn't the answers, but her strong demeanor — something that many people love with her loud laugh and no-b.s. attitude — but in front of the many public housing and outer-borough residents she seemed a little cold. Not as approachable as Weiner or as understanding as De Blasio. It also hurt that some super-liberal protester barged into the chapel blowing a whistle and chanting to stop the Rockaway pipeline towards the end of her answers. The crowd was distracted after that.
The candidates spoke of hiring locally for post-Sandy cleanup, going door-to-door in the storm's aftermath, paying the prevailing wage, more affordable and middle class housing, hiring women and minorities for the jobs as well as healthcare. A full rundown of answers will be printed in an article in the June 20 edition of the Queens Chronicle and then online following print.