State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) went to Albany after ousting a 20-year Republican incumbent in 2008. With him came a Democratic majority for the first time in more than four decades.
But four years later, that majority is gone and Addabbo is fighting for his seat in a newly redrawn district facing off against his successor on the City Council.
Addabbo who holds a razor-thin lead against his opponent, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), according to a recent Siena poll. Some national pundits have said the race is one of the closest and most expensive in any of the 50 states.
“This campaign is the poster-child for campaign finance reform,” he said, noting he supports a number of measures to toughen the state’s campaign finance laws, making them closer to the city’s laws
“The big donors, certainly up in Albany, are very influential,” Addabbo said Monday during a meeting with the Queens Chronicle editorial board, adding that his legislation dealing with freight rail in Middle Village has been stymied by colleagues who take donations from CSX and other railroads.
“To limit that, let’s change the rules,” he said.
Addabbo said one issue that his father dealt with as a congressman that continues to be a problem is airplanes. Back in the 1970s, Rep. Joe Addabbo Sr. dealt with the SST Concorde jetliner and the rise of the jet age affecting quality of life around JFK Airport. Addabbo said he hears similar complaints and is concerned about the future at the airport.
“When the airport talks about expansion, running into Jamaica Bay, I have got to be concerned,” he said.
On energy matters, Addabbo said he supports a wind farm off the coast of Rockaway, which could be a place for education as well as a clean means of creating energy. He would reserve judgment on closing Indian Point, but took a stance staunchly opposing hydrofracking — the process by which natural gas is extracted from the ground using a mix of chemicals opponents say could hurt the water supply. Though supporters, including Addabbo’s opponent, say it would bring many needed jobs to upstate and much needed tax revenue to the state’s coffers, Addabbo said it is too risky. “It’s one of the black and white issues for me and my opponent,” he said. “The oil companies come in and bring their own workers. If anything, very, very few jobs are created and maybe for an economic boost, the local delis and local hotels profit temporarily.”
Addabbo said the process is too dangerous to the water, and noted that hydrofracking has polluted the water in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“In a district that is surrounded by water, there is no possible way you should be in favor of hydrofracking,” he said. “We don’t have the mechanisms in place to test the water for radioactivity. The [Department of Environmental Conservation] is clearly not ready for this.”
Addabbo also noted the bills regulating or limiting hydrofracking never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee and blamed the GOP majority for that.
He discussed taxes and spending, and defended his record which has been under attack by the Ulrich campaign and Republican allies for his votes on the MTA payroll tax and tax hikes as well as spending cuts while he served on the City Council.
He noted that the city tax hikes were temporary and defended his record in the state Senate, saying that he has looked to cut the budget in areas where spending is “wasted.”
“We’re looking at insurance fraud, Medicaid fraud,” he said. “But when we want to do other things, we have to see what the mathematical effects are.”
He continued, “This year we restored money for education, an extra $290 million for schools, and now we have a new source of revenue.”
He said a lot of the lottery money that is coming in is not going to schools — much of it is being spent administratively.
“If you talk about cutting waste, let’s see what we can do with that,” he said.
Addabbo discussed member items, saying that the holds on his discretionary money are hurting the groups in his district that need it, and he is willing to have himself taken out of the equation if need be.
“You’ve got to have an alternative,” he said. “Taking it away from the electeds is one thing, but we have senior centers, veteran groups, social services that are hurting.”
He suggested the groups should apply directly to the agencies the money is allocated from, be vetted and receive the funding with the elected officials taken out of the process.
“It sits there in our budget,” he said. “It’s waiting to be released.”
Addabbo refuted his opponent’s assertion that there is new money available that he did not get. He explained that the money he had been releasing under his name was originally allocated under his predecessor and during his first year in office.
He said he voted no on an education allocation early in the year because the money was only given to Republican senators.
Addabbo also discussed the situation at The Shops at Atlas Park. He was optimistic that the long-struggling shopping center in Glendale will thrive under the ownership of Macerich, which also owns the Queens Center mall.
Walmart is not welcome in the district, Addabbo said, in part because of its labor practices, but he also would not like to see it at The Shops at Atlas Park, as a Maspeth civic leader suggested, because it would hurt surrounding businesses.
“It would obviously suck up all the businesses on Metropolitan and Myrtle avenues,” he said. “But maybe in Rockaway, where there is not a large population of mom and pop businesses.”
He believes Macerich is on the right path with the shopping center.
Addabbo expressed his frustration about the power struggle in Albany and was disappointed that Gov. Cuomo did not veto the redistricting lines lawmakers drew up for the next 10 years. “I didn’t agree with the governor,” he said.
He responded to Ulrich’s criticisms that he walked out during a vote on a DNA database back in March by explaining that he and other Democratic senators left the floor that night because of the midnight vote on the redistricting bill.
“It was a sham,” he said, referring to the bill and process in which it was voted on. “That’s why I walked out.”
He responded to attacks that he receives a large stipend for chairing a committee that only met four times, noting his Republican Council successor held just as many and passed fewer bills. He took the GOP majority to task for cutting off debate on bills and preventing Democratic proposals from going to the floor.
“Is it good government? No way!” he said. “That’s what frustrates me.”