Those who went to the NAACP candidates forum on Thursday only got one side of the story, because only a single candidate from each race participated. The only exception was the competition for the 10th Senate District, but state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) left five minutes before her Democratic primary challenger, Lynn Nunes, showed up.
Since Huntley and Nunes were never in the same room at the same time, it was hard to get a true picture of how they differ. In fact, Huntley only mentioned her opponent one time during the entire forum.
Huntley said that if she had done so much to hurt hospitals, education and jobs, as Nunes claims, she would not have racked up endorsements from Local 1199, the hospital and healthcare employees union, the United Federation of Teachers and blue collar unions like 32BJ, which represents over 50,000 building service workers in New York.
“So, see I’m not really a bad senator,” Huntley said. “I’m just a senator who cares about my constituents.”
Democrat and former City Councilman Tony Avella, who is vying to replace state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), garnered much applause for his stands on the issues, especially when he stated that although his opponent has represented the 11th Senate District for 38 years, he is almost never seen by constituents in the southern part of the district, instead choosing to campaign on the North Shore, which includes places like Whitestone, Bayside and College Point.
“That’s a disgrace,” Avella said. “When you’re elected to public office, you’re elected to represent everyone. You’re elected to make sure that everybody in your Senate district receives a fair amount of services and the same amount of attention.”
Given the recent flooding that left many homeowners in Springfield Gardens with several feet of water in their basements, attendees wanted to know why the problem continues to occur despite the city Department of Environmental Protection allocating $1.7 billion to improve the borough’s infrastructure.
Asher Taub, the Republican candidate challenging Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) in the 6th Congressional District, said that oftentimes the bulk of funding is unfairly allocated to Manhattan while Queens, which he called the “stepchild” of the city, gets neglected.
“Queens is always at the bottom of the list,” Taub said. “If I’m elected, then from a federal position, I will try to push those at the state and city level, to use those federal funds to improve the community.”
Huntley agreed that Queens County has been consistently neglected, noting that this most recent storm on Aug. 27 was not the first time Springfield Gardens residents have found their homes flooded and personal possessions destroyed.
The senator held a town hall meeting on Sept. 1 with representatives from the DEP and the city’s Department of Sanitation to try and get some answers, but the agencies offered what many community members felt to be an unsatisfactory response [see separate story]. Huntley is continuing to work with other elected officials to determine how victims can receive compensation from the city.
Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), who will face off against lawyer Clyde Vanel for the 33rd Assembly District seat, said she believes the city is attempting to control the water before it makes its way out to sea, and that is what has lead to the flooding problems.
“When that manipulation takes place, the sewer system becomes overpowered and pushes the water back out through any opening it can get out of,” Clark said. “It’s a huge issue and not only is it a cost issue, it’s a health issue.”
Clark said that she has already spoken to Mayor Mike Bloomberg about the flooding and will meet with the state Department of Environmental Conservation at the end of the month to try and come up with a solution. In addition, she wants to enable more area residents to acquire the necessary training to fix infrastructure problems so that not only will issues like flooding be resolved, but more people from the community will be employed at good jobs that will pump revenue back into their neighborhoods.
One resident wanted to know how the candidates would describe the budget process this year and what they would do to prevent a similar occurrence next year.
Huntley said that the state budget has consistently been late for the last 40 years, regardless of which party had control of the statehouse. She refused to vote for Gov. David Paterson’s budget plan the first time around because she described it as “terrible” and “bare bones.”
So, she along with some of her colleagues held out, missing nine pay checks as a result, but Huntley said the lives of her constituents meant more to her than money.
Similarly, Clark said that while she wouldn’t intentionally want to delay the budget, she thinks its important to fight for things that will benefit the community.
Since southeast Queens has been particularly hard hit by the economic crisis, community members inquired as to how each candidate would create jobs.
Clark said the district needs new businesses, but more importantly residents need to patronize existing ones instead of going to Nassau County and other places to do their shopping. “We need some major industries,” she said. “We need some healthcare facilities that will create jobs like the St. Albans VA hospital.”
Nunes said the district needs more large development projects like the Aqueduct racino to provide thousands of immediate and permanent jobs to people in the community, but noted that such projects must not put an extra strain on infrastructure.
“We need to make sure that we change the culture in Albany … and increase accountability,” Nunes said. “When we don’t have accountability in Albany, and we don’t have steadfast leadership that’s going to vote on the people’s behalf, not special interests, we see jobs lost.”
Taub said that the fight to improve the economy will be a long one, especially with “crushing” federal deficits and policies that date back 50 years. “Anyone who tells you the economy can be fixed overnight is smoking something,” he said. “Unfortunately we are on the cusp of a depression, which hopefully we will be able to avoid.”
Taub said the first step is to balance budgets by decreasing dependence on other countries for goods and services. He also suggested resetting mortgage rates to create more jobs in the banking industry and put money back into residents’ pockets.
Residents who have been anywhere near the St. Albans VA site lately are likely to have seen protesters as veterans advocacy groups voice their outrage over the Veterans Administration’s decision to lease 25 acres to a private developer and the government’s refusal to build a full-service hospital at the site.
All the candidates said they stand squarely with the veterans and opposed private development of the property, with the exception of Taub who was vague in his answer, stating that there is little he could do at the federal level and that he would have to rely on the actions of his city and state colleagues.
“If you don’t want this development, you have to use the ballot box to control it,” Taub said. “You have to find out which candidate is benefiting from this, because when something like this is being opposed by the entire community, it is usually being pushed through by a few people who seem to be gaining something from it.”
Nunes said the developer is highlighting supposed economic benefits while not taking into consideration the project’s impact on the infrastructure of the community, possibly leading to more flooding, overcrowded schools and a strained transportation system.
“Any development project like the racino, like the veterans hospital, my personal opinion, it does not happen without a vote of confidence from everyone in this room, from everyone in the community who is going to be stuck with the lasting impacts, whether positive or negative for the rest of our lives,” Nunes said.
Even though the 11th Senate District does not encompass the St. Albans VA site, Avella said he fully supports the veterans. “It’s absolutely disgraceful how little we do for our veterans,” Avella said. “We ask them to go abroad and serve — some don’t come back and some that do come back are hurt or mentally affected by it, and we treat them like they don’t exist … I oppose this project because we should be expanding the hospital for our veterans.”
Avella opposes mayoral control of schools, favors increased parental involvement, putting an end to the practice of teaching to the test and firing schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Nunes called for smaller class sizes, more funding to schools that have been underfunded, better teachers, an increase in after-school programs and tutoring. Clark hopes to secure approval and funding for a community college in southern Queens.
Avella said the problem with affordable housing is that it isn’t really affordable for the people who need it most. Rent for such units is based on a formula that calculates 80 percent of the median income of people who live in New York City and Nassau and Westchester counties, he said, which is approximately $66,000. Avella said the formula should instead be based on the average income of a given neighborhood.