“You don’t have adults running the Assembly now,” said Vince Tabone, one of two Republican candidates for the 26th Assembly District in a candidates’ night at the Chabad of Northeast Queens. With that in mind and restrictions on debate, six contenders vying for Ann-Margaret Carrozza’s seat convened at Thursday evening’s session of tame, but polarizing questions.
The most controversial subject of the forum, moderated by Bay Terrace Community Alliance President Warren Schreiber, was bailout repayment. Democrats Steve Behar and John Duane, and Republican Rob Speranza agreed that Wall Street should trim CEO bonuses and reimburse the federal government. “The bailout was a loan and it should be paid at loan prices,” Speranza said. Behar advocated a windfall profits tax for financial institutions that had received federal funds.
Elio Forcina, the most conservative of three Democratic candidates, disagreed. “Financial companies can move anywhere — we should lower taxes,” he countered. The prospect of corporate emigration would discourage Democrat Ed Braunstein and Tabone from taxing banks too heavily. To preserve its fundamental source of capital, the state government must “tread lightly,” Tabone said.
Speranza, however, didn’t care for compromise on the matter. The retired cop, among several lawyers, delivered an ultimatum: “Like the Police Department says, ‘If you don’t like it, leave.’”
He took a hard line against charter schools, too; all but Forcina concurred to some degree. “We need to fix the school system as it is,” said Speranza, whose wife is a special education teacher.
“Charter schools are not a magic elixir,” Tabone insisted; and they benefit those students who’ve already received better education, Behar argued. Duane and Braunstein suggested that, in their neighborhood’s crowded 25th and 26th school districts, money should fund new school facilities instead.
Forcina alone supported the privatization of schools to encourage competition between charter and public institutions.
The candidate’s penchant for cigars distinguished him again on the issue of smoke-free parks. Whereas Forcina said he would not support a measure if it were introduced to the Assembly, Duane claimed he would be willing to sponsor it — as his record, Braunstein said, denies. When he served as the assemblyman for the district for two years starting in 1982, Duane voted against the Clean Air Act.
Tabone walked a narrow line between yes and no, against a law that would further infringe upon civil liberties, but in favor of hiking penalties against littering and sparking forest fires.
In the most provocative moments of the evening, Tabone, Behar and Forcina made jabs to undermine Braunstein’s bid to the Assembly seat. At 29, Braunstein is the youngest candidate in the race, with the most fiscal backing and the Queens Democratic Party’s nomination. Tabone condemned Braunstein’s loyalty to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, for whom the young lawyer has worked in the last seven years. “He’s the biggest example of state dysfunction,” Tabone said of Silver.
While Tabone doubted Braunstein’s capacity to evade his mentor’s influence in office, his opponent held his own under fire. Braunstein said he had not advanced Sheldon’s Albany initiatives while working for constituent services on the Lower East Side and that his views on government are best aligned with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo’s. In a tit for tat hit, Braunstein claimed Tabone had moved to the 26th Assembly District because he had run and lost three times in Astoria.
Behar insinuated hypocrisy on Braunstein’s part because campaigning for increased transparency and accepting donations from a lobbyist are actions clearly at odds. That lobbyist, Braunstein said, was first and foremost his uncle, who wanted only to bolster a community-minded relative’s bid to office.
In a calculated but casual thrust as he debated the merits of stricter gun control, Forcina lamented that he didn’t have the same financial support from his family: “I wouldn’t take any money from the NRA, although I need a lot of money to keep up with Ed Braunstein.” Like Behar, he promoted the reformation of campaign finance laws to encourage more independent citizens to enter the political arena.
Candidates were clearly divided on the issue of marriage equality, with Braunstein, Behar and Duane especially in favor, and Forcina, Tabone and Speranza against the measure, but less discordant on the subject of gun control. All except Duane agreed that laws restricting access to firearms should be tailored to the locale.
All candidates heavily advertised their service to the community, but it was Forcina who put the night’s civil self-promotion in the bluntest words: “I like all these guys. I think they’d all make good assemblymen, but I think I should win.”