The way Republican congressional hopefuls Stephen Labate and Grant Lally were going at each other recently, it’s hard to believe they share a party and many of the same objectives — but among them is winning the June 24 primary election and the right to take on Democratic incumbent Steve Israel (D-Suffolk, Nassau, Queens) in the 3rd District race.
On more than one occasion, they couldn’t resist the temptation to cut each other off in mid-sentence during what was billed as a Congressional Primary Candidate Forum, sponsored by the Northeast Queens Republican Club at the Clearview Golf Course Clubhouse in Whitestone on May 21.
In his introductory remarks, the club’s president, Kevin Ryan, tried to set the tone of the evening, saying, “We’re Republicans. There’s nothing more Republican than making up our own minds for ourselves.”
Ryan called the evening’s guests “two very good candidates.”
But the forum soon turned contentious, with questions of integrity and past affiliations often coming into play.
“Steve, you lie all the time,” Lally said at one point.
And Labate wanted to know why Lally had not disclosed his history as president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.
Labate and Lally, who arrived late to the event, are in agreement on many issues: Both would like the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — repealed, taxes cut and new jobs created.
Labate spoke first, indicating that “we’re taking lessons learned from 2012 and applying them to 2014,” a reference to his unsuccessful bid to unseat Israel two years ago.
After identifying himself as a 25-year Army officer and certified retirement counselor, he indicated that “we’ve got serious problems” in our country.
He called the national debt, which he placed at $17 trillion, “a burden that will be on our children and grandchildren,” suggesting that “this generation of Americans is not guaranteed a better future,” a circumstance he called “unconscionable.”
On Obamacare, he indicated that “a lot of folks have lost the plans that they liked,” and complained that “this law is changing every single day.”
Much of the evening was devoted to the question of illegal immigration. “We’ve totally lost control of our borders. Our federal government isn’t doing what it should. We need to secure our borders. Our border is a national security issue,” Labate said.
It was, he said, one issue on which he and Lally differ, suggesting that his opponent lobbied in the past to “make certain our borders stayed open. That’s unbelievable.”
Lally countered by saying, “I don’t believe in open borders. I don’t believe in amnesty.”
When Lally suggested that Labate has been in favor of the so-called “path to citizenship,” Labate responded, “Citizenship isn’t cheap. We shouldn’t be giving it away.”
Lally said that anyone who serves in the American military should be offered provisions to become legalized and, in that case alone, be allowed to pursue the path to citizenship.
Earlier in the evening, Lally suggested that “this is shaping up to be a great year for our party.” America, he said, should have learned that “votes have consequences,” and that the election of President Obama has led to “tremendous damage,” including Obamacare.
On another issue, Labate said the “Federal Reserve has no transparency. That’s problematic.” Lally suggested that “the government has cooked the books.”
Lally tried to ruffle Labate’s feathers by saying, “You don’t live in the district.” Labate, who said he lives a mile and a half outside it, responded, “So what? That’s not a big deal.”
The Constitution stipulates that House members do not have to live within their districts, only within the state they represent.
As the evening wound down, Labate indicated, “I’m looking for that next Ronald Reagan, the guy who’s going to inspire people.” He predicted that “Steve Israel will be out of his job come November.”
Lally predicted that “we’re going to win the U.S. Senate by a comfortable margin. I am Mr. Republican. If we do well, we all do well together.”
After the forum, one concerned citizen, who declined to give his name, said, “We’re looking at a major leaguer and a minor leaguer,” refusing to identify which was which.
Another attendee, who also declined to give her name, said, “Stephen Labate’s background is really strong ... a veteran, down-to-earth. Kind of more of a real-life human being. I thought Grant Lally was pompous, arrogant. I didn’t like his emotional negativity.”
Self-proclaimed “political junkie” Michael Berman of Hicksville, in reference to Lally, said, “I think there’s a question of integrity.”
Mitch Schwadron of Flushing, who admitted he had worked on an earlier Lally campaign said, “Mr. Labate was taking internet gibberish as fact.”
Whitestone resident Marie Warhola said, “Steve Labate lends a fresh appearance to the campaign. Lally seems to be establishment-oriented. We’d like new ideas.”