A large crowd of around 200 turned out on Aug. 29 as incumbent state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and challenger John Messer met in a candidates forum in Flushing.
The 16th Senatorial District candidates see eye to eye on many of the major issues, with gay marriage and charter schools being among their primary areas of disagreement.
“Gay marriage is the law of the state of New York,” said Messer, who was met with a round of boos when he said, “People in this district do not support gay marriage.”
Stavisky said, “I don’t believe in discrimination. If you are opposed to discrimination, you can’t pick and choose who you discriminate against.”
On charter schools, Stavisky, who is a former high school teacher, said, “I have not seen evidence where a child going to a charter school does any better than a child going to public school. The mayor would like to see an end to public schools ... a serious mistake.”
Messer, on the other hand, sees charter schools as a positive form of competition for the traditional public school system and a possible way of alleviating the overcrowding too.
Both candidates place job creation among their list of priorities. Messer, a lawyer and businessman, sees a need to “support our small businesses” and to “fast-track construction jobs,” adding, “We need a long-term strategy to keep our businesses here.”
Stavisky sees the redevelopment of Willets Point as having tremendous “potential for job creation.”
With costs rising and sales decreasing, Messer called for low-interest financing to give small businesses a chance. Stavisky believes small business must “not be overburdened with unfair red tape.”
Both are in favor of an increase in the minimum wage and both support the state DREAM Act, which would benefit undocumented students in the United States, but was made less vital when President Obama enacted its provisions through executive action.
The two candidates are pro-choice. “We need to bring down teen pregnancy and support women any way we can,” Messer said. “Women should have the right to choose.”
Stavisky said, “There is an attack on women throughout this country to take away a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body. A woman has the right to decide.”
Regarding the ongoing battle over language on signs in downtown Flushing, Stavisky called the law requiring English alongside Asian writing, “unenforceable,” saying, “I prefer a voluntary approach.” Messer sees “nothing wrong with signs in both languages.”
Both candidates advocate more affordable housing and favor creating alternative energy sources.
Throughout the event, held at New York Hospital Queens, they stressed the need for greater transparency in government.
“I’d like to see the entire government put on the World Wide Web,” Messer said, adding, “The problem is senators who have been there too long,” a personal swipe at his opponent, who has been in office for 12 years. “I’ve always supported term limits.”
“We have term limits. They’re called elections,” Stavisky retorted.
The claws were out even as the forum was getting under way. As attendees arrived, they were handed fliers accusing Stavisky of funneling public money to benefit her son’s special interest lobbying firm, The Parkside Group.
Calling the handouts “scurrilous,” Stavisky told her opponent, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Stavisky uses the firm for political consulting, paying it with campaign funds. Parkside’s clients also include several public colleges and universities.
Throughout the evening, each candidate repeatedly challenged the other’s personal integrity.
“My opponent has been a Republican most of the time he’s been here,” Stavisky said of Messer, who moved to Queens from Michigan in 1991.
Messer, who made an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate against Stavisky two years ago, accused her of including the names of deceased individuals on her candidacy petitions.
In closing, Messer indicated that “people feel it’s time for a change. My office will understand the cultures of this community.”
Stavisky, the first woman from the borough elected to the state Senate, said, “ I feel privileged to represent this community. I care about this community. I care about the issues. We have a lot left to do in Albany.”
The winner of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary will face J.D. Kim, a Republican-backed attorney, in the general election on Nov. 6.
The forum was copresented by the University Park Tenants Council and the Queensboro Hill Neighborhood Association.