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Queens Chronicle

Northeast candidates debate the issues

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Posted: Thursday, September 2, 2010 12:00 am

The Bay Terrace Jewish Center was transformed into a candidates’ forum on Tuesday as those running for office in September’s primaries and the Nov. 2 elections took on a range of issues.

Sponsored by the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, there was a crowd estimated at 250 in attendance.

The candidates running for Assembly in the 26th District and for the 5th Congressional District were given a chance to state their reasons for running and to elaborate on how they would best represent the area.

Conservative candidate for the state Senate’s 16th District, Robert Schwartz did not have a position on marriage equality and pro choice issues, topics that were brought up over and over again by constituents.

Dr. James Milano, a Republican congressional candidate running for the 5th Congressional District seat, followed. The physician who has worked for 11 years at Saint Francis Hospital in Roslyn, said he was “dead set” against the healthcare legislation.

The forum got a little heated with constant back and forth between Milano and voters when he tackled a question on stem cell research. He is not pro choice, nor does he believe in using abortion as a means to move ahead in research. However, he believes in abortion in cases of rape or incest and when the health of a mother is in jeopardy.

Steven Behar, a Bayside attorney and Democratic political activist, discussed his views on his candidacy for the 26th Assembly District seat. “I’m running because our state Assembly is a disgrace, our Senate is a disgrace,” Behar said.

“We need to reform the way our government is run and need to stop special interest of lobbyists in control of the candidates … We’ve got a candidate in our race who receives twice the funds from lobbyists from outside the district. We need to have a campaign finance system where the only people that elected officials have to answer to is their constituents,” he said.

Stressing the need to fight off lobbyists, Behar stated that he intends to draft a bill that prevents anyone who has held a state position from lobbying for five years after they leave.

Behar’s Republican opponent, Vince Tabone, stepped up to discuss why public education is very important to him.

“I served on the community district education council. I fought to improve our schools,” Tabone said. “Districts 26 and 25 schools are some of the best schools in New York and we have to do whatever we can to keep them that way. The state Legislature hasn’t been encouraging that.”

Tabone is not a big proponent of eminent domain. “I believe that property rights are supposed to mean something, taking away people’s property rights for big developers instead of small businesses is a mistake,” he said.

Republican Elizabeth Berney, running for incumbent Gary Ackerman’s 5th District seat, came out swinging as she challenged her opponent Milano on not answering the question regarding whether he lived in the district or not. “The answer is that he does not live in the district,” Berney said.

Noting that she has lived in the district all her life, she stated that her specialization in tax policy provided an ideal background for Congress. “All the laws have to do with taxes, the healthcare bill has a lot of tax attached to it,” she said.

The question on marriage equality surfaced and Berney stated that although she supports traditional marriage, it is a state’s rights issue and not a matter for the federal government. When asked if she would support an amendment in favor of limiting marriage between a man and awoman only, she said she would not.

On the topic of illegal immigration, she said the focus should be on criminals and terrorists since the United States doesn’t have the resources to deport the approximately 12 million illegal immigrants.

Patricia Maher, a Democrat and director of development and community education for a nonprofit healthcare foundation, relayed her story of struggle to be placed on the ballot against Ackerman. “I never expected when I handed in my petitions that my opponent, Mr. Ackerman, would sue me in court.”

Through a lower court decision, Ackerman was able to throw Maher off the ballot. “I went to the appellate division and within 24 hours they put me back on,” Maher said.

If elected, she said she would tackle the double taxation on condos in Bay Terrace, noting that a law in New York state is really needed to get rid of the tax.

Ackerman said that he’d never heard of Maher before, so he looked her up, and he contended that Maher has been running on both liberal and Republican lines for years.

On healthcare reform, the incumbent said:“If you have 30 million people who now have health insurance, guess what, there’s going to be a lot more people going to see the doctor.

“There will be insurance to cover them and they will not have to go to the emergency room to get the kind of care that Dr. Milano offers — that’s the most expensive kind of healthcare you can get,” Ackerman said.

Ed Braunstein, a young Democratic candidate for Assembly and attorney, is a lifelong Bayside resident. He noted that his running focuses on priorities such as reforming the way things are done in Albany, which he called “absolutely embarrassing;” to have more independent redistricting, public financing for campaigns and protecting senior citizens by lowering the cost of prescription drugs and making sure that senior centers get the funding they deserve.

Braunstein could not avoid the question about his involvement with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“I worked in Silver’s Manhattan office, much of my responsibility was helping constituents on the Lower East Side,” he said. “Many of my opponents have seized on the fact that I used to work in Silver’s office but let me tell you tonight that I answer to you, not to them.”

John Duane, another candidate for the 26th Assembly District, served one term in the Assembly during the 1980s.“I think we need people who are not career politicians and I think we need people who have actual real life experience,” Duane said.

If elected, he wants to introduce legislation that will protect consumers from fraud. He is also pushing for a tuition assistant bill for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and he is in favor of limiting his term to eight years.

Welcome to the discussion.