Six of the candidates vying to replace Grace Meng in the state Assembly’s 40th District gathered at the Flushing branch of the Queens Library on Thursday night for a candidate forum sponsored by the MinKwon Center.
More than 200 residents packed into the library’s auditorium to hear discussions on issues including taxes, small business and immigration.
Democrats included Ron Kim, who is the party endorsed candidate, Ethel Chen, Yen Chou and Myungsuk Lee.
Republicans included GOP-endorsed Phil Gim and Sunny Hahn.
Democrat Martha Flores-Vazquez was invited but did not attend.
Opening statements saw all candidates focus on their visibility in the community, while Chou, Gim and Lee also spoke of their business backgrounds as qualifying them to help small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Kim stressed his background working in local, state and federal government for the last 11 years as eliminating a learning curve others might have.
“I’ve worked in Albany,” he said. “I’ll have the connections on day one.”
Asked their top priorities upon being elected — and how they would pay for them in the state budget — Chen listed affordable housing, improved schools and small business support, but was not specific as to how she would support those aims in the state budget process.
Chou listed senior citizen issues, small business and education, and said she would have to monitor the budget to see where to find the funding.
Gim said small businesses must be any Assembly candidate’s priority given the economy.
“Small business is the engine that drives jobs,” he said. “You need to cut business taxes and some fees.”
He also said that senior benefits must not be cut. Calling himself a product of the public school system that his children now attend, he promised to be a staunch advocate for education funding.
Hahn’s priorities include a religious freedom monument, Willets Point redevelopment and public transportation, things she said could benefit from more public-private partnerships. Kim said he would advocate for small business, healthcare and afterschool programs.
Lee said expanding trade would be a huge benefit to small businesses and lead to job creation. He too said he would advocate for seniors.
On immigration reform all said they would like changes that would balance rule of law with human rights. A few did say that illegal immigrants who have committed other crimes deserve no consideration.
Lee said any process also should give more consideration to immigrants and applicants who have followed the rules.
“My family came here legally,” he said.
Lee said the state could realize cost reduction to free up money by re-examining all state agencies and authorities for waste and redundancy.
Chou indicated smaller businesses could be helped by the establishment of microloan programs, which deal in amounts of money that larger banks usually would consider too small. On affordable housing she favors incentives and regulations that would have developers of projects over a certain size set aside 20 percent of the units as affordable.
Kim said housing reform would be fought by developers of high-end projects who don’t generally want to include it, speaking of a recent statute that will force a developer to include affordable housing in his project.
“But not until 2025,” he said. “You can thank lobbyists for that.”
Questioned about the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, most said that the policy makes sense if properly used and regulated.
“It gets guns off the streets,” Gim said.
At the other end was Kim, who said he was “100 percent against it.
“It targets minority neighborhoods,” he said. He compared the policy to the recently reformed Rockefeller drug laws, which back in the 1970s exponentially increased penalties for drug possession and distribution.
Kim worked with legislators on the massive changes to the laws that recently went into effect.
“That was one of my proudest moments working in government,” he said.
The primaries are on Sept. 13. The Democratic and Republican victors will face off in January to fill Grace Meng’s seat. She is running for Congress.