Seven candidates for the state Legislature dropped by St. John’s University on Tuesday for what amounted to a pop quiz from potential voters and future constituents.
The forum, held in the law school amphitheater, featured three pairings of opponents Nov. 6, including State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Republican J.D. Kim in the 16th District; state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Republican Joseph Concannon in the 11th; and Abe Fuchs (R) and Nily Rozic (D), candidates running in the 25th Assembly District.
Also on hand was Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), running unopposed.
The moderator was Brian Browne, the university’s assistant vice president for government relations and an adjunct faculty member. More than two dozen people attended.
And while many of the questions were general in nature, Avella and Concannon exchanged unpleasantries over a robocall Concannon’s campaign has produced in connection with Avella’s recent appearance at a recent Muslim parade in the city.
Avella left the podium at a ceremony afterward when speakers began spouting anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Concannon defended the call, questioning Avella’s judgement for going at all.
“I don’t think Sen. Avella would participate in something he wasn’t informed about,” Concannon said. “Why go there? It’s not even in his district.”
Avella, for his part, said the call contained derogatory remarks about African-Americans and Muslims.
“It was extremely racist,” Avella said. “This is not the way a campaign should be run ... Mr. Concannon should be ashamed of himself.”
All the candidates spoke extensively about education. Stavisky said that in her opinion SUNY and CUNY schools spend far too much time offering remedial coursework for high school graduates who come to them unprepared for college-level academics.
“The place to address that is in high school and elementary school,” she said.
She and Avella are not fond of how Mayor Bloomberg has handled mayoral control of the city’s schools.
Avella said he would love to see free education at CUNY schools, and that ideas like an expansion of legalized gambling could help with the $800 million annual price tag.
Concannon felt that was unrealistic. He said elementary and high school education could be helped by devoting more of the government’s education resources to classrooms.
He said good classroom teachers are the chief resource of successful students, and that subjects like reading and math must receive more attention.
“Then we can get to all the grandiose ideas,” he said. “We have to get the basics first.”
Fuchs said a private school-voucher system would free up money for the Department of Education and taxpayers.
“We pay $18,000 a student,” he said. “The archdiocese has elementary education for $4,000 a year and high school education for $7,000.” He and Kim both said more technical education is essential.
After Avella, Concannon and Stavisky had to leave for other commitments, the remaining four said they would favor an increase in the minimum wage, though Kim suggested there also could be a lower wage for students and part-time workers.
Dysfunction in Albany was a favorite topic, especially for Avella. Rozic said as a woman and a younger person, she is an ideal candidate to help make changes.
But she stopped short of saying whether she would vote to retain Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker if elected.
Silver’s conduct in the handling of sexual harassment payouts to settle claims brought by women against Assembly members is under investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“I’d like to see what comes out of JCOPE,” she said.
All said they showed that they could work with those in the other party in Albany, though Kim was not convinced.
“Even though I am Korean, I never faced discrimination in my life,” he said, “until I decided to run as a Republican for the state Senate.”
Finally came the Lightning Round, with each question asked of all four remaining candidates, with the “yes or no only” regulation strictly enforced.
All said New York City is better off than it was four years ago, and that they were supporting their party’s candidate for president.
None came out in support of fracking, though Republicans Kim and Fuchs said they want more studies. Fuchs was the only one opposed to mandatory paid sick leave. All were OK with an offshore wind farm that could be seen from the Rockaway Peninsula.
In a Lightning Round question just before he left, Avella was asked if he had used a MetroCard in the last two weeks. “Yes. It’s in my wallet,” he said. “Want to see it?”
And all were unanimous when asked by one of the student panelists to name the top Division I men’s basketball team in the NCAA.