At the beginning of the debate between congressional candidates David Weprin and Bob Turner, Queens Civic Congress President Patricia Dolan made somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“We’ll have a nice evening that’ll end with everyone in the back screaming,” Dolan said of a group of particularly loud supporters for both sides who had filtered into the basement of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills synagogue.
The comment, which drew laughter from the standing room only crowd of hundreds of people, was right — in part. The evening certainly did culminate with boos, and cheers, from the crowd, but these eruptions also dominated much of the two-hour debate, with phrases like “you lie!” and “hypocrite!” routinely shouted.
At one point, when the heckling had taken a particularly raucous turn, the tired-looking moderator — Richard Hellenbrecht, vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, which sponsored the event— even told the crowd that “we’ll stop this conversation” if people didn’t behave.
In between the audience commentary, the candidates running in the Sept. 13 special election for the 9th Congressional District seat once held by Anthony Weiner discussed their views on the federal budget and taxes, the Islamic cultural center proposed to be built a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, gay marriage and immigration, among other issues.
The debate, which seemed to be a metaphor for a race that has become increasingly fraught with tension and dominated by attacks from both candidates’ camps, highlighted the significant differences between the candidates — Weprin, a Democratic assemblyman headquartered in Little Neck, who has repeatedly called his opponent a “Tea Party” Republican, and Turner, a retired television executive who lives in the Rockaways and has criticized Weprin for being a “career politician.”
The two sparred over federal spending, with Turner saying he would like to cut 30 to 35 percent of the federal budget and Weprin arguing he would want to increase taxes on millionaires, billionaires and multinational corporations that pay little to no taxes.
“There’s probably not a single department that couldn’t be cut 35 percent right now,” said Turner, who singled out the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education as examples of where he would like to slash budgets.
“My opponent sounds more and more like the Tea Party element of the Republican party,” said the assemblyman, who repeated this statement several times throughout the night. “You can’t just cut, cut, cut your way out of a multi-trillion dollar deficit.”
The two also disagreed on whether or not an Islamic cultural center should be allowed to be built two blocks from Ground Zero.
“They have an absolute right to build,” Weprin said of the group that has proposed the center, which would include a mosque, library, restaurants and other community facilities. “But if they could work with 9-11 families and find an alternative site, that would be preferable.”
Turner said the center should not be allowed near the site.
“My opposition to that mosque isn’t based on rights, it’s based on appropriateness,” Turner said. “What happened there isn’t to be commemorated with a victory mosque.”
When asked if he supported gay marriage on a federal level, Weprin said each state should determine whether or not to legalize it.
Turner was more evasive, saying gay marriage “should not be an issue in this campaign,” though he said he would “continue to support” the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.
Both candidates said they would work to spur job growth.
“We need a national jobs bill, and we need a national jobs bill now,” said Weprin, who argued the federal government should mirror what he helped to do on the state level, which was to study infrastructure.
Following such a study, Weprin said jobs could be created to work on the nation’s roads and bridges.
Turner said he would like to see more jobs created in the energy industry.
“Hydrofracking — they’re doing it in Pennsylvania,” Turner said of a controversial drilling technique that entails injecting water laced with chemicals into the ground at high pressure to break rock in order to extract natural gas. “We could have tens of thousands of people working. We could drill in Alaska; we could drill in the west. We could be energy independent.”
In response to being asked if he would want to change federal immigration laws, Weprin called for a “more friendly immigration policy.”
“We need an easier path to citizenship,” Weprin said.
Weprin also said he would support the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to more easily be able to become citizens.
Turner called the United States. a “nation of immigrants,” but said “the problem that should be recognized is illegal immigration.”
“We have 9.2 percent unemployment and a huge underemployment problem,” Turner said. “We cannot have people coming into this country and taking jobs.”