About 100 people turned out Monday night to hear all six candidates running for the 6th Congressional District race offer their views on everything from same-sex marriage to military spending during a two-hour forum at the Flushing Library.
Sponsored by the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing and supported by several other groups, it was moderated by Steve Choi, its executive director.
Participants included Evergreen Chou, a Green Party candidate; Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who was a half-hour late for the event; Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who was set to undergo brain surgery for a benign tumor on Wednesday; Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows); Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing); and Dr. Robert Mittman, a Bayside physician.
Choi wasted no time telling the candidates they had two minutes to answer questions and had to silence Crowley several times when her answers exceeded the limit.
All the candidates had ideas about job creation. Halloran suggested decreasing bureaucracy and giving businesses incentives, adding, “You can’t overregulate businesses or they close.”
Meng wants more job training and improvements in mass transit and highways, which would increase jobs, while Mittman wants the budget balanced first. “Don’t overtax businesses,” he said.
Crowley believes construction “is an important engine for the economy” and that some money now used for defense can go to such projects.
Lancman called for reforming Wall Street and supporting small businesses.
The candidates were asked how they would vote on raising the debt ceiling. Meng and Chou said they supported the measure, while Lancman didn’t answer directly, saying the way to go is to focus on growing the economy and making responsible cuts to the budget.
Mittman called for cutting foreign aid and military expenditures. Halloran noted the national debt is around $17 trillion. “When do we say it’s enough?” he asked.
On the question of military spending, there was more agreement. Mittman, Chou, Crowley, Lancman and Halloran called for reductions, while Meng answered differently.
She said she agrees with President Obama in withdrawing troops, “but don’t cut basic human services.” Lancman said his focus is on homeland security “because New York remains a terrorist threat,” but he is still calling for a reduced military budget.
Mittman said the United States can’t be the policeman of the world and he wants substantial cuts to war expenditures. Chou said he wants peace for the world, while Halloran would like a 20 to 25 percent cut to the military budget, adding “Keeping America safe is not an easy job and the military budget is not the root of all the problems.”
The candidates were asked their views on the Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow federal candidates to run without relying on large contributors or donations from lobbyists. All the Democrats supported it and Halloran said the act doesn’t go far enough.
He also wants to eliminate corporation and union contributions.
Both party candidates were in somewhat agreement on the question of same-sex marriage. Meng called it a civil rights issue and supports repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.
Mittman said the issue should be in the hands of the state as did Chou and Halloran, who also said that government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. Lancman also wants repeal of the act.
Crowley, Meng and Chou said they are against the Secure Communities Program promulgated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It uses already existing federal information-sharing between ICE and the FBI to identify criminal aliens.
Crowley said she opposes the program “because I don’t believe overstaying your visa is a crime.” But Halloran countered: “It is a crime,” adding immigration reform is needed, but based on the immigrants paying taxes and fees.
Lancman believes the program arrested some who shouldn’t have been, adding: “We need comprehensive immigration reform.”
Mittman only said it is a federal issue, not state or city.
In summing up their reasons for running, many of the candidates harked back to their beginnings. Meng said she is the product of the American dream and wants everyone to have the same chance.
Lancman doesn’t want his children to go lower on the economic ladder, while Crowley also referred to the American dream and being the 14th of 15 children in her family.
Chou said this country “is too big to fail” and Halloran said he has worked in both the public and private sectors and voters need a citizen politician.
Mittman, who has never run for public office before, said people have the rare opportunity to elect a new member of Congress. “The system is broken and needs repair,” he said. “I only have allegiance to the community I represent.”
The Democratic primary will be held on June 26. The winner will face Halloran in the November election.
The 6th Congressional District runs from Flushing and Bayside to Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and part of Ridgewood.