State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) are engaged in one of the most closely watched — and most expensive — state legislative races in the country.
When the two men met in a debate last Thursday, they knew the balance of power in the New York State Senate could be greatly affected by the outcome of the vote in the 15th Senate District on Nov. 6.
The debate took place at the Ave Maria Catholic Academy auditorium in Howard Beach sponsored by the Queens Chronicle, the Forum newsgroup and Citizens Union. More than 300 people attended.
The largest rift in their positions comes on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, the process for removing natural gas trapped in rock formations using high-pressure water and chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens.
Addabbo said he never has and never will support the practice upstate out of concern for the reservoirs that provide New York City’s drinking water.
Ulrich says state officials must let the scientists advise the state’s policy makers before a decision can be reached.
“Hydrofracking is the most serious important environmental issue of our time,” Addabbo said, listing it as No. 1 when asked about his top three priorities if re-elected. He elaborated later on when the two were asked about fracking specifically.
“We only need to look at Pennsylvania,” he said. “There has been contamination of water. There have been fatalities. Whenever we have the process of drilling for natural gas using high-speed water and 750 chemicals including formaldehyde, ammonia, sulfates and others ... we’ve got to be concerned ... I can’t go to Gino’s if the pizza is contaminated with dirty water.”
“I’m for clean water too, just in case you were wondering,” Ulrich said. “I don’t want people to have to wonder about whether their drinking water is poisoned. At the same time, we have to let the scientists, the real experts who know about the issue, to study it, determine whether it can be done safely, and advise the people who make the decisions on whether it can be done or should be done.”
Ulrich pointed to the thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue Pennsylvania has reaped, though Addabbo said the jobs are illusory, as the companies would bring in their own trained technicians to handle the most sophisticated work.
Addabbo’s other top three priorities include job creation, for which he listed a number of bills he has written to give incentives to small businesses to hire, and to cut some of their red tape for starting up and accessing capital. He also said the state must become the toughest in the country in terms of common-sense gun legislation.
He particularly noted assault weapons and armor piercing, or so-called “cop-killer,” bullets as arms citizens should not have.
“I don’t see why people need an AK-47 sitting in their closets, or armor-piercing bullets,” he said. “I want people to be able to go to the movies and feel safe.”
Ulrich said the first priority that all officials of either party must have going into the January session is jobs, and said taxes and regulations must reflect that.
“I’m for creating jobs. Joe’s for creating jobs. Obama and Romney are for creating jobs,” Ulrich said. “But what about protecting the jobs that people already have? That is just as important.”
That led to Ulrich’s second priority, consisting of tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses. He listed ethics reform as third.
The councilman said the state must end taxpayer settlements for officials found to have committed misdeeds, and that those convicted of crimes must lose both their jobs and pensions.
Ulrich also differs from Addabbo on gun control issues.
He said the vast number of gun crimes committed in New York State do not involve legally obtained, licensed weapons.
“Most of the illegal guns used in crimes in New York are just that — illegal guns,’ Ulrich said. “They are not used by law-abiding citizens. They’re being used by gang members and drug dealers and they get them from the trunk of a car in the middle of the night. They don’t buy them from gun shops or pawn shops in Downtown Manhattan.” He said the problem must be addressed nationally.
Both men said stop and frisk is a legitimate tool for good police work, though Ulrich criticized the senator for a vote in 2010 that restricted the use of information obtained from questioning during such procedures.
Both support full table gaming in the state, and raising the minimum gambling age to 21.
Both also support increasing the state’s minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour; and campaign finance reform modeled on the city’s regulations.
They also agreed that mayoral control of schools has been an improvement over the old Board of Education, though both would also like to see some tweaking when it comes up for renewal in Albany.
Both also decried the political mailings from groups outside of the two campaigns that have been mostly negative against one candidate or the other.
Addabbo said he has proven capable of serving his district in the minority party, even though he said Republican Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) has made it hard on Democrats to get their bills voted on, much less passed.
Ulrich said his record as an independent Republican has been demonstrated again and again in the Council and even by being forced to run in a primary to secure the nomination.