State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) doesn’t skip a beat when asked what distinguishes him from his opponents in the Democratic primary battle in the 6th Congressional District.
“We’re running a campaign on issues,” Lancman said, rattling off a list of stops where he has taken questions from the public and press on Social Security, veterans’ affairs, taxes and federal finances, violence against women and the U.S.-Israel alliance.
“We’ve had 10 issue-related press conferences in the district,” he said. “When we spoke about the Middle Village [garbage train] railroad problem, we came with a bill ... Endorsements are nice, and I wouldn’t trade the ones I’ve gotten ... But we’re taking on serious issues.”
Lancman, 43, has served in the Assembly since 2007. He, along with party-endorsed Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Bayside doctor Robert Mittman, is vying for the Democratic nomination to replace Congressman Gary Ackerman. The primary is on June 26.
“My top three priorities are about leveling the playing field for ordinary people,” Lancman said.
And Lancman admits that talking issues and policy with district residents for sometimes 12 hours or more per day has some appeal.
“I’m having a ball,” Lancman said last Thursday in a sit-down interview with the Editorial Board of the Queens Chronicle.
“I love meeting the people, having meaningful, thoughtful conversations ... I like the retail side of politics.”
On the economy, Lancman said there is a need in Congress to continue and expand the Wall Street reforms laid out in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. He also would like to amend the tax code to remove many exemptions for wealthy taxpayers and corporations.
One example would be to the capital gains tax, which taxes investment and dividend income at a lower rate than wages or so-called earned income.
“I want equity in [tax] rates,” he said. “We should treat work as well as we treat wealth.”
But he believes a good start in funding the treasury would be eliminating things like oil company subsidies, and agriculture subsidies “that most small family farms can’t get.”
Another way to tackle the $16 trillion deficit, he said, is simply getting more people back to work, something he said could be jump-started by the formation of a national infrastructure bank that would fund public-private partnerships to repair and replace the country’s bridges, tunnels and roads.
He also said regulations must ease small businesses’ access to loans.
“Banks will go to the Federal Reserve discount window [for money], but they’re not lending it out,” he said.
He said spending cuts and increased revenue — “Yes, some taxes” — all must be on the table in an effort to deal with the country’s record deficit.
“You have two narratives,” Lancman said. “The Republican one is austerity, the need to cut, and you can’t raise any revenue.”
The alternative, he said, is a combination of targeted spending reductions and the elimination of the aforementioned tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporate America.
He could not, however, name a non-defense program currently on the books for which he would eliminate funding as a way of trimming spending.
Given his choice of committees if elected, Lancman said he could address his priorities on a number of them.
Education and Workforce, he said, would be a logical extension of his current work as chairman of the subcommittee of workplace safety.
He could craft Wall Street reform on either Financial Services or Judiciary.
The Foreign Relations or Armed Services committees would give him a hand on international and defense issues, where the former national guardsman is more of a hawk than many of his fellow Democrats.
Lancman, a staunch defender of Israel, said an attack on nuclear sites in Iran cannot be ruled out.
“Iran is not Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem,” he said.
He said sanctions against Iran are working and must be ratcheted up, and that neighbors such as Saudi Arabia know they have just as much to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran as does Israel.
And he took issue, as he did the week before, with a recent vote in the House aimed at defunding law enforcement agencies allegedly using racial profiling which critics say was aimed at the NYPD.
“If you want to defund them, if you can sleep at night with the possibility of a small nuclear bomb heading into New York Harbor, you’re a better man than I am,” he said.
The assemblyman said attempting to contain a nuclear-capable Iran is a lot different than the days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union when the deterrence theory went by the acronym MAD.
“You only had a few players,” he said. “You were dealing with rational actors. And under Mutually Assured Destruction, if that small nuclear bomb went off in New York Harbor, we knew the return address. If it happens today, could it be from North Korea? Could it be from Iran? Was it from Pakistan?”
He said Iran has leaders who believe in and celebrate martyrdom.
“They’ll make that trade to hit Israel,” Lancman said. “In Queens talk: These guys are crazy.”
He would increase the Social Security Trust fund by eliminating the $110,000 cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.
On education, Lancman said No Child Let Behind “should be left behind,” as it has resulted only in more testing of students and more school closings as an unintended result.
He said President Obama’s Race to the Top grants, to be followed by Race to the Top II, will fund different approaches to increase school achievement.
“Why not reward states that find ways to reduce class sizes rather than test kids even more?” he asked.
On trade, he said the country can make its own climate more competitive for businesses and workers by linking foreign trade agreements to working conditions and workers’ rights. He said a failure to link free trade to fair trade allows countries that pay less attention to pay, workers’ rights and safety to lure jobs overseas.
“It starts a race to the bottom,” he said. “How can a U.S. company that wants to make iPods and iPads compete with Foxconn in China, which is state-subsidized, where workers pretty much have to live at the factory, and where conditions are so bad they have to put up nets so that if you jump to try and kill yourself, you get caught?”
As he did at a recent candidates forum, Lancman also said he has the track record to succeed in Washington, even if Democrats fail to retake the majority in November.
“I have written 19 bills that have become law, and many of those were when there has been a Republican Senate,” he said. “I’m a proud Democrat. A progressive Democrat ... But if I couldn’t work with people on both sides, I wouldn’t be sitting here with those 19 bills.”