BY JON CRONIN
In anticipation of the upcoming special election for the New York City Council District 23 Seat, the AARP and the Queens Tribune hosted a debate at Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose on Monday night.
The Democratic candidates present were: former Assemblyman Mark Weprin’s Communications Director and former Rep. Grace Meng aid Celia Dosamantes, Glen Oaks Co-op President Bob Friedrich, former district leader and former DeBlasio aid Rebecca Lynch, former Assemblyman and former Deputy President Barry Grodenchik and community activist and lawyer Ali Najmi. Satnam Singh Parhar, who was not present, had a prior engagement. Republican former New York City Police Captain Joseph Concannon also attended
The evening started off with the candidate’s opinion. Do tenants needs additional protection against landlords?
Najmi believes in better communication between the tenants and landlords. Dosamantes sees a lack of accountability with landlords and cites her experience aiding residents at Parkwood Estates condos that recently hid a high maintenance fee increase. Grodenchik thinks tenants must be protected from abusive landlords. Concannon sees D23 as a, “beautiful bedroom community” that should be protected with excellent communication and reports to 311. Friedrich announced, “Rent stabilization already exists!” and we should look to protecting seniors from landlords as well as unfair tax hikes. Lynch had the most comprehensive answer, citing advocacy with her mother who is a tenant organizer and attorney. She believes that renters and especially seniors should have a right to counsel when having to face a landlord in court.
They were then asked whether mayoral control over the city’s schools should continue passed the state’s one year extension.
Grodenchik said, “I do favor mayoral control,” and noted that he has received the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers. Concannon believes he sees a “serious disconnect” with City Hall and eastern Queens. “There is a reason why Governor Cuomo said one year,” he said, adding that he believes Cuomo does not trust de Blasio. Friedrich is also not in favor of mayoral control. He boasted that he often visits Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village and aided in the renewal of its quality by getting college credit courses in the school. Lynch had similar feelings stating there is more engagement needed with local school districts. Najmi stated in education he is in favor of smaller classrooms and seeks to create legislation to limit class size to 25. Dosamantes is not in favor of mayoral control because one person in control of the educational system, “is not what democracy is about.”
The candidates were then asked where they would put a new school in their overcrowded district.
Concannon sees the issue as one of, “community collaboration” and in need of further “consultation with school authorities.” Friedrich agreed, saying he would want to talk with local civic associations and added that he is overtly against the traffic a school would bring to a residential neighborhood. Lynch wonders if there could be potential at the old Creedmor Psychiatric Center for a new school. Najmi was adamant that the School Construction Authority, “shouldn’t build on park land” and that the community should, “be clear about where we don’t want schools.” Dosamantes recommended the site that was recently considered for a youth detention facility a new school. Grodenchik said he wouldn’t make calls without, “serious input from the community.”
The next four questions came under criticism from the audience for being too similar in tone and having answers that were almost inescapably the same. By the third question the crowd began to audibly groan and by the announcement of the fourth audience members yelled out stating that they now understood everyone was concerned about seniors and asked the moderators to move on to another subject.
Those questions addressed the growing senior population, whether senior services are underfunded, what can the city do to help residents age in their own homes and how the candidates would prevent the aging population from leaving the city after retirement. One man yelled, “How about a question on transportation!”
The candidates mostly agreed on these issues. Dosamantes stated that “there are not enough senior centers in the district.” Najmi believes the Meals on Wheels program is underfunded. Cocannon echoed the statement, adding that there should be a program making lawyers available, “to counsel families” helping them deal with government policies, “and protect the family’s interest.” Friedrich cautioned the audience stating, “the funding is coming from your pocket book,” and warned, “don’t create a whole new level of spending.” Lynch recommended low interest loans for families that are trying to make their home ADA compliant. Dosamantes said a task force should be created to combat seniors falling for fraud schemes.
Lastly the candidates were asked if they support Cuomo’s Close to Home program where juvenile criminals stay within the serve their sentencing within the confines of their neighborhood.
Grodenchik agrees with the philosophy of the program which would allow adolescent criminals to see their families on a more regular basis, but disagrees with its implementation. Concannon disagrees vehemently, and recalled two young men escaping from one location in Park Slope, Brooklyn then beat and raped a woman in that neighborhood. Friedrich touted his own success at keeping the program out of Queens Village. “We found out,” he said alluding to the Glen Oaks Civic Association. Lynch is in support of the program, citing the fact that it is a state law that juveniles must be detained near their home. Dosamantes believes, “It’s too close to home,” adding that the juvenile criminals need, “a place to advance themselves.”
Next the agenda changed and the moderators asked the candidates to ask each other questions, after some bewildered looks on the panel Friedrich took his turn and asked Grodenchik if he would make a stand that night and pledge not to vote for de Blasio in the next election. Grodenchik replied simply, “I don’t know who he’s running against,” but assured he would stand against de Blasio on issues he didn’t believe in.
Najmi asked Concannon, “Would you fund Planned Parenthood?” Initially Concannon dismissed the question stating that he, “Wouldn’t be voting on it.” Najmi informed him that the City Council does indeed vote to partially fund it. Concannon, blithely said, “Not if they’re corrupt!”
Grodenchik then inquired to Friedrich, “Why did you run as a Democrat if you’re towing the Republican line?” Friedrich quickly replied, “I’m a pragmatic centrist,” adding that his opponents are so far left by comparison; it only makes him look conservative.
Lastly the audience inquired as to what they would do with the closing of so many mental health facilities.
Najmi stated that this city has an 80 billion dollar budget and “if we set a priority it gets done.” Dosamantes stated the she has worked with the Chair of the Disabilities Committee. Grodenchik said he has friend who suffer from mental illness and that he would, “fund it to the best of my ability,” and get people help in the most, “dignified matter.” Concannon cited the use of the “performance based budgeting” in the use of funding mental health programs. Lynch believes programs like this are under the purview federal and state government, but that those entities have “abdicated their responsibility. We should be outraged.”
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin