Two of the candidates vying to represent Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens on the City Council were given a chance to speak at Tuesday night’s Forest Hills Community and Civic Association meeting, but two others in attendance weren’t happy they didn’t get the same chance to address voters.
After mayoral candidates Tony Avella and Bill Thompson addressed the crowd at length, FHCCA President Barbara Stuchinski offered City Council candidate Mel Gagarin several minutes to discuss his campaign. The 27-year-old grew up in the neighborhood and told the residents that “it’s time for a new generation of leadership” in the city.
After Gagarin spoke, Stuchinski invited candidate Karen Koslowitz, who is director of Queens community board, to speak about the role the boards play in city government. She spoke for several minutes about ways the boards, which she called the “city halls of your community” help residents. She said that the proposed cut of $35,000 of the board’s $200,000 annual operating budget would “decimate the boards.”
However, Koslowitz then touched on other issues including senior citizen services and the elimination of child care programs. She also touted accomplishments she achieved while serving on the City Council from 1992 to 2001, including safety improvements along Queens Boulevard and the efforts to shut down a strip club on Austin Street. “I’m running for City Council because I like to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
At one point, Stuchinski recognized that candidates Heidi Harrison Chain and Michael Cohen were also in the audience. However, after Koslowitz spoke, a resident brought up issues concerning construction of the Metropolitan Avenue school. After that issue was discussed, Stuchinski adjourned the meeting.
Shortly after, Chain said she thinks it is “a little bizarre” that the two candidates were not asked to speak. Cohen said he thought he was attending a community meeting and wasn’t aware that two of the candidates would speak. He said that he is willing to give Stuchinski the benefit of the doubt that she didn’t realize Koslowitz was going to give a full-fledged “political speech.”
However, once Koslowitz addressed the crowd in that fashion, Cohen said Stuchinski should have made sure all candidates in attendance were invited to speak. “Once it happened, there should have been some type of fairness [and] equal time,” said Cohen, adding that he is “disappointed” in how the situation played out.
On Wednesday, Stuchinski was less than apologetic for not providing Cohen and Chain a few minutes to speak. She said that Gagarin had not been invited to the civic’s recent candidates forum, so she thought it was only fair to give him a chance to introduce himself to voters. She said she thought Koslowitz was only going to speak about the community boards and not about her City Council Campaign.
“You know, when you are losing, you should learn to be gracious. Those two are being so belligerent and nasty” she said of Cohen and Chain. “I called on Karen not realizing she was going to go into campaign mode, so what was I suppose to do, hit her in the knee caps to get her off the stage?”
Stuchinski argued that the candidates “definitely had ample opportunity at the first panel to discuss” various issues. “These two seem to have this chip on their shoulder, and that’s not the way to win votes. Act like an adult, learn to be gracious and learn to roll with the punches.”