Thursday, October 9, 2008

Candidates Speak at Our Neighbors Civic Meeting in Ozone Park

Addabbo, Maltese, Pheffer,Sullivan and Weiner Attended

By Conor Greene

Residents heard from several local candidates at Our Neighbors Civic Association of Ozone Park on Tuesday night, including the candidates for state Senate and Assembly.

The town hall style meeting at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church included Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) and his challenger, Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), along with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) and challenger Gerald Sullivan (R-Breezy Point). Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens), who is unchallenged in his reelection bid, also spoke at the event.

The format provided each candidate with about seven minutes to address the crowd, followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

Congressman Anthony Weiner

First up was Rep. Weiner, who is running unopposed for reelection this year, but plans on running for mayor in 2009. His focus was on the current state of the economy and the Iraq war. He said it is a time for residents to “come together and think not only about our own needs, but about the greater needs of the community.”

Weiner is calling for a “disengagement from Iraq” so that the nation has the resources to deal with pressing matters back home. “We’ve reached the point where our troops have shown that when given an assignment, they can do just about anything,” he said, noting the successful overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

However, the country has reached the point of a “low-grade civil war,” leaving our future intentions there “unclear.” As a result, there are other interests that “we are less able to deal with because we are there.” He argued that the war has contributed to our current economic woes.

“We need an organized, staged, smart partial withdrawal of our troops,” he said. We should leave enough to maintain security, especially along the Iranian border which would “essentially seal the school yard.” He noted that the Iraq government currently has a $90 million surplus, and argued that 18-year-old Iraqi men “are not standing up for their country because we are.”

Weiner placed blame for the currently financial crisis across the board, including with both lenders who issued shaky mortgage deals, and the consumers who took them on. “Someone should have said no,” he said. “Banks were pushing products that were much too risky.”

He said he doesn’t support a freeze on mortgage foreclosures, and added that some of the blame must lie with the consumers who took the loans on. “I don’t like the idea that personal responsibility has been taken off the table here,” he said.

Weiner predicted that “we are going to be digging out for quite some time,” adding that in hindsight, it is fortunate that the government didn’t privatize social security several years ago, given the recent losses in the stock market.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Pheffer has served on the state Assembly for 21 years total, and has represented the Ozone Park area since the district lines were redrawn several years ago. She recalled, “The concern was, how was Audrey Pheffer gong to serve us,” since she wasn’t from the neighborhood.Years later, “You didn’t even realize I didn’t live in this neighborhood,” she said, because of the numerous community events she attends.

During her time on the Assembly, Pheffer has served on committees for aging, higher education, government employees, veterans and consumer affairs, which she chairs. She noted that she has seniority within the majority party in the Assembly, which gives her extra pull during budget negotiations.

As chairwoman of the consumer affairs committee, Pheffer said she has been instrumental in enacting important legislation, including bills that made identity theft a crime when the problem first arose years ago, the Do Not Call registry and providing residents with free credit reports. “If I went to each person, there would be something in my committee that has affected your life,” she told the audience.

Other areas of progress during her Assembly career include improving funding for schools, both on the capital and operational sides, ensuring that hospitals and nursing homes don’t close, and making sure that “doctors make the medical decisions, not the insurance companies.”

“I believe we are safer because of the strong laws enacted in Albany,” she said. “It has been a wonderful, wonderful run, and there are many more things that have to be done. It’s going to be a very difficult year.” She vowed to “make those necessary budget cuts” in hopes of not affecting resident’s quality of life.

Republican Challenger Gerald Sullivan

Gerald Sullivan of Breezy Point declared that not only is the nation in a financial crisis, “we are also in a crisis in New York State.”

He noted that Governor David Paterson called the Assembly back into session to cut 5%from the budget. “They weren’t even able to cut one percent,” he said. “We are going to have to cut back ourselves – all we’re asking is for government to do the same.” He said the final assembly cut amounted to just .3%.

Admitting that his mindset might upset some voters, Sullivan declared that “nothing should be safe when it comes to tax cuts over the next few months.” He argued that the toll to Rockaway is an unfair tax on people traveling within the borough. “They should have enacted legislation to eliminate that toll years ago, but they didn’t,” he said.

He said the “most important thing” is to support the middle class, “the people who get up everyday and go to work.” He also called for more choice as to what school parents send their children to and said a larger tax break should be given to families sending their children to private schools.

When asked how he expects to push through legislation as a minority member of the Assembly, Sullivan pointed out that Pheffer voted with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver 98.6% of the time. “When you talk about majority, you’re talking about one man,’ he said. “There would be a voice for the people who disagree with Sheldon Silver. Right now there isn’t.”

Sullivan touted his experience running two small businesses as the background needed to deal with the current economic situation. He said the key was “using sound economics to run a business.”

State Senator Serf Maltese

Maltese, who has served on the state Senate for nearly 20 years, used the majority of his allotted time to discuss his personal background.

He said he comes from a “working family” which instilled in him “the value of hard work.” He told the crowd that he was educated in the area before serving two years in the Army, a year of which he fought in Korea.

He also discussed a series of jobs he held before his election to the Senate, including time in the District Attorney’s office, and his role in forming the Conservative Party of New York State in 1962. “We felt the conservatives didn’t have a choice and a vote,” he said.

Since his election in 1989, Maltese has taken on law cases on a pro bono basis, but has not accepted “a nickel” for any law work.

He called education “certainly one of my main priorities,” adding that he tries to visit all 47 schools within the district every two years. He said he is proud of$460,000 member item he secured to provide at least one Smart Board to each school. “I feel that the organizations closest to the people should have input where your tax dollars go.”

Recognizing that the 15th Senate district is overwhelmingly Democratic, Maltese said that the best candidate should be elected. “I encourage [Democrats] to speak up and express their concerns to me,” he said.

Councilman Joseph Addabbo

The evening’s final speaker was Councilman Addabbo, who started out by expressing his love for Ozone Park. He told the audience that his father had moved five times within a one-mile radius, staying within the neighborhood. “If it is good enough for my father, it’s good enough for me,” he said.

A centerpiece of Addabbo’s campaign has been ensuring that families can stay in the neighborhood, which depends greatly on maintaining the quality of the schools and keeping property values strong. “I want families to stay here. I want extended families to stay here,” he said. To do that, you have to “pay attention to local issues,” he argued. “It’s the local issues [including graffiti and street maintenance] that keep people here.”

Addabbo said that his experience working on one of the toughest budgets in the city’s history following 9/11 has given him the knowledge to tackle the current financial mess. “We have to make some serious, tough decisions,” he said. “We had to cut good programs because we couldn’t afford them.”

Six years later, the City Council has been able to reduce the tax rate, he noted. “That is the experience I think we need right now in Albany.” He also blasted the state Senate for increasing spending when they “had no money to pay for it… More than ever, now you need fiscal responsibility in Albany,” he told the audience.He said his plan includes going after insurance and Medicaid fraud, the latter of which costs the state $5 billion a year.

Addabbo said he is in favor of a freeze on foreclosures, given the impact they have had on the Ozone Park area. By doing so, homeowners would have one year to work out a payment plan with their lenders “so a person doesn’t wake up in jeopardy of losing their home.”

He argued that surrounding property owners are affected by foreclosures in their neighborhood. “Your area property values go down and crime goes up,” he said. That could lead to a “flight problem out of Ozone Park, and we don’t want that.”

In one of the few jabs Addabbo took at Maltese, he vowed to be present in the district as much as possible. “The days of only being present during an election year are over,” he declared.

He later ducked a question about his position on same sex marriage, telling a resident that he doesn’t have a “definitive stance” on it without being able to study any proposed legislation.

When asked about recent reports revealing how much various Senators, including Maltese, have spent on office and staffing costs, Addabbo said he would have two offices within the district, but vowed to employ an appropriate amount of staff. “It starts with me too – I have to watch my spending," he said.

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