Tensions Abound At Candidates Forum
By Joe Marvilli
| Candidates at the forum included (from left) J.D. Kim, Abe Fuchs, Joseph Concannon, Nily Rozic, Toby Stavisky and Tony Avella.
On Oct. 9, St. John's University held the first of two "Meet the Candidate" nights as part of its "Participate '12" program.
Featuring candidates for the New York State Legislature, the Belson Moot Courtroom at St. John's School of Law was about half-full with 35 students. The attendees were State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and his opponent Joseph Concannon, who are running in the 11th Senate District, State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and her opponent J.D. Kim, who are running in the 16th Senate District, Assembly candidates Nily Rozic and Abe Fuchs, who are running in the 25th Assembly District and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), who is running unopposed in the 24th Assembly District.
Hostilities reached a peak during a disagreement over a campaign measure by Concannon against Avella.
Recently, Concannon's campaign had started leaving robocalls attacking Avella for attending the Muslim Day Parade in Manhattan, which featured some radical dialogue that cause the senator to walk out on the event.
When questioned about it, Concannon said, "He sat through the first speaker, who basically tore the U.S. Constitution into shreds. He went into the second speaker and remained there as that speaker started talking about something about her bomb and things of this nature. Then he finally got up and he left. If that's who he wants to hang around with, then I'm going to point that out."
"Mr. Concannon should know that there are Muslims in the Senate district, there are Muslims in this City who are Americans. They have the same wishes and desires that the rest of us have," Avella replied. "I'm happy I went to the parade and I think it was appropriate that I walked out when anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments were being made. Mr. Concannon should be ashamed of himself."
Several audience members applauded at the conclusion of Avella's response.
Tensions were also heightened during the candidates' discussion on ideas for economic growth. Though Kim's ideas about unshackling small businesses from government bureaucracy were well-received, the student crowd turned against him when it came to minimum wage. The State Senate contender suggested lowering the minimum wage for part-time and student workers in order to offset an increase for those working full-time to support their families.
"If you look at the system as a whole, it enables businesses to raise the wages for regular workers who need it," said Kim.
Many students in the crowd showed a mix of incredulousness and unhappiness at his remarks, with even a couple students walking out.
Both Weprin and Rozic agreed that raising the minimum wage would be part of their agenda. Weprin focused his economic ideas on expanding industries in New York, such as dairy, biotech and film. Rozic looked at a clear government as a means of combating economic waste.
Besides the economy, one of the top concerns for the panel and the audience was increasing accessibility to higher education. Avella believed that making CUNY tuition-free would be a big help to relieving student economic pressure. While it would cost $800 million to do so, the senator said legalized gambling income would offset the costs.
Cocannon disagreed, saying "I think it is disingenuous of me to offer to you a free college education. I don't know if we have the ability to do that without bankrupting our state."
Instead, he stated that focus should be in the classroom and the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic needs to be fixed in grammar school before any extracurricular programs are pursued.
Stavisky discussed the lack of college preparedness, saying "Education should be a seamless transition between pre-K and college or post-graduate. I am troubled by the fact that students entering college are unprepared."
Fuchs believed that the country was undergoing a "college bubble," similar to past economic problems such as the Internet bubble or the housing bubble. Among the statistics he mentioned was that 50 percent of college graduates were unable to find work this year. To battle this, Fuchs suggested a return to vocational training in public schools, offering an alternative to college.
Reach Reporter Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, or at email@example.com.