One man shows: Candidates debate themselves

October 9, 2012 Helen Klein
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Granted, competitive elections are still alive and well in southwest Brooklyn. But, for a series of debates held by the Bay Ridge Real Estate Board on Wednesday, October 3 at Sirico’s, the incumbents had the floor to themselves

Congressmember Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Assemblymembers Peter Abbate and William Colton, both Democrats, had the opportunity to address the assembled group without their opponents being present – in the case of Grimm, Democrat Mark Murphy, who was invited to the forum but did not attend; for Abbate, Conservative Party candidate Vincent Katinas, who as a third party candidate was not invited; and for Colton, Republican-Conservative James Rippa, who was invited but didn’t make an appearance.

Grimm – who attended the event with his own cheering squad, many clad in matching tee shirts asking “Got Grimm?” – sought to position himself as an active representative who has made an effort, over his freshman term in Congress, to be visible in Brooklyn. Noting that he had been told by area residents who “said they felt as if they had a Staten Island congressman who came to Brooklyn once in a while,” Grimm stressed, “I have tried my best to bridge that gap.”

That’s not the only gap he has tried to bridge, Grimm said. Noting “Washington is broken; it’s become very polarized,” he told the group that he had made an effort to cross party lines on legislation, co-sponsoring bills with Democrats, though he diverges from them clearly when it comes to the Affordable Health Care Act, which he said would hit local hospitals hard.

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In addition, Grimm said he had been in the forefront of protecting the viability of Fort Hamilton – first with a bill that made it difficult for the Army Corps of Engineers to leave the base, as it had been planning, and then with a campaign to keep an elite anti-terrorism squad at the fort when it was threatened with being eliminated.

Grimm also noted that he has worked on very local issues – getting two-hour meters on area shopping strips where merchants said they were losing business to one-hour meters that forced consumers to shop elsewhere or risk getting a parking ticket; and getting the bathrooms in McKinley Park repaired.

The nuts-and-bolts local issues are one prong of Abbate’s three-prong delivery of service, the assemblymember noted when it was his turn to speak. His office staff, Abbate said, goes above and beyond to help constituents; in addition, he said, it is his job to bring funding back to area schools and projects, as well as to pass legislation that benefits the area and people he represents.

This sort of focus, Abbate stressed, helps maintain the quality of life in the community – because good schools and good public transportation, major priorities for Abbate, both directly impact the livability of an area. “I fight to get funding for every school in the district, and I constantly battle with the MTA,” he noted, telling his listeners to “vote for the candidates who are going to do the best for you and your family. Study what they have done and what they are going to do.”

Colton also stressed his battles on behalf of constituents, most dramatically the ongoing fight to keep a waste transfer station from being opened on Gravesend Bay, on the site of the shuttered Southwest Brooklyn Incinerator. “It’s going to create serious issues with health and the environment,” he contended, explaining that he had brought a lawsuit that, if successful, could prevent its opening.

Colton already chalked up as a success the effort he spearheaded to restore the B64 route, which had been truncated by the MTA in 2010 because of a straitened budget. To get it restored, Colton had led a campaign that brought together local activists with union members on the issue.

Also successful, Colton said, has been his effort to spruce up the neighborhood, bringing together community and school groups to do regular clean-ups – another example, he stressed, of the sort of grass-roots activism that he specializes in.

Why did he do it? “I want to get the garbage off the street,” Colton explained, “and I want to make people aware of the need to keep the neighborhood clean.”

Election Day is November 6. Sirico’s is located at 8023 13th Avenue.

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