District 43 City Council forum combines both party candidates
The Brooklyn Board of Realtors and AARP hosted a forum to introduce the Democratic and Republican candidates for the 43rd Council District open seat (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst). The forum was open to the public and took place at the Shore Hill Community Center in Bay Ridge.
The candidates are running to succeed Vincent Gentile, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2003 but who is term-limited and cannot run for re-election this year. This event marked the first time that all seven declared candidates appeared together.
The Democrats running for their party’s nomination, which will be decided in a primary set for Sept. 12, are Justin Brannan, Gentile’s chief of staff; Kevin Peter Carroll, an aide to Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-DUMBO-Brooklyn Heights-Downtown Brooklyn); Rev. Khader El-Yateem, the pastor of Salam Arabic Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge; and Nancy Tong, the Democratic district leader in the 47th Assembly District.
The three Republican candidates hoping to be their party’s nominee (in a primary also set for Sept. 12) are Bob Capano, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and manager at a Gristedes supermarket in Manhattan; Liam McCabe, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-C-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island); and John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn).
AARP President Peter Killen and his wife Patricia organized what he called “an educational forum” to allow the candidates an opportunity to address the audience made up mainly of senior citizens. The candidates were introduced in alphabetical order and allowed seven minutes each to speak to the audience.
Brannan spoke first, emphasizing his deep roots in the Bay Ridge community, having grown up and gone to school in the neighborhood and having started groups like the Bay Ridge Democrats and Bay Ridge Cares, which delivers meals to seniors. Brannan said that he took the day off from working for Gentile to be at this event, and that he learned a lot from Gentile about “listening to and paying attention to our seniors.”
He referred to his audience as members of the greatest generation and “the ones who really helped build this city and build this community.” He said he wanted to protect seniors from scams by imposing more severe penalties for those who commit crimes against the elderly.
Second to speak was Capano, who also mentioned his roots in the community and the awards and accolades he’s received through the years. He spoke about lifting the caps on charter schools so that parents can afford to send their kids there. He said his experience in the private sector separated him from the other candidates, having had to deal with the issues that come from running a small business.
He said that he’s the only candidate who can say that he’s worked for Brooklyn’s top Democratic elected officials, having served as senior aide to former Borough Presidents Marty Markowitz and Howard Golden and Republican elected officials including U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella.
Carroll emphasized his community board experience, and his work as a district leader and community activist. He said he served on Community Board 10 for 12 years, and dealt with a variety of issues facing Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, including “adding a pedestrian walkway onto the Verrazano bridge and illegal home conversions.”
He said his community board experience allowed him to view the issues from a different perspective. Carroll also said that one of the most important issues facing the community is more affordable senior housing such as the Shore Hill Community Center and finding the space needed to build them.
El-Yateem, who also served on Community Board 10 for 12 years, described himself as an Arab-American immigrant born and raised in Bethlehem, adding, “I’m not talking about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I’m talking about Bethlehem where Jesus was born.” He said that he came to the community 22 years ago to serve as pastor and fell in love with what he termed a “civic-minded community, a community that is engaged and organized, a community that likes to be involved and part of the process in decision making.”
He quickly became a community organizer who was civically engaged and founded the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force in order to bring Christians, Muslims and Jews, elected officials and the police department together, around the table so that we could identify issues of concern in the community and address them collectively.
El-Yateem said he has always strived to build bridges between people and work across party lines. He concluded by saying that his win would be a historic one because he would be the first Arab-American elected to the city council.
McCabe elicited laughter when he opened his remarks by saying, “It’s tough to follow a guy who was born in Bethlehem and is a priest.” Senior housing affordability was a primary goal for McCabe. He said that he was born and raised in the neighborhood and is now looking at the possibility of not being able to afford to buy a house, raise a family and live here anymore. He spoke about New York state’s $84 billion budget and how little of it is allocated for senior citizens.
He also vowed to fight for transportation for seniors by spending more on Access-A-Ride and having them work with Uber to provide better transportation options for seniors. Lastly, he expressed his desire to get some of the younger people moving into the neighborhood to volunteer to work on programs with seniors, “so that we can connect the past with the future.”
Quaglione referred to his 20 years working with Marty Golden and all the initiatives he’s helped put through, including cleaning up Shore Road Park and successfully petitioning the MTA to reinstate weekend service on the x27 and x28 bus lines. He spoke about his involvement with a number of community organizations including the Guild for Exceptional Children, being chairperson of the board of directors of St. Anselm Catholic Academy and helping to create a Brooklyn chapter of the March of Dimes.
He called the city budget a runaway train and chastised Mayor de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for improper spending and offering Pre-K 3 for free, saying “there’s a point where parents have to take responsibility for their children and not the city.”
Quaglione was sponsoring a petition calling on the Mayor to assign more police to the 68th and 62nd precincts, saying, “we are at an all-time low for police officers assigned to both precincts under the current administration.”
He concluded by addressing the issue of crimes against seniors, and his desire to increase the penalties for those who take advantage of the elderly, recalling the “Granny’s Law” bill that he and Golden helped pass.
Last to speak was Tong, who said she spent the majority of her life as a volunteer, working in schools and with seniors. As a result of her volunteer work, she met Assemblymember William Colton, who offered her a part-time job in his office. She said that over her eight years there she has worked with 10,000 constituents on a variety of issues.
She said no matter where you live the issues are all the same, such as train problems for example. She also addressed the issue of senior housing, calling senior centers a very good idea that allows seniors to engage with each other rather than sit at home watching television. She said she was a big supporter of universal Pre-K, which she called “the foundation in order to succeed.” She said her hope was not to build walls, but to build bridges in order to get things done.
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