Council candidates debate immigration, justice and discrimination issues

October 26, 2017 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Topics like immigration, criminal justice and discrimination were the focal points of a Tuesday, October 24 debate hosted by the Arab American Association of New York in which the three candidates for the 43rd District City Council seat once again duked it out in front of a large crowd which, this time, leaned to the left.

The debate – moderated by the association’s executive director, Rama Issa-Ibrahim, and co-sponsored by Fight Back Bay Ridge and the South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance, two fast-growing grassroots organizations in the district – was held in the auditorium of P.S./I.S. 30, 7002 Fourth Avenue, and also featured a translator.

In their opening statements, Democratic candidate Justin Brannan and Republican candidate John Quaglione touted visions of inclusivity within the neighborhoods they hope to serve.

“Some of my other opponents might see our diversity as a threat whereas I see our diversity as a true strength,” said Brannan, who also highlighted his own immigrant roots and promised to “listen carefully” and “speak out loudly when necessary” for all of his constituents.

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Quaglione echoed similar sentiments, citing 19 years of service to the community working under State Senator Marty Golden. “I believe that the strength of this neighborhood is the diversity that we have embraced for so many years,” he said, noting also intentions to “build on that.”

Reform Party contender Bob Capano, however, used his introduction to note that the majority of those in the room will likely disagree with him, though later, he promised an open dialogue if elected where all parties can “be respectful” of one another.

Those promises were quickly put to the test with specific, hard-hitting questions on hot-button topics like broken windows policing, sanctuary cities and the Right to Know Act.

On broken windows policing – which Issa-Ibrahim noted increases the risk for racial profiling within districts like this one – Brannan called for community policing, while also declaring himself the only candidate to call for an end to the system. “The Constitution is not a suggestion, the Constitution is the law,” he said, adding that, since eliminating stop and frisk, there have not been any massive crime waves in the city. “That shows that when you improve the trust and improve the relationship between the police and the communities they serve, it does what it’s intended to do.”

Capano, on the other hand, said he supported the policy, while Quaglione seemed to come down on both sides. “First of all, I’ve actually worked to repair broken windows in the neighborhood,” he said before also calling for community policing – something the Republican candidate has been vocal about for the majority of his campaign – and delving into an answer that seemed supportive of the policy.

“That sends a bad message to the community if we allow our windows to remain broken or we allow graffiti on a certain area; that’s my understanding of broken windows,” he said, citing a 28-day period in May where he says there was a 19 percent spike in petty larceny in the 68th Precinct (a stat he was later pressed on by an audience member who contended that crime, districtwide, has been down). “If you allow the minor incidents to fester, the community falls into a position where you lose control of the situation.”

When pressed on the Right to Know Act – a legislative package aimed at promoting communication, transparency and accountability in everyday interactions between New Yorkers and the NYPD – Brannan was strong in his support and Capano in his opposition. Quaglione told the crowd that, when only the police officer knows what danger he or she is in, “I don’t think that I have the position to make a determination on that.”

When asked by Issa-Ibrahim if that translated to a no, the Republican candidate responded that he had “answered the question.”

On the topic of police brutality and ensuring police accountability (especially in terms of mental health cases), Brannan and Quaglione cited ongoing efforts already underway by the NYPD in terms of the implementation of body cameras and training in non-lethal force. Capano, however, cited a need for “a more objective review board” – specifically one with “less of an anti-cop bias…where no one side feels that the board is against them.”

On the president’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival policy (DACA), which protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who were children when they came to this country, all three showed support for the policy and opposition to rescinding it, Quaglione using the question to highlight, for the second time, the need for a “pathway to citizenship.”

On sanctuary cities, Quaglione also stressed the importance of a “pathway to citizenship,” before telling a story of a Dyker Heights woman who recently refused to seek crucial medical attention due to her immigration status. “That’s something that we need to get past, but if you’re convicted of a felony, you have to face the consequences,” Quaglione said.

Capano held tight to the idea that “everyone needs to follow a law equally” – back-to-back answers that triggered one audience member’s out-loud reminder that the policy does not apply to those who have committed felonies.

Brannan, on the other hand, pledged his support, saying, “We as a city are not going to be safe if there are people living in the shadows who are afraid to come out and report a crime, or afraid to come out and say that something doesn’t feel right – and that’s what sanctuary city is all about.”

The Dem also cited the policy’s significance in local government.

“Now, with this president, the role of an elected official has completely changed,” he said. “Saying, ‘Well, that’s not my jurisdiction’ isn’t gonna to fly anymore.”

On protecting the privacy of IDNYC cardholders, Brannan vocally opposed the current lawsuit to allow authorities access to registrants’ information, while Capano and Quaglione both showed support.

All all three candidates vocally opposed hate crimes in the district, Capano suggesting New Yorkers take a lesson from children (citing his time as a youth baseball coach), Quaglione promising to fund non-profit organizations and support community events and initiatives like essay writing contests in school and Brannan urging those who don’t recognize an issue to stop “living in denial.”

“It starts with taking our heads out of the sand and stopping believing that everything is hunky dory,” he said, adding that when others say there’s nothing to see here, “It’s up to us to say, ‘No. There is something to see here.’”

In almost the same breath, when pressed on post-9/11 tension in the community and the unlawful surveillance by the NYPD “in ways that other communities have not [experienced],” both Brannan and Quaglione agreed that incident-based surveillance is necessary, but that anything else is unconstitutional.

Capano, on the other hand, compared the plights of Arab-American communities being unlawfully surveilled to that of the Italian-American communities in the 1960s and ’70s “when organized crime was a big deal.”

“This day and age, I think the police have to go where they believe the greatest threat is and, certainly post-9/11, it was from Islamic extremist groups,” he said, to an echo of jeers, claiming that, if tomorrow, the threat comes from Italian or Irish-American communities, he “would have no problem with the cops going there as well.”

A pivotal point in the evening came when Rabyaah Althaibani, a Yemeni-American community activist, took a stand during the Q&A, not to ask a question, but to suggest that the candidates rethink the tone of some of their answers.

“Every time you talk about immigrants and people of color, it almost always has to do with national security or community security or issues about crime,” said Althaibani. “We are hard-working immigrants and you need to acknowledge that.”

When asked, again – this time by an audience member in the context of the allegations against Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein – if they would rescind their most recent votes for president, Quaglione again skirted the question, admitting that he has “rethought his vote for Donald Trump at times for certain issues,” and, as a father and a husband, “there is no room for sexual harassment in society.” But, when pressed further on whether or not he would still vote for Trump, he responded, “We’re not up to the 2020 election.”

Brannan, again, backed Clinton, adding, “It’s hard to take other positions seriously when you say that you would vote for Donald Trump.”

Capano, again, stood by his vote for the prez.

The 43rd District encompasses the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. The seat is currently held by Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has represented the district for more than 13 years, and who cannot run again due to term limits.

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