Donovan, Rose battle in first congressional debate
Talk dominated by Big Pharma contributions, residency
In their first debate in a closely watched congressional race, Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan and his Democratic opponent Max Rose hit each other with charges over campaign contributions tied to Big Pharma and carpet-bagging.
A questioner from the audience noted that Donovan had accepted campaign contributions from Perdue Pharma, the company that manufactures OxyContin, an opioid found to be addictive to patients. Donovan countered that it was not Perdue Pharma that gave money to his campaign, but “two individuals who work for the company.”
Donovan quickly added that he took the controversial campaign contributions, totaling nearly $10,000, and donated the money to two local organizations that help people suffering from drug addiction.
Rose scoffed at Donovan’s answer.
“He accepted the donations three years ago and donated the money only after we told the press!” Rose said, hinting that the incumbent did the right thing solely to avoid negative publicity.
Donovan is seeking re-election in New York’s 11th Congressional District, a seat that includes several neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn, such as Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, and covers the entire borough of Staten Island. Both Donovan and Rose live on Staten Island.
The Oct. 12 forum, the first time the two men have debated, was sponsored by the Bay Ridge Community Council and took place at Xaverian High School at 7100 Shore Road. While it marked the first time Donovan and Rose have faced each other, it was not a one-on-one debate. The community council also invited Green Party candidate Henry Bardel to take part.
CNN has labeled the Donovan-Rose race too close to call, a significant development since Donovan is the only Republican in New York City’s congressional delegation.
The Cook Political Report, however, has listed the race as “likely Republican.”
At the debate, the Donovan and Rose also got into a heated exchange over Rose’s residency.
Donovan defended a campaign ad on television in which a narrator can he heard saying that Rose “isn’t one of us” because the challenger moved into the congressional district only within the past couple of years.
Donovan, who was elected to Congress in a special election three and a half years ago, said that Rose has lived in the congressional district less time than that.
Rose, a U.S. Army veteran who fought in Afghanistan, angrily replied that he did not move into the district earlier because he was busy serving his country in the military.
His answer drew loud applause from the audience in the half-filled high school auditorium.
Donovan said he respected Rose’s military service to the nation but added that he was pointing out his opponent’s residency status because it was a fact.
Health care was a major topic of discussion at the debate.
“Our healthcare system is broken,” Donovan said. “The Affordable Care Act helped a lot of people and it hurt a lot of people,” referring to the landmark law that is also known as Obamacare.
Donovan said he voted against Trumpcare, a repeal of Obamacare championed by President Donald Trump, because he believed it was too sweeping and would have hurt people in his district. “I think what we have to do is piecemeal it,” he said, adding that maintaining affordable coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions “is a must.”
Bardel called for the establishment of a single-payer health care system in the U.S. “We’re the richest country in the world. We should have it,” he said.
Bardel also advocated raising the tax rate for millionaires to 90 percent. “We can raise a heck of a lot of money that way,” he said.
Rose, who was seated onstage between Donovan and Bardel, said he disagreed with both of their approaches.
“We need a public option. We need to control skyrocketing prices. The answer is also not single payer. The answer is right up the middle, building on the existing system,” Rose said.
A question from the audience prompted a discussion over cutbacks at the Brooklyn Campus of the VA NY Harbor Health Care System, also known as the VA Medical Center. The facility is located at 800 Poly Place in Bay Ridge.
“Our VA system is broken. This is personal to me,” Rose said. He charged that it takes too long for veterans to get into the system and once veterans are enrolled, they face “incredible shortages” of trained professionals to assist them.
Instead of providing adequate funding for the VA system, Republicans in Congress “just shipped $1 trillion to rich people,” Rose said, referring to the tax cut approved by Congress in 2017.
Donovan voted against the tax cut.
Donovan said he has held roundtable discussion with local veterans and has worked to try to prevent cuts at the hospital.
He recently met with U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie in Washington, D.C. to discuss health care for veterans.
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