Six candidates vying to be the first representative from New York’s new Sixth Congressional District put themselves, and their conversational skills, on display Monday night during a debate at Flushing's Queens Library.
Participating in the event were candidates Dan Halloran, a Republican, Elizabeth Crowley, Rory Lancman, Grace Meng and Robert Mittman, all Democrats, and Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou.
Organized by the MinKwon Center for Community Action, the forum was designed to give candidates a straightforward platform from which to address the pressing issues on the city, state and national levels.
The event stayed civil with the candidates — almost all of whom are very familiar with one another — joking together between questions and avoiding the stinging barbs that might come out as the larger campaign drags on.
The candidates stayed focused on the issues, which included immigration reform, deficit spending and civil rights issues like stop-and-frisk and gay marriage.
City Councilman Dan Halloran, R-Bayside, was arguably the most animated of the night, and certainly staked out positions distinct from a slate made up mostly of state and city Democrats. On a question about whether he would vote to raise the debt ceiling again, he answered conditionally, comparing the nation’s debt limit to that of a family paying their bills with credit cards.
“It’s $17 trillion today, when do we say it’s enough?” Halloran asked. “When do your credit cards max out? Do you get to call the credit card company and say ‘Hey, I need another $50,000 credit line?’ No, you don’t get to do that, why should your government?”
When asked about the role of government in job creation, Lancman said he relished the opportunity to answer the question after Halloran, if only to illustrate the differences between Republicans and Democrats on the issue.
Halloran, as expected, said he believed the role of government was to “get out of the way” of small and mid-size businesses.”
Lancman responded with a counter-point immediately.
“We have an experiment of deregulation, of getting government out of the way of business. It’s called the Wall Street Meltdown,” Lancman said. “We need to start by reforming Wall Street, making it an engine of economic growth, not a potential minefield. … We need to provide support for small businesses, so that they can get access to credit.”
Evergreen Chou, the Green party candidate, went with big picture politics, pushing the ideas of his party with lofty rhetoric.
“Right now, we need a Roosevelt New Deal where jobs are created for people,” Chou said. “We need to have a living wage for state workers, single-payer, universal health care and to take the profit [motive] out of health care.”
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, D-Middle Village, arrived too late to make an opening statement, but still managed to make an impression while talking about defense and cutting military spending to ease a rough economy stateside.
“What we’re doing in Afghanistan is: we’re building schools, we’re building firehouses, when the threat of closing schools and closing down firehouses is happening right here in New York City,” she said.
Grace Meng, currently the candidate with the backing of the Queens Democratic Party, came to life on a question about civil rights, condemning stop-and-frisk.
“No one community should ever be singled out or targeted because of the way they look,” she said.
Robert Mittman, a Bayside doctor running as a Democrat, set himself up as a centrist, decrying government overspending along with Halloran but also siding with Meng, Lancman, Chou and Crowley on a number of traditionally Democratic issues. In his closing statement, he framed himself as the choice of voters who wanted to avoid career politicians.