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Auburndale group weighs presidential choices

By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

Three Democratic presidential candidates — or rather representatives of their campaigns — squared off on Iraq, the economy and electability at a Jefferson Democratic Club forum in Auburndale last Thursday.

The club invited speakers on behalf of U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to speak in advance of New York’s Super Tuesday primary March 2, when the candidates were set to appear on the ballot for the Democratic nomination.

Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) touted the character and foreign policy experience of Kerry, the front-runner, who appeared at York College four days later to receive the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Organization. The borough party had supported former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean until he suspended his campaign, but Weprin had backed U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

“John Kerry is someone who knows about the world,” said the assemblyman, describing the Massachusetts senator as someone who would make “rational, reasonable” decisions on foreign policy given his long tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Although he acknowledged that Kerry was “not the most dynamic candidate,” Weprin said he was the smartest and would debate well against President George W. Bush.

Weprin said he decided to support Kerry after learning how the senator had saved a fellow soldier under fire in a gunboat in Vietnam.

“That was as courageous a moment as I could imagine,” he said.

Attorney David Kaplan, who practices in Manhattan, said Edwards had a track record of fighting corporate abuses as a trial lawyer and defeating a conservative Republican in North Carolina to win his Senate seat.

“John Edwards is going to deal with the high cost of health care,” Kaplan said. “He will take on the drug companies and the HMOs.”

Saying “it’s not enough to be angry” about the uninsured, unemployment and threats of terrorism facing the country, Kaplan said Edwards had a “positive vision” — one that included providing tax incentives for U.S. job creation.

Unlike Kerry and Edwards, Kucinich was not campaigning in New York, but Bronx businesswoman Jessica Flagg represented the progressive Ohio congressman at the Auburndale forum.

She said Kucinich was the only candidate who had voted against the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.

“He saw through the lies,” she said. “He is the only one of the candidates who has a plan to get us out (of Iraq).”

She said Kucinich wanted to turn over control of Iraq to the United Nations, divert 15 percent of the Pentagon’s budget to education and create universal health care.

In response to an audience member’s question about why Kucinich was doing so poorly in the primaries, Flagg blamed the corporate-controlled media for not giving him enough exposure.

“Dennis Kucinich is the anti-corporate candidate.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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