By Stephen Stirling
Flushing's state Assembly seat may not be in danger of changing parties this November, but the contest for its control has drawn heavy interest in the bustling downtown district.
A boisterous crowd of more than 200 people packed the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing last Thursday to hear the first debate between state Assemblywoman Ellen Young (D-Flushing) and her Democratic challenger, Grace Meng.
The debate, hosted by former Fox 5 news broadcaster Kyung Yoon and sponsored by more than 50 community groups in the district, was the only one scheduled thus far ahead of the Sept. 9 primary vote.
Throughout the debate, Young relied heavily on her first term record, citing the five bills she has had signed into law since taking office. She said the legacy of a legislator cannot be written in one term.
“This is why I appeal to you all today to let me continue to represent you and continue the work that I have started,” Young said.
Meng was quick to attempt to chip away at Young's record, saying the five bills that Young has gotten passed were not truly her own.
“While I applaud the work that the assemblywoman has done, these are all still merely extensions of bills that have previously passed,” Meng said.
The repeated needling by Meng drew a quick response by Young.
“It's not about whose bill it was. It is about getting results,” she said.
Supporters of each side chanted loudly before and after the first debate between the candidates, which was simultaneously translated into Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Hindi.
Affordable housing, education, public health and immigration issues largely dominated the evening's discourse.
One of the clearest distinctions between the two candidates came when they were asked about former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's failed legislation that would have enabled the state to grant driver's licenses to all New Yorkers, including “limited” licenses that would have been available to illegal immigrants.
The plan died amid overwhelming opposition both on the state and national stage.
Young said she would wholeheartedly support such a measure were it to come up again, contending that it would contribute to increased public safety.
“We need this kind of legislation to bring people out of the shadows and into the system,” Young said.
Meng staunchly disagreed, maintaining that it would bring what should remain a federal issue to the state level.
“We don't want to turn our DMV into an INS,” she said.
Meng conceded that immigration should be better controlled and tracked, suggesting that a program could be started where foreign consulates issued identification, but said she still believed it is a federal issue.
One of the more unusual positions of the night came from Young, who elicited snickers from the crowd when she suggested taxing chewing gum to increase state revenue.
“That is a very creative idea, but I don't know how I'm going to explain to my little boy, Tyler, why chewing gum is so expensive,” Meng said.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by E-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.