City Council incumbent Helen Sears and one of her two opponents, Daniel Dromm, squared off in a contentious candidate forum turned debate for the right to represent residents in District Council 25 on Monday, August 31.
“You’ve got to let me respond to this, I’m serious, or I’ll walk out,” Sears whispered to the moderator after Dromm accused Sears of being “somewhat ignorant” to the issues of day laborers in her district because she had not brought a day laborer service center to the community.
The moderator used her discretion and adapted the program schedule, originally set only for the candidates to respond to prepared questions, since Stanley Kalathara’s time – the absent candidate – had become available.
“I think it’s very important for all of us to know the truth. Once again my opponent is showing his ignorance of how government works; we don’t have a dictatorship,” said Sears. “The best way to help day laborers is to have government work to make sure that they are protected.”
This heated back-and-forth arose immediately after the first question posed by a member of the organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment and continued after the questions from members the New York City Civic Participation Project and Queens Community House, which hosted the forum.
The questions ranged from worker’s rights, availability of citizenship classes, public safety and police harassment, availability of healthcare centers in the community and affordable housing, particularly for senior citizens.
The candidates agreed on the need for more citizenship and English as a Second Language classes in the district due to the explosive growth of immigrants in Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, and Woodside.
Sears said that from the budget process she has assured that monies reach the district and, even though the budget has been cut, she continued to fund classes from her discretionary member funds. “But there’s no question about it, we need to do more,” said Sears.
“We definitely have to do more and she’s had eight years to do it,” said Dromm, who added that more funds needed to come into the district. “I haven’t gotten elected to office yet, but I promised that I will do more and that’s why you should elect me. Thank you for making that point for me Councilmember.”
In her response, Sears began, “Once again, I have to say, there goes Danny boy just spinning forth his lies,” which raised a few eye-brows, “because these programs have been coming into this district for eight years.”
Sears stated she’s worked on eight city budgets, the last worth $60 billion, and that teacher’s don’t do school budgets – Dromm’s a New York City teacher – principal’s do. “And the reason Mr. Dromm can say this is because he doesn’t know how the system works.”
“I don’t think this night should be about name calling. It appears that the Councilmember is resorting to that quite often lately,” said Dromm, who got some applause for the audience. “We should be able to have a reasonable discussion about the facts and where we differ, and not have to be called a liar.”
The public safety question raised the issue that officers at the 115th Precinct ask immigrants on Roosevelt Avenue for their ‘papers,’ which results in immigrants then not reporting crimes to the police.
Both Sears and Dromm emphasized that police should not ask for documentation. Dromm used his response to press Sears about not opening up a youth community center because she doesn’t work with other politicians in the community. He then proceeded to list the current and former politicians that have endorsed him.
Sears said that each time space became available it became a school.
With the health care question, the closure of St. John’s, the overwhelmed Elmhurst Hospital and the cost for medical care took center stage. While Dromm discussed the need for more primary care facilities to be dispersed throughout the district, Sears said that money in this year’s budget had been allocated for that purpose.
“This is where I have another difference with the Councilmember, where I believe that you are twisting the truth,” said Dromm. “I never said that they would be denied health care, but that they are not receiving quality health care.
“I don’t know, Helen, if you’ve had to go to Elmhurst Hospital, and sit there and wait for five, six, seven, eight, nine or 10 hours to be able to see a doctor. Maybe you just call up and you have your appointment,” Dromm said while Sears shook her head. In her rebuttal she said that everyone tried to prevent the closing of St. John’s, but couldn’t, and that has caused all the hospitals to become overcrowded.
The two questions about affordable housing and job development referenced primarily the plight of the senior citizens in the district, who, because they live on a fixed income and had minimal job opportunities, couldn’t afford to pay their rents or other living expenses.
Sears recognized the terrible job the city has done in terms of housing but said that local senior centers have social workers that can help or they could go to her office. She said that the City Council has fought with the State Legislature to return to the city the right to control its housing and its rent.
Dromm agreed that the city has done a terrible job and added that he would ensure that new developments allot a portion for not just affordable housing, but for senior housing.
Both Sears and Dromm concurred on the necessity of job creation, training and retraining for the district.
Sears’ closing remarks stayed away from attacking her opponent emphasizing that her priorities include health care, job development, and economic development. However, Dromm got the last word.
“We got to choose between a person who has had eight years to do things in the city council and has done nothing! Or someone who is going to bring hope back into this community that things can be better,” he said.