Padavan, Avella tout differences at SJU forum

The lightning round elicits laughs from state Sen. Frank Padavan (l. to r.), Republican Assembly candidate Timothy Furey, state Sen. Toby Stavisky, state Assemblyman Rory Lancman, and Democratic Senate candidate Tony Avella during a candidate's forum at St. John's University this week. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) does not own an iPod.

His challenger, former Democratic City Councilman Tony Avella, would rather have a beer with Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino instead of Paladino’s Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, “because it might end in a big argument.”

These answers were revealed during a candidate’s forum at St. John’s University Monday night, where candidates were asked at one point to respond with one word to a series of lightning round questions.

On a more serious note, they spent the rest of the evening explaining how they would deal with reforming Albany the state’s budget deficit and root out state corruption.

The forum was co-sponsored by TimesLedger Newspapers and the Queens Chronicle in conjunction with St. John’s and featured questions from a panel made up of reporters from the two weekly newspapers and New York 1 as well as two St. John’s students.

Assembly members Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) participated in the forum despite not having any opponents. Also included in the discussion were Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and his Repubican opponent, Bayside resident Timothy Furey.

On the issue of reform, Avella said he is in favor of term limits for state legislators, campaign finance reform and “eliminating pay-to-play by lobbyists.”

Avella said lulus – money given to the heads of committees on the City Council and state Legislature – and stipends should be eliminated, saying he refused to accept his $8,000-a-year lulu while he was head of the Zoning and Franchises Committee on the City Council because the payments are used “to control votes.”

The former councilman said he is also in favor of redistricting through independent means instead of the state Legislature doing it.

“The 11th Senatorial District is one of the worst gerrymandered districts in the state,” he said, referring to Bayside, Douglaston, Bay Terrace Queens Village, Bellerose, Flushing, Whitestone, Little Neck, College Point, Hollis, Jamaica Estates, Glen Oaks and Floral Park.

Padavan disagreed, saying his district is three-to-one Democrats to Republicans, which makes the district more advantageous to a Democrat than to him.

“If that’s gerrymandering, then we’re really in trouble,” he said.

On reform, Padavan said it was the Republican majority in 2006 that reformed the budget process, implementing conference committees that he said were abandoned when Democrats took control of the Senate in 2009 and 2010.

“Those in charge virtually ignored that reform,” he said. “I’m endorsed by the Citizens Union because of my position on reform.”

Stavisky said it was the Democrats who led reforms in the Senate, saying as chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee she has allowed both Democratic and Republican-sponsored bills to go to the floor of the body, which was not the case under Republican control.

She also said under the GOP, Senate Republican senators receiving $10 in resources for every dollar allocated to Democrats.

On dealing with the state’s projected $9.4 billion budget deficit, Avella suggested the state “should look to alternative sources of revenue.”

Avella said legalizing sports betting in the state would be a large source of revenue, saying $2 billion is wagered in the city alone with the proceeds going to organized crime.

Padavan said going after Medicaid fraud and consolidating functions of local government such as school and water districts are ways to cut spending.

But the senator, a strong opponent of state-sponsored gambling, disagreed with Avella on making sports wagers legal.

He said it is generally “low- to middle-income people” who gamble and legalizing betting is “counterproductive and will cause more problems than it’s worth.”

On the issue of gay marriage, Padavan said he was in favor of civil unions while Avella, who supports gay marriage, said the issue was the starkest difference between the two of them and noted that no Republican voted in favor of the issue when it came ot a vote in the Senate this year.

Lancman, who said he maintains a “modest” side law practice, was the only member of the panel who said state legislators should be allowed to receive side income.

He noted he does not represent any clients with business before the state and said the idea of conflicts of interest is the main argument for a full-time legislature.

Speaking on corruption, Furey said there should be stiffer penalties for legislators found guilty of violating the law because they should be held to a higher standard.

On gay marriage, Weprin said he voted for a similar bill when he was on the City Council that recognizes gay marriages in other jurisdictions.

In the lightning round where only “yes” and “no” answers were accepted, Padavan and Furey struggled when asked if they would support Paladino for governor.

“There is no ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Padavan said during the light-hearted moment. “I say he’s a loose cannon, alright?”

Furey would also not commit to a “yes” or “no,” but said he was “thrown off” by some of Paladino’s statements.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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