By Karen Frantz
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) sparred over their records and qualifications for Senate at a spirited debate last Thursday at Our Lady of Hope School in Middle Village, with Addabbo portraying himself as a leader who stands up for workers and families during tough fiscal times and Ulrich arguing the effort has not been enough to change New York’s economy.
The debate was hosted by the Daily News and the Juniper Park Civic Association. About 70 people attended the panel, which was moderated by Lisa Colangelo from the Daily News, Joe Anuta of the Times-Ledger, Azi Paybarah of Capital New York and Sam Goldman of the Times Newsweekly.
Addabbo said he was faced with one of the worst fiscal situations the state has ever known with a $17 billion deficit in 2009, yet still managed to protect essential services while making $6 billion in spending cuts.
He is running for a third term for the 15th Senate District, which covers Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Glendale, Middle Village, Woodhaven, Maspeth and parts of South Ozone Park, Rego Park, Ridgewood and Sunnyside.
Addabbo also said he is fighting to bring more money to the district by urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow nonprofits and other community groups, which are hurting from the freezing of new discretionary dollars, apply directly to government agencies for funding.
But Ulrich questioned whether Addabbo has been as effective as he claims, charging that Addabbo voted to raise taxes 124 times in 2009 . The councilman contended that Addabbo was not able to secure funding for local organizations from a pool of millions of dollars appropriated by the state, but did appropriate $40,000 in 2009 for Vito Lopez’s Senior Center, which has been under intense scrutiny amid claims it has questionable ties to the embattled Brooklyn state assemblyman.
“I’ve got a big problem with that when you come here and tell these groups there’s no money for them, but there’s money for him,” he said.
Addabbo shot back as he did at several other points in the debate, that Ulrich did not understand the process at the state level.
Addabbo also described the work he has done fighting a freight train line in Middle Village, which has caused noise and odor headaches for residents who live nearby. He said that although it is a federal issue, he introduced legislation on covering the cars and has repeatedly advocated for the region with national officials and agencies.
Ulrich dismissed Addabbo’s claims that there was little he could do about the rail yard in Middle Village, however.
“Whatever you have been doing obviously isn’t working,” he said.
At times the debate became heated. A question about same-sex marriage riled the audience, with some shouting out from their seats.
When asked about his changed vote on same-sex marriage from a “no” in 2009 to a “yes” in 2011, Addabbo said he changed his mind after many people came to his office with most wanting him to approve the bill.
“I voted yes and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” he said.
But Ulrich blasted back that elected officials should vote their values and let public opinion take its course at the ballot box.
“When we make decisions as elected officials, we do not stick our finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing,” he said, which was met with applause from the audience.
The candidates also butted heads on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. Ulrich said he supports the drilling method for natural gas in the state if it can be done safely, and also argued it would create good paying jobs and help ease dependence on foreign oil.
But Addabbo contended that fracking would not create jobs because oil companies would bring in workers from out of state. He also said the drilling method uses dangerous chemicals that can make its way into water reservoirs.
“I cannot see supporting something that jeopardizes our drinking water,” he said.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.