Nolan Vs. Wilson, Gianaris Alone At Debate
Ridgewood residents got a chance to meet candidates for State Senate and Assembly seats covering part of their neighborhood during a debate hosted by the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association (RPOCA) last Thursday night, Oct. 4, at I.S. 93.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, the Democratic incumbent representing the 37th Assembly District, squared off against her Republican challenger, actor John Kevin Wilson. State Sen. Michael Gianaris, the incumbent Democrat who represents the 12th State Senate District, had no one to debate, as his Republican challenger-technology professional Tony Arcabascio-failed to appear.
With all three candidates seeking state office, they were each asked the same questions by RPOCA President Paul Kerzner and First Vice President John Maier. Recording Secretary Charles Ober served as moderator.
Beginning with opening statements, Nolan touted her years of experience as an assemblywoman and her connections to her hometown of Ridgewood and the civic association.
“I feel that I have a good record,” she said, pointing out that she worked as chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee to help thwart the city’s plan to close and replace Grover Cleveland High School earlier this year. Nolan also noted that she worked with local elected officials to bring improvements to the area such as the creation of the Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal.
In challenging Nolan, Wilson gave the incumbent credit for her work over the years but also stated that he had “fundamental disagreements” with her over political philosophy. He also stated that he was running to change the state’s charter school system and “remove the obstacles” that leave applicants on the outside looking in every year.
“I feel compelled to do this to give everyone a choice,” Wilson said of his campaign. “Cathy is a big government Democrat; I don’t think that’s a rude thing to say. I’m a small government guy, a former Democrat and liberal. I think a small government is the way to go.”
Pointing out that the newlyaligned 12th State Senate District includes areas of Ridgewood west of Forest Avenue, Gianaris told residents that he was focused on protecting the public education system, increasing job creation and stopping gun violence.
“We’re working hard to get illegal guns off the streets,” Gianaris said, adding that he recently proposed a package of bills which would, if enacted, provide New York State with “the toughest [gun laws] in the nation” and help keep firearms “out of the wrong hands.
Maier asked each of the candidates about their stance on hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking), a drilling method which energy companies seek to use to tap into large plumes of natural gas in upstate regions. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is examining whether to formally permit the use of the system, which involves the highpressure injection of a mixture of chemicals into the ground.
Wilson stated that he favored the use of hydrofracking in the state, explaining that he “looked into it” and did not find “any compelling evidence of major damage.”
“It’s not that I’m trading a dirty environment for jobs,” he said, going on to note that “I’d do a little more research before it gets going, but there’s really nothing to worry about along those lines.” If enacted, Wilson noted, the state should regularly monitor such drilling activities.
Nolan and Gianaris, however, expressed great concerns over hydrofracking, charging that the risks to the environment-specifically New York City’s water reservoirs located upstate-outweigh job creation and potential economic benefits.
“It’s obvious we don’t want to be dependent on foreign oil. The idea of natural gas drilling is appealing, but we’ve had natural gas drilling for many, many years,” Nolan said. “Anytime a chemical gets into the water supply, it will eventually spread and hurt us. We have to be extremely careful before we authorize any hydrofracking. … We have to be cautious and err on the side of the environment.”
Moving to the economy, Kerzner asked the candidates about their ideas for reducing high taxes faced by New Yorkers, pointing out a recent study that found residents pay the secondhighest amount of taxes per capita in the United States.
In the last budget, Gianaris noted, the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed and approved “a very significant tax reduction for middle class families.”
He also noted that eliminating bureaucratic waste and spending will also help ease the tax burden faced by New York families.
Nolan also said she supported tax cut reductions as well as a property tax cap also approved by the legislature and the governor. But she also noted that certain taxes, such as the recently challenged MTA payroll taxes, are necessary in order to prevent the authority from instituting high fare and toll hikes.
“It’s a complicated issue, but I would agree that you do need to reduce the tax burden,” she said. “We started this year by reducing middle class taxes.”
Wilson said that he would support an across-the-board tax cut, offering that it would spur economic activity around the state. He added that “what we need to do is stop spending.”
“We’re spending too much,” he said. “You can’t spend money you don’t have. … When you lower taxes, you increase revenue. It’s much better to have a lot of people paying a little tax than having a few people paying a lot of tax.”
On the MTA
Continuing on the MTA theme, Maier asked the candidates about what they would do to limit increases in fares and tolls as well as service reductions.
Gianaris hoped that the payroll tax-which was struck down by a Nassau County judge-would be upheld by the appellate courts. He noted that as the case remains under appeal, the state is continuing to collect the tax. Should the tax be forcibly discontinued by the courts, the senator added that the state would need to find a way to “keep investing in mass transit.”
Nolan agreed, stating that the MTA cannot afford to cut service any further. She noted that the system as a whole cannot be run “without an effective workforce or dedicated revenue,” and that the state government must find the revenues to keep the authority going.
Calling the MTA a “money pit,” Wilson suggested that the authority’s fiscal problems could be solved in part with greater cooperation from the unions representing its workers.
“We have a transit union that got a bit out of control, a public sector union that’s not in touch with reality,” he said. “The unions need to work better as partners with the city. They can’t get everything all the time.”
Asked by Maier about allocating state funding for community based organizations, Nolan and Gianaris supported providing funding for local nonprofit groups which serve area residents. The state senator especially noted that many of these organizations have suffered after discretionary funds (also known as member items) were suspended by Governor Cuomo two years ago.
“The reality is that these groups spend a tremendous amount of time raising money” but government funding remains a necessity for them, Gianaris added. “The tax dollars are going back into the community. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But we need to move the tax dollars equally around the neighborhoods.”
Wilson, however, suggested that smaller organizations should be more inclined to raise funds independently of government. Additional federal funding, however, should be sought for other state programs, he added.
Kerzner stated that the civic group’s November meeting is scheduled to feature debates between the candidates for the Sixth Congressional District seat, Assemblywoman Grace Meng and City Council Member Daniel Halloran, and the 15th State Senate District seat, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo and City Council Member Eric Ulrich.
The next Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday night, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at I.S. 93, located on Forest Avenue between Woodbine and Madison streets.