By Phil Corso
Five Democrats hoping to replace City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) came together for their first public forum as primary opponents Tuesday, fielding questions largely revolving around quality of life in northeast Queens.
Members of the Auburndale Improvement Association drafted a list of 12 core questions ranging from mayoral control of public education to aircraft noise for the group, which included Douglaston attorney John Duane; Flushing urban planning consultant Paul Graziano; Austin Shafran, a Bayside native and former government spokesman for the Empire State Development Authority; party-backed Flushing attorney Paul Vallone; and former Halloran Chief of Staff Chrissy Voskerichian, of Flushing.
Four of the five sat behind a long table at the St. Kevin’s Parish Center as they waited for their turn to address 19th District voters, while Duane opted to sit in the audience. The candidates were given about 15 minutes to introduce themselves and address as many of the 12 questions as they wished.
Both Vallone, who spoke second, and Duane, who spoke third, left the building soon after their turn to speak. The other candidates stayed until the end to mingle with the more than 50 members in attendance.
There were several consistencies across the candidates, mostly in questions regarding preservation and landmarking, which all were advocates of.
“It always comes down to our quality of life,” Vallone said. “This district is a residential district.”
While not all questions were addressed by each candidate, the issue of mayoral control of the public education system was largely discussed. Virtually all the candidates came out against the concept, plugging a state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) bill seeking to end mayoral control of city schools. They proposed installing community-based panels made up of teachers and parents instead to make decisions.
“We have no local control over our schools here,” Graziano said. “Our core curriculum is lacking greatly.”
Duane’s response to the question was the least aggressive, suggesting that the fight over mayoral control of city schools has turned into a political tug-of-war.
“Let’s stop fighting for political points and start fighting for the kids,” Duane said.
Some candidates addressed a question over whether or not they would allow participatory budgeting to return to the district after Halloran took his first crack at it in 2012. Both Shafran and Voskerichian were in favor and said it put the power of capital projects in the public’s hands, but Graziano said he felt differently.
“It seems like a good idea, but I have some serious problems with it,” he said. “It puts neighbors against each other and becomes a beauty contest.”
All five candidates came out against the controversial rerouting if airplanes by the Federal Aviation Administration resulting in tremendous noise complaints in northeast Queens. They recognized the efforts of local groups like Bayside’s Queens Quiet Skies movement to persuade elected officials to keep up the fight, but Voskerichian said more work was needed for a solution.
“It’s going to take an army — thousands of people,” Voskerichian said.
Duane came out in favor of short terms in public office to promote fresh ideas and limit corruption, while Voskerichian suggested term limits be imposed for borough community boards.
Duane, who served in the state Assembly for two years, bashed career politicians and touted his short stint before bowing out to raise a family outside the public eye. He did not mention, however, that his Assembly stint was cut short involuntarily after he lost his re-election campaign in 1984.
Shafran said he would serve as a full-time councilman if elected and took matters one step further by calling on all elected officials to refrain from holding any professional positions outside of government to prevent conflicts of interest.
“I will never accept any forms of outside employment or outside income,” he said. “We see hundreds of thousands of dollars in unregulated money going to City Council members. There is a potential for a conflict of interest.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.