By Kelsey Durham
Two Republican candidates vying to become the next representative of New York’s 3rd Congressional District debated issues such as universal health care and immigration reform at a forum Wednesday night hosted by the Northeast Queens Republican Club.
After weeks of battles involving lawsuits and police reports, Stephen Labate and Grant Lally met for their first debate at the Clearview Golf Course in Bay Terrace and touched on some current political issues. While both candidates agreed that they would like to end Obamacare and fix security on the nation’s borders, the two men differed in their views on solutions to some of America’s problems.
Labate, a native of South Ozone Park, is a seasoned member of the U.S. Army Reserve who has been called to active duty three times since Sept. 11, 2001. Lally is a commercial lawyer who lives in Huntington, L.I. and said he was the only New York attorney to file briefs and appear before the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to defeat President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
When delivering his opening remarks at Wednesday’s forum, Labate said the existence of Obamacare has hindered the economy and said it was one of the “serious problems” America is facing today.
“The vast majority of people who it was supposed to help didn’t want it, and they still aren’t covered,” he said.
Lally agreed with his opponent’s objection to Obamacare and said it was one of the president’s policies that has “massively damaged” the country.
The two candidates also had a heated discussion about immigration reform and citizenship, and both men agreed that better security is needed on the country’s borders in order to combat the number of illegal immigrants who make their way into the states each year. Labate argued that the nation has “totally lost control of our borders” but said he is not in favor of using military troops as a way to beef up security.
“That’s a law enforcement mission,” he said “What the government should do is their job and stop leaning on soldiers for everything they can’t do right. Soldiers and their families have enough burden already.”
Lally said also sees a problem with what he said was approximately 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and argued that the first step to combatting the problem is to better secure the borders.
He also said he is not in favor of a process known as the “path to citizenship” in which any illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. can apply for citizenship by going to the back of the line to do so.
“If someone is here illegally, they should not be entitled to any citizenship,” Lally said. “We shouldn’t cheapen American citizenship by just giving it away.”
Lally and Labate did both say, however, that they are in favor of offering citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to America at a young age and served a full term honorably in any branch of the U.S. military.
“If you’re paying your dues with military service, I would support that legislation unequivocally,” Labate said.
Lally and Labate are both hoping to face U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) in the November election to represent a unique district that includes parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as the Queens neighborhoods of Whitestone, Little Neck and Douglaston. The primary that will decide the Republican party candidate will take place June 24.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].