Potential voters gathered at the Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose on Monday to watch contenders for the vacant 23rd City Council seat tackle the issues in a debate hosted by the AARP and sponsored by The Queens Tribune and The Queens Press.
Democrats Barry Grodenchik, Bob Friedrich, Rebecca Lynch, Ali Najmi and Celia Dosamantes will be competing in a Sept. 10 primary along with Satnam Singh Parhar, who was absent from the debate. Former NYPD Captain Joe Concannon, the sole Republican candidate in the race, also participated in the forum.
Questions ranged in topics such as candidates’ support for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, the possible extension of mayoral control over city schools, increased services for the elderly and the possibility of additional legal and legislative protection for tenants.
Grodenchik said that he did not think that enough was being done to support the affordable housing already existing through the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
“I am extremely concerned that this administration is really not attacking, in a good enough way, the deterioration of the 200,000 NYCHA units,” Grodenchik said. “Every single one of those is an affordable housing unit.”
Concannon made it clear that he was against affordable housing plans that could result in high-density zoning and oversaturation in a particular area.
“It has to do with service in the area, oversaturation and the destabilization of our police services, our fire services and our sanitation services,” Concannon said.
On the issue of mayoral control over city schools, Lynch said it was an imperfect system that was needed at the time but should be replaced with a long-term solution.
“Mayoral control was a fix needed for a system that was plagued by patronage and the worst bureaucracy,” Lynch said. “That one-year extension was a political high jinks that really does nothing for our teachers, our principals, our school system in terms of being able to plan for the future.”
Friedrich was eager to speak on the issue of how to find an appropriate location for a new school to ease overcrowded classrooms.
“To dump a school in the middle of a street, where residents live, where there is no parking where they’re going to have kids walking up and down, littering and putting garbage is completely inappropriate,” Friedrich said, “and we need to make sure that the local community is always engaged in those conversations, which is not currently being done.”
Dosamantes outlined her stance on the “Close to Home” juvenile justice reform initiative designed to help keep youth close to their home communities.
“When you’re trying to rehabilitate youth offenders, you can’t put them in a community where they’re going to re-engage in a crime,” Dosamantes said. “You have to put them in a place where it’s positive and it’s going to promote them to advance themselves.”
Najmi said that as part of his effort to increase senior services, he would secure greater funding for the city’s paratransit system Access-A-Ride and in-home services such as the Citymeals-on-Wheels program.
“We need to make sure that is a program that’s fully funded. We need to expand it and get more people involved,” Najmi said. “I think there’s a lack of awareness with [Citymeals-on-Wheels]. We need to do a better outreach.”
The candidates are looking to fill the seat that Mark Weprin vacated in June to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Concannon in the Nov. 3 general election.