By Dennis Saffran
Having organized and been present throughout the Douglaston Civic Association Candidates Night on Oct.17, I was taken aback by Mark Hallum’s story about the event, “Malliotakis Fumbles at Douglaston Forum.”
Hallum’s lead that “GOP mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis lost the room…as audience members turned their attention away from [her] to their own conversations” does not comport at all with what I and others I have spoken with saw. As someone with painful experience on both sides of the podium when a speaker has really “lost the room,” I can assure readers that that did not happen to Malliotakis at the DCA forum.
The reporter writes that as Malliotakis spoke “several members of the audience, including [City Council candidate Paul] Graziano, gave in to their own conversations and the mayoral candidate moved on to the Q&A portion.” Sure, as at every candidates night, the candidate who had just spoken (in this case Graziano) was talking to supporters and others in the back, and some audience members were getting a little ADD’ish an hour into the event, but the great majority of people seemed to be listening and paying attention to Malliotakis. The implication that she cut her remarks short because nobody was listening is simply not true. She spoke for the full time allotted.
The story also editorializes, and misleadingly, when it states that “Malliotakis parted with potential constituents on the matter of school overcrowding” when she answered a question about school overcrowding “by saying she would invest further in charter schools.”
I appreciate that the online version of the article has been corrected to note that she did say “charter schools,” not “private schools” as originally reported. (No, she did not come out for, and does not support, state aid to the Buckley School.) But as I recall charters were only one of several solutions she mentioned in response to the question. And, if her support for them “prompted skeptical remarks” as the story alleges (I didn’t hear any), it may have been from a few persons seated near the reporter. There was certainly no negative buzz to this effect from the audience at large.
Finally, I appreciate that the online story has also been amended to give a bit more prominence to what the DCA leadership believes should have been the lead: the fact that “none of the incumbents showed up,” including our two local Council members, Paul Vallone and Barry Grodenchik.
While I personally am a Republican (other DCA leaders are not), I don’t just say this to score partisan points. I would have criticized (former state Sen.) Frank Padavan if he had ever avoided a civic association candidates’ forum. But Frank always showed up–as does, to be fair, his and my former rival Tony Avella. The public deserves the same from all of its elected officials.