By Mark Hallum
A candidate forum at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in downtown Flushing turned heated last week when a Republican candidate running in the district currently held by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) did not know which languages were spoken in northeast Queens.
To add to the drama, Avella and his second-time Democratic challenger, former City Comptroller John Liu, argued over Avella’s membership in the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference among other issues at the Aug. 23 forum.
Liu claimed that former IDC members had paved the way for state Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) to take the role as majority leader by not voting for state Sen. Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) and instead supporting a “spoiler candidate” in IDC leader Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx).
The IDC was a breakaway group of Democrats in the state Senate who caucused on their own and negotiated with the Republican majority in an attempt to pass progressive legislation.
Liu is challenging Avella in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, while Republican Vicky Paladino is running against Simon Minching in the GOP contest.
Paladino, 64, said in her lifetime living in Senate District 11, which stretches from College Point to Little Neck, she has never seen the level of “deterioration” supposedly underway in her district and pointed the finger of blame at the “progressive left.”
Simon Minching, a 31-year-old also running as a Republican in the GOP primary with a background in the private sector, had a milder outlook on the issues in the district by explaining that he would like to “make life more affordable” through legislation and improve education.
The growing scarcity of housing at affordable rates prompted a question about legalizing basement apartments, something Avella said is too dangerous to allow in the case of fires. But he went on to say he would be in favor of adjusting the way area median income is calculated for new developments to more accurately reflect what people can afford in specific communities.
Minching agreed that basement apartments are unsafe, while Paladino said she was in favor of allowing people to rent and occupy them.
Liu said he would support zoning changes to allow basement apartments to be built, but not retroactively, and would work to amend the 421a tax exemption to establish deeper affordability in new developments.
Paladino and Minching are both in favor of keeping the immigration status question on the 2020 U.S. census, with Paladino later claiming to not know how many languages were spoken in her district by exclaiming “How many can there be?” as the crowd voiced discontent.
Minching said he supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal to charge cars entering Manhattan below 60th Street during certain hours, which is widely opposed in the outer boroughs, but only on a pilot level and only for ride-share vehicles such as Uber and Lyft.
Liu and Minching were both in favor of the state legalizing, regulating and levying taxes from recreational marijuana use, while Paladino was wholeheartedly against legalization of any kind.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall