DEBATE REVEALS CLEAR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN NYS SENATE CANDIDATES
October 30, 2014 -- The three candidates for the 5th New York State Senate District seat - incumbent Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, Democrat Sea Cliff Mayor Bruce Kennedy, and Libertarian Party Candidate Gigi Bowman - debated local and state issues at a Meet the Candidates forum sponsored by the Huntington League of Women Voters at the Harborfields Public Library in Greenlawn this past Monday evening. The candidates addressed a wide range of topics, and while there was agreement on some, clear distinctions emerged between the three candidates over women's reproductive rights and the Common Core learning standards, and to a certain degree over environmental issues and how to address income inequality.
The Republican and Democrat both stated that high property taxes and job creation were among the most significant issues facing Long Island and the more than 300,000 residents of the 5th Senate district which stretches along the North Shore of Long Island from Hempstead Harbor to Fort Salonga and south to the Long Island Expressway.
In response to the first question, "What are your top three priorities?" Mr. Kennedy emphasized property tax relief, and that a way of achieving that end was for the state to re-assume many of the obligations it has shifted to local governments and school districts. The state, he said, needs to go back to its traditional role in paying for Medicaid, an expense for which the county covers 15%. The state taking on full responsibility, as is done in all other states, he said, would allow the county to significantly reduce the amount it must collect through property taxes. Likewise, Mr. Kennedy said that the Gap Elimination Adjustment that was adopted in 2009 and that resulted in significant losses in state aid going to suburban school districts needs to be reformed or eliminated altogether, as a way of relieving pressure on school districts and school property taxpayers. His third priority, he continued, was to push for policies that would incentivize job creation on Long Island, as has been done upstate with a variety of programs.
Mr. Marcellino also said tax relief and creating new jobs were his top priorities. Responding to Mr. Kennedy's comments, he stated that the State has "frozen" the county's Medicaid contribution so that it will not increase beyond its current level, and that while the county would continue to pay a portion, any growth in those costs would be covered by the state. As for the Gap Elimination Adjustment, he said that that legislation had been passed by a Democratic Party controlled legislature, but agreed that the state needed to further address the issue. The legislation, he said, has led to Long Island's share of state education aid being reduced from 14 to 5%.
Ms. Bowman, who is a real estate agent and a substitute teacher in the Huntington School District, said that her priorities were tax relief, eliminating the common core learning standards, and repealing the SAFE Act, a New York State gun control measure that was passed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Asked to address the issue of income inequality in New York State, Mr. Marcellino used the opportunity to express his support for workplace provisions contained within the Women’s Equality Act, a bill that has passed the Assembly but remains stalled in the Senate.
Ms. Bowman said that she believed that the Woman’s Equality Act would “set women back” and threw her support behind the free market governing the workplace.
Mr. Kennedy stated that he supported all ten parts of the Women’s Equality Act, and redirecting to the broader issue of income inequality, said that the state needed to increase the minimum wage to a “working wage.” “No one can support themselves on Long Island,” he said, “at the current minimum wage.” He continued that Costco pays its workers significantly higher than the minimum wage that Walmart pays many of its workers, and that Costco’s “financials are better.”
Ms. Bowman said she believed that raising the minimum wage would hurt small businessmen. Mr. Kennedy replied that he is a small businessman, and would never be able to attract the workers he needs at that wage level.
Returning to the Woman’s Equality Act, Mr. Marcellino stated that he supported nine of its ten provisions, opposing only the abortion proposal, which he said would allow late term abortions. “Activists in the Assembly,” he said were holding up passage of the other nine parts of the legislation by insisting that all ten provisions be voted on as a single bill.
He took issue with the “health of the mother” exception for third trimester abortions, saying that the language was too broad, and was too easy for women and doctors to get around. Mr. Marcellino asserted that women would be able to seek abortions the “day before the due date.”
Mr. Kennedy challenged that assertion and said that the abortion provision was simply codifying the Roe v. Wade decision and updating New York’s abortion law that had been passed in 1970, three years before the landmark decision. A woman, he said, must have the right to make decisions regarding her reproductive health.”
A clear distinction also emerged between the candidates over the Common Core Learning standards which were adopted by New York State in January 2013. Mr. Marcellino stated that it was not a curriculum but a set of higher standards. He criticized the roll out of the common core stating that it was done before any teacher training, administrator training or other preparation had taken place. “It was a complete and utter screw up,” he said.
However, he said that he believed the standards themselves were appropriate and was confident that students could meet them and that they would help students be more competitive in the workplace. “We in New York State – your children and your grandchildren, are in competition for jobs and for businesses and careers with Connecticut, New Jersey and California.” High tech businesses having left New York and moved to Texas and Florida, he said. “Our kids need to be able to compete.” The standards, he explained, do not create a single way of teaching, but that it creates “a way of looking at things and a way of analyzing.”
Ms. Bowman described the Common Core as “corporatism.” “Corporations are running our educational system,” she said. “It’s a one size fits all system.” She added that she also opposed charter schools as they diverted public monies to private entities.
Mr. Kennedy said that the implementation of Common Core was “an utter failure – a nightmare.” “I do not believe our children are mass produced cars,” He continued. “There is not only one way to learn in this world. . . . It eliminates imagination and ingenuity. And the cost is going to be astronomical,” he said. “We need to engage students, we need to empower students - not enslave them.” Agreeing with Ms. Bowman’s point, he added, “we cannot allow the corporatization of our public schools.” Addressing, Mr. Marcellino’s concerns about competition with other states, Mr. Kennedy said that Governor Perry of Texas did indeed steal “our ingenious workers - but those workers did not go through the common core.”
The issue of school consolidation was raised in a later question. Mr. Kennedy was open to the idea saying that it was worth looking into for districts like North Shore, Roslyn and Locust Valley, which share similar demographics. It would help reduce central administration costs, he explained, but would not mean shutting down schools, or eliminating teaching positions.
Senator Marcellino also seemed to open to the idea, and responded to Mr. Kennedy's remarks saying that there is already a state law that allows a citizen to initiate a petition drive to bring about consolidation. He added that administrative costs only make up about 10% of salaries.
Mr. Kennedy responded that he would take that savings. Additionally, he said that he did not think the petition process was the appropriate way to go about consolidation. That process, he said, can cause districts to incur significant expenses, and that the process was not one that allowed for as much study and analysis. A better approach he believes, would be a process in which public meetings are held and the issue could be thoroughly studied, and the state could send representatives to facilitate that process.
Mr. Marcellino said that the district would have to pay for the studies any way, and that he liked the petition process as it empowered citizens.
Later in the debate, the moderator asked the candidates to address one last education question – this time regarding the $2 Billion School Technology Bond Act, a proposition that provides aid for technology infrastructure upgrades that citizens will have the opportunity to vote on this election day.
Mr. Kennedy said that he opposed proposal, saying that it was too expensive, and that increasing aid to suburban districts instead would be more beneficial and offer more flexibility.
Mr. Marcellino supported the proposition. “Schools are in need of equipment,” he said, “and the cost would be spread out over a long period of time.”
Ms. Bowman opposed the proposal saying that she thought the technology purchased would likely become obsolete very quickly.
The candidates also weighed in on environmental issues.
Asked to offer their thoughts on how they would keep up with the state’s energy needs while protecting the environment,” Mr. Kennedy responded first. “It is time to take back our power company,” he said. Conceding that LILCO “was bad,” he asserted that “things have gotten worse” with the privatization of power delivery, first with Keyspan, and then National Grid and now PSE&G. The Village of Freeport, which has its own publicly run power plant, has rates significantly lower than what the rest of Long Island pays, he argued. With regard to the Glenwood power plant, he said there has been a missed opportunity to transform the facility to generating energy from wind, solar, or tidal sources. He said that there currently “is no plan to use our existing facilities.” The state, he continued, needs a plan, and that he would help develop it if elected to the Senate.
Mr. Marcellino, noting that the Northport Plant, the youngest plant of its size, is 70 years old, and typically only has two generators operating at a single time and that the Glenwood Plant had only been used as a peaking station in its final years of operation, said that power generation was clearly outdated and that the issue needed to be addressed. As for renewable energy, he said that “wind and solar are great, but they’re not here yet – they’re not ready yet.” Neither would generate enough power to meet Long Island’s needs right now, he continued, “but we need to plan for it.” He said wind farms are a possible approach, however storms like Sandy need to be taken into consideration and so it needs to be carefully studied.
Ms. Bowman focused her remarks on the use of industrial hemp, from which, she said, fuel could be developed. “It is one of the most important resources we have in this country, and it is illegal,” she said, and called for the plant’s legalization. “It is our savior and we wouldn’t need fracking,” she declared.
In response to the question, “What would you do to protect Long Island’s drinking water?” each of the candidates emphasized a different approach.
Ms. Bowman said, “if you want to do something about our water, stop building.” Over- development, particularly new housing, she said, threatened the island’s aquifers. Additionally she said that water privatization, private companies supplying water, was becoming a problem.
Mr. Kennedy said that “we have to do everything we can to protect the island’s water supply.” A Long Island Clean Water bill which he said “would have improved drinking water quality standards and put the DEC in charge of enforcement” passed the assembly last year, but “Senator Marcellino opposed it.” He described the bill as common sense legislation.
Mr. Marcellino said the reforms in the bill were already included in other laws and characterized the effort to get it passed as partisan. “There is no such thing as Republican or Democratic water,” he asserted. As chair of the Senate Environmental Committee, he said that he had passed more environmental bills than any other Senator. “I protected our ground water, I protected our aquifers, I protected our open space. . . My laws limited our use of pesticides.” He added that the island, particularly the North Shore, needed to treat more of its waste, rather than relying on septic systems that threaten groundwater.
For their closing remarks, Mr. Marcellino was given the opportunity to speak first.
The Senator said that he has "worked hard in the Senate to make the state more affordable for all of us. I want to see our young people stay here. I want to see our senior citizens stay here. They should be able to stay in their homes." Additionally he emphasized his accessibility to his constituents. "The idea of keeping government close to the people is something I've always lived by," he said. My door is always open. No one has to go looking for me - they know where I am. . . If anybody wants to talk to me, I'm more than happy to do so. I am available to talk with you on any issue you think is important."
Ms. Bowman, said that she believe more ordinary people should step up and run for office. She touched on some of the issues that did not come up in the debate. "I know we haven't addressed the SAFE Act - the reason I'm running for office," she said. "I know we haven't addressed GMO food - I want to see some labeling so that we know what we're eating." She said that she wanted to "take back our liberty," and described herself as not being on the left or the right - but in the middle and "just a citizen."
In his closing, Mr. Kennedy also emphasized accessibility. "There is no level of government that is closer to the people than Mayor," he said. "I'm used to responding directly to the people," and said that he would continue to do that as a Senator. He then explained what led him to become a Democrat, after being tapped by the Republicans last spring to be a candidate for the 13th Assembly District. "I performed a same-sex marriage in my capacity as Mayor of a Village and the Republican Party told me I had to apologize. I refused. I left the party. I became a Democrat. I never heard anything from the Republican leadership, including the Senator, screaming what an outrage that somebody adhering to the law was penalized for it." "As your Senator," he concluded, "I promise you I will hold up equal rights, equality, and represent you and nobody else."
Voters will have the opportunity to have their voices heard on Tuesday, November 4.
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