With polls suggesting that the race is nearly tied, last Thursday's (Oct. 18) debate in Middle Village for the 15th State Senate District seat reflected the heated atmosphere of the campaign, as both Democratic State Sen. Joseph Addabbo and his Republican rival, City Council Member Eric Ulrich, traded attacks and defended their respective records before voters.
The sparring between Addabbo and Ulrich—both of whom reside in Ozone Park and have served in the City Council's 32nd District seat—began in earnest in their responses to questions by the Times Newsweekly's Sam Goldman regarding the allocation of discretionary funds (also known as member items).
As previously reported in this paper, Ulrich had attacked Addabbo at the Glendale Property Owners Association's October meeting for failing to secure funding for groups in the senate district. The senator explained at the time that funding requests which he submitted were frozen and/or vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a result of budget cuts.
During last Thursday's session, Addabbo repeated his explanation, noting that the governor put a halt to the state's discretionary funding as a result of recent scandals involving state lawmakers who were found to have misused funds.
"The few ruin it for the many," he said. "Those that you see getting arrested are misusing discretionary funds because they've lost their focus. It's no longer for the people but for themselves."
Addabbo had urged the governor to adopt a plan to allow local organizations to apply for funding directly to specific state agencies; he told residents that the governor is "considering it." The senator expressed hope, however, that Cuomo would allow the release of $83 million in funding following the general election.
Ulrich, however, stated that there were millions of dollars in funding released by the State Senate earlier this year, but no groups in Addabbo's district received any benefits of it.
"Part of the job of the elected official is to fight for as much money to bring back to your district as humanly possible. When you don't do that, and when you fail to bring back money to the community, there's something wrong with the picture," Ulrich said. He then attacked Addabbo for purportedly approving a previous $40,000 allocation the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which is heavily tied to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is the subject of an ongoing sexual harassment scandal.
"Certainly I don't support Lopez in anything he does," Addabbo said, noting that the funding for the RBSCC was part of discretionary money approved by the Assembly. The senator also pointed out that "there is no new money," as "any monies that have been released under any senator's name" is from an older allocation. As an example, Addabbo stated that it took 1 1/2 years to have previous allocations by former State Sen. Serphin Maltese released.
"The question I have is why did [Cuomo] veto some of [the member items] but not all of them?" Ulrich inquired. He then told Addabbo that it is his "responsibility as an elected official to come back and explain to the people why [Cuomo] didn't give you the money."
"You didn't do anything wrong. Why did the governor punish you?" Ulrich asked the senator.
"You don't understand the process," Addabbo replied.
"I've been in the Council for three years. You get the money or you don't," Ulrich retorted.
"The governor is trying to clean up Albany," Addabbo told the City Council member. "It's old money. How many times do I have to say this? We get the point."
During their exchange, Ulrich asked Addabbo if Lopez should resign from his seat; the senator stated that he has "a way of dealing with him" which he would explain later. Though Ulrich would later observe that Lopez should "resign in disgrace," no further mention of the Lopez scandal or his future were raised.
On the railroads
The incumbent and challenger went at it again when the subject turned to resolving freight rail problems in the area during the round of questions submitted by the audience.
Addabbo stated that resolving problems related to freight rail traffic—such as fumes and noise from idling diesel locomotives or noxious odors from open container cars full of trash—were "predominantly a federal issue, but that doesn't mean I've shied away from [them]." He noted that he introduced legislation in Albany requiring container cars to be sealed, held rallies with local civic groups and reached out to various federal and state officials and environmental activists seeking solutions to the problem.
"We did rallies in front of [the] Waste Management [facility in Long Island City], we did rallies in the streets," the senator said. "We are going to include everybody under the sun until it's resolved."
"Whatever you have been doing obviously isn't working," Ulrich countered. He charged that one possible solution to the problem would be introducing state legislation that would prohibit commercial freight "from operating with 50 or 100 feet from residential properties."
"And then you'll see how fast you'll get Waste Management to the [negotiating] table," the City Council member added.
"There you go again, not knowing the process," Addabbo replied, charging that Ulrich's idea would be struck down since freight rail operations fall under the federal Interstate Commerce Clause.
"How many more years in office do you need to solve this issue?" Ulrich asked the senator.
"If it were up to me, it would be tomorrow, I'd stop that rail. But it's not up to me," Addabbo replied. "It's going to take a lot of hard work. I'm prepared for it."
Hydrofracking, gay marriage
Addabbo and Ulrich also found themselves on the opposite side regarding hydrofracking (also known as hydraulic fracturing), a controversial gas drilling process which the state is considering to permit in upstate areas.
"Joe Addabbo would like you to believe that hydrofracking would poison New York City's drinking water. If that were true, I'd be standing shoulder to shoulder with him," Ulrich said. "However, if it can be proven by scientists and experts on the issue" that it's safe, "if we can create good paying jobs in New York, get some energy independence and not contaminate our water, I support it."
"It creates zero jobs for us down here," Addabbo countered, explaining that energy companies bring in their own engineers and experts to carry out hydrofracking. He also noted that the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which would be tasked with regulating hydrofracking, is understaffed presently and cannot handle the job.
"It doesn't add jobs, it doesn't help our economy and it endangers our water," he said. "This can be a risk. There's a reason why the governor hasn't issued a permit yet."
The senator stated that he would support drilling methods which do not involve the use of toxic chemicals.
An audience member also asked the two candidates about the same sex marriage law which was enacted in 2011 and its impacts a year later. Addabbo explained that he voted in favor of the bill—after previously voting against it in 2009—after receiving thousands of comments from constituents who urged him to support it.
"I'm a practicing Catholic. Gay marriage wasn't something I was brought up to believe in," Addabbo said. "But I'm an elected official. I'm not a religious leader." He also stated that "we have not seen any change in our lives from the bill. We still have serious issues ... and I'll work on all of them. I'm not going to be held back by one bill."
Ulrich, who stated he would have voted against the same sex marriage bill if he were in the Senate at the time, charged that "when we make decisions as elected officials, we do not stick our finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing."
"You have to take tough stands on the issues, no matter how gut-wrenching they may be," he added. "You vote for what you believe in, and that's it."
Ulrich, however, noted that "the bill is not coming up for repeal, and I would not work to bring it up."
"We've got other problems," he said. As for the impact of the bill, the Council member stated "I think for those couples who chose to get married, it has had a positive impact on their lives. That's the only impact that I can see."
About their politics
Both candidates were asked by Joe Anuta of the Times-Ledger Newspapers about times when they have disagreed with some main supporters and/or campaign contributors (for Ulrich, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and State Senate Republicans; for Addabbo, Resorts World New York Casino).
Ulrich stated that he hasn't received "a dime from Bloomberg," stating that he disagreed with the mayor's recent ban on the sale of oversized soft drinks in some retailers and prohibiting smoking in public parks and beaches. As for the Senate GOP, the Council member criticized leaders for stalling a bill to increase the minimum wage statewide, arguing that the matter should be brought to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.
"The mayor is trying to control people's lives and I let him know about it," he said.
Addabbo stated that he has pressed Resorts World to hire more workers from the community, adding that he regularly meets with officials from the casino about addressing problems such as security, public safety, traffic and infrastructure.
"And it's not just a cozy, social arrangement. It's a real meeting on real issues," he explained.
Panelist Azi Paybarah of Capital New York asked the candidates if they would a deal by Governor Cuomo to approve legislative pay raises provided that the Assembly and Senate approve bills to raise the minimum wage and decriminalize the possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Addabbo and Ulrich offered similar answers, with both candidates favoring the minimum wage increase but opposing the marijuana decriminalization bill. Ulrich explained that pay raises for lawmakers should be decided upon by voters through a referendum, while Addabbo—who, after approving a pay raise in the City Council, said he would never again vote for bills on legislative pay increases—stated that such legislation should not be tied into other proposals brought before the Assembly and State Senate.
ASSEMBLY CANDIDATE NUNZIATO ATTACKS 'CAREER POLITICIAN' MARKEY
There was no debate for the 30th Assembly District seat covering parts of Maspeth and Middle Village, but the Republican candidate for the office—JPCA member Anthony Nunziato—got an opportunity during the session to attack the absent incumbent, Democratic Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, and tout his own record of volunteerism.
"I stand before you tonight proud of my accomplishments and service to my community," said Nunziato, who is making his third attempt at unseating Markey. He pointed out that he worked on campaigns to establish a park at the former Elmhurst gas tanks site, a full cleanup of the former location of the Phelps-Dodge smelting plant in West Maspeth and the creation of a truck bypass in Maspeth.
"I point out these things to show the great difference between myself and Marge Markey," he added. To symbolize her absence from the session, Nunziato—mimicking Clint Eastwood's appearance at this year's Republican National Convention—placed an empty chair at his side as he attacked Markey's record.
"I am a career citizen trying to make a change. Marge Markey is a career politician who needs to be changed," Nunziato said. "I stand before you tonight, and she does not. I have accomplishments to talk about, and she does not. You have to ask yourself why she's not present tonight. She was invited, and yet she's not here."
The civic member claimed that Markey appeared at a JPCA meeting only once in her 14 years as a member of the Assembly. Nunziato charged that Markey failed to adequately represent the area's interests in Albany and regularly sends out official notices "taking credit for things she hasn't done."
"Our communities are in great stress. We have trains, we have planes, we have automobiles. We have all the pollution in the world and we need people to represent us in Albany. We're not getting that right now," Nunziato added.
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