43rd City District Debate: Schools, Illegal Home Conversions, Transportation and Racism

43rd City District Debate: Schools, Illegal Home Conversions, Transportation and Racism
Candidates at the 43rd District Debate (Megan McGibney/BKLYNER)

BAY RIDGE — Tuesday night saw nine candidates for the city’s 43rd District debate each other at Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge. The 43rd District is one of the most contested seats for this year’s City Council election, due to the term-limits being up for Councilman Vincent Gentile. The district is made up of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.

Four Republicans and five Democrats sat on stage in Xaverian’s auditorium, where the debate, organized by the Brooklyn Reporter, took place. The newspaper’s Managing Editor, Meaghan McGoldrick, monitored the debate. It was attended by local public figures, such as activist Linda Sarsour, State Senator Marty Golden, Assemblymen Peter J. Abbate and William Colton, and Rosemary Mangino, who ran against Abbate in 2016. The auditorium was nearly full, with many wearing campaign stickers of whom they were supporting.

Prior to the debate, Democratic candidate Kevin Peter Carroll was seen talking to an audience member, whom he told, “There will be nine of us up there. It will be good political theatre.”

His prediction ran true.

During the night, four issues were brought up and each candidate had one minute to give their view on them.

The first was education, where the solution of overcrowding in the district’s schools was discussed. The Democrats went first before passing the microphone to the table where the Republicans sat.

Community activist Justin Brannan (D), who spent three years working at the Department of Education, vowed, “we will have at least one new school” in his first four years as City Councilman.

Kevin Peter Carroll (D), who serves on the staff of Council member Stephen Levin, also said more schools need to be built while parents have to be engaged “by helping us find sites” for possible schools.

Lutheran minister, Pastor Khader El-Yateem (D) received loud applause when he said he would make sure resources are not taken away from public schools and are given to charter schools, while also making sure schools are fully funded and equipped.

Attorney Vincent Chirico (D) also brought up the funding of schools, and how teachers pay for supplies out of the pockets. “No one knows where the money is going,” he said. “There are bills in City Council that ask for transparency in government; we don’t have it.”

Nancy Tong

(D), the Democratic district leader of the 47th Assembly District, also received applause when she said, “They should not be putting charter schools into our public schools.” She also suggested creating extensions for existing schools.

On the Republican side, Bob Capano (R), a business manager and an adjunct professor of political science, had a very different solution. “I think we should make it easier for parents to send their kids to charter and parochial schools.” That was met with some applause, mixed with booing.

Capano received the same reaction when he said, “Why spend $27 million dollars to defend those who are here illegally from deportation, perhaps we’d have more money to build public schools.”

Liam McCabe (R) was next. The public servant who has worked for a variety of local politicians, blamed illegal home conversions for the overcrowding of schools. He also supported vouchers for Catholic schools.

John Quaglione (R) agreed illegal home conversions were the problem. “But the illegal home conversions has amplified the problem to the point where we’re out of control, and we can’t maintain the numbers that are coming out of the houses.”

Finally, Lucretia Regina-Potter (R), the Republican district leader of the 46th Assembly District, gave her view, which was, “Give the parents the choice as to where they wish to send their children.”  She also received some booing and heckles when she mentioned the use of vouchers.

Once Regina-Potter was done, an audience member stood up and started yelling, “Notice how no Republicans booed the Democrats!”  He went on to shout a few more criticisms while the moderator  tried to move the debate along. Some other audience members told the man to sit down. He eventually did, after giving everyone the full arm.

Audience at the 43rd District Debate (Megan McGibney / BKLYNER)

The next question was about illegal home conversion.

Capano (R) said that big elephant room was illegal immigration. “I do believe is the big root cause of this. These sanctuary city policies cause illegal home conversions, they cause overcrowding of our schools.”

McCabe (R) said those who do the conversions don’t “give a damn about the law…we’d have to think outside the box.” He suggested an emergency unit within apartment buildings so such activities would be caught in the act.

Quaglione (R) wants to see more inspectors and for the building code to amended.

Regina-Potter (R) said “We need to make utility companies responsible and answer they’re allowing these builders to break the law by installing all these gas, water and electric meters.”

As for the Democrats, Brannan (D) said this is a matter of affordability. “You can’t talk about illegal home conversions without talking about the crisis of affordability in our city.” When he suggested that the money taken from such landlords should be given to people evicted, due to their home being illegal, to find a place to live, there were some boos.

Carroll (D) pointed out, “It’s the landlords who are the problem, not the tenants.” He thanked Regina-Potter about bringing up the utility companies.

El-Yateem (D) criticized Mayor DeBlasio for giving tax-off to developers without providing affordable housing for many New Yorkers. “We got to think about housing that is affordable. At the end of the day, everyone has a right to safe living.”

As for Tong (D), she suggested that the landlords be fined.

The next question was “what have you done, and what will you do to fix public transportation in Bay Ridge?”

Brannan (D) said he has a plan to fix the R and D trains, though he didn’t specifically say what they were. He mentioned how he brought back the B37 bus, and the South Brooklyn ferry. He also said he would like to see the city take control of the MTA.

“I was the first candidate in this race,” said Carroll (D). “To call for the abolishment of the MTA…and have state and city DOT take over.”

“We need to make sure they are spending our money in a wise, responsible way,” Pastor El-Yateem (D) said. “I will go to Albany. I will advocate, I will open my mouth.”

Chirico (D) also echoed that the MTA needs to be placed into the city’s hands.

Tong (D) mentioned she restored the B64 bus by obtaining 10,000 signatures before saying she would fight for more “adequate funding for these buses”.

On the Republican side, Capano (R) called for a decriminalizing of fare beaters, and to decrease the homeless population and crime on the subways. He also said that “perhaps if we didn’t decriminalize people fare beating, maybe it would bring in more revenue” [Editor: Paragraph corrected to reflect Capano’s actual position, which is the opposite of “decriminalizing of fare beaters”]

McCabe (R) also called for the MTA not to be in the hands of Mayor DeBlasio. “The MTA is a bloated, broken bureaucracy. So, what you have to do is audit it. You have to look at what’s going on with the MTA.” His plan is to make the MTA board elected and answerable to the people.

Quaglione (R)  was one of the few who touched on what he had done for transportation, rather than what he would do. He talked about fighting to bringing back the X28 and the X38 express buses, and the South Brooklyn ferry.

Regina-Potter (R)  called for more garbage pails on the subways, as well as an escape plan for whenever a train shuts down. “We’re not stupid people, New Yorkers. We know how to get on and off a train.” She also called for the MTA to be taken out of the state’s hands.

Lastly, the fourth question was “What do you think the role of local government should be in combatting racism, specifically what concrete steps would you take to do so?”

Starting with the Republicans, Capano (R) praised the diversity of the district and how everyone gets along. He talked about making sure community boards continue to have a diverse voice.

McCabe (R) also praised the area’s diversity. “It truly is a city on the hill”, he said while promising to maintain that and open up dialogue whenever we have problems.

He also criticized the Democratic candidates for taking advantage of the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend. “That just speaks ill of our neighborhood and all the good that we have, and the way we come together.” His remarks were met with a mixture of light applause and boos.

Quaglione (R) brought up the March on Washington 54 years ago, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“And here we are, 54 years later, still talking about race in this country,” he said. “We have done something wrong.”

His idea is to start programs to teach diversity in schools, and start them at a young age.

Regina-Potter (R) praised millennials for celebrating diversity, but when on to criticize the lack of female representation in the City Council.

Brannan (D) started off for the Democrats on this issue. Early on, he criticized President Trump for being “afraid to call racism by its name.” That was met with strong booing, the loudest of the night, along with heckling and applause.

Carroll (D) said as a leader, “we have to change the conversation” to show that everyone has worth.

El-Yateem (D) received cheers and applause when he said he’s a “proud Arab-American”. He went to call out an elephant in the room, when it came to racism and discrimination in the community. “You have the opportunity on September 12 to send a message to Trump and to the world, that the people of the 43rd district are not afraid to send the first Arab-American to the City Council.”

Chirico (D) called the district a “microcosm of America.”
“What can a local government do? What can a local Councilmember do? We can sponsor a lot more evenings like this to bring all of us together.” He praised two recent National Nights Out and talked about having such events once a month.

Tong (D) started off by saying, “We all have to work together as one, and come together.”

“There shouldn’t be racism, but there is,” she went on. “And which is not right, but we have to live it; there’s nothing we can do.” Those remarks were met with some confusion and audience members calling out “No!” to her.

After the questions were done, the nine candidates were allowed to briefly give their closing statements.

The primaries to see which of the candidates would become their party’s candidate will take place on Tuesday, September 12th.

Updated to reflect that Meaghan McGoldrick is Managing Editor, not Editor-In-Chief of Brooklyn Reporter, and that Assemblyman William Colton was also in attendance.


Sign in or become a Bklyner member to join the conversation.