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Flushing assembly hopefuls debate for redistricted seat

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The candidates hoping to become the new assembly representative for downtown Flushing met in the first debate of the political season Tuesday night at the Macedonia AME Church.

Democratic candidates Ethel Chen, John Albert, Barry Grodenchik, Richard Jannaccio and Jimmy Meng as well as Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou discussed their goals for the 22nd Assembly District created this year as part of the redistricting process in front of a crowd of about 60 people. Republican candidate Meilin Tan did not attend the meeting.

Organized by the Flushing Forum for the Development of Political Leaders, a newly formed political group based in Flushing, the debate opened with a discussion of educational concerns.

“What are your suggestions for improving school construction here in Flushing, Queens?” asked Joseph Seawright, vice president of the Flushing Forum.

Nearly all of the candidates responded by harping on the need for fiscal equality, asking that the city receive its proper share of state funds for its schools.

A state appeals court recently overturned a landmark decision in January 2001 requiring the state Legislature to reform New York’s school funding formula to give big cities like New York a fair share of education monies.

“It’s about [the state] unequally distributing the money,” said Chou.

Chen echoed Chou.

“I will fight for the fair share of our school budget,” she said.

Grodenchik said he hoped to examine ways to reduce the high cost of building schools under the School Construction Authority.

“Our costs in New York City are through the roof,” he said.

Meng, a businessman, said he would work to have Flushing’s businesses increase their donations to local schools.

“The business community needs to bring contributions to the schools,” he said.

Most of the candidates supported the mayor’s takeover of city schools. They questioned the looming dismantling of school boards, however.

“I think that we will soon learn that disbanding the school boards will not solve the problem,” said Jannaccio.

Albert said parental involvement programs would have to be developed to replace the role of school boards.

“My suggestion is to have a parental orientation before school begins,” he said.

At one point in the debate, a woman in the audience asked the candidates: “If you all had one piece of legislation you had to introduce, what would it be?”

Chen responded by suggesting an overhaul of the state prison system’s sentencing of drug offenders under the Rockefeller laws, which call for long-term jail sentences for offenders.

“The Rockefeller drug laws should be reformed,” he said. “Many of [those in jail] are poor. They have no money to appeal.”

Albert said he wanted to put a cap on how much seniors could spend on medication.

“My No. 1 priority would be meeting the needs of seniors,” he said.

Grodenchik said he thought the reform of drug laws was important, but also suggested introducing legislation to increase funding for low-income housing.

“We need to create affordable housing in this community,” he said.

Jannaccio said he would propose term limits for members of the state Legislature.

“One of the greatest needs is to reform Albany itself,” he said.

Meng did not speak specifically about any piece of legislation, but instead voiced support for creating more senior centers and affordable housing.

Chou discussed increasing the minimum wage.

“I want to push for a living wage,” he said. “We need to push it to $10 an hour.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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