The three Democratic candidates running in one of the most hotly contested races for the state Senate squared off for a debate last Thursday in Forest Hills to lay out their views for improving the 16th Senate District, just days before one of them said she was knocked off the ballot.
The incumbent, Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), former Councilwoman Julia Harrison, and civic activist Marcia Lynn met at the office complex at 80-02 Kew Gardens Rd. to trade views on education, housing, transportation and community facilities for a small crowd.
While Stavisky and Harrison will compete in the Democratic primary next month, Lynn said Tuesday the city Board of Elections ruled that she did not have enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.
Lynn may appeal the decision and could be put back on the ballot if it is proven that at least 1,000 of the more than 2,000 signatures on her petition are valid, she said.
Due to redistricting, District 16 will include parts of Flushing, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Fresh Meadows, Corona, Elmhurst, Woodside, College Point, Whitestone, Queensboro Hill, Pomonok, Kew Gardens Hills, Hillcrest and Oakland Gardens.
Although the candidates are believed to have some personal dislike for one another, they shared similar views on many of the issues discussed.
The debate, which was sponsored by the Queens Civic Congress and the Forest Hills Community House, started with a brief introduction by each candidate and the reasons behind their desire to be the elected official for those communities.
Stavisky, the first woman elected to the state Senate in 1998, said she was working to improve the overcrowded and underfunded city school system and would continue to do so if elected for another term. She also said she was worried about the high cost of prescription drugs and crime problems in Queens.
Harrison said she decided to run when Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) decided not to seek re-election after the new district lines were drawn. Pointing to her 18-year career in the City Council and state Assembly, she said she had the experience and record of achievement worthy of election.
Running in her first election, Lynn said she spent the last 12 years as a civic activist and would bring new ways, innovative ways to bring people together to work as one.
Lynn, who expressed most concern for city education, said she would like to reinstitute the commuter tax to provide more funding for education. She also said that schools spend their money unwisely and recommended cost-cutting measures such as buying books in bulk for kids all over the city to save funds.
According to Harrison, many high school graduates have not been trained properly to enter the modern economy and she said several schools are in deplorable physical condition.
Children cannot learn well in a school where there are holes in the ceiling, where the windows dont close properly, she said. This is something we cannot overlook.
Stavisky echoed their comments and said the state does not allocate enough money for the citys educational needs. She said she would like to have a funding formula that doesnt discriminate against New York City.
All three candidates agreed that rent controls must stay in place and that there is a need for more affordable housing in Queens. They also applauded projects such as the Mitchell - Lama program, which provided affordable housing for middle-class families.
At the same time, they also said they did not like to see multistory apartment buildings go up in neighborhoods of one- and two-story homes, worrying about the current zoning laws in the borough.
The candidates agreed that zoning laws often allow community facilities, such as doctors offices and places of worship, to too easily enter residential neighborhoods.
Its a terrible burden on the homeowners because a lot of them dont provide parking, Stavisky said. We must take a look at the larger picture of zoning laws.
As for transportation and the recent bus strike, Harrison and Lynn said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should dissolve the private bus lines in Queens.
The bus companies should be part of the regular MTA, Lynn said. The people really suffered the past few weeks without those buses.
Stavisky differed, saying the MTA already is underfunded in its transportation operation in the city. She said she believed the MTA lines on Long Island, New Jersey and upstate refused more money per ride than city lines.
Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2002 Community News Group
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