U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) said the priorities of his constituents have greatly changed since his last bid to retain his congressional seat following the nation's recent economic downturn.
The congressman has two Republican opponents -— Douglaston Manor resident Juan Policarpio and Great Neck's Elizabeth Berney, who will face off against one another in the September primary.
Ackerman, who has held his seat for the past 26 years, said northeastern Queens residents are significantly more concerned with the economy than national security in the two years since he ran for re-election.
But he said his role on two prominent congressional committees — Foreign Affairs and Financial Services — have allowed him to address concerns relating to both issues.
"I think the issues concerning my constituents reflect national issues," he said. "The economy has moved into the forefront, though national security issues still loom. If you look at the mosaic of the district, the complexion and accents of people may be different, but their concerns are the same. I do a lot of things that affect a panoply of areas, so I don't like the expression 'bringing home the bacon.' I like to say, 'Bring home the corned beef.' "
Policarpio, a Philippines native who announced his bid earlier this year, ran against Ackerman on an independent line in 2004 after losing the Republican nomination to Stephen Graves.
Policarpio, who could not be reached for comment, has been openly critical of Ackerman for being one of nine U.S. House members to vote against a non-binding resolution recognizing the importance of Christmas and Christianity in America.
Berney, Ackerman's other GOP opponent, said the issues on which her campaign would focus would be tax relief, Middle East policy and product safety. Berney, a grandmother, is a practicing lawyer specializing in securities fraud and consumer safety.
Berney has criticized Ackerman's stances in his role as chairman of the House's Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee.
"His Middle Eastern policy is incredibly misguided," she said. "He wants timetables on Iraq, rather than a sensible policy. And he doesn't have the integrity to admit he's wrong, that the surge in Iraq has worked."
But Ackerman, who recently toured sections of the Middle East including Iraq and Afghanistan, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said he has never met Berney during his 26 years as an elected official and accused her of skewing his foreign policy positions.
"She has no understanding of Middle Eastern policy," he said. "If she needs an education, I don't know if Congress is the place for on-the-job training."
Ackerman said other issues he would focus on during his upcoming bid would be protecting the environment and increased veterans benefits for soldiers returning from the Middle East.
The Fifth District covers a number of neighborhoods, including Bayside, Flushing, Whitestone, Corona, Douglaston, Jamaica Estates, Little Neck and several Long Island communities.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@times
©2008 Community News Group
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