Attack, defend, repeat.
This was the format for a debate hosted by TimesLedger Newspapers for the City Council seat of Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), who is running for re-election against fellow Democrats Daniel Dromm and Stanley Kalathara in this month’s primary election.
Throughout the hour-long debate, held at the Flushing Library last Thursday, Sears faced a barrage of attacks from both Dromm and Kalathara, who called her an ineffective legislator during her last eight years in office.
Health care drew a substantial amount of discussion during the debate, sponsored by Community Newspaper Group, TimesLedger’s parent.
Both Dromm and Kalathara hammered Sears on the closing of St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst earlier this year, saying she should have done more to prevent it and also did not do enough to fill the void once the medical facility shuttered its doors.
“This is probably one of the areas of greatest failure of our councilwoman, is healthcare,” Dromm said. “I feel that the councilwoman should have at least held a community meeting. It’s a life and death situation for the people that live there now.”
Sears shot back that the state simply could not afford to support St. John’s any longer and added that a plan she formulated with Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) to bolster primary care facilities in her Council district and elsewhere was set to launch this fall.
“Once again I have to ask: Danny, does your nose hurt because it keeps getting longer and longer and longer?” Sears said. “My opponents absolutely demonstrate their lack of a system, they demonstrate their lack of knowledge of health care and exactly how you deliver it.”
Kalathara suggested St. John’s could be used as a staging point should swine flu re-emerge in the borough as expected.
“Why don’t we use St. John’s Hospital to use as a place where we can receive patients should this calamity happen?” he asked. “We need to have a place where we can receive these patients.”
Sears rejected this flatly as well.
“You do not just open hospitals, there are state laws. It takes a long time to do that,” she said.
On the topic of development Dromm said, if elected, he would be an advocate for halting the overdevelopment of Jackson Heights, something he said Sears was ill-equipped to do.
“I am deeply concerned about the incumbent’s acceptance of over $71,000 of $124,000 total she has raised [for her campaign] that she has taken from real estate interests,” Dromm said. “I don’t see how somebody who’s taken that type of money from the real estate industry can be objective when it comes to development in the community.”
Kalathara, meanwhile, said a survey of the district must be conducted so the problem of illegal conversions and illegal housing can be addressed immediately.
Dromm and Kalathara also ripped Sears for voting to extend term limits without a voter referendum. Kalathara said Bloomberg should not have been allowed to extend his own reign as mayor without the will of the voters.
“This is one of the reasons that term limits was in place,” he said “Extending that, by doing that Helen Sears broke a fundamental principal of democracy.”
“I supported term limits and I still do,” Sears responded. “Eight years is insufficient for anyone to do their job. Would I have liked it to be done better? Yes. There could have been a referendum, but the mayor did not see fit to do that.”
Whichever Democrat wins the primary will face-off against Republican Mujib Rahman in the general election in November.
A full video of the debate is available online at our new political site, BoroPolitics.com.
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@
©2009 Community News Group
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