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No common ground found in boro Assembly debate

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The two candidates vying for the state Assembly seat vacated by City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) pulled no punches during a debate Monday night in Glen Oaks.

“I believe you should vote for me because I’m the most qualified person for the job,” said former Councilman David Weprin, who brought up his eight years on the Council and being head of the powerful Council Finance Committee as positive attributes for his Assembly candidacy.

Weprin ripped into his rival, Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich, for running on the Republican line despite being a registered Democrat during the debate Monday at the Queens High School for Teaching in Glen Oaks sponsored by TimesLedger Newspapers, the Queens Chronicle and the Royal Ranch Association.

The special election will take place Tuesday.

Friedrich said he had to run as a Republican “because I’ve been shut out of the process” to run as a Democrat because the Democratic line is determined by district leaders — brothers Mark Weprin and David Weprin, among them.

“My candidacy transcends party labels,” Friedrich said.

When asked what they would change about Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget cuts, Friedrich criticized the governor’s plan for increasing spending 10 percent.

“The problem with Albany is it’s completely dysfunctio­nal,” he said. “You must cut spending in order to balance the budget.”

Weprin said he testified in the Council against budget cuts and said the city contributes $11 billion more than it gets back in state services.

He also said he fought against water rate increases and believes the state should reinstate the commuter tax for out-of-state residents.

As the debate turned to how the candidates would address dysfunction in Albany, Weprin said he would bring his eight years of knowledge and experience as the former finance chairman on the Council to Albany.

Friedrich called out Weprin for voting twice to increase the sales tax and repealed the tax exemption for clothing.

“David’s coming in as the clubhouse politics of the past and that’s not what we need,” he said.

But Weprin shot back, saying the mayor proposed a 25 percent property tax increase that he, as finance chairman, got reduced to 18 percent.

“We’re talking about post-9/11,” Weprin said, noting the city had a $6 billion deficit. He said had the tax increases not gone through, the city would have had to lay off firefighters, teachers and police officers.

Friedrich said the layoffs were “false choices” and criticized Weprin for balancing city budgets with spending increases instead of cutting waste.

“That you haven’t mastered yet,” Friedrich said to Weprin.

When asked what they would do to ensure parents’ opinions are taken into account by the city Department of Education on school closings, Friedrich said he notified the 3,000 families in Glen Oaks Village when the school board had an election.

Weprin criticized Friedrich for bringing up Glen Oaks as an example.

“You’re running for the entire Assembly district,” he told Friedrich. “It sounds like you’re running for the mayor of Glen Oaks.”

Weprin said he testified against closing Jamaica High School and supported the United Federation of Teachers’ proposal to set term limits for members of the Panel for Education Policy.

Weprin said his priorities for the district were to preserve its quality of life, to ensure libraries are open on weekends and to get more aid for the city from the governor’s budget.

Friedrich said more middle-class tax relief is needed and said he would propose a plan to allow residents to deduct water rate increases from their taxes.

“At least I bring an idea that would work,” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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