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Hopefuls for Astoria seat debate legacy

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Debating before a small crowd at Ricardo’s catering hall Monday night, three candidates vying to succeed City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) offered conflicting accounts of how the neighborhood is faring and what must be done to improve it.

As the son of the incumbent, Democratic candidate Peter Vallone Jr. has based his campaign on the idea of maintaining the successes his father achieved in his 27-year tenure on the Council.

“I’m running to continue the good work that’s been done in this community in the past,” he said in his opening statement at the debate, sponsored by the Western Queens Gazette one week before the Nov. 6 general election.

With Vallone Jr. acting as an extension of his father’s council legacy, his opponents were intent on exposing its flaws, painting themselves as agents of change for a struggling system.

“We need someone in the City Council who’s going to ensure that our funding for resources and services is not cut,” said John Ciafone, the Liberal Party candidate who lost to Vallone Jr. in his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Green Party candidate Jerry Kann went well beyond Ciafone in his call for change, promising to fight for reform in government and bring power into the hands of the people.

“Too many big decisions are made by a small group of people at the top,” Kann said. “We need people to have more say in what’s going on.”

Republican candidate Sandra Vassos and Independence Party candidate Michael Mascitti were invited to the debate but did not appear.

The three candidates who spoke before the 60 or so spectators Monday night brought varied records of experience to the table.

A former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Vallone contended his crime-fighting experience is even more pivotal now following the terrorist attacks.

Ciafone touted himself as the only candidate to have been elected to public office, both as a representative to Community School Board 30 and a local judicial delegate.

Kann, a grass-roots activist who has worked with the environmental group CHOKE, focused less attention on his resumé than his ideas, in many instances calling for an overhaul of failing practices in current government.

On the subject of housing, Vallone cited his experience representing tenants as a real estate attorney, stressing that laws currently on the books “are good ones to protect the tenants.”

Ciafone bemoaned the citywide housing shortage, asserting that rents are too high for many to afford and suggesting a trust fund be created for housing in the city.

Kann targeted his criticism at the Rent Guidelines Board, which has two tenant and two landlord representatives despite the fact that tenants far outnumber landlords in the city. He supports a system that would give tenants more say and slow down the steep escalation of rents in the city.

“The way things are set up now, tenants just aren’t being treated fairly,” he said.

The candidates were united in their criticism of the Board of Education, but Kann stood apart in his position on what should replace it.

Ciafone called the central Board of Education a “layer of bureaucracy that does not seem to do anything for the public schools of this city,” and Vallone rebuked it as “incompetent to take care of our children.”

Although Vallone and Ciafone both support an education agency headed by a commissioner, Kann contends such a system would put too much power in the hands of the mayor. He advocates a decentralized approach that would afford greater control to individual districts.

Neither Vallone nor Ciafone support any sort of tax hike, but Kann said he “wouldn’t be averse” to increasing taxes for those on the “very top of the income scale.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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