Stavisky stands by her record during forums

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The Democratic candidates in the race for state Sen. Toby Stavisky’s (D-Whitestone) seat appeared together twice in Flushing last week to air their views, answer questions and take jabs at one another as the Sept. 14 primary draws near.

For the first couple months of the campaign, Stavisky, Oakland Gardens attorney John Messer and New York Lottery winner and former chemistry professor Isaac Sasson of Flushing largely avoided appearing at events together, but they verbally sparred Aug. 24 at a MinKwon Center-sponsored event, then again at the Aug. 25 Queensboro Hill Civic Association meeting.

The candidates’ forums, as they were dubbed by the host groups, allowed the three rivals to speak freely on a variety of topics, revealing their personal views and stories as well as their personalities.

Their views mostly dovetailed on many issues such as immigration, which all three said they want to reform in a way that does not infringe on people’s privacy rights ´╗┐and legislative redistricting, which the three said they would address by setting up a nonpartisan commission. The candidates also said they would make education a top priority, that they would work to expand affordable housing in the district, and that campaign finance and ethics reform are essential to addressing the endemic problems plaguing Albany.

As a result of their platform’s similarities, the main differences between the candidates came down to their personalities and the issues their campaigns most emphasized those two nights.

Sasson spoke a lot about his personal history as an immigrant and made the most attacks both nights, accusing Stavisky of being an ineffective Albany insider and an absentee senator.

“I really don’t need a job — I just want to go there to do a job that is not being done up there,” he said at the MinKwon event, adding at the Queensboro Hill meeting that “if we put the same people back in office, who are we going to blame the next time?”

The attacks often left Stavisky on the defensive, but she spent most of her time highlighting her legislative record and accomplishments. Running against what many describe as anti-incumbent tide this year, she fired back at Sasson and repeatedly criticized her Republican colleagues.

“I have been at the forefront of the movement to clean up Albany, whether it be the ethics legislation we passed, whether it be campaign finance reform, whether it be nonpartisan redistrict­ing,” she said at the MinKwon event. “Those legislators who give Albany a bad name deserve to be defeated.”

Messer mostly stayed out of the fray, instead speaking to the audience about problems facing New Yorkers — particularly economic issues — and rattling off a litany of facts and figures. His emphasis, as it has been throughout the campaign, was on budget reform and job creation and retention.

“We’re all just one big community. We all share the same values and we all need to work together,” he said at the MinKwon Center debate. At Queensboro Hill the next night he said that “if you go around these neighborhoods, everyone will tell you the same thing: Everyone’s hurting, everyone’s hurting financially.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:01 pm, October 10, 2011
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