St. John’s hosts its 8th annual “Meet the Candidates” forum

Councilman Leroy Comrie takes questions from panel of St. Johns students at “Meet the Candidates” night.
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Candidates for state and federal office took part in St. John’s University “Meet the Candidates” forum Monday, tackling the issues of affordable housing, minimum wage and immigration in the borough.

The forum was part of the Participate program that began in the 2008 fall semester when St. John’s students became engaged with the 2008 presidential election. The university has maintained the program annually and sponsors voter registration drives, candidate forms and other academic lectures with the hope of promoting greater civic involvement.

While about half the candidates invited did not attend, there were both familiar faces and new ones hoping to make a lasting impression on the students in the audience.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and his Republican opponent Mark Cipolla; state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica) and his GOP opponent Jarret Freeman; plus Republicans Michael O’Reilly. who is running against U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica); Ira Harris who is running against state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) and Daniel Maio who is running against U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) were among those at the dais.

Up first was Avella, who was asked about overdevelopment in his district, religion and affordable housing. Avella suggested fixing the way the average median income is measured to make housing more affordable for students.

“The problem with affordable housing is that its based upon AMI,” he said. “The AMI level in New York City is artificially inflated because it includes the wealthier area of Nassau and Westchester, so when you calculate affordable housing, it’s way too high.”

His opponent, Cipolla, spoke about his work ethic, political outsider and immigrant workers. When asked about fair wages for day laborers, he said the workers should not be punished, but there needs to be better immigration laws.

“I give those people credit for working hard,” he said. “I give the people that employ them pause because they’re taking advantage of a system that allows them to essentially cheat the system by hiring guys that are willing to work for 50 bucks a day. So its a complicated situation, but I don’t think day laborers themselves should be criticized. Our failed government cause the immigrant crisis. It created this system.” .

Comrie said he believed in using technology to track criminals.

“I think every method to reduce crime is helpful,” he said “I believe we’re in a transparent world , we all use cell phones with tracking devices. I think the more tools that police have to reduce crime in a less confrontational way should be utilized.”

Michael O’Reilly, who is running against U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), said he has worked as an attorney, airline pilot and served as a Marine and is not a professional politician.

“I am running against a nine-term career politician named Greg Meeks,” he said. “I don’t want to get into dirty politics and my opponent has had some ethical issues and that’s really what’s driving me to run. I don’t like the corruption in Washington, I’m tired of the dysfunction. I think it’s time we make a change. We need to have zero tolerance for corrupt politicians.”

He also told the students to vote for the candidate they feel is best qualified.

“Vote for the person, don’t vote for the party,” he said.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
With the exception of Tony Avella (my Senator), one of the few elected officials who actually cares about communities and works hard, if I were the people in those other districts, I would vote Republican because that motley crew of do nothings and crooked DEMS have shown for years and in some cased decades have DONE LITTLE to NOTHING.
Oct. 28, 2016, 4:57 am
Bob Friedrich from Glen Oaks says:
Joe, Avella is easily bribed. As president of the co-op, I donate to Avella from the shareholder's money and made him a very rich man.
Oct. 28, 2016, 9:15 am

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