BY MELISA STUMPF AND DENISE ROMANO
Democratic hopefuls for mayor participated in a lively but respectful debate at a forum hosted by the Brooklyn Reform Coalition at St. Francis College on Wednesday, April 3.
Brooklynites jam-packed a standing-room-only auditorium, with at least 100 residents snaked in a line around the block who never got in.
City Comptroller John Liu, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former City Councilmember Sal Albanese and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn answered questions from the local Democratic groups that hosted the forum, as well as the audience. Topics such as member items, charter schools, rebuilding after Sandy, the future of Long Island College Hospital, the clean-up of the Gowanus Canal, small business, animal care, homeless youth, mass transit, bullying and the Atlantic Yards development were discussed.
The candidates for the most part were on the same page speaking about what should be done with the Gowanus Canal, which is a Superfund site and the most polluted waterway in the country.
Liu and Thompson agreed that the canal should be cleaned up as quickly and responsibly as possible and that the community should decide about development.
Quinn and Albanese had a more adamant stance.
“I am leery of private developers. We need to make sure it’s cleaned properly before we build around it,” said Albanese, adding that his campaign is not accepting contributions from developers or lobbyists.
“The key is the quality of the clean-up,” Quinn concurred. “[We have to make sure] that specifics are by an entity that has no invested interest.”
However, de Blasio said, “We need the right kind of development that will help clean the canal.”
Candidates were also asked what they would do to keep LICH open.
“We have to look at it citywide and expand primary and preventive care,” said Quinn.
“City Hall is looking the other way again,” de Blasio charged. “A mayor must be hands-on and must take responsibility for hospitals in the community.”
Thompson agreed. “Brooklyn is about to go into a health care crisis and it’s the responsibility of the mayor to keep hospitals open,” he said.
“I have no magic solution,” Liu said. “It’s the mayor’s problem. He needs to get involved and look at costs that are straining the system instead of preventative care.”
Albanese proposed a moratorium on hospital closings. “Until we get a comprehensive game plan, we shouldn’t be closing anymore hospitals,” he said. “It’s a travesty.”
When asked what plans they had to help Coney Island residents and prevent another disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, Liu said he would invest $1 billion in pension funds to recovery efforts for affordable housing.
Thompson said he would appoint a deputy mayor for infrastructure. Quinn said she would invest in a network of barriers “that harden exteriors” and “offer Coney Island businesses not just loans but grants from city, state and federal government.”
Albanese contended that the city had “been warned about the storm for ten years and now we are in crisis mode.” He said he would create a task force in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island that would be “on the force 24/7” to tackle issues like mold.
De Blasio simply said that the Bloomberg administration did not do enough in the wake of the storm.
Liu, Thompson, de Blasio and Quinn said they considered the hourly living wage in New York City to be $11.50. Albanese said that when he passed the first living wage bill back in 1996, the hourly living wage was $11.
“It would be more than $12,” he said.
The candidates were also asked what they would do to improve mass transit.
Liu said he would invest in mass transit and expand bus service. Thompson said there was an “uneven level of transportation in Southwest Brooklyn” and that he would look into restoring the commuter tax.
De Blasio said he would like to instate a commuter tax and protect payroll tax. “We will lead the country to get federal government back into the mass transit system,” he said.
Albanese said he was “victimized by the R train on a regular basis” and proposed a “comprehensive transit plan for billing across the city” as well as a Mayors for Mass Transit nationwide task force.
Quinn said she would “focus on select bus service and use our rivers as the next great blue highway” with ferry service for all five boroughs.