Claws were out and fingers pointed on Tuesday, October 17 as the three candidates for the 43rd District City Council seat participated in an organized though heated debate, this time hosted by the Bay Ridge Community Council.
The verbal sparring was held at Xaverian High School, the alma mater of both the Democratic candidate Justin Brannan and the Reform Party candidate Bob Capano, though Republican contender John Quaglione had his fair share of support from a crowd that, at times, seemed to lean to the right.
In his opening statement, Brannan touted his deep Bay Ridge roots, as well as those of his grandparents who immigrated to the United States from Italy, while flaunting himself as a small business owner, son of a teacher and advocate for the “little guy” who was “raised to do the right thing, even when no one’s looking.” Furthermore, he stressed that he doesn’t “just point at things and say, ‘That’s a problem’” but that he “roll[s] up [his] sleeves and get[s] things done.”
Capano – who originally ran for the GOP nomination but entered the race, last minute, as a Reform Party candidate after losing to Quaglione in September – followed Brannan with the argument that, “the more choices that voters have, the better,” stressing that his experiences as a businessman may vary from Brannan’s, that “no one candidate . . . has a monopoly on [the] issues,” and that he is the obvious choice against the “status quo” who is “going to put community above politics.”
Capano, confusingly, flaunted both his “independence” from local politics – unlike Brannan and Quaglione who have both long served Bay Ridge electeds in their respective parties – but also his time spent working for people like former Democratic Borough President Marty Markowitz (a beloved figure in Bay Ridge) and former Republican Ridge Congressmember Vito Fossella – a contradiction Quaglione, who used his opening statement to stress the importance of this specific election, later in the evening called him out on.
“This election will affect the landscape of the city for the next four years, not just for this district but for the future of our whole city,” Quaglione began before taking the first of many shots at the de Blasio administration, claiming to be the only one on stage who will stand up to Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom he referred to throughout the night as “Justin’s mayor.”
“We’re down in the number of cops, we’re up in the number of parking tickets, we’re up in property taxes, violations, water bills — we’re up, up, up. All the money is going to Manhattan; none of it is coming here,” he said. “The de Blasio administration is strangling this community and it’s time that somebody stand up for that community, this community, our community, because it matters.”
However, Brannan later contended that he would, of course, stand up to Hizzoner if the situation called for it, noting specifically that he is the only one of the three candidates currently suing the mayor about the lack of garbage pickup on private streets (sanitation is a common concern of Quaglione and Brannan).
When asked to choose a trio of issues on which they would focus and how they would solve them, some candidates overlapped. Capano went with combating illegal home conversions by strengthening enforcement, fixing the broken subway system by holding the MTA more accountable for its decisions (such as eliminating night crews along the R line) and fostering greater support for local law enforcement.
Brannan vowed first to focus on quality of life – piggybacking on Capano’s mention of local law enforcement issues and referencing his own fight to bring back community policing, most specifically “the cop on the corner” – and then on the MTA, which he slammed for its recent renovation of the Bay Ridge Avenue Station, calling it “a $24 million paint-job.”
“I have called for the city to take back control of the MTA because, right now you’ve got the state making decisions on the MTA – you’ve got guys in Buffalo and Rochester making decisions about the R train,” he said. “I don’t know about you but I know as much about Buffalo and Rochester as they do about the R train.”
Finally, Brannan assured that, if elected, he would work to get a new school built in the district within his first term. “Our schools are woefully overcrowded,” he said, “and we need to get creative when land does come available to prioritize building more public schools.”
Quaglione also chose quality of life as a priority platform, as well as senior housing and public safety (the Republican candidate has long advocated for more police officers in the district), citing “extensive plans” for each. “I’m sick and tired of walking up and down 86th Street and my six-year-old asking me, ‘What does homeless mean?’ and I’m tired of taking her to the park and her asking me why the swing is broken or why the hopscotch board isn’t painted,” he contended. “I’m tired of the community being neglected by City Hall and I am going to change that as your councilman.”
Bay Ridge’s 86th Street was revisited later in the program when candidates were asked what they would do to combat the spike in homeless and panhandlers on the strip, as well as such environmental issues as the exhaust fumes from vendors operating out of trucks.
Capano called for an “all-hands-on-deck approach to ending homelessness in the district,” while Brannan used the opportunity to decry the “demonization” of the homeless population “like they’re lepers,” noting, “Homeless people are people just like you and I who currently don’t have a home.” He further contended that an independent commission is needed to “take the partisan politics” out of the issue and help better the community far beyond the shopping strip by also tackling the affordability crisis.
Quaglione agreed with Brannan, stressing “it could happen to any one of us,” though adding that the mayor has “done nothing to help these people.” In terms of the food carts and the ice cream trucks on the strip, he stressed the importance of giving letter grades to street vendors and retrofitting them to “go green.”
Moderator Alex Conti’s rapid fire questions on hot button topics like the president of the United States and his policies helped move the debate along. When asked who they would vote for today, Quaglione and Capano stood by their votes for Trump while Brannan confidently cast his vote, again, for Clinton.
On his ideas, Capano supports a Muslim ban and the border wall, but needs to “look more into” the prez’s healthcare proposal. Quaglione opposes both the ban and the current healthcare bill, stressing that he does, however, support a “terrorist watch list.” Quaglione also cited “an immigration crisis” in terms of the wall, which he is seemingly in support of. Brannan adamantly opposes all three.
When asked their views on reproductive rights, the answers varied. Quaglione, who said he is “pro-life,” cited the premature birth of his daughter at just 32 weeks, calling women who get late-term abortions “barbarians.” Brannan went all-in on his “pro-choice” stance, not backing down when asked, a second time, about late-term abortions specifically. “I certainly think I know a whole lot of stuff but I know that I have no business in determining a woman’s right to choose,” he said.
Capano, however, played both sides, claiming, “personal is personal,” though that he does oppose late-term abortions.
Locally, Capano is pro-charter/private school while both Brannan and Quaglione hope to strengthen the public school system.
The debate ended on a tense note as some members of the audience vocally opposed the phrasing of Conti’s final question – one, he said prior to asking, was his own.
“I have a two-year-old daughter. For those of you who don’t have a child, answer the question based upon if you had a child, and that child was right next to you at a sporting event,” he began. “How do you feel about the national anthem situation?”
The question was three-pronged, he explained – how do you feel in terms of being at that event with your child, how do you feel about children not saying the pledge in school and how do you feel about these protests occurring in a work environment where people, like members of the NFL, “receive a salary” and are getting “paid to represent their employer.”
Capano stood by the president, stating, “Whether you’re a child or an adult, you respect our country – and that means standing for our country, no ifs, ands or buts about it. You don’t disrespect our flag and I agree with the president that, if the NFL players want to disrespect our national anthem, get the hell another job.”
The Reform Party candidate was met with both applause and derision, some members of the crowd going as far as to yell, “It’s not about the flag!”
“I support their right to do whatever they want; it’s a free country and part of what makes America great,” Brannan said, confidently, despite Conti’s attempts to “help” Justin by re-explaining the question.
“If you had a child next to you that you’re raising with a value system that’s going to be passed on and you’re in a work environment – I didn’t say you were in a public environment – where you’re getting paid to represent your employee for a job. . . and you have a child next to you, do you support [those protesting] not doing what they’re getting paid to do?” stressed Conti, who was met by at least one audience member’s retort: “Do you support the First Amendment?”
“I would be raising my child to understand that he or she has the freedom to do as they choose in this country and that’s what makes this country so great,” Brannan reaffirmed to a clash of both cheers and boos. “I wouldn’t feel like I should shield their eyes from something like that.”
Quaglione said, as “the only one on this stage with a child,” that his daughter was “proud when she came home and learned the Pledge of Allegiance,” not saying much else for or against the issue.
“I think if you’re going to ask that question, you should ask about how they feel about why the players are kneeling,” audience member Teri Brennan called out to applause. “You twisted it.”
“I simply asked a question,” Conti retorted, to which she responded, “It’s not that simple – what would you do if your child was with you and a black man was shot by a police officer?”
“I didn’t ask that question,” the moderator said, to which a bevy of audience members exclaimed, “But that’s why they’re kneeling.”
Furthermore, Conti contended, “The questions that [he] read, [he] read exactly the way they were.” But, audience members reminded him, the last one was his.
In addition, another audience member protested that her question about Rikers Island was not read the way it was written.
“I want to see my card,” she said, to which Conti responded by shepherding candidates into their closing statements.
The trio will square off next on Tuesday, October 24 at a candidate forum hosted by the Arab American Association of New York, which will take place at I.S. 30 (7002 Fourth Avenue) at 7 p.m. Topics of particular concern will include police reform, sanctuary cities and Islamaphobia, according to organizers.
The 43rd District encompasses the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. The seat is currently held by Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has represented the district for more than 13 years, and who cannot run again come next year’s election due to term limits.