Since the September 12 primary — which winnowed a broad field of nine candidates (four Republicans and five Democrats) down to one representative from each party — it seemed like the race to replace 43rd District Councilmember Vincent Gentile was going to be a one-on-one competition.
The biggest surprise at the candidates’ debate hosted by the Bay Ridge Council on Aging at the Fort Hamilton Senior Center on the morning of Wednesday, October 4 was not the positions espoused by Democrat Justin Brannan and Republican John Quaglione but the addition of a third candidate into the fray with unsuccessful GOP hopeful Bob Capano back in the race as the candidate of the Reform Party, which he told the crowd he had become a member of just that morning.
Pointing out that, in his previous career, he had worked for elected officials on both sides of the aisle, as well as having run a business and taught on various levels, Capano said that the community “needs someone with common sense business experience and political experience with both Democrats and Republicans.
“If any district in New York City is going to elect the first Reform Party candidate,” Capano added, “this is it.”
But, not if Brannan and Quaglione have anything to say about it.
Both stressed not only their deep roots in the community (something Capano also emphasized), but also their long stints working for elected officials — Brannan worked for Gentile for a decade and Quaglione for State Senator Marty Golden since Golden was in the City Council in the late 1990s.
The differences between the three candidates were easily apparent.
Both Quaglione and Capano expressed opposition to current Mayor Bill de Blasio and his governance of the city.
Quaglione, who contended that, despite bloating the municipal budget, de Blasio had sought to cut important programs, such as those serving seniors, promised the crowd that he would be a “fighter against Bill de Blasio,” and initiatives that he’s pushing such as building 90 new homeless shelters (which, he contended, would end up with one or two being built in the Council district) as well as closing Riker’s Island, which could result in a jail being built locally as well, he said.
Capano, for his part, bashed de Blasio, reusing a line he had repeated during the leadup to the Republican primary. “I believe his progressive policies are progressively bad for New York City,” he said, “and I don’t want the City Council passing any more radical laws on us.”
Among his targets — the mayor’s recently formed public art commission which is looking into the possibility of removing certain statues (such as those of Columbus) and which he called “political correctness on steroids” and the $100,000 allocated by the City Council to “study opening heroin injection facilities in the community. To me that’s nuts.”
Brannan, who called himself an “independent Democrat…beholden to you, the voter,” contended that, in contrast to the gloom-and-doom scenarios many de Blasio bashers paint, “I’m an optimist. I try to see the glass as half full.”
And, he emphasized, governing is not just about identifying problems. “You have to have solutions,” he said, adding, “If we work together, anything is possible.”
That said, he didn’t shy away from criticizing the mayor. “I’m the only one [of the candidates] suing de Blasio,” he told the crowd, “because he isn’t picking up the garbage on private streets.”
A discussion of bike lanes further elucidated the candidates’ positions. Brannan stressed, “We have a transportation crisis in the city,” and told his listeners, “No one set of people owns the road. It’s about sharing streets and making sure people are educated to share the road safely.”
In contrast, Capano opined, “We have enough bike lanes. If we have more bike lanes, we’ll need more bike docking stations which take away residential parking, and we all know how precious that is.”
As for Quaglione, he focused on specific issues, such as the impact of bike lanes on parking on alternate side days because people double parking while street cleaning is taking place can’t park in the bike lanes for fear of being ticketed.
The result, he said, is that people park “in the middle of the block” and block the flow of traffic. His solution? Paint a dotted line which would enable drivers to park over a bike lane while leaving space for both bikes and cars to pass.
He also said that, in speaking with cyclists, he learned that many prefer protected bike lanes. “We need to look toward creating more protected bike lanes. You can disagree,” he added, “but we all have to live together.”
The three also discussed affordable housing with Quaglione expressing support for building more senior housing and a revamp of the real estate tax to make it fairer, and Capano saying it’s “about making the city better and more affordable,” and “allow(ing) all residents to keep more of their hard-earned money.”
Brannan — who said he wanted to see the “property tax system …recalibrated” emphasized also, “To me, affordable housing means that the people who built the housing can afford to live in it,” and added that keeping the city affordable for residents means “preserving affordable housing” as well as building new units.
The overwhelmingly courteous debate ended with all three candidates pitching their strong points.
Capano urged his listeners to vote for change, and telling them that “The Republican and Democratic parties in New York State are going in the wrong direction.”
Quaglione rejected the “doom and gloom” label, while listing all the problems he has perceived in the city under de Blasio. “The reality is it’s not doom and gloom. It’s what’s happening in the city.”
And Brannan, for his part, told the crowd that his campaign was “deeply inclusive,” and focused on the needs of area residents. “Councilman Gentile has one heck of a legacy that I hope I can continue,” he urged.