Political hopefuls appeal to voters at student organized Q and A

Dozens of people participated in a Q and A session hosted by Reverend Khader El-Yateem at Salam Arabic Lutheran Church on Saturday, April 14. The session was conceived and organized by Bay Ridge Prep senior Alex Pellitteri and focused on violence affecting young people.

It was Pellitteri’s hope that the efforts would be able to help raise awareness and kick-start a local debate on the topic.

Attendees, who included students from a number of area schools, members of various Brooklyn-based advocacy groups, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and concerned parents, were given the opportunity to ask questions of two different panels.

The first was an expert panel of teachers, activists and non-profit heads who have focused their work on violence affecting the lives of young people.

Following this initial Q and A, the lengthier part of the event saw attendees able to ask questions to another set of potentially influential panelists: four hopefuls running for District 11’s Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives.

“I think it’s important with the upcoming election that they know people are ready to hold their elected officials accountable,” Pellitteri commented.

The four candidates — Omar Vaid, Michael DeVito, Paul Sperling and Zach Emig — hail from vastly different backgrounds.

Vaid is a former union mechanic turned political hopeful. Sperling, at 25 years old, is one of the youngest candidates running in the country. DeVito is a former Marine, and Emig an engineer.

With differing levels of political experience and platforms that clash on certain issues, they all held the same belief regarding violence affecting America’s youth; that drastic change legislatively is necessary to prevent violence in schools.

“Young people are asking ‘what’s next,’” DeVito said. “We have to come together with young people and guide them through the process”

Sperling agreed. “We need to make the safety of every citizen our priority,” he told the crowd.

With Pellitteri moderating the debate, the conversation took a turn towards an array of other topics. Attendees grilled the panelists on issues ranging from the policing policies to campaign finance laws.

With U.S. military strikes in Syria occurring only a few hours before the panel met as well, Middle East foreign policy dominated the focus of many questions attendees put to the panelists.

For almost an hour and a half, the group addressed the wide array of concerns and parried on issues that could potentially decide their fates come the primary election on June 26.  

While District 11 — which includes all of Staten Island and a swath of southwest Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Gravesend — has elected a Republican representative in the last several general elections, the hopefuls were not fazed.

Voicing a sentiment held by the group, Emig commented: “This isn’t a Republican district, we just have to engage the voters.” Vaid expressed his hope that partisanship would not get in the way of electing a truly representative congressmember.

Pellitteri, for his efforts, was pleased with the turnout and results. He hoped the politicians vying for votes in the district would get a simple message: “If you’re not going to be accountable for what’s happening, you’ll be replaced.”

The district is currently represented by Congressmember Dan Donovan, who is being challenged for the GOP nomination by his predecessor, Michael Grimm, who stepped down from the seat after pleading guilty to tax evasion and other federal charges, and serving seven months of an eight-month prison sentence.

Also running for the Democratic nomination are Max Rose and Radhakrishna Mohan.

Salam Arabic Lutheran Church is located at 414 80th Street.

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