Of the nine candidates vying for the Congressional seat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Gravesend and all of Staten Island, a whopping seven were on hand for a candidates forum organized by AARP 3630 on Tuesday, May 8.
Speaking to the largely senior citizen audience gathered in the community room at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road, were former Congressmember Michael Grimm, who’s challenging the current seatholder, Congressmember Dan Donovan, for the Republican nomination, as well as Democratic hopefuls Michael DeVito, Zach Emig, Max Rose, Paul Sperling and Omar Vaid (a Brooklynite), and Green Party candidate Henry Bardell.
Only Donovan, who was in Washington the day of the event, and Democratic candidate Radhakrishna Mohan, were absent.
While the race between Donovan and Grimm — the former rep, who gave up the post after pleading guilty to tax evasion, and who served seven months of an eight-month sentence — has been heated, to say the least, with charges and counter-charges flying freely, the forum was relatively free of fireworks, in part because each candidate was given eight minutes to present, there were no questions, and there was no back-and-forth between the participants.
But, Emig — a bond trader by profession who spoke at length about his support for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and sported a button proclaiming, “Yes, Impeach Now” — managed to sneak in at least one zinger, telling the group, “I’m one of the businessmen who hasn’t served jail time,” a direct dig at Grimm. “If you want one, you’ll have to look elsewhere.”
Trump’s possible impeachment was also on Grimm’s mind. The former congressmember slammed today’s Democratic members of Congress as a whole for the impeachment talk of some, seeming amazed that such a suggestion would be made.
“The Democratic Party of today is not like the Democratic Party of my parents and grandparents,” Grimm said, adding, “I wasn’t a big fan of Barack Obama, but you never once heard me get up and give a speech about impeaching the president of the United States because I am a patriot. You might not like President Trump but he’s our president and he’s trying.”
Asserting that the economy has improved under Trump, Grimm contended, “The idea that he only cut taxes on the rich is just not true. When you file taxes, you’ll see it.”
He definitely played to his senior citizen audience. “We’ve actually forgotten what makes America the greatest country in the world,” Grimm told the crowd. “It was called the greatest generation for a reason, because they knew it took hard work and sacrifice to get ahead. No one came here with their hand out like they do today. They raised their children with family values and so on, and that mattered.”
Overall, the Democratic candidates who spoke shared a constellation of priorities — improving access to healthcare; tackling the the opioid crisis and the plague of income inequality, which many contended has been exacerbated by the new tax law (“The middle class is now the new poor,” said DeVito, “and the poor is being imprisoned by debt and lack of opportunity.”); revamping the nation’s infrastructure, both on the ground and online; and preserving Social Security and Medicare for future generations (“Republicans want to privatize it,” said Sperling, adding, “The next time the economy goes down, we’ll all be out of luck, but I believe we can keep Social Security solvent for generations to come by raising the payroll cap on millionaires and billionaires.”)
The need to revitalize this country’s manufacturing sector was also brought up, with Vaid — one of several candidates with union ties — bemoaning the fact that “You can’t buy an American-made cloth flag in this country” and recounting the difficulties he faced when he went to buy an American-made suit, and discovered that almost all the suits for sale were made elsewhere.
“A Chevy is as important as an American flag,” Vaid contended. “It would be a shame if there wasn’t a Chevy. To me, it’s about protecting things that are valuable to all of us.”
Ending the gridlock in the nation’s capital was also discussed, with Rose calling it “despicable.
“The country’s best days can’t be behind us,” Rose contended, adding that change could occur, “If we just start electing people who put country first, not worry about their political party. We can be so much better.”
The primary election will be held on June 26. The general election will be held on November 6.