Democrat Mathylde Frontus and Republican Steve Saperstein were the undercard in the Bay Ridge Community Council debate Tuesday night, appearing onstage long after the fireworks generated by state Sen. Martin Golden and opponent Andrew Gounardes, but the two Assembly candidates provided their own heat in a tense back-and-forth over campaign financing and other hot-button issues.
Frontus and Saperstein are running in the Nov. 6 election to represent the 46th Assembly District, which runs from Bay Ridge to Coney Island and includes Dyker Heights, Seagate and parts of Brighton Beach. It is an open seat. The previous assemblymember, Democrat Pamela Harris, pleaded guilty to corruption charges and resigned from office in disgrace.
At one point during the debate at Xaverian High School, Saperstein sought to contrast himself and Frontus by accusing her of being a divider. “I’ve proven to be a uniter. You have proven to be a divider,” he told her.
A short time later, Frontus accused Saperstein of misrepresenting the facts. “Mr. Saperstein, you can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts,” she said.
At another point, Frontus said “my head is spinning,” after listening to an answer Saperstein gave to a question about over-development in Coney Island and other neighborhoods.
Saperstein defended real estate developers, saying that they usually include affordable housing units in the residential buildings they construct. “If you are a developer, you will make sure there is affordable housing. You have to have responsible development,” he said.
“It may be true that a lot of developments have affordable housing. But not all of them do,” Frontus answered.
Frontus said that she does not accept campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs) or from real estate developers because “a lot of strings are attached.”
But Saperstein questioned her connection to a political consultant who he said had ties to the real estate industry. “Is he on your payroll?” Saperstein asked Frontus.
Answering a question about legalizing marijuana for recreational use in New York State, Saperstein said he is opposed to the idea. “The answer is no. I am not for it. We have drug dealers peddling poison to our children,” he said.
Frontus said the issue is worth exploring. At the very least, marijuana should be decriminalized, she said. She also decried what she said is a double standard when it comes to pot in the U.S. In some states, marijuana is legal and yet in other states, people are locked up in jail for possessing small amounts of it, she said.
While most of the audience had cleared out of Xaverian High School following the Golden-Gounardes debate, there was still a sizable group left in the auditorium to hear Frontus and Saperstein go head to head.
Audience members shouted down Frontus and Saperstein at several points during the debate. Their supporters, meanwhile, shouted down the naysayers and demanded that the candidates be allowed to finish their statements.
Frontus, a Coney Island resident with a PhD from Columbia University, is a social worker by training. She is the founder of Urban Neighborhood Services, a social services agency. She also started a program to help military veterans, created an LGBT Outreach project and organized the group Coney Island College Bound, which offers free SAT prep for high school students.
Saperstein, who lives in Brighton Beach, is a special needs teacher. Saperstein, whose parents and younger brother are deaf, said sign language was his first language.
Saperstein is a community activist who belongs to UJA Federation of NY, Brooklyn First Responders for Addiction and the Brooklyn Hebrew Society for the Deaf among other organizations.
The legal travails of Harris came up during the debate.
Saperstein expressed support for the Public Official Accountability Act, which he said would crack down on corrupt public officials. “Every single year, the Assembly votes this down,” he said.
Frontus said the seat in the 46th A.D. “has been tainted” by the actions of Harris and her predecessor, Democrat Alec Brook-Krasny, who was indicted in a separate case.
But Frontus added that she was running for office “out of righteous anger” to restore a sense of civility.