Education reform and how to help make college more affordable were two of the biggest topics of conversation as Democrat Mathylde Frontus and Republican Steve Saperstein met for a debate in Dyker Heights, with both candidates for State Assembly in the 46th Assembly District presenting ideas that reflected outside-the-box thinking.
Both candidates are educators.
Responding to a question from the audience about college affordability, Frontus, who earned a PhD from Columbia University and has been an adjunct professor, said she would like to see changes in financial aid programs. Under her proposal, income eligibility levels would be raised to give more students from middle income families the chance to qualify for financial aid.
Saperstein, a special needs teacher, said he believes that not every high school student is meant to go to college and that some youngsters would be able to build better futures for themselves by attending vocational schools. He vowed to work on reforms if elected. “I want to be Mr. Education in Albany,” he said.
Sponsored by the Dyker Heights Civic Association, the debate took place at Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church Hall in Dyker Heights.
The 46th Assembly District is a diverse district that runs from Coney Island to Bay Ridge and includes parts of Dyker Heights and Brighton Beach. It also takes in Seagate.
Frontus, a Coney Island resident, touted her community organizing skills. 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.
“I wanted to make the community a better place,” she told the audience.
Frontus pledged that she would bring those same skills to Albany and would work on behalf of the entire district. “I live in Coney Island, not Dyker, but we’re all part of the same Southern Brooklyn family,” she said.
Still, Frontus conceded that different parts of the district have different concerns.
“Here in Dyker, quality-of-life issues are a major concern,” she said, acknowledging the neighborhood’s middle class status. Coney Island residents, by contrast, were recently determined by a New York City survey to have the second lowest household income level in the city.
“This seat requires someone who is versatile,” Frontus said.
Saperstein, who lives in Brighton Beach, recently became a father for the second time when his wife Elina had a baby girl. The couple also has a one-year-old daughter, Rebecca. His reason for running for public office is tied to his role as a father, he said. “I’m stepping up for my daughters and for all the children,” he said.
Saperstein is a community activist who belongs to UJA Federation of NY, Brooklyn First Responders for Addiction, the Brooklyn Hebrew Society for the Deaf and other organizations.
He earned a BA from New York University and holds two Master’s Degrees, one from Hunter College and one from Touro College. He also earned a law degree from Syracuse University College of Law.
At the debate, Saperstein vowed to get to work immediately solving problems if he is elected.
“We have an outdated education system in dire need of an overhaul. We need common sense ideas to drive policy. I’ve proven to be a problem solver,” he said.
Saperstein, whose parents, Susan and Brian, and younger brother Bruce are deaf, talked about growing up in a house where sign language was his first language. It made him appreciate the power of communication, he said.
“The community has been without a voice. I will be your voice,” he told he audience.
Frontus and Saperstein are running to succeed Democrat Pamela Harris, the former assemblymember who resigned from office in disgrace earlier this year after she was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of fraud and corruption. She pleaded guilty to the charges.