Republican state Sen. Martin Golden and his Democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes clashed over several issues in a heated debate at a Bay Ridge senior citizens center on Oct. 3, but it was a question from an audience member that generated the biggest controversy of the morning.
During the question and answer session, Mallory McMahon, co-founder of group Fight Back Bay Ridge, charged that Golden has been ducking her when she has repeatedly requested to meet with him.
Golden did not deny McMahon’s assertion, but said she is a Democratic Party loyalist who is not interested in engaging in a reasonable discussion of the issues with him and would rather engage in attacks on him. He also said the Fight Back Bay Ridge is not a non-partisan group and is registered as a political organization.
“Mallory, I’m too busy for you,” Golden told McMahon, implying that he is busy working on behalf of his constituents to get into an argument with a partisan.
Gounardes, who appeared shocked by the exchange, said that if he is elected, he would be willing to meet with all constituents, no matter what their political party affiliation might be.
“I’m not afraid of people who disagree with me,” he said.
The audience also got into the dispute. When McMahon, who has stated in the past that she is not a Democrat, said she wanted to meet with Golden to talk about education funding, a few audience members didn’t believe her and shouted at her to sit down.
The verbal fireworks typified the tense atmosphere of the debate, which was sponsored by the Bay Ridge Inter-Agency Council on Aging and took place at the Fort Hamilton Senior Citizens Center at 9941 Fort Hamilton Parkway.
At one point, Golden noted that Gounardes had been endorsed the day before by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Cuomo administration has been mired in corruption scandals, Golden said.
Gounardes shot back that Golden was under investigation for expenditures. Golden angrily denied it. Golden then pointed to Gounardes and asked the audience, “This is what you want in Albany?”
Golden, a retired police officer, was first elected to the state Senate in 2002 and represents the 22nd Senate District, a district that includes parts of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.
Gounardes, a lawyer who serves as chief counsel to Borough President Eric Adams, ran against Golden in 2012 and lost.
Throughout the debate, Golden sought to portray himself as a hands-on, community-minded, reliable elected official who gets things done.
“You all know me. You know what I’ve done for this community,” he said.
Among his accomplishments, he said, are securing funding for senior citizen centers, schools and transportation. Locally, Golden said he has obtained $250,000 for the Bay Ridge Center and $1.4 million for elder abuse prevention programs, and has fought for funding for drug prescription programs and the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE).
On transportation, he said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is currently building an elevator at the 86th Street R train station and that there are plans to build elevators at the 95th Street and 77th Street stations, all at his urging
Gounardes, by contrast, sought to portray himself as a breath of fresh air who could bring much-needed change to Albany. “I know that the status quo is leaving us behind. We need fresh ideas up in Albany. You’re not going to solve these problems if you keep sending the same people to Albany year after year,” he told the audience.
Gounardes’s ideas include appointing a rider to represent subway passengers on the MTA board, establishing a GI Bill for senior citizens who might want to go back to college or train for a new profession, and awarding tax credits to people who serve as caregivers to family members.
Golden and Gounardes also clashed over charter schools when they took turns answering a question about education. Charter schools are publicly funded but are privately run.
There has been talk of a charter school opening at the site of the former Angel Guardian Home at 12th Avenue and 63rd Street in Dyker Heights. The Angel Guardian Home, which opened in 1899 as an orphanage, was recently sold to a new owner.
“We don’t need more charter schools in this neighborhood,” Gounardes said.
Golden contended that charter schools could help alleviate overcrowding in surrounding public schools. “We have the most overcrowded school district in the city of New York,” he said. “Charter schools are public schools.”
The two candidates also disagreed on the Child Victims Act, a bill that was drafted in the wake of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. The bill would ease the statute of limitations for adults seeking to bring criminal charges against Catholic priests and other people who sexually abused them when they were children. Gounardes favors it. Golden expressed concerns about it.
“Let’s talk about justice,” said Gounardes, who added that many victims were abused as children and have never been able to discuss it until now. “We need to erase the statute of limitations.”
Golden said that would create problems. “If you get rid of the statute of limitations for this crime, you would have to eliminate it for all crimes,” he said.
Golden supports another bill to create a Child Victims Fund that would set up a fund for victims to seek financial settlements stemming from past abuses.
Other debates that took place at the forum Wednesday morning did not generate the drama of the Golden-Gounardes fight, largely because of the absence of key candidates.
U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, a Republican representing Southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island, did not attend the forum, moderator Peter Killen saying that Congress was in session and Donovan was needed in Washington. That left the stage to his Democratic opponent, Max Rose, and Green Party candidate Henry Bardel.
Another scheduled debate fell through when Republican Steve Saperstein sent his regrets and did not come to debate Democrat Mathylde Frontus. The two are running for the state Assembly seat in the 46th Assembly District.
But Saperstein had a good excuse, according to Liam McCabe, a friend who read a statement from him announcing that he and his wife had a baby girl the day before. Frontus was among those who applauded congratulations to the Sapersteins. She had the stage to herself and talked to the audience about her proposals.
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing Bay Ridge and Staten Island, did show up, as did her Democratic opponent, Adam Baumel, who works as an Uber driver for wheelchair-bound riders. Their debate was a quiet event that generated no fireworks.
Clarification: During this morning’s political forum, moderator Peter Killen said that Rep. Dan Donovan was unable to attend the event because he was in Washington, D.C. where the House of Representatives was in session. Donovan was later photographed at an event on Staten Island. According to Donovan campaign spokesperson Jessica Proud, Donovan was indeed in D.C. in the morning “for a foreign affairs commitment. We had declined quite a while ago also thinking he would be in session but even though they went into recess, he still had to be there for the other meeting.” Proud said that Donovan returned to Staten Island subsequently, and attended the event at which he was photographed.