In a debate that epitomized the bitterness of the campaign, Republican state Sen. Marty Golden and his Democratic opponent Andrew Gounardes went head to head in front of a raucous crowd at a Bay Ridge Community Council political forum Tuesday night, Oct. 23, trading barbs and seeking to gain an advantage with voters as Election Day draws closer.
Gounardes and Golden fought over health care, immigration, LGBTQ rights and other issues during the debate, which took place in a packed auditorium at Xaverian High School on Shore Road.
The boiling controversy over Golden’s refusal to fire campaign staffer Ian Reilly over Reilly’s invitation to alt-right Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes to speak at the Metropolitan Republican Club also provided drama at the debate.
“Hate has no place in our community,” said Gounardes, who has called on Golden to fire Reilly.
“Are you calling him a white supremacist?” Golden asked Gounardes. Golden said he will continue to employ Reilly on his campaign staff.
Gounardes’ supporters in the audience booed Golden over the Reilly comments while the incumbent’s supporters tried to shout them down.
Prior to the debate, BRCC Vice President Ilene Sacco implored the audience to be civil. “Let’s keep the screaming to a minimum,” she said.
But the audience did not heed her request, alternately shouting, booing and chanting the names of the two candidates who at times struggled to be heard over the din.
Golden and Gounardes disagreed over nearly every issue that was put in front of them.
In response to a question from the audience, both Golden and Gounardes expressed support for requiring health insurance companies to provide coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Gounardes charged that Golden voted for a bill in 2009 that would have allowed insurance companies to drop the coverage of pre-existing conditions.
“No one should be selling cupcakes to pay for cancer treatments,” Gounardes said, referring to the fact that patients have often had to resort to conducting fundraising drives to pay for life-saving care.
Gounardes said he supports the New York Health Care Act, a bill that define health care as a right and would mandate health care for all New Yorkers.
Golden, who charged that the New York Health Care Act was tantamount to a single-payer, Medicare-for-All system, estimated that it would cost New York State $169 billion by the year 2022 and would bankrupt the state.
“His big ideas will cost us a great deal of money!” Golden said, referring to Gounardes. “A vote for Andrew is a vote for bankrupting the state of New York.”
When Golden said he supported LGBTQ rights, Gounardes scoffed at his answer. “Are you kidding me? You led the fight against marriage equality!” he told the incumbent.
On the question of the Reproductive Health Act, Golden, who has held an anti-abortion position over the years, said it was “the law of the land.”
“Here we go again with that fuzzy truth,” Gounardes said of Golden.
Gounardes spoke out in favor of the Reproductive Freedom Act and said that women “should not be denied contraception coverage in New York State.”
Golden and Gounardes had opposing viewpoints on the city’s new policy of allowing transgender New Yorkers to change their sexual identity on official documents to X rather than the traditional M for male or F for female.
“If people want to choose who they are, let them. Let people be,” Gounardes said.
Golden said a person’s sex should not be changed to the X designation on official documents. “Male, female. Birth certificate. Very plan. Very simple,” he said.
Golden also expressed opposition to the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain valid driver’s licenses. “I do not support it. We need a good immigration policy,” he said.
Gounardes, who said he would be in favor of it, pointed to public safety as a reason to support the idea. “Whether we give people driver’s licenses or not, people will be driving,” he said.
Even with all of the shouting, the debate managed to offer voters a sharp contrast between the two men.
Golden, a retired police officer who was first elected to the State Senate in 2002, touted his years of experience and his ability to bring state funds back to the district to fund schools, senior citizen centers and transportation projects.
Golden said he has produced results for the district. “I am going to continue to do that,” he said.
Gounardes, by contrast, presented himself as a breath of fresh air and said he would present new, bold ideas to improve the quality of life for residents.
“The same people, same ideas don’t get us anywhere. It’s about new ideas to move the community forward,” he said, adding that his platform contains 19 proposals. Among his ideas: building a new specialized high school in Brooklyn, constructing a waterfront park in Bay Ridge and establishing a GI Bill-type of law for senior citizens.
Golden is running for his ninth term in office representing the 22nd Senate District. He is the only Republican representing a Senate seat in Brooklyn.
Gounardes, a lawyer and Bay Ridge civic leader, is currently on leave from his job as chief counsel to Borough President Eric Adams so that he can devote his energy to the Senate race.
The 22nd Senate District takes in parts of several Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.
Gounardes ran against Golden in 2012 and lost. Gounardes did receive more votes in the Bay Ridge portion of the district than Golden did, a result that impressed many political observers.
Democrats have high hopes for flipping the seat this time around.
Election Day is Nov. 6.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the “Reproductive Health Act” as the “Reproductive Freedom Act.”