A heated debate took place Tuesday between incumbent Democratic State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Vito Bruno, his Republican opponent in the race in the 22nd State Senate District.
The district includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park.
The debate, which was held in the parish hall of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, was hosted by the Dyker Heights Civic Association and moderated by journalist John Alexander.
The candidates wasted no time challenging each other’s credentials.
“I’m running because I’m alarmed at what’s happening in our community,” Bruno said in his opening statement. “Skyrocketing crime, taxes, and the place is becoming unaffordable. Two years ago, Senator Gounardes came here and asked people to raise their hands and fired off a litany of complaints. How’s your commute? Is it better? Higher rents. Higher taxes. And he made a bunch of promises that, if he were elected, he would do something. Well, it’s two years later. Is your life better?”
Gounardes spoke about some of the issues he has worked on in his two years as senator.
“I’m so proud that we brought record amounts of funding back to the district,” Gounardes said. “In the last two years, [there has been a] more than $1 billion increase in funding for our public and private schools [and] $5.6 million to renovate and remodel playgrounds up in Marine Park.”
Alexander asked the candidates about issues related to the police and to rising crime in the city.
“People in our community are afraid to leave their houses, go to work and get on the trains,” Bruno said. “This is definitely the result of the disastrous bail reform law that absolutely needs to be repealed immediately. Also, my opponent has supported the de Blasio defunding of the police. They use all these buzzwords like ‘reimagining the police,’ which actually means dismantling and defunding.”
Gounardes claimed there were lies in Bruno’s statement.
“Vito, you are running for the State Senate,” he said. “You’re not running against Mayor de Blasio, you’re not running for City Council. The State Senate has zero jurisdiction over the Police Department’s budget. I have said repeatedly that our Police Department needs every available resource to do their core essential job of public safety and I will continue to do that.”
The state of small businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was also addressed.
“What we need to do is get these businesses open immediately,” Bruno said. “We lose these businesses, we lose part of the tax base. What we need to do is stop the overregulation and stop the fines.”
Bruno suggested commercial tax relief for small businesses so they can receive more accessible low interest rates and grants to help them stay open.
Gounardes called for extending the commercial eviction moratorium, and for the passage of a bill he introduced in April that would force insurance companies to pay the claims of small businesses that have interruption insurance.
Alexander asked about Illegal conversions in the district, which Bruno described as “death traps.”
“These illegal conversions are a tremendous strain on the schools, sanitation, parking and the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Bruno said. “I spoke to [Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance President] Bob Cassara, and we spoke about architectural solutions for this type of housing, which would be more of a dormitory style housing … We need to find a solution with the building departments to create a new style of housing for these people.”
Gounardes agreed that illegal conversions have been an issue in the district.
“We have an illegal conversions task force here in southern Brooklyn with the Department of Buildings, the Fire Department, Community Boards 10 and 11, my office and Councilmember Justin Brannan’s office and we had four meetings a year to crack down on these conversions. When we were going to hold a fifth meeting, the virus struck and we had to put our plans on hold.”
To watch the full debate, visit https://bit.ly/3192oe9.