Mayoral candidates talk jobs, education at QC debate

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After finding they were unable to book Townsend Harris’s esteemed Election Simulation candidates, Queens College sought the next best thing and hosted a Democratic Party mayoral debate in Rosenthal Library.

Four of five major candidates attended the event on April 11: Sal Albanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Bill de Blasio.  Christine Quinn, widely considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, did not appear.   Moderated by Errol Louis of NY1 and Michael Krasner, a Queens College Political Science Professor, the debate focused on education, jobs, public transit, and NYPD regulations.

Following the candidates’ opening remarks, the first question targeted the significant income gap between the upper class and lower class.

Liu jumped in first, stating that the wealth gap is growing faster and he hopes to propose policies that will address this issue: “We need to stop subsidizing corporations that don’t do anything for the economy but line the pockets of the rich. We need to enforce a progressive system: the less you make, the less you pay; the more you make, the more you pay. We need to uplift the working class and increase the minimum wage. $9.00 buys you a lot more upstate or in Oklahoma than it does in Queens; there is a different cost of living in NYC. We need a minimum wage closer to $11.50 an hour.”

Thompson approached the situation from a different angle: small businesses. “We need to look to increase the economic base, which are small businesses. We need to help them grow and stop the city from being their enemy.”

After arriving over half an hour late, Bill de Blasio joined the debate on income equality but first explained his lateness, quipping, “There is a profound evil in this city…the LIE.”

After settling in, de Blasio said, “The fact that the wealthy like to note their tax burden does not take away from the fact that the wealthy tax burden has gone down tremendously over the last 20 years. Contrary to Bloomberg’s spin on things, we have not seen evidence that the wealthy leave NYC from tax rates. We need to make visible changes and we must be progressive. The Bloomberg Association’s third term, which never should’ve happened to begin with, had no response to the economic disparity.”

Albanese responded, “You have to be very careful in tax raising. It’s very sexy, politically, to say ‘Let’s tax the rich’.”

Earlier, he’d mentioned similar ideas: “When you start raising taxes you have to be careful. I believe it will have the opposite effect, instead of generating revenue it will decrease revenue. I believe education is pivotal, with more education you have more opportunities and more wages.”

Following the discussion of income inequality, the moderators turned to Stop and Frisk policies, where police officers randomly check one’s person for suspicious content, often based solely on their appearance, whereabouts, or race.

The four candidates agreed that under Bloomberg’s three terms, the frisk rates in- appropriately went from 100,000 to 700,000 a year and that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had “taken the system too far.”

The candidates found more to disagree on when the subject of reconstruction fol- lowing Hurricane Sandy came up.

Liu spoke first: “Rockaway has been completely devastated, and City Hall has not paid attention. Families are trying to piece together not only their homes, but their families. Where is all the FEMA money going? Rockaway insurance coverage is insuf- ficient, and through pension funds we have created a 500 billion dollar asset to help the families in Rockaway.”

Albanese then stated, “There have been warnings of a storm like this for 10 years, and six weeks before the storm hit, there was a front page article on the New York Times about it.” He said that the devastation shows that we have “reactive govern- ment” and that the storm’s aftermath is an example of a “dismal failure of planning.”

Referring to his visits in Howard Beach with teams of volunteers, de Blasio stated, “The vast majority of the home owners haven’t heard anything from the government or haven’t gotten any answers. In December, I sent a formal proposal about the building mold and to this day I have not received any answer; I was just ignored. The city is not as willing to help people transition as it should be.”

The debate’s final question prompted candidates to consider the public school sys- tem.

Liu started by saying, “We need to stop treating public schools as a business. All these statistics and reports that have to be sent to the DOE building and kept up with only hinder the progress. My 12-year-old son spends all year preparing for his state test; this is not helping the students learn better, it is helping them take tests better. I suggest we have more testing, not more standardized testing, but more in class and small-scale testing. The reason the DOE is not enforcing that now involves the DOE to trust teachers to teach.”

Albanese, a former public school teacher, said, “We have two priorities: stop teach- ing to high stakes tests, and stop closing schools.”

“The first three years of a child’s life are pivotal,” he continued, ”I would establish pediatric learning centers, where doctors and teachers work together to help children overcome the stress and developmental issues that poverty may cause. It would be po- litical malpractice not to address an early intervention.”

Thompson added, “It’s time to let the teachers teach.”

De Blasio commended the CUNY system and its availability to students, with the rest of the candidates soon following suit.

As the press and Queens College students were given the floor for questions, the candidates began to disappear one by one, having to make other engagements and beat “any more LIE madness.”