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Stavisky, Koo focus on economic crisis

Heading into the final week before the general election, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D−Whitestone) and her Republican challenger, Peter Koo, were singing similar tunes — that mending the country’s weakening economy will be the top priority facing New Yorkers in the coming two years.

Stavisky, who has held the 16th Senate District seat since 1999, said in an interview Monday that she hopes to push to eliminate wasteful spending in the state budget. She also wants to press for investment in projects and services that will ultimately create jobs for her constituents such as the redevelopment of Willets Point and more funding for higher education.

“Most importantly, we need to put people back to work,” Stavisky said.

Koo, meanwhile, believes that while limiting wasteful spending is crucial, cuts should not be made to critical public services like law enforcement and health care.

“With health care, for example, we can maintain the overall budget and yet increase the overall dollars we spend by cutting on Medicare,” said Koo’s campaign manager, Oliver Tan, speaking on behalf of the candidate. “What it means is that we actually have to enforce the laws that are in place.”

Koo said he would also push for tax credits for small businesses as a means to stimulate local economies.

Stavisky stressed the need for investment in higher education, contending that investing in CUNY and SUNY schools would not only help constituents build their skill sets, but ultimately come back to the state.

“Every study has shown that when there’s a period of economic turmoil, more people go back to school,” she said. “I’m convinced that enrollment at CUNY and SUNY is going to go up. Where else can you get such a first−rate education at such a low cost? It will come back in the form of income tax, it will come back many, many times.”

She also said she hopes to challenge the current system of mayoral control of the city school system, which she believes has flaws. She said parental involvement needs to be bolstered while curriculums need to be refocused to place less of an emphasis on test preparation.

“I think testing has really gotten way out of hand. Children should be taught for of the sheer joy of being able to learn new things and not just taught how to do well on a standardized tests,” she said.

Tan said Koo supports mayoral control of the schools and agrees that bolstering parental involvement is essential. Tan said the Koo campaign is placing a local focus on national issues.

“One of the things that we’re really stressing is while state government can’t fix everything, we can do things to help mitigate the effects for our local residents,” Tan said.

Since announcing his candidacy in February, Koo has quietly spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars as he attempts to unseat Stavisky.

It will be an uphill climb for Koo, however. Stavisky has the backing of the powerful Queens Democratic Party and also has received personal endorsements from U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D−N.Y.), state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and City Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing).

The 16th Senate District snakes from Bayside and Whitestone through Flushing, Forest Hills and Fresh Meadows, stretching as far west as Rego Park and east into portions of Oakland Gardens.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, ext. 138.

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