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Addabbo, Maltese spar over boro S. Asian issues

Race, experience and the future of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park were some of the hot topics brought up at a special debate between City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D−Howard Beach) and state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R−Glendale) last Thursday.

The candidates for the 15th Senate District answered questions from the South Asian & West Indian Community Leadership Cabinet at the Starz Princess dining hall in Ozone Park. The debate’s moderator, Kewal Totaram, said the meeting was held so that both candidates could hear out his community’s concerns that have gone long unheard.

“We realize for too long we have not been participating in the political process,” he said.

Throughout the debate, Maltese emphasized his 20 years of experiences leading the Maspeth, Glendale, Middle Village, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Howard Beach areas. He noted that the Republican majority in the state Senate had worked over the last 10 years to increase the city school budget by more than 10 percent.

“We have provided a capital budget of over half a billion dollars,” he said.

Addabbo was quick to criticize the senator on this front. The councilman noted that there is an inequality in the amount of school funding in different counties of the state.

“He has increased funding for our city schools by 8 percent in the state budget, but over 30 percent increase in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The funding formula is still unfair,” Addabbo said.

The candidates had different solutions on how to improve the subway lines that run through the district. Addabbo, who sits on the Council’s Transportation Committee, said he would work with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to bring much−needed improvements to the A and J lines without resorting to fare increases.

He mentioned the idea of privatizing parts of the subway system through an “adopt a station” program.

“What the MTA has to do to improve our stations is to think creatively,” the councilman said.

Maltese said he would be able to get the necessary funds for the transit issues because of his history in the Senate. He noted that he secured $1 million for the MTA and pushed the agency to use taxpayers’ dollars to improve service.

“Unfortunately, if Councilman Addabbo walks into the Senate, he will come in as a new man, as a neophyte,” Maltese said. “He would be somebody who would not command the authority that I do or command the fights that I do.”

The senator went on the defensive when asked to comment on a bill he wrote that would have allowed officers to use race and ethnicity as factors in police investigations.

Maltese said he drew up the bill, which was never passed, after hearing requests from law enforcement officers, but did not formulate it in a manner that deprived immigrants and minorities of their rights.

“It only says it should be done in reasonable governmental circumstances and circumstances that merit it. It should not be used for sidewalk stops or someone stopping someone else because they have a turban,” he said. “I have indicated that in every way possible.”

Addabbo said the bill was the wrong approach to protecting the community and said he helped South Asian residents work with police precincts to create a better relationship. In addition, he proposed school curriculums that educated students on the customs and culture of the South Asian community.

“These racial profiles and our city’s hate crimes are serious issues. By communicating and hearing one another, we can address this so much better,” the councilman said. “Legislatively, administratively making these kind of implications? No.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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