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Council debate gets heated

Civility gave way to some shouting last week at a forum for candidates in the running to replace City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside). The four remaining Democratic contenders gathered at LaGuardia Community College Aug. 5 to seek the endorsement of the nonpartisan good-government group Citizens Union, trading barbs over donors, community involvement and petition challenges.

The Queens Democratic Party, which has endorsed City Council attorney Deirdre Feerick in the race, challenged the petitions of Woodside translator David Rosasco and LaGuardia Community College student Kwame Smalls. Smalls was kicked off the ballot while Rosasco’s attorney salvaged 902 valid signatures.

Rosasco asked Feerick if she would drop the challenge, which proceeded to Queens Criminal Court Tuesday.

“When this is done, if you’re on, you’re on, but these standards apply to everybody,” she said.

A few of the candidates’ policy differences did shine through during the 90-minute debate.

To fight overcrowding and improve school performance, Rosasco said he would work to implement a school voucher program that would allow religious parents to send their children to parochial schools.

Feerick said she would advocate for immigration reform that would make newcomers comfortable enough with government to accurately count the number of children in a district.

Queens Library External Affairs Director Jimmy Van Bramer said he would favor an overhaul of the city School Construction Authority to give the community more input into the process of selecting sites for new schools.

Long Island City attorney Brent O’Leary said he would work to give community education councils oversight over budgets and hiring for school districts.

Feerick brought on a tirade from Van Bramer when she said that most of his body of work happened outside the district.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Van Bramer shot back, noting he has served on Community Board 2 for several years. The two began to argue over who had attended more meetings of a graffiti removal group in the area.

“I went to several meetings,” Feerick said. “I just didn’t send out a press release.”

O’Leary tried to stay above the fray.

“This isn’t high school,” he said. “This is something that’s going to affect people’s lives.”

One spectator asked the candidates if several of them were ganging up on one of the others. Van Bramer and O’Leary joined Rosasco and Smalls last week to denounce the petition challenges.

“We’re not running for the Cub Scouts here,” Rosasco told the spectator, also noting that “you just accused three guys of beating up on a girl.”

Another spectator asked Feerick if accepting donations from real estate interests was a conflict of interest. The rest of the Democratic candidates have not received any contributions from the real estate industry.

Feerick noted that during her work for the Council, she helped advocate for tenant protection legislation that landlord groups opposed.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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