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St. John’s forum draws partisan crowd Queens congressional hopefuls face revved-up friends, foes as they field questions on views

A slate of candidates vying to represent Queens in Congress convened for a boisterous candidates’ forum at St. John’s University, where they were each given a chance to express the philosophies and policies they would push if they are sent to Washington, D.C.

A gaggle of attendees stayed mostly quiet during the Republican’s remarks and their question-and-answer sessions, but some jeered U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) as they took jabs at their opponents and defended the policies and plans they and other Democrats have long pursued.

Each of their Republican challengers focused first on presenting their personal platforms and vision, then painted a scenario in which New York’s voters, in a referendum on the policies of national Democrats — particularly President Barack Obama and their own specific challengers — have pursued since Obama’s election.

Health care and the stimulus package were among the punching bags for the challengers, who included Elizabeth Berney, a Great Neck, L.I., attorney running against Ackerman who did not secure the backing of the Republican Party and will be on the ballot on the Tax Revolt Party line; Robert Turner, a Rockaway Point businessman confronting Weiner; Jay Townsend, a Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., businessman on the ballot vs. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.); and Asher Taub, a Kew Gardens attorney in the race against Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica). Meeks and Schumer did not attend the discussion.

Berney touted her opposition to the alternative minimum tax, stimulus and federal spending mandates on states, support of elections reform and concerns about the possibility that Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon.

“We have to limit the federal government’s role in telling the states what to do,” she said. “The Democratic Party has really gone off the deep end as far as trying to make this country more socialist.”

Ackerman, who is vying for his 15th consecutive term in the House of Representatives, said he supports fiscal initiatives to help Americans and defended the health-care bill.

“I believe in tax cuts for the hardworking middle class,” he said, later adding that “this health-care legislation will actually help with the deficit and health-care spending.

He also touted his extensive experience with foreign policy work in Congress.

Turner excoriated the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats, including Weiner, for pushing health-care reform and supporting increases in taxes and spending to address the fiscal crisis rather than creating tax incentives and lessening the regulatory burden on small businesses.

“Our economy is in terrible shape and the steps being taken, presumably by a government that’s trying to fix the problem, are only driving us further into the hole,” he said. “Cut taxes, help business. Let government simply get out of the way.”

Weiner responded with a series of critiques of Turner’s proposals on issues including abortion, health care, taxes and more. Chief among his concerns was Turner’s views on fixing the economy, saying that boosting jobs through stimulus and other government programs is an essential component of the way to fiscal health in America.

“You can’t have a downward cycle,” he said. “You slash spending, you spend less money, then you have less jobs.”

Taub offered a bleak look at America’s future, then presented his plans for addressing the problems he believes are causing its decline, which included initiatives to bring the country out of debt and to control health-care costs through tort reform.

“People believe we’re the strongest government in the world, that the United States is independent,” he told the crowd. “Unfortunately, that’s a fallacy. Our indebtedness to foreign countries makes us dependent on them.”

Townsend, who debated Schumer Sunday night, outlined a wide view for the way America should move forward into the second decade of the 21st century. His proposals include decreasing the tax burden on families, businesses and residents, changing the federal tax code to make it more fair to New Yorkers, repealing Obama’s health-care reform bill and capping property taxes.

“I do not believe you should reward failure, ladies and gentlemen. I’m here because I believe we should try something different,” he said, summing up the arguments he and his fellow challengers made all night and continue to make all across the nation. “If you think New York is headed in the right direction and you like all the policies coming out of the White House, go vote for Sen. Schumer. If you’re ready for a change, vote for me.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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