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Queens congressional candidates trade few barbs at Main St. event

Candidates for the newly created Queens district Evergreen Chou (l.-r.), Councilman Dan Halloran, Dr. Robert Mittman, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Assembly members Rory Lancman and Grace Meng, gather after a forum in Flushing. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

All six candidates vying for the new Queens congressional seat appeared at a tame forum at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library Monday night, where most of the political differences were along party lines.

The Democratic candidates — City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), state Assembly members Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Bayside allergist Dr. Robert Mittman — were joined on stage by Republican candidate Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou.

Crowley stressed that military operations abroad need to end so the country could divert that money to create jobs.

The councilwoman, like her Democratic opponents, also opposed the Secure Communities program, which encourages local law enforcement to hand over immigration status information to federal agencies, saying that the NYPD should not be taking on more responsibilities.

“Many city resources were used to detain people who didn’t commit crimes,” she said, noting city legislation reversed this process and the governor withdrew New York State from program.

Crowley also said she would vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and felt that the federal government needs to step up and make gay marriage legal across the country.

Lancman discussed regulating Wall Street and his support for the president’s plan to make college loans more affordable by, for example, rewarding schools who keep down interest rates.

He also warned that the economic crisis gripping the European Union at the moment was a result of austerity measures and that America should not follow its path. Instead the government should be providing support for small businesses, he said.

“The only way for a country to get out of the cycle of debt is through growth,” he said.

Meng proposed closer partnerships between universities and hospitals in order to help Queens become a technology hub and job-creating engine.

The assemblywoman also told the panel she would have voted to raise the debt ceiling and that she wants to change the gender ratios in Washington.

“I’m running to make sure that the woefully inadequate statistic of 17 percent of women in Congress changes,” she said.

The assemblywoman also said that tensions between the NYPD and the Muslim communities it has monitored could be eased by promoting better relations between the two.

Mittman talked about tackling the nation’s debt instead of raising it as a first priority along with reforming the health care system, which he said is unsustainable.

As a way to mitigate the rising cost of student loans, the allergist said college graduates could perform some kind of public service before fully entering the workforce. Mittman repeatedly called the other panelists career politicians, although Chou has never held elected office.

“These politicians will bring us more of the same,” he said.

As he was reading his opening statements, Mittman addressed his Democratic colleagues and the June 26 primary, despite the fact that candidates from all parties were present.

Halloran cautioned against slashing the military budget, since hundreds of thousands are employed in technology and contracting companies associated with the military. When asked, the councilman was the only candidate to specify a percentage of funding the military should take up, saying it should be between 20 percent and 25 percent.

The media and Hollywood were also responsible for implanting the idea of higher education in the heads of too many youngsters, according to Halloran

“We don’t [need] higher education for everybody,” he said, referring to high school students unsure of their future. “They need to become plumbers, technicians and look toward 21st-century computer technicians.”

Halloran’s positions, including that of keeping government regulation out of small business, were often rebutted by Lancman, who said once during the debate, “I’m glad that I have the opportunity to answer this question after Dan,” although due to the alphabetical arrangement of the candidates, he seemed glad on a number of occasions.

Chou often made reference to ending the country’s wars and using the billions of dollars spent on military operations abroad for jobs and entitlement programs back home. He stressed his message of peace and the need for socioeconomic equality that could come from, for instance, providing workers with living wage jobs.

“Now they have given us the new concept of ‘too big to fail,’ we have to use that concept that the schools are too big to fail, the hospitals are too big to fail,” he said.

Chou, who was the only male on the dais not wearing a tie, also said that in order for the country to climb out of the recession, the government needed to spend and not cut back.

The forum was hosted by the MinKwon Center and moderated by its executive director, Stephen Choi, who kept strict time limits on the candidates, often interrupting Crowley in mid-sentence.

At one point, Mittman misheard Choi read a question from the audience about the Euro Zone and instead began expounding on the economy of Arizona.

The entire event was covered live on Twitter by New York Times City Hall Bureau Chief David Chen, who also happened to be one of the four panelists asking the questions.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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