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Meng vs. Halloran in debate face-off

City Councilman Dan Halloran (l.) and state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (r.) are running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Photos by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) blasted state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) on her absenteeism in Albany last Thursday, concluding a debate between the congressional candidates that was otherwise convivial.

The debate was held at Our Lady of Hope School in Middle Village and was hosted by the Daily News and the Juniper Park Civic Association. About 100 people attended the panel, which was moderated by Lisa Colangelo of the Daily News; Joe Anuta of TimesLedger Newspapers; Azi Paybarah of Capital New York; and Sam Goldman, of the Times Newsweekly.

“It’s my understanding you missed over 75 percent of the session in Albany as you ran for Congress,” Halloran said at the debate.

“Do you think your attendance record in Albany is inappropriate given that you took on a job and took on a paycheck from the citizens of the state of New York?” he challenged.

Meng responded that before she started her run for Congress her record was more than 92 percent and the absences resulted from her decision to meet with potential constituents in Queens during a contentious primary.

“My mother still yells at me for missing sessions because I had such a good attendance record,” Meng said.

Despite Halloran’s closing dig, the candidates for the most part focused on outlining their policy positions during the debate, agreeing with each other on several issues.

Both concurred that more bipartisanship is needed in Congress and highlighted their records reaching across the aisle to move legislation forward. Both also spoke of the importance of cutting regulatory red tape in Washington to help struggling small businesses. And both agreed U.S. postal workers should not have to pre-pay their pension benefits.

One of their larger disagreements was on the Affordable Health Care Act, however. Meng said generally she supports health-care reform and applauded its increased coverage for children and young adults.

But she said the law needs to be tweaked to make it more friendly to business.

“Is it perfect and ideal? No,” she said. “But let’s work together to get Congress to make it a better plan.”

Halloran took a harsher stance on the law, however, arguing it solves none of the health-care industry’s underlying problems.

He also said it affects small business disproportionately.

“It’s going to put a lot of businesses out of business,” he said.

Halloran said he would rather give people the ability to buy insurance plans across state lines to foster competition and would hold up plans like New York’s Health Plus system as models for the rest of the country.

The candidates also disagreed over the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants who finish high school and receive a college degree or join the military. Meng said she supports the bill but Halloran said he would not back it as long as it would provide advantages to illegal immigrants that American children do not also have.

Both Meng and Halloran also tried to dispel negative perceptions about themselves.

Meng dismissed claims she is too nice for politics, contending she does whatever it takes to move her policies forward.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness,” she said.

On the other side of the coin, Halloran said his reputation for being too aggressive has also helped him to be a better advocate for Queens. He alluded to an incident last year in which he cursed out the owner of a car dealer in Flushing who was the subject of numerous noise complaints in the neighborhood.

“Yes, I’m colorful. And, yes, maybe some people don’t like me walking into a building that is destroying the quality of life in my neighborhood and cursing out the owner after I tried the nice way,” he said. “But you know what? It’s a quieter place now.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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