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Queens mayoral debate focuses on CUNY tuition

Democratic mayoral candidates Sal Albanese (second from l. to r.), Bill DeBlasio, John Liu and Bill Thompson spoke about education and other issues at a debate last Thursday at Queens College. Photo courtesy Dominick Totino Photography
TimesLedger Newspapers

Mayoral hopefuls fielded questions about the students in the CUNY college system being priced out by rising tuition and other issues affecting city education at a debate among Democratic candidates held at Queens College last Thursday.

Although all candidates appeared to agree that college costs for some CUNY students can be burdensome and even prohibitive, there was less consensus on how to alleviate those costs.

City Comptroller John Liu said he supports free CUNY tuition for the top 10 percent of city high school graduates.

“I think that values CUNY even more,” he said, saying it would attract the top young minds to the system and give promising high school students a step up.

He said tuition costs alone can be low for about 60 percent of CUNY students and aid is plentiful. But he said tuition is not the only cost that goes into paying for school and said he has a plan to provide free MetroCards to CUNY students, a proposal met with loud applause.

City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio countered that with limited city resources it was important to focus on putting tax dollars to work where they will have the maximum effect.

“There’s no question I want to see increasing investments in CUNY two-year and four-year colleges,” he said. “But I’m still so troubled by so many kids left behind in public schools that I have to put my first focus there.”

Other candidates at the debate, held in the Rosenthal Library at the school, at 65-30 Kissena Blvd., included former Comptroller Bill Thompson and former City Councilman Sal Albanese, of Brooklyn. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) did not attend.

Albanese laid out a broad plan for improving city public school education, saying he would support creating a department for early learning and would ensure teachers receive intensive training.

A former public school teacher, he said new teachers are plunged into schools without having much experience and contended they would be better prepared with internships and mentoring programs.

“We need to support teachers,” he said.

Thompson said if he were elected mayor he would appoint a new city schools chancellor who is an educator. He also criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the practice of closing failing schools.

“We need to stop this giving up on our students and our communities and schools,” he said.

The candidates also took the opportunity during the debate to blast Bloomberg for his response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated many parts of southern Queens.

“Where’s the mayor and the city of New York?” Thompson said, charging that Bloomberg has not been as invested in helping the outerboroughs as he had been helping Manhattan.

Other candidates laid out plans for dealing with the crisis. Albanese said he would create a task force in every borough to oversee recovery issues, while Liu said he wanted to investigate where Federal Emergency Management Agency money has gone and de Blasio said he would work to protect the subway and tunnels and restore wetlands.

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

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