Democratic candidates for Senate District 22 debated last night for over an hour in front of a packed house at the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn. The debate was moderated by Brooklyn’s own Kadia Goba, one of the borough’s top political reporters.
Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes pleaded their cases in front of local residents for their support in the upcoming primary elections as they each look to oust controversial incumbent State Senator Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Gerritsen Beach, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, Gravesend and parts of Midwood, Borough Park, Sheepshead Bay).
The two challengers covered a variety of topics over a 90-minute span including desegregation of schools, sexual harassment, the New York Healthcare Act, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and of course their intent to flip the district to a Democratic one.
Not surprisingly, the candidates were very similar on many of the issues with just minor differences in approaches. One of Goba’s opening topics centered around desegregation and the Specialized High Schools Assessment Test (SHSAT). Barkan and Gounardes both were quick to recognize the diversity of the district only differing on their goals for tackling the city’s disproportionate educational levels.
“I am fully opposed to the mayor’s plan to do away with the test. I think this is something that only addresses one percent of the entire student body in the entire city. We do have one of the most segregated school system in the country and we have to take steps to fix that. So what we need to do is focus on making our elementary school system stronger and making sure every single school in the city is as good as Stuyvesant or anywhere else in the city,” said Gounardes.
Barkan echoed these sentiments, “The way to address the issue is not to eliminate a specialized test because it’s only going to address a very small segment of the population. What we really have to do is focus on the middle schools. The city aggressively screens it’s middle schools far more than any other system across the country. We have to change how middle schools are operated and increasing funding to public schools, said Barkan.
Another subject Goba made sure to include in the night’s intense discussion was issue that the district does include a large contingent of Republican supporters. A statistic made that much more real by the fact that Golden has held the senate seat for the past decade.
“How do you propose to represent those people who disagree with some of your political ideologies? ” asked Goba, who works for The Bklyner, who co-sponsored the debate.
“One thing I find that Republicans and Democrats share are the concerns. It’s about transportation, healthcare, it’s about having a place to live. I get a lot of people talking about my reputation as being a progressive but I talk about fiscal conservatism too, and I find this issue resonates with certain people,” said Barkan, who went on to present his plan to limit funding to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
“It’s really simple, we’re going to talk to them and we’re going to listen to them because the biggest knock against Marty Golden isn’t just his legislative record, but that he ignores his constituents time and time again. I won’t be like that. My door will always be open and there will always be a seat at my table for my constituents,” said Gounardes.
Both also agreed upon the legacy of corruption in Albany that has been plaguing the capital in recent months and years including tainting some of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top aides.
“Corruption seems like one of those things you can never get rid of, but in New York there are very basic steps we can take and it starts with banning outside income. I saw state legislators last winter push for pay raises. You want to ban pay raises, we got to ban outside income. We need to close the LLC Loophole, we need to ban corporate donations and we need public financing of elections,” said Barkan.
“The root of all problems in politics is money. We need to get money out of our political system. It is the single most corrosive influence in our entire political process. That is why for years I have been tirelessly advocating for public financing of our elections,” said Gounardes.
Currently state elections do not receive public financing in the form of matching funds while the city does have taxpayer financed elections. These funds are paid to participating candidates who qualify for contributions raised from city residents. The matching standard helps to give all candidates an equal playing field when it comes to financing their campaigns.
When it came to the issue of homeless shelters being in the district, the two both agreed that homelessness is an affordability issue that can be solved through aid in the form of rental assistance and subsidized housing.
Probably the only topic that differentiated the two, was their plan for passing their first piece of legislation.
Barkan plans to focus on the vanishing of small business across the state, a problem that has seen neighborhood shops shutter their doors to rising rent rates.
“One piece of legislation, that I’m very interested in and I don’t think anyone in the state has really taken it up in the State Senate is commercial rent control. We talk a lot about why are small businesses dying in New York? And truth be told it’s because when you’re a small business, when your leases is up, you got no right to the property, the landlord can raise your rent by $2500 dollars and say tough go somewhere else, I’ll wait for the Dunkin Donuts,” said Barkan.
Gounardes on the other hand wants to tackle public funding toward state elections, a solution he believes could bring back integrity to the tainted state legislature.
“I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and focus on public funding of our elections because we can’t do anything– we can’t clean up our environment, we can’t fix our healthcare system, we can’t fund our schools, we can’t fund the affordable housing crisis–until we get money out of the political system. Plain and simple,” said Gounardes.
Gounardes and Barkan will face off in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, of which the winner will face State Senator Martin Golden in the general election Nov. 6.