A local civic group hosted a candidate’s forum in a hotly-contested Democratic senate primary.
The City Island Civic Association hosted Senator Jeff Klein and challenger Alessandra Biaggi side-by-side at their candidate’s ‘forum,’ on Saturday, August 26,
Other than a televised debate featured on BronxNet, organizers of the event believe it will be the only time the candidates in the 34th Democratic Senate district primary race square off in front of their constituency at the same time, and may be the last time they appear in front of a community group together before the Thursday, September 13 primary.
Both candidates answered several prepared questions submitted to the CICA and shaped by the board members, event organizers and moderators.
The questions covered a broad range of state and local issues, including perennial traffic concerns related to tourism and better Bx29 and express bus service, to state issues that are debated and shaped into law in Albany.
Among the questions were how the now-disbanded Independent Democratic Conference served or didn’t serve the concerns of the 34th Senate District voters, charter schools versus public schools, achieving equitable public school funding, the creation of a single-payer healthcare system in the state, Albany ethics concerns and how, both the senator and his challenger, would serve the needs of City Island.
On certain issues, like the IDC, the candidates differed widely.
Klein, the founder of the conference that caucused with the Republicans, and lasted from 2011 to early 2018, believed it allowed him to pass legislation like a $15 minimum wage and a host of other significant laws.
Biaggi on the other hand indicated that the IDC empowered Republicans at a time when Democrats needed to make a stand for progressive values.
On other issues, like the creation of a single-payer healthcare system, both candidates echoed each other’s sentiments, with both agreeing they support such a plan.
Event co-moderator Gary Axelbank said that the forum, which brought a large crowd to Grace Episcopal Church, was a great example of democratic values, with a small ‘d’.
“I think we presented a good political forum in the Bronx that was worthwhile,” said Axelbank, adding voters got to see their candidates in a way that is in keeping with what the democratic process should be.
Axelbank noted that the crowd was respectful, adding that the feedback he received on social media was positive.
Barbara Dolensek, CICA vice president, said she thought, “both the candidates did really well.”
She said she was delighted with the turnout especially considering the uncomfortably warm room.
“I don’t think many minds were changed, though maybe a few were,” she said, adding she estimates over 100 people attended.
Local resident and CICA board member, John Doyle, said that the real winners of the debate were the voters on City Island. He lamented that voters in the district would probably not get another opportunity to see the candidates side-by-side.
Patrick Rocchio co-moderated the event in his capacity as a CICA member.
The senate district encompasses Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, Riverdale, Pelham Bay, Country Club, Throggs Neck, Soundview, Hunts Point and other communities, as well as parts of lower Westchester.