Assembly candidates on the Upper East Side debate one another at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
Upper East Side Our Town and Citizens Union joined forces Monday to host a Democratic Primary debate for residents in the 76th Assembly District on the Upper East Side.
The event drew a sizeable crowd, exceeding the capacity of the auditorium at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House on East 70th St., where the debate was held. Residents in the district – where any candidate needs to take an almost default stance on certain issues in order to be viable – were curious to see how the four Democrats would distinguish themselves.
All are opposed to the marine transfer station, and all talked about the need to keep seniors on fixed incomes in their homes. They all agreed that campaign finance reform would be a priority if elected to Albany, and that the district needs more schools.
But different issues appeared to be closer to different candidates. For Gus Christensen, an ex-Wall Streeter turned progressive, closing the income gap was high up on his list. This includes, he said, raising the minimum wage and creating a more progressive tax code. “These are the things that drove me to public service and the things I want to work on in Albany,” said Christensen.
Ed Hartzog, a lawyer and two-term Community Board 8 member, brought almost every issue in the district back to the need for campaign finance reform. “We need to get money out of [elections], that’s the root of the problem.”
Hartzog also talked about the need to take on big projects in the district, like finishing the East River Esplanade, and increasing the amount of green space.
David Menegon, an Army veteran and Xerox executive, said in the short term that he’d focus on keeping seniors in their homes and raising the income ceiling for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption. He supports Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. Menegon would like to see a 50/30/20 split on new development in the district, with 50 percent of new units rented at market rate, 30 percent for middle-income New Yorkers, and the remaining 20 percent for low-income tenants.
Rebecca Seawright, who touted her many endorsements from the likes of State Senator Liz Krueger and Borough President Gale Brewer, said she’d focus on the district’s school overcrowding problem. “What distinguishes me is I’m the only candidate who’s raised her children through the public school system,” said Seawright. When asked how she would use the state’s expected budget surplus, Seawright said she’d work to create more schools on Roosevelt Island and the Upper East Side.
All of the the candidates were in favor of keeping horse carriages in Central Park and all were in favor of more bike lanes on the Upper East Side, albeit with stricter enforcement. All the candidates are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Some sparks flew, too, such as when Seawright grilled Christensen on how he came to be president of the Lenox Hill Democratic Club. She cited a Daily News article that revealed he bought memberships for 180 friends and family members, thereby securing his election as president. Christensen didn’t deny the charges, but said he built up a wide base of support before the move and followed all the club’s rules.
But Seawright found herself in the hot seat when Menegon criticized her for her spotty attendance record as a member of Community Board 8. “Can you guarantee us a 100 percent attendance record in Albany?” said Menegon. Of her five absences in 14 meetings last year, Seawright said she was raising two children and taking care of her mother, who broke her ankle. As reported in Our Town, Seawright has missed four out of ten CB 8 meetings this year from January to June.
Menegon also criticized her for falling back a few too many times during the debate on her endorsements, but said she did earn a lot of them. “There will be two more by the end of the night,” he quipped.
When given a chance to question Menegon, Hartzog asked who he would support if he wasn’t a candidate. Menegon, as it turns out, said he would give his vote to Hartzog.
Finally, the public got in some jabs of their own, with one audience member asking all the candidates to “please stop calling us at home.”
The primary vote will be held on September 9. For voter information, visit www.vote.nyc.ny.us