A political debate in St. Albans last Thursday hosted five candidates running for four offices representing southeast Queens, but incumbents and their challengers never once met face-to-face during the forum.
The debate, hosted by the Jamaica branch of the NAACP at the Majority Baptist Church in St. Albans, was supposed to pit U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) against his Republican opponent, Asher Taub; state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) against primary challenger Lynn Nunes; state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) against Democrat Tony Avella; and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) against her primary opponent, Clyde Vanel.
But at the outset of the forum, only Huntley, Clark and Taub were on the stage. Meeks sent word that he could not attend because of a family emergency, and Vanel said Friday that he skipped the debate because he had other community events to go to. Padvan told the TimesLedger Tuesday that he was not invited to the event, despite moderator NAACP Jamaica president Leroy Gadsen’s claim that he sent invitations to all of the candidates.
Under questioning from Gadsden, the candidates who did appear talked about the flooding issues that affect southeast Queens during heavy rains. Two weeks ago, some homes in Springfield Gardens were flooded by torrential rainfall.
Huntley said she has been meeting with representatives from the city Department of Environmental Protection to get more work done on the neighborhood’s sewer system and assured the audience that she would push the city to fix the problem fast.
“I think Queens County gets neglected,” she said.
Taub, a private attorney from Kew Gardens, said the problem was with funding to the state and city and promised that, if elected, he would increase the federal allocation to the district.
“There needs to be more accountability,” he said.
Huntley and Clark were asked about the delayed state budget and what they would do to keep funding for necessary services such as school resources. Huntley said she voted against the governor’s budget this year because there were too many cuts to those services.
“The governor’s budget was bare-bones. Everything was cut,” she said.
Clark said the budget process has become a little more difficult for legislators because of the rising deficit, which this year, fueled by the economic recession, totaled $9.6 billion.
“We never had that deficit before. We had to figure this thing out,” she said.
After that topic was discussed, Huntley left the forum to attend another event. But the moment she stepped out of the church’s auditorium, Nunes, her Democratic primary rival, arrived and joined the debate without his opponent.
When questioned about how he would improve the economic outlook of the neighborhood, Nunes, who owns a real-estate business, said he would like to increase medical services in the community with new health centers in light of the closing of Mary Immaculate Hospital.
“What we do is create jobs to fill the health-care void,” he said.
Tony Avella, who is running for Padavan’s seat, then showed up for the debate. Avella said that although the 11th Senatorial District covers only a small part of southeast Queens — portions of Queens Village and Hollis — it deserved as much attention as the northern neighborhoods. He said he believed Padavan did not care enough about their needs.
“I’m running to change that seat and make it more responsible,” he said.
When pressed about their positions on the reconstruction plans for the St. Albans VA hospital, all the candidates slammed the current proposal to privately develop 25 acres of the land.
Taub said the problem was with Meeks, who let the developers take control and ignore the community’s need for more hospital space.
“You can use the ballot box to control this,” he said.
But Clark went to bat for Meeks on this issue and told the audience that during her several meetings with the congressman, he has always been in support of a proposal that benefits the veterans.
“I think he has taken a full position that he wants a full-detail hospital,” she said.
[Updated: The TimesLedger was able to reach Padavan on Tuesday. His comments on not attending the debate were added.]