The four Democratic candidates competing for the newly created Queens congressional seat faced off last week during a debate at the Our Lady of Hope School Auditorium in Middle Village.
Close to 100 people packed the auditorium to hear City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), state Assembly members Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Bayside allergist Dr. Robert Mittman.
The candidates answered questions from four local news reporters, residents and each other in the debate moderated by Daily News reporter Lisa Colangelo.
But before the debate kicked off for the 6th Congressional District seat, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) honored longtime Juniper Park Civic Association member Lorraine Sciulli as one of the state’s Women of Distinction for 2012.
In the debate’s first round, reporters Azi Paybarah of Capital New York, Sam Goldman of the Times News-Weekly, Cefaan Kim of NY1 and Joe Anuta of TimesLedger Newspapers asked the candidates their thoughts on a wide range of topics.
Crowley and Lancman received the first question concerning Medicaid, Social Security and how to fund the programs.
“Income over $110,000 is exempt from paying Social Security taxes,” Lancman said. “If we lift that exemption, we will fully fund Social Security for the next 75 years without losing benefits.”
This put Crowley on the offensive as she disagreed with Lancman’s statement.
“My plan is to strengthen the economy and get people back to work, not to raise taxes on the middle class,” Crowley said. “That’s Rory Lancman’s plan, and I think it’s a bad plan.”
Meng and Mittman were asked what kind of infrastructure improvements they would make in the borough and how they would fund the improvements.
“We need to provide whatever stimulus we can to grow jobs and aid the economy,” Meng said. “Currently there is no public or mass transit transportation to and from LaGuardia Airport as there is at JFK. That’s just one idea to look into that could bring immediate jobs to Queens.”
Mittman, the most animated of the candidates on this night, responded with an attack on “politics as usual” and criticized his three opponents as “career politicians beholden to special interest groups.”
“We have got to change the path that these politicians have put on us,” he said. “Five hospitals have closed in Queens. This is a basic problem we have to address.”
The doctor’s opponents took exception to the “career politician” label, which Meng directly addressed later in the debate.
“At every single debate you called the three of us ‘career politicians,’” Meng said. “What experience do you think you could bring to Congress since you don’t have experience in government?”
Mittman drew flack from the crowd when he did not answer the question directly.
Lancman also addressed Mittman, telling him and the audience, “I’ve been in the Assembly for over five years, but I had quite a life before that. We are all career public servants in our own way, a small portion of which has been in elected office.”
Perhaps the biggest disagreement among the candidates came from an audience question about their stance on voter ID requirements. Mittman said he believed voters should show ID, but the other candidates’ views were not as cut and dry.
“In a state and a borough where voter turnout is abominably low, we need to do whatever we can do improve the process where more people vote,” said Meng. Do I believe the process could be improved, yes. But I don’t necessarily believe that ID is required.”
The crowd in the auditorium did not like that response, nor the one delivered by Lancman, who said obtaining a photo ID is not that easy for recent immigrants.
“We are the same people. We come from the same neighborhood,” Lancman said. “For you and I, the idea that it’s hard to get a photo ID is strange to us. But let me tell you, for many people in this country, they don’t know the process. They don’t know what to do.”
Crowley responded swiftly, telling the audience she is a much more moderate Democrat than her opponents.
“Look, we live in a society where we need ID all the time,” she said. “So for me, I don’t think it should be any different than when you go to vote.”