A little more than two weeks before the June 26 Democratic Party primary, the three challengers for southeast Queens’ congressional seat gathered last week in Springfield Gardens, where they laid out their platforms.
It was the first time former City Councilman Allan Jennings, who is also running in the Republican primary, small business owner Joseph Marthone and law school graduate Mike Scala sat together.
They are challenging U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) for the newly redistricted 5th District seat, which now includes part of Nassau County and the entire Rockaway Peninsula.
Meeks, who was in Washington, D.C., last Thursday, could not attend the forum hosted by the Springfield/Rosedale Community Action Association at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, though he did send representative Jason Hilliard in his place.
Jennings said he made some political enemies while in the Council working as an independent Democrat, and he pointed to his Republican primary bid as proof of his willingness to cut across party lines.
“I’ll work with anybody who’s going to help this district,” he said, and criticized Meeks for being too partisan.
Jennings said that if elected, the first bill he would introduce would grant homeowners one lifetime mortgage modification so they could modify their loans without and income or credit check. He also said he would like to see Social Security reform.
“Social Security is in a big crisis,” he said, adding that the federal government should not use it as a general fund. “It should be put away and separated just like a pension.”
Jennings also said he would put pressure on the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy and that he would support hydrofracking as part of a comprehensive energy policy, though not in New York state.
Marthone said he would strongly advocate to stop hydrofracking and would be on the forefront in the effort to reduce noise pollution from planes flying in and out of John F. Kennedy International Airport.
He said Meeks demonstrated poor leadership in letting Rockaway fall into a state of disrepair, and added that with “hospitals being closed left, right and center,” he would make health care in southeast Queens a top priority.
“The VA hospital needs to be brought up to a state-of-the-art trauma center,” he said.
After telling of a negative experience of being stopped by the police, Marthone said he thought it important that youth have proper identification.
Scala leveled the strongest and most pointed criticisms of Meeks’ record, pointing to his support of the Budget Control Act, which eliminated subsidized loans for graduate and professional students.
“I urge the congressman has failed us when it comes to education,” he said.
He lamented the way money has infused Washington, saying most of Meeks’ contributions came from large corporate donors and super PACs.
“I believe we need regular people like me in Congress,” he said.
Scala said he would act as a counterbalance to the Tea Party movement and would offer unwavering support to President Barack Obama in his efforts to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year and on weening the country off foreign oil.
“I think we need Democrats with a spine,” he said.
Hilliard pointed to Meeks’ partnership with York College, his work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Rockaway shore restoration and the Frank Dodd Act as examples of the congressman’s support of the district.
In Meeks’ absence, he criticized the challengers for taking up issues that he said are best addressed on a city or state level and their naivete about Washington politics.