With election day less than a month away, four organizations teamed up to hold a candidates forum Thursday night to give residents a chance to meet and ask questions to those running for a spot as a local representative.
The forum was held in the Louis Kurtz Civic Center in Spring Valley and was hosted by the Spring Valley NAACP, Jamaican Civic and Cultural Association of Rockland, Rockland Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Xi Lambda Lambda Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
The candidates at Thursday’s forum were
- State Sen. David Carlucci, who is running for reelection against Janis Amy Castaldi
- Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, who is running unopposed for reelection
- Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, who is running for reelection
- Joseph Gravagna, who is running against Jaffee in the Assembly’s 97th district
- Orange County Legislator Christopher Eachus, who is running against incumbent Bill Larkin for a state senate seat in District 39, which is made up of parts of Orange and Ulster counties, along with Stony Point and Haverstraw
Vivian Street, second vice president of the Spring Valley NAACP, moderated the forum and told candidates there would not be a debate. Instead, she just wanted the candidates to introduce themselves and talk about their own plans and policies. As most candidates there didn’t have their opponent, it wasn’t really an issue. However, if Gravagna or Jaffee, seated right next to each other on stage, mentioned the other, Street did ask them to focus on themselves instead of their opponent.
Jaffee spoke about what needs to be done in the state to help out the citizens in these tough economic times.
“Moving forward, we have to be very aggressive in assuring that next year we raise the minimum wage in New York State so that our families who work so hard at least be able to provide for their families and not have to make a decision between providing food for their families or paying their rent,” she said. “It is outrageous. If we had had the minimum wage tied to the rate of inflation over the years, at this time it would be well over $10, and it is not acceptable.”
Gravagna talked about the need for bringing new people and ideas into the assembly.
“You can’t keep doing the same things over and over again,” he said. “That’s craziness.”
Gravagna said he wanted to look into corporate sponsorship for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and spoke out against the rumored toll hikes that will come with the new span.
“The Palisades Mall is the backbone of our economy in Rockland County,” he said. “If we put a toll of any sort on that bridge, the new bridge, we’re going to be injured here in Rockland County. If we make it over $10, we’re finished.”
He added that he would look into eliminating the school tax for seniors. He’d make up for those taxes by bringing more money down from Albany.
“Seniors are taxed to death,” Gravagna said. “As I’ve knocked on close to 4,000 doors on my campaign, seniors are telling me, ‘Joe, we can’t afford living here anymore. We just can’t.’”
The other three candidates gave overviews on certain issues, but focused a lot on education.
“The public education system is the great equalizer in our society and it trickles down all the way right into our classrooms,” Zebrowski said. “This is really where people get the ability to rise up the economic ladder and do whatever it is they want to do. What I always say is that even though we’re going through a recession now, the students of today don’t have the ability to take a timeout and wait for the economy get better. They need to learn now because this is their future.”
Carlucci said it’s important to focus on higher education as well.
“What I’m working on now is college affordability and I have legislation that would set aside $100 million for student loans, cut the student loan rate by over three points right here in New York State,” Carlucci said.
He added he would like to give a tax credit to students who finish college, move back to Rockland and do community service.
“It’s a great brain drain that we have right now,” he said. “Our students that we are educating aren’t able to stay here in our community, and we have to make sure they can do that.”
Eachus said his experience as a high school science teacher will help him when it comes to working with the Assembly or reaching across the aisle to senators from other parties.
“They’re wonderful kids, they’re great kids, but you know what?” Eachus said. “You can’t get from them what you need if you are making them the villain, if you are making them responsible for something that they’re not responsible for. You have work with them. I love working with them.”
Education issues were a big topic of discussion, mainly the issues facing the East Ramapo School District. One question asked from the crowd was whether or not to ask the state to get involved and take over the district. Jaffee said that’s been discussed, but there’s one issue that’s kept the state from stepping in.
“The state education department has been reluctant to get involved because they suggest that there is nothing in law that allows them to intervene in situations that involve school boards and school districts,” she said.
She and Carlucci added they both want to look into changing the laws so the state education department can step into situations quicker and have more of an impact.