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POB Chamber of Commerce Holds Candidates Forum

The candidates forum held by the Plainview-Old Bethpage Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 20 was similar to the forum held in Plainview by the League of Women Voters of East Nassau a few weeks ago in several regards: there were many of the same candidates, the tone was often contentious, and the topic of alleged Albany dysfunction accounted for much of the discussion.

However, with incumbent Carl Marcellino and challenger Larry Silverman (5th Senate District), incumbent Charles Lavine and challenger Robert Germino (13th Assembly District), and incumbent Rebecca Alesia and challenger Donna Lee (TOB Council) all nearing the end of a tumultuous election season, candidates were noticeably less diplomatic towards one another than they had been at previous appearances. At this stage of the game, patience on all sides- candidates and attendees alike- seemed to be wearing thin. Chamber president Gary Epstein frequently had to remind community members to phrase their concerns in the form of questions as opposed to impassioned statements, or even accusations at times.

While incumbent Kemp Hannon and challenger Francesca Carlow, candidates for the 6th District Senate Seat, were slated to appear at the forum, neither was present.

Rebecca Alesia and Donna Lee

A lot of the attention at the forum focused on Alesia and Lee, neither of whom were involved in the recent LWV forum. Lee, a first time candidate, is a 25-year veteran of the mortgage and real estate business. “I did see the writing on the wall; I did know times were getting tough; I did tighten my belt, unlike the Town of Oyster Bay,” said Lee in her introductory statement. She went on to criticize the town further, which she said was spending residents’ money “not respectfully.”

For her part, Alesia emphasized the many services provided by the town, as well as the ongoing efforts of the town board to revitalize local communities and support local businesses in areas like Plainview, where she lives.

Due to the venue- the Residence Inn by Marriott in Plainview- many of the questions asked of Alesia and Lee focused on specifically Plainview-area concerns. Jack Young, a resident and small business owner as well as the vice president of the Plainview Police Activity League, asked when his community was finally going to get its fair share of facilities, stating that Plainview has been “woefully behind” compared to neighboring areas in acquiring athletic fields. Alesia cited recent improvements to Haypath Park, and a new PAL building in Hicksville that is available for all TOB residents to use. “We haven’t had anyone from Plainview on the town board in quite a while, and I intend to keep pushing for our community,” said Alesia, saying further that she and the board would continue to work to get more facilities for Plainview.

A question posed to Lee concerned her comments to Anton Newspapers regarding the transparency, or alleged lack thereof, in the town’s resolutions. Lee clarified that the concern she had mentioned in her interview with Anton Newspapers was that the wording of the town’s resolutions was not clear to a layperson, in her opinion. Alesia noted that Lee has not attended a town board meeting since Alesia has sat on the board, thus Lee has not seen how openly the board conducts business. Alesia went on to encourage everyone present to come to town board meetings. “…You’ll see that we’re extremely transparent, there’s no backroom dealing going on with the town board,” said Alesia.

Lee noted in her closing statements that many of the questions had not addressed what she felt was the most important issue: that the town’s spending, and debt, were out of control. “My opponent says she’s running on the Tax Revolt Party; where is the revolt? They have voted themselves pay increases.” Alesia responded that Lee was glossing over the fact that the bulk of the debt incurred by the town was not toxic, but came about as a result of the environmental bonds that the majority of town residents supported.

Charles Lavine and Robert Germino

Germino announced his endorsement by Town Supervisor John Venditto and Congressman Peter King, while Lavine said he had been endorsed by major law enforcement groups, and the New York League of Conservation Voters. Germino has made a point of Lavine’s zero rating from the New York Business Council in the past, but Lavine said that he earned that zero rating in the process of voting to prohibit bullying in the workplace and to ensure that those on the autism spectrum could get insurance for diagnosis and treatment.

Much of the dialogue between the 13th Assembly District opponents focused on this year’s notoriously late state budget. Lavine commented that the delivery of an on-time budget was the basic foundation of good government, and that those in state government needed to recognize that fact, despite political consequences.

“Those who in the Senate, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, and those who are in the Assembly, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, have to do their best to make sure that the budget is delivered on time- even if it means going against the will of their political parties,” said Lavine.

Germino countered that it wasn’t just the timeliness of the budget that mattered, but its content. “It’s not just on-time budgets, but budgets that are within spending means…If Mr. Lavine voted for budgets that were in spending means, we would not have an estimated $13 billion structural deficit,” said Germino.

Germino also made a note of two things the Assembly had voted on during the belated budget period, which he has mentioned frequently during his campaign: a proposed ban on salt in restaurants, and a bill banning the commercial fishing of northern sea horses. “Where are the priorities in the Assembly? Why do we have Assembly members voting on legislation and not passing the budget on time?” said Germino emphatically.

In general, Lavine explained some of his more controversial decisions, like voting for the MTA payroll tax, as incidences of picking “the lesser of the evils” in difficult situations, and characterized Germino as unwilling to compromise. “I’m a pragmatist; I am not an ideologue. My opponent is an ideologue,” said Lavine. He also mentioned a recent incident at Plainview Jewish Center, saying that one of Germino’s supporters had to be removed by police because the individual was carrying a gun, going on to say that Germino and his supporters were extremists.

However, on the subject of bi-partisanship, Germino did note that he supports Ed Koch’s New York Uprising Plan. “I support what Ed Koch said, and I don’t care about the fact that he’s a Democrat,” said Germino.

Carl Marcellino and Larry Silverman

In the 5th Senate District race, Marcellino boasted the endorsement of the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) and the League of Conservation Voters, while Silverman touted his endorsement from Newsday, which had just been announced that morning.

Marcellino and Silverman in particular both had difficulty with the format of the forum, each requesting rebuttal time that the format did not allow for. At one point, Marcellino continually refuted Silverman’s points, even though the challenger had the floor. “Part of what you’re seeing here is the problem in Albany; the conversation is toxic,” said Silverman.

In general, Marcellino contended that the major problems in the state senate were due to the Democratic leadership of the past two years, while Silverman disagreed, saying that the problems extended far beyond the Democrat’s tenure in control of the senate, and had much to do with lax laws concerning campaign contributions from special interests.

Marcellino pointed to his environmental record as an example of how bipartisan cooperation used to be possible in the senate. “I’ve passed more environmental laws than any senator in the history of the state- you don’t do that unless you can build a consensus by bringing in people from upstate, downstate and New York City together; that’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years,” said Marcellino.

The two also disagreed on the now-defunct $500 million Empire Zone job-creation project, which has been replaced with a $50-million program called Excelsior. While Marcellino criticized Democrats in the Senate for cutting the Empire Zone program, his opponent contended that it was inconsistent for Marcellino to lament the cutting of $450 million from the budget, while consistently criticizing the Democrats for not cutting spending. “You can’t have it both ways, Senator,” said Silverman. Silverman went on to say that the Empire Zone program was cut because it was found not to be creating jobs and was instead a “patronage mill.”

Another source of contention was the cause of the MTA’s financial woes, with Silverman, a former MTA watchdog, citing the $18 billion loan to the MTA that was endorsed by Albany in 2002 as the primary source of the organization’s problems. In response, Marcellino said “What Larry neglects to point out is that there was a little thing that happened in 2001 called 9/11.” The incumbent argued that the primary problem wasn’t the loan itself, but the fact that the MTA continued to spend more than it could afford, and did not live within its means.

The criticism that organizations needed to live within their means was uttered several times by Marcellino, and Silverman responded to it in his closing statement. “I don’t hear any solutions other than ‘they’ve got to live within their means.’ What the heck does that mean?” said Silverman.

However, despite the contentious tone of the forum, there was one thing that all of the candidates seemed to agree on: the momentous importance of the upcoming election. “This will be the most important election of all of our lives- not just because Carl Marcellino’s on the ballot…this is the year you can get real change in Albany, and you can get real change in Washington,” said Marcellino.