2001-11-03 / Front Page

Rockaway Political Forum: Who Won? That Depends! A Commentary By Howard Schwach

Rockaway Political Forum:
Who Won? That Depends!
A Commentary By Howard Schwach

One undertakes to judge the winner of a political debate only at his or her own peril. It is more often egoism than good sense that makes a person even undertake the task.

Does one judge the candidates on the way they answer the questions put to them? Doing so often entails one’s own political judgment and how they perceive the candidates in the first place.

Does one judge the candidates on which get more applause. There is peril in that as well. Once again, the candidates each turned out a rooting section. It was strange to see that many of those who formerly supported Democrat Lew Simon in his primary bid are now supporting Republican Joann Ariola. Simon even yelled out once at a comment that was made by Joe Addabbo. Seems like old times. Lew says that he is not supporting any of the local candidates, but you couldn’t prove that by what happened at the forum. In any case, Ariola got the most applause, even when her statements were really not worth that much notice. The more mundane her statements, the more her followers cheered.

Having said that, here is our take on who "won" the great Rockaway debate.

All four of the candidates – Democratic candidate Joe Addabbo, Republican candidate Joann Ariola, Independence Party candidate John Baxter and Green Party candidate Robert Curran – showed up although Ariola threatened not to show because The Wave had requested that an editor from another paper not be on the panel sponsored by The Wave. Last week she told me she would be glad to acquiesce to our request. This week she excoriated us for not allowing her choice. So much for character.

The panelists – Wave editor Gary Toms, Chamber of Commerce Vice President John Lepore, community activist Joan George and Wave columnist Beverly Baxter – get an A+ for their performance. So do the two women who represented the League of Woman Voters, the co sponsor (along with The Wave) of the event.

Robert Curran, the 27-year-old candidate from the Green Party, was perhaps the most genuine and perhaps the most interesting candidate of the four. His ideas were focused and his delivery was direct and forceful. He made the most sense of the four. It was a little like watching a pitcher for the Class A Brooklyn Cyclone’s striking out a major league hitter down for a rehab assignment. You know that the pitcher is good and that he had potential to play in the majors if he keeps developing, but you also know that he is not yet ready for that day based on that one at bat.

Curran is still a few years away from the big leagues, but the major parties should keep an eye on his development, because he will be a gamer somewhere along the line. Give Curran a B+ for the evening.

John Baxter is John Baxter. He never changes. John spoke about single room occupancies (SRO’s) even when he was not asked about them and even when it was not his turn to speak. He reminded me of Senator Joe McCarthy, waving around a sheaf of papers and yelling "I have the proof right here," just as McCarthy waved a sheaf of papers and yelled, "I have here a list of 46 movie makers who are members of the Communist Party."

Every election needs a John Baxter. He adds comic relief. That he could ever represent Rockaway in any way or shape gives me the shudders. John earns his usual D- for substance, B+ for entertainment value.

Joann Ariola is a persuasive speaker. At first, she focused on all of the things that she did for Rockaway when she worked first for Al Stabile and then for Noach Dear. There was little new in what she proposed and her delivery was more than adequate. It was not until her closing statement that she began to attack Joe Addabbo for his records. When she bared her fangs, she was not as attractive a candidate as she was when she gave what she considered to be her positive actions on behalf of the peninsula. Those who have been around for a while and know the background of Stabile’s lack of activity and Dear’s flurry of activity during his campaign against Tony Weiner took her "achievement" with a grain of salt. Give Ariola a C+.

Joe Addabbo, to his credit, refused to rise to Ariola’s bait when she attacked him. He continued to talk about his background and his achievements on the mainland, admitting that he has not done much for Rockaway because he was not in a position to do so, and that he would "work tirelessly" for Rockaway if he were elected. He pointed out that he is both an accountant and a lawyer and that he has been a community activist in his community for more than a dozen years. He had all the right answers and was more forceful that I’ve ever seen him be. Give Addabbo a B+.

Who won the debate? I am not going to tell you. Look at the grades and figure it out for yourself. You know, a person could get in real trouble trying to tell others who won a political debate.

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