Candidates Draw Hundreds To Forum
An overflow crowd of more than 200 residents attended The Wave's special election forum on Monday night at West End Temple to hear from the remaining five candidates vying for the vacated City Council seat in the February 24 election.
Among those candidates in attendance were Geraldine Chapey, Glenn DiResto, Mike Ricatto, Lew Simon and Eric Ulrich. All candidates were asked a series of questions relevant to issues in Rockaway such as transportation, housing, gang violence and economic development.
Transportation, always a huge topic on the peninsula, was the first to be addressed by the candidates. Although they all agreed that something needs to be done about transportation, they however, offered different solutions to the problem.
"Unfortunately the lack of public transportation affects our community in a negative way," DiResto said. "We have a huge lot, controlled by the National Park Service, thats going to waste."
DiResto suggested that it be transformed into a park and ride facility to which people can drive and board a ferry or express bus that will go through Brooklyn and into Manhattan. He believes it would save time on the average commuter trip and help remediate some of the area's transportation woes.
"The A train stinks," Simon shouted. "I want the old Far Rockaway line of the Long Island Railroad white pot junction opened."
Simon also addressed the need for longer express bus hours and more transportation options including a high speed ferry boat.
Ulrich said that, unfortunately, though transportation is the key to Rockaway's growth, it is not in a councilmember's direct power to bring better transit to the district. Rather, it falls on the shoulders of state legislators.
Ulrich instead addressed the needs for better beach and park amenities including longer hours and more lifeguards in Rockaway.
Chapey feels, aside from providing seniors with a viable form of transportation in the area, that education is her biggest accomplishment and says she is dedicated to bringing CUNY to Rockaway. A plan was scrapped by the borough president earlier this year, but is one she hopes to revive.
"I have devoted my entire life to being a professor in the City University of New York," Chapey said. "We need to make education viable and bring CUNY here to Rockaway."
The candidates all agreed that parents need more input in their child's education.
"We need to set up a system where parents can give more feedback about their children," Ricatto said. "But overall mayoral control of schools has worked for the most part."
"The chancellor is not an educator, he is a businessman," Simon said. "We need someone in education to run the education system. Mayoral control is for the pits."
The candidates were then asked about the economic growth of the community and what could be done to bring successful business to Rockaway.
Ulrich said excessive taxing on small business is what really hurts economic development in a community like Rockaway. He called for small business tax reform, which would permit those establishments to make rent, stabilize profits and flourish in the commercial areas of the peninsula.
Chapey, on the other hand, managed to transition from a question on economic growth to a statement about the need for more education.
"One way to revitalize the community's economy is to improve the education system," Chapey said. "I believe that what I am looking for is more training and education programs."
Ricatto, like DiResto (retired NYPD lieutenant), claims he is not a politician, but rather an established businessman who knows how to "cut the fat" from the budget and get the economy moving. However, the crowd responded vocally when he stated that the sales tax on all clothing had been reinstated in the city.
"You are paying additional sales taxes now. There was a time when you could buy clothing and not pay sales tax but my belief is that has changed recently," Ricatto said.
In fact, it has not changed. It has recently been proposed by both city and state government, but not instituted, something the audience already knew.
Aside from that blunder, Ricatto proposed that tax credits to businesses and homeowners are essential to the growth of the district.
"When you lower taxes the reality is that because you generate additional revenue in income, you produce additional revenue through the taxes because people have saved money even though they spent it elsewhere. People would have more money in their pockets," Ricatto said.
The economic growth was supposed to occur once ample housing was built on the peninsula. That, however, has not occurred leaving some wondering if overdevelopment is hurting the area by flooding Rockaway with homes that will never be sold.
Simon says that the homes were built without providing the infrastructure as promised to the community.
"We were promised additional schools, fire and police personnel, but instead we got screwed," Simon said. "They screwed us good. They built homes and did none of this."
DiResto agreed with Simon about the lack of infrastructure, but assured everyone that additional housing doesn't guarantee the economic growth of the area.
"We have enough affordable housing," DiResto said. "We need market rate housing that will bring resourceful income to the area and additional economic growth."
Ricatto, on the other hand, assured everybody, based on his expertise that all the homes will be sold as the housing market across the country starts to improve.
The candidates were then questioned on the issue of teen and gang violence.
Ricatto suggested the way to stop teen and gang violence is to first process everyone as an adult and throw them all in jail.
"At a certain point in time people become young men and women and have already begun heading in the direction where they are going. I say the best way to counteract that is to put them in jail, put them in jail!" Ricatto shouted.
Simon continued the anti-gang rant by demanding that parents be held accountable and locked in jail too, along with the kids.
Chapey, in like response to most other subjects of the night, linked the problem of gang violence in teens to education. She suggested forming counseling groups in school where they could meet once a week and discuss their problems together. She also cited that improved education would lead to less violence in schools.
"If we are sending our kids to school we must make sure they are safe and secure," she said. "We need to work with parents, children and teachers to combat gang violence. If we give the kids something to do, it will alleviate the gang violence."
DiResto, a former NYPD Lieutenant, was vocal over the recent slash in police personnel cut from the budget. More police and security cameras will lead to less crime and violence, he said.
"We need a youth center, and make sure those involved in gangs are punished the right way," DiResto said. "We need security cameras around Hammels and more officers."
Ulrich concluded the night's round of questioning by rebutting Simon's argument for sending parents to jail for their children's crime, reminding him that in this country we cannot lock someone up for another's crime. But he did say that gangs must be infiltrated to the source and removed from Rockaway and other gang infected areas of the district.
"We have to provide kids with things to do and that's something we can do as city council members," he said. "Put the kids to work in summer with summer employment programs, let them earn some money and self respect. Then I think you will start to see a better community."