Two candidates running for New York’s Sixteenth Assembly district squared off Tuesday at a debate at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Manhasset.
The town hall style event, hosted by the League of Women Voters Port Washington-Manhasset, featured incumbent state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, D, Great Neck, and her opponent Richard Stiek, R-Port Washington.
Agreeing generally on education and women's issues while differing on hydrofracking, the now defunct Star Rebate tax program, gun control and the handling of a recent sexual harassment case in Albany, both candidates answered voters’ questions on a wide range of topics.
In her opening remarks before questioning, Schimel said her record distinguishes her as a supporter of a woman's right to choose and a "champion" of small business.
On the same day in which a Nassau police officer was gunned down in Queens, Schimel claimed to be most outspoken legislator in Albany at giving law enforcement tools needed to track illegal guns and put criminals behind bars. She stressed gun violence prevention at several points during the forum.
"That's really how I got started in my activism in the community" said Schimel in her closing statement.
Schimel said she is "proud" to be a champion of Planned Parenthood and an advocate of restoration of diminished MTA service. "I organized the grassroots to get letters into the MTA and we restored those cuts."
Citing what she said is a strong record on environmental issues, including the opposition of hydrofracking in it's present form, Schimel said she wants to give back to her children what she inherited in terms of the water and natural resources.
Stiek said his goals as a legislator would be to get spending under control and push for an income tax base incentive for small businesses to help them succeed.
"Unfortunately the MTA tax that [Schimel] voted in favor of is one of several, including my property tax increases, that drove me run," said Stiek in his opening remarks. "There's 12 businesses within a two-minute walk from the train station in Port Washington that are closed."
Stiek, a West Point graduate with an engineering degree from Texas A&M University, said he appreciates Schimel's opposition to using chemicals in hydrofracking, but there are others options and legislators need to look beyond the propaganda.
"We need to consider the real hard math both in the economy and in the environment that protects the resources that we have," said Stiek.
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At one point during questioning, Stiek questioned the handling of recent sexual harassment incidents related to members of the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
A former top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2006 was accused of raping two women while he was working for the Silver, according to a New York Times report. Silver was said to have assisted in failing to properly investigate the case and of tolerating a culture of sexual harassment in the Assembly. The Assembly agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit regarding the incident.
"Over the last several decades several of these incidents have been swept under the rug," said Stiek.
Schimel said she is waiting on the results of an ongoing investigation.
With no plans to be a "career politician," Stiek said he wants "to go up and fix what's wrong and represent the 16th District against Sheldon Silver.
Stiek said he wants to reduce the economic burden that has driven a lot of people out of the district.
"I don't want to drive everybody out of our state with unreasonable taxes," said Stiek.
A line of audience members asked a variety of questions regarding a number of issues at the event.
VIDEO: Some audience questions and responses of the candidates at the forum:
- Sexual Harassment in Albany
- Women's Issues
- Repeal of Star Rebate Tax Check Program
- Gun Control
- MTA Payroll Tax