State Assembly, Senate candidates clash at forum

The Island Now

The Republican candidate for the 16th Assembly District, Matt Varvaro, said Thursday he would not vote for a presidential candidate in next month’s election and will instead only vote in local races.
Varvaro said at a League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset forum, where local residents  questioned candidates for the state Assembly and state Senate, that not voting for a presidential candidate was something he has “never done before.”
“I have serious questions over whether Donald Trump has the temperament or judgment to be the commander-in-chief of the United States and I just can’t support him in good conscience,” he said. “On the other hand, I have serious reservations about Secretary Clinton’s ethical conduct as secretary of state, where it’s pretty clear that she compromised American national security information in order to avoid Freedom of Information laws.”
Varvaro added that he disagrees with Trump on issues of immigration and trade, while he disagrees with Clinton on taxes and spending.
His opponent, Democrat Anthony D’Urso, said that he had no problem voting for Clinton and said that she is “battle-tested.”
“I know that on inauguration day, Hillary Clinton will start running and perform the duty honorably of the president of the United States,” D’Urso said.
Varvaro and D’Urso will face off next month to replace outgoing state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel.
Both candidates agreed that the state needed to reform its Common Core education standards, with Varvaro calling it “atrocious,” while D’Urso said it was a “disaster.”
Varvaro, who has previously served as an aide to North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio and former Gov. George Pataki’s presidential campaign, said he supports the reforms the state is currently putting place, such as making the implementation of standards more manageable and releasing  questions from past tests for both students and teachers.
“I think we need more input from teachers so that we can rely on their expertise to really ensure that the test questions are age-appropriate, which has been a very, very serious problem,” he said.
D’Urso, who served as North Hempstead Town councilman from 1992 through 2005, said education standards should be set at the local level with “some coordination” from the state.
“You need standards to set a level playing field,” he said.
Varvaro said that ethics reform in the state Legislature has been the “centerpiece” of his campaign, and if elected he would support term limits for legislators, tougher penalties for elected officials convicted of corruption and the implementation of an independent commission to oversee the “broken” contract and grant system.
D’Urso, who served as assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing’s Division of Architecture/Engineering and Construction for almost 30 years, said that during his time working for the city and managing a budget of nearly $300 million, none of his over 300 employees were caught in any wrongdoing.
He said he was proud he “kept an honest office and nobody got caught for corruption” and would use that experience to fight corruption in the state Legislature.
Varvaro said he does not vote only for Republican candidates  because he is an “independent-minded thinker.”
D’Urso said he usually votes down the party line because the Democratic Party has had impressive candidates such as former North Hempstead Town Supervisor May Newburger, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Schimel.
Both candidates said more needed to be done to combat the heroin epidemic on Long Island and across the state, but have different methods of doing so.
D’Urso suggested more educational programs informing people about the dangers of heroin use and increased efforts to identify the source of the drugs.
Varvaro said more effort should be made to help addicts get the treatment they need.
“I think we need to divert our law enforcement resources from lower level drugs like marijuana, frankly, towards harder drugs like heroin, crack down on these drug dealers, throw them behind bars and get these drugs off the street,” he added.
D’Urso said the biggest problem he wanted to help fix is high taxes.
He said getting the state to give more funding to public school districts would cut taxes, as well as cutting inefficiencies from the state budget.
Varvaro said that along with ethics, education is an issue that he most wanted to fix.
He suggested implementing greater use of technology in the classroom and  the curriculum.
Also at the forum, the 7th Senate District candidates, Republican Elaine Phillips and Democrat Adam Haber, clashed on their respective records in service.
After Haber said that Roslyn has had the lowest tax levy increase of any school district in Nassau County since he joined the school board in 2009, Phillips argued that the Roslyn school district has the highest tax rate of any school district.
But he fired back that the tax rate is “meaningless” and only reflects the number of commercial properties versus the number of residential properties that a district has.
Haber referred to an audit released in December 2012 by DiNapoli’s office, which he said showed “how poorly” the Village of Flower Hill was run.
Phillips, mayor of the village, fired back that she was not on the village board at the time of the audit, nor did she live in the village during that time, and that everything that was mentioned in the audit was corrected by the village.
The comptroller’s audit studied the village’s financial operations during a period from 2006 to Sept. 30, 2011. Phillips  began serving on the board as a trustee in May 2011, one month after the budget from that fiscal year was approved.
Phillips said she was in favor of bipartisan government in the state Legislature.
“We need the right side and we need the left side,” she said.
But Haber argued that since the state Senate has been dominated by Republicans for the past 50 years except for two, it was time for a change because people are consistently leaving the state and New York is often voted the worst place to do business.
“You’ve had nine Republican state Senators for a very long time” on Long Island, he said. “It’s just not working.”
Haber said the gun laws currently in place are “sufficient to protect our families,” but the laws in place are “blocked.”
Phillips said he was “missing the point” and that the problem is with illegal guns crossing borders and getting into the hands of “all the bad people.”
Voters from different parties than hers, she said, should vote for her because of her record of accomplishments.
“I don’t just talk about cutting taxes, I don’t just talk about ethics reform, I don’t just talk about the environment,” Phillips said. “I have a record.”
Haber said that voters from other parties should vote for him because of his creative ideas to expand the health care business on Long Island, improve tourism and his initiatives that have “saved or generated” over $10 million on the Roslyn school board.
He also said that friends have described him as a Democrat on social issues but a Republican on fiscal issues.
Both candidates agreed that Long Island school districts needed to get their “fair share” of state aid.

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By Joe Nikic

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The Island Now

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