The three candidates running to fill the open 43rd District Council seat took on big-picture, national questions touching on immigration, discrimination, and police reform at a debate on Oct. 24, with the Democratic nominee striving to draw a stark contrast between himself and his more conservative opponents and the Republican trying to project a moderate image.
Ridgites packed the auditorium of IS 30 Mary White Ovington to hear the candidates vying to represent Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach in the Council at a debate co-sponsored by the Arab American Association of New York and two local liberal groups, Fight Back Bay Ridge and South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance.
Democrat Justin Brannan opened by touting what he deemed the main difference between his and his opponents’ attitudes towards the district’s diversity.
“Some of my opponents may see our diversity as a threat, whereas I see our diversity as our true strength,” he said.
Republican nominee John Quaglione also played to the liberal crowd by striking a similarly inclusive tone in his opening statement — though some of his later answers seemed to run counter to it.
“The strength of this neighborhood is the diversity that we have embraced for so many years,” Quaglione said.
But Reform party candidate Bob Capano — who spent much of his Republican primary campaign attacking the association’s former head, Linda Sarsour — was unabashed in acknowledging that he and the audience would not see eye-to-eye on diversity issues.
“I do have a feeling there may be some disagreements between my views and many of yours, but I view it as my and our obligations to listen to each other and have a dialogue together, and agree when we can, but also respectfully disagree where we do,” he said.
The association’s executive director, Rama Issa-Ibrahim, moderated the debate, and her first question was on so-called “broken-windows policing” — the zero-tolerance towards petty crime that was popularized by former police commissioner Bill Bratton in the mid-1990s — and its implications for racial profiling, immigration enforcement, and civil rights.
Brannan pointed out that he’s the only candidate to call for an end to broken-windows policing, instead calling for community policing in the 62nd and 68th precincts, adding that protecting civil rights is paramount.
“The Constitution is not a suggestion,” he said. “The Constitution is the law.”
Capano said he supported the policy, and Quaglione approached the question more literally.
“First of all, I’ve actually worked to repair broken windows in this neighborhood,” he said, before aligning himself with Brannan and calling for more community policing and more police officers, but failing to explicitly endorse or condemn the broken-windows policy.
Quaglione also avoided giving definitive answers to questions on both police brutality and how he would promote diversity within his own staff if elected, saying that the police department is already working on ways to reduce the violent confrontations and that he would consult his constituents on staffing since their money would fund the salaries.
“It’s your taxpayers’ money and its based on the needs and demographics of the district,” he said.
Brannan said that police officers needed to be better-trained to use non-lethal force when they encountered people with mental illness, and that he would put a premium on promoting diversity within his staff.
“Of course, I think that staff has to represent the diversity of the district,” he said. “There’s so much to be said for someone walking into an office and looking for help and seeing someone who looks like them and speaks their language.”
Capano took the onus off of police officers in dealing with mental health issues in civilian encounters.
“When a cop has that life-and-death situation, that cop doesn’t have time to search the house for mental health prescriptions,” he said, adding that he would like to see a more “respected and objective” civilian complaint review board to address police misconduct.
Capano also said that, if elected, he would hire a staffer or volunteer intern who “speaks as many languages as possible.”
The candidates did have a few rare moments of relative agreement.
First, when asked about President Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival policy that protects from deportation many young people brought into the country illegally as children, Brannan and Capano both explicitly said they did not support rescinding the policy, and Quaglione said that he would advocate for a pathway to citizenship and could not morally support breaking up families.
All three candidates also roundly condemned hate and discrimination in the district, but Brannan again attempted to distinguish himself from his opponents by implying that they and current elected officials were not doing enough to recognize and stand up to hate.
“I think it starts with stopping living in denial that these incidents do happen, and it starts with taking our heads out of the sand and believing that everything is hunky-dory,” he said.