The candidates were there to make the case for their own aspirations, but a recent political forum focused on the 13th Congressional District turned, at times, into a referendum on the presidential contest.
The forum, which was organized by the Dyker Heights Civic Association and held at St. Philip’s Parish Hall, 1072 80th Street, featured a good deal of give and take on the issues, but also a good deal of rhetoric on Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, whom many in the audience clearly favored.
The seat is now held by Representative Vito Fossella, who is retiring at the end of the year because of the scandal in which he has been embroiled. The seat is the only one in New York City currently held by a member of the GOP.
Three of the four candidates in the race attended the forum. They were Democratic City Councilmember Michael McMahon; Republican former Assemblymember Robert Straniere; and the Conservative candidate, Brooklyn businessman Timothy Cochrane. The fourth candidate is Carmine Morano, who is running on the Independence Party line.
Straniere – who lost a primary for the assembly seat he had held for 24 years in 2004 — said that he had “come back to make the race after having retired from politics four years ago, because I believe it’s important that this congressional seat remain Republican. I came back,” he added, “because I believe President John McCain needs a congressman he can work with on behalf of this city, and this city needs someone who can work with President John McCain.
“And, if by some chance, Senator Obama is president (a comment that made one woman in the crowd call out, “God forbid”), you are going to need somebody who can stand up and point out that things like Obamanomics – which is just a fancy word for tax increases – are bad for New York and bad for this community,” Straniere contended.
“I don’t think the issues could be any clearer,” Straniere averred, drawing an overt comparison to McMahon, and positioning himself as a tax-cutter and a supporter of conservative policies, including tax credits and vouchers for parents, and “a health care program that’s not government rationed but is accessible and affordable for all.” He also said he was “For a police of energy-independence,” including off-shore drilling and “bringing oil from the Alaskan slope.”
While they didn’t agree on much else, McMahon and Straniere did concur on the importance of the election.
“I submit to you,” McMahon told the group, “that the election on November 4, 2008 is as important to our country as the election was in 1932. That was a time that our nation decided we had to change course, and the fiscal problems we face are very similar to the ones that we faced then.
“What we need to bring to representation in the congressional district in Brooklyn and Staten Island is change that we can trust,” McMahon contended.
“We know we need change because we have an economy now in recession, teetering on depression,” he went on. “We need to address that responsibly, not with the rhetoric that says you can have something for nothing. We know we need change because our health care system is in shambles. Even if you’re insured, you are often underinsured.”
The person who is sent by district voters to Washington, he stressed, should be someone who shares the vision of the district’s middle and working class residents, that, “If you work hard, you can make a better life for your self and your children. We’ve lost that promise.”
At one point, McMahon was asked whom he supports for president. “I support Barack Obama for president,” he rejoined, to boos from the crowd. Then, after going over some of Obama’s positions that he supports – including getting U.S. forces out of Iraq in a timely fashion — he noted, “Anger and accusation is not what the country needs right now. It needs level-headed discussions to find solutions.”
Cochrane positioned himself as a political outsider. He, too, took on the mantle of change – from “people who go to Washington to toe the party line” to someone who would represent area residents’ needs and desires.
“When the fiasco created by the congressman opened up the seat, I was disgusted, and tired of having a lot of politicians going to Washington and losing touch, with family and friends and faith – all the things I held so dear — so I said I wanted to be involved in this,” Cochrane told the group. “Who better to be out there than a former marine who has run numerous successful businesses?”
While, as he noted at one point, he is “a life-long Republican,” Cochrane’s Conservative bona fides were constantly in view. “I live my life as a Conservative. I couldn’t live one more day listening to the Democrats talking about the enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay and at the same time taking the life of unborn children here in New York.”
Cochrane also said, “The thought of pulling the troops out of Iraq before the time is right and having the world come down around us is unacceptable to me.”
He also voiced support for McCain’s health care plan, which would give taxpayers a tax credit for health care, though it would also tax employer-provided health care benefits for the first time ever.