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Candidates debate embattled Senator for seat

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New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, former Councilman Leroy Comrie and attorney Munir Avery met for their first debate in the race to replace the currently indicted Senator Smith for the 14th District.

Experience was a central theme of the debate. Each candidate expressed his experience as the primary qualification for him to be elected. Each claimed a different type of experience. Comrie referred to his years in the City Council. Smith focused his experience as the incumbent and Munir’s experience included his years in service to current State Assembly officials.

It was a confident Comrie that took to the audience floor of the debate for his opening statement and announced “I will be your next state Senator”. It was a refrain he has been uttering throughout the community while on the campaign trail. In the debate he touted his thirteen years of experience as a City Councilman which he said would enable him to bring parties together.

Senator Malcolm Smith also gave his opening statement from the audience floor. Following Comrie, he began by saying “I am the Senator”. The Senator stated that his experience as a thirteen year incumbent had “proven himself” in a “complex” Albany Legislature. If re-elected, he would be the fourth senior member of the Senate. Throughout the debate he reiterated his belief of a conspiracy targeting Southeast Queens for takeover by outsiders.

“Pay attention to what is going on…if you don’t know whats going on, look around,” he said.

This belief initially surfaced during his special opening statement which addressed the current case of bribery against him.

Newcomer Munir Avery held his own. He stood tall against the two titans of politics. His experience came in the form of legislative assistant to Assembly Members. His best answer was in response to a direct question from a participant. He was asked how a bill becomes a law which seemed an apparent attempt to disqualify him as inexperienced. He answered pointedly and correctly beginning with “I draft the legislation”.

Comrie clearly was the audience favorite. With each candidate bringing to the debate their own group of supporters, Comrie’s group was clearly the loudest. Moreover, it was a confident Comrie that showed up for the debate. In the past, the candidate had been accused of lacking the assertive posture and finesse to be a candidate of note. Gone was that era of passivity as the former Councilman spoke clearly and decisively about his past accomplishment.

For the most part, answers offered little in the way of earth shattering information. One key question fielded by all candidates was to name the key issues in the various neighborhoods that comprise Southeast Queens. Among those issues were absentee landlords in Hollis and traffic and Sanitation in Downtown Jamaica named by Comrie. Munir named child care in Hollis, utility rates in Queens Village and police mistreating children in Laurelton. Senator Smith applied his conspiracy theory to this question referring to an effort to pit neighborhood against neighborhood and inferring that the author of the question was attempting to be divisive.

“I don’t want to pit Hollis versus Springfield versus South Jamaica. We need to be one community,” he said to applause.

He spoke to allocating received monies to the entire community and not particular areas of the community. Moderator Roy Paul interjected his belief that there was no malice behind the question and that there are varying needs in the community.

The debate took place on Thursday, August 14 at Majority Baptist Church in Jamaica Queens. Several additional debates are tentatively scheduled for the upcoming weeks. The primary election is September 9.

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