Issues throughout the country are not being addressed because of the poisonous nature of the country’s political discourse, Democratic congressional candidate Tom Suozzi said during the first of six town hall meetings Tuesday.
The event was held at Temple Beth-El, a synagogue in Great Neck. Suozzi asked former U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, who represented a large swath of Queens until his retirement in 2013, and economist Martin Cantor to represent differing perspectives on economic issues, which was the focus of the forum.
Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, is running against Republican state Sen. Jack Martins to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville), who is retiring this year. The winner will represent the 3rd Congressional District, which includes parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, Glen Oaks and Floral Park.
In addition, Suozzi’s campaign revealed that one of the six town halls would be held in Queens, at the Samuel Field YMCA in Bay Terrace Oct. 13. Campaign manager Mike Florio said the Queens town hall would focus on senior issues, including Medicare and housing.
Throughout the night, Suozzi continued to hammer home the point that New York City was a net donor to the federal government, paying far more in taxes than it gets back. In effect, Suozzi said, New York state subsidizes states with lower taxes that try to attract business away from New York.
“We need to help our brothers and sisters around the country,” he said. “But how do we keep the money from our state in our state, to fix our own problems?”
Cantor said New York was the 49th state in terms of the amount of money it sends to Washington and never gets back. He said a combination of factors meant that the jobs being added were in service fields, which were often part time and paid low wages, as opposed to manufacturing. He said wage increases in the past decades had been far outstripped by inflation.
“We have become a service-sector economy,” he said, and decried the lack of available employment in manufacturing. “We haven’t done that for a long time with any significance.”
Ackerman joined Suozzi in criticizing the rancorous tone of debate in current American politics. Ackerman said cooler heads would be needed to avoid crises.
“You’ve got to get thinking people in a room to thrash this all out without thrashing each other,” he said, acknowledging that this was a skill Suozzi has.
Questions from the audience included concerns about housing vouchers for the mentally ill and offshore tax havens for corporations. There was a brief issue at the beginning when a freelance videographer who said he was hired by Martins to record the event contended that Suozzi’s campaign staff was stopping him from filming the town hall, asserting he had a right to film the event. His staff disputed that they had forced him to stop and Suozzi later claimed the videographer was gathering footage to be used in negative advertising.
“We’re having this deterioration when no one can talk because we’re all yelling,” he said.