WABC held two brief “conversations” with the Democratic and Republican candidates for the 13th District Congressional seat, shortly to be vacated by the scandalized Vito Fossella. Eyewitness News’ Diana Williams and Tom Wrobleski of the Staten Island Advance did the questioning.
First up: Democrats Steve Harrison and Mike McMahon. McMahon approved offshore drilling, stressing America’s “can-do spirit,” which he tied to a “comprehensive approach” to energy policy, as well as to the Civil Rights movement and the Marshall Plan. Harrison opposed offshore drilling, advocating “all the things that nature gives us for free,” such as wind, solar, etc. McMahon claimed Harrison’s approach was “the John McCain program,” for some reason; Harrison rejoined that it was actually “the Al Gore program.”
On subprime mortgages, McMahon decried “eight years of the Bush agenda.” Wroblieski brought up “personal responsibility,” perhaps to invite McMahon to sound more Republican, which has been his schtick, but McMahon said such responsibility should also apply to “corporations and Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.” Harrison agreed, and when Williams asked whether government should “bail people out,” Harrison said yes, it should.
Williams asked if Harrison would approve windmills at Fresh Kills. He said he would, as did McMahon, who also returned to the “comprehensive program” rhetoric and inserted something about being the candidate who can “win in November.”
The interlocutors then went to Bush’s economic stimulus. Harrison called it a “gimmick,” advocating instead “investing our money to get people back to work.” McMahon agreed, also said he could “carry the flag in November.”
Wrobleski asked about improving the lot of Staten Islander commuters. McMahon said he would “seek a seat on the transportation committee,” from which he would endeavor to fund the North and West Shore rail lines and “rehabilitate the subway stations and get more buses.” Harrison criticized McMahon for supporting congestion pricing, which is unpopular in Staten Island, and advocated fast ferries for both Staten Island and Brooklyn and high-speed EZ Pass, which he said would “eliminate all of the toll booths” and had been opposed by McMahon. McMahon said congestion pricing is “free” for “most Brooklynites” and Staten Islanders, and accused Harrison of getting involved in “political rhetoric,” which he said led to the failure of congestion prices, which led to toll and fare hikes, for which he said Harrison owed the people “an explanation.”
Williams asked why they wanted to represent Staten Island. Harrison said he wanted to “lend new energy” and wasn’t interested in higher office. McMahon said that, “as I’ve done in the City Council,” he would “stand up for the middle class.”
Then Williams and Wrobleski moved on to the Republicans, Dr. Jamshad Wyne and Bob Straniere. Williams brought up the Mayor of Belmar’s “Guido” crack on Staten Island. Straniere said, “as an Italian American I was particularly offended” and praised the achievements of Staten Island Italians. When asked if Staten Island could change its image, Straniere denied any image problem, saying “we are a wonderful community” in which he had lived “since I was 22 months old” and attended several schools. Wyne also said it was a wonderful community, and pointed out that his wife was Italian-American. He said “people are ignorant” and “should be educated,” and that the “image of Staten Island should be improved because of elected officials of Staten Island,” using as an example Guy Molinari, the former Staten Island Beep who hates Straniere.
Wrobleski asked about economic issues. Wyne said, “I believe in John McCain… we shouldn’t be paying for all these peoples’ mortgages,” and endorsed tax cuts. Straniere claimed Obama would raise taxes, supported extending the Republican tax cuts, was mild on the possibility of a second stimulus bill, and repeated that Obama would raise taxes. Wyne strongly supported a new stimulus package, calling it “the only way you can stimulate economy.”
Foreclosures and bailouts came up, and Straniere approved a “limited role” for the government. He said “for the best of reasons,” the government had encouraged “the widest possible home ownership,” but “when interest rates were low, people believed they could carry mortgages that really their income could never support if interest rates went up.” Wyne started to breathe audibly. “When interest rates went up,” continued Straniere, “it became impossible for many people to make their monthly payment, now this isn’t the old days when…”
Wyne suddenly leapt in, over Straniere’s objections, saying “People have personal responsibility here… If I’m buying a house, I know I can afford if the mortgage go up or down, I shouldn’t extend myself 110 percent equity… we should not extend any people, bail them out, they should be responsible, there should be foreclosure, we should send some message out there.”
Straniere cracked, “When you live in Todt Hill like Dr. Wyne, and you make the kind of money he makes, you’re in a different position than a middle class person who walks into a bank and tries to get a mortgage…” Wyne leapt back in, saying Straniere also had a house on Todt Hill. Straniere called Wyne “rude and discourteous.” Williams gave the floor back to Straniere, who described how brokers’ commissions changed the nature of mortgage lending, as Wyne breathed heavily. Wyne, when reinvited to speak, rejoined it was “all personal responsibility,” and that reckless people should not be allowed to buy “million dollar houses.”
Straniere was strongly in favor of offshore drilling, saying he’d been up to ANWAR twice and seen “the caribou rubbing their backs against the pipeline and the herds are bigger than ever.” Wyne interrupted to say he agreed 100 percent, and said “necessity is mother of invention, so now we need some alternative plans,” and alluded to geothermal, solar, and wind energy.
On transportation issues, Straniere plumped for “more federal involvement in solving Staten Island’s transportation problems.” Wyne said Straniere had been an Assemblyman for 24 years and “congestion has got worse in last 24 years, how much money have you brought from Albany, or anybody so far elected official, none. Traffic is horrible in there, when I become a Congressman I wanna make a rail plan… it’s terrible right now what’s going on in Staten Island, you can’t walk from one end to the other end in two minutes.” At least that’s what we think he said.
These quasi-debates may or may not have cleared anything up for the 13th District voters who will choose among these candidates on September 9, but they were a welcome diversion for people who think national politics is too stage-managed.