The self-proclaimed “progressive Democrat” for Congress in Tuesday’s primary for the seat being vacated by disgraced Rep. Vito Fossella has come a long way from the pro-life, anti-spending conservative stance he adopted in his 2003 City Council race.
Steve Harrison, the former chairman of Community Board 10, openly courts the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party and categorizes his opponent, Staten Island Councilman Mike McMahon as “a centrist,” — as if it were a dirty word in a district covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Staten Island that has elected Republican representatives since the 1980s.
“The people who have done the best in the past 20 years with respect to this district have been from Brooklyn and liberal,” Harrison said in a debate in The Brooklyn Paper newsroom, checking off both attributes for himself.
But voters who remember Harrison’s 2003 bid to represent Bay Ridge in the Council, eventually won by Vince Gentile, would hardly recognize the man who supported limits on abortion rights and opposed a property tax hike during one of the city’s worst budget deficits.
In the debate, Harrison, a lawyer by trade, described his change on abortion as more of an evolution than a flip-flop.
“I took a centrist position with respect to abortion. I always said there was a right to choose, but there were some exceptions that had to be made,” Harrison said. “Since then, I’ve recognized that I cannot hold that position and translate it to public policy for a variety of reasons.”
His past history of favoring some limits to abortion rights did not hurt him in this race — the National Organization of Women endorsed him.
“We were impressed with Steve Harrison’s grasp of and support of our core issues: constitutional equality for women, reproductive rights, equal economic opportunity, stopping violence against women and ending gender and sexual orientation discrimination,” Shirley Ranz, the chairwoman of NOW’s local political action committee, told the New York Times earlier this summer.
He still clings to his opposition to a property tax hike in 2003 to close the budget deficit as well as his more recent opposition to the mayor’s congestion pricing plan which would have charged drivers for entering Manhattan — a proposal that won the esteem of tree-hugging environmental groups.
McMahon stands opposite Harrison on congestion pricing and the property tax hike, having supported both controversial measures. He has not backed away from either vote and says that his opponent is the only “progressive” politician to criticize these two policies.
“There is no progressive I know that didn’t support those initiatives to keep the city going,” McMahon said.
“We had a $7-billion hole and if we didn’t do something bold and politically difficult, we would have been thrown back into the days of the ’70s and ’80s,” said McMahon, talking about the property tax hike. “I did what I thought was right.”
In the Republican primary, former Assemblyman Robert Straniere is tangling with the Staten Island Republican Party’s finance chairman, Jim Wyne, for the GOP nomination.