Crowd around Vito’s seat - Field of four vie to succeed disgraced congressman

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The contrasts were clear as the four candidates vying for the congressional seat being vacated by disgraced Rep. Vito Fossella had the opportunity to make contact with Brooklyn voters during a recent forum organized by the Bay Ridge Real Estate Board.

The candidates in the 13th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and a portion of southwestern Brooklyn, addressed a standing-room-only crowd gathered at Sirico’s Caterers, 8023 13th Avenue.

The four are the Conservative Party’s Timothy Cochrane, Democratic City Councilmember Michael McMahon, Independence Party candidate Carmine Morano and former Republican Assembly member Robert Straniere.

McMahon emphasized his record in the City Council, which, he said, had earned him endorsements across party lines – not only Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, a Democrat, and other Democrats from around the city, but also Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, a Conservative.

“We have an incredible opportunity in Brooklyn and Staten Island,” McMahon asserted, “to vote for a new representative who can go to Washington who can fight for the families and the business owners in this district.”

He also stressed the theme of his campaign – “Change we can trust.” To that end, McMahon described the issues most relevant to area residents – a decaying transportation infrastructure, inefficient medical care, the war in Iraq.

“We’re stuck in traffic, and we’re stuck without the mass transportation infrastructure we so sorely need. We’re also stuck waiting in emergency rooms. We’re stuck with a health care system in this country we can’t even get access to,” McMahon contended.

In addition, he told the group, “We’re stuck with a war that’s gone on too long. We have to end it responsibly and not do anything till we get the troops home safely. Even if you signed up for it from the get-go, no one signed up for the occupation of Iraq. And when our troops come home, they’re stuck in a VA system that’s not dealing with them properly. We need to expand the GI Bill and get benefits into the hands of those who gave such noble service.

“We’re also stuck in an economy that defies explanation,” McMahon went on, “and what we see going on in Washington right now are political representatives more concerned with their backsides than with doing what’s right for our country.”

Straniere, who served in the Assembly for 24 years, contended that, “New York City must have a Republican congressman. The only one in the city is right here. The city needs a Republican congressman who can work cooperatively with President McCain.”

Straniere painted himself as a fiscal conservative. In his years in the Assembly, he said, “I was there on the front lines, voting against tax increases.” He also said he favored tax credits and vouchers “for all parents, to help you meet the costs of educating your children.” Other issues Straniere cited include making sure that health care is “available for each of us,” and that the cost of prescriptions be “affordable” to seniors.

He also strove to link himself to another New York Republican, Teddy Roosevelt. Noting that he had been the “Republican floor leader,” he said that Roosevelt had also held that position. “I sat in Teddy Roosevelt’s seat,” he told the crowd. “Like Teddy Roosevelt, I have a strong commitment to the environment and activism.”

Straniere pointed out that he had served as counsel to former State Senator John Marchi for 17 years prior to winning the Assembly seat he had held. “When I left Albany, the only person I knew who had been there longer than me was Marchi,” Straniere said.

Morano, a health insurance executive, cited several key concerns. Among them is the alternative minimum tax, which is increasingly a burden on middle class families in high-tax localities.

In addition, Morano focused on the country’s energy policy. While drilling domestically can produce some oil, he stressed, “Drilling off shore is not as easy as that because you can’t go to Bay Ridge rent-a-rig.” Given the lack of available equipment to drill with, he stressed, it’s going to “Take a very long time to come on line.” For this reason, Morano said, both CAFÉ standards and mass transportation alternatives have to be improved.

As far as health care, Morano pointed out that, in the United States, “We spend more money per capita than any country in the world but, of 17 industrialized nations, we rank 16th in terms of healthy life expectancy.” One way of improving health care, he contended, is to have “a system of really effective preventive medicine,” giving a tax break to those who get annual checkups, while those who don’t, “pay a little more because they’re a risk to the system.”

Cochrane – who announced his opposition to abortion and to gay marriage -- pitched himself as a man of the people who would head to the nation’s capital shaped by his life experiences. These include a stint in the Marine Corps where, said Cochrane, “I learned a few things about honor and integrity,” as well as years as an entrepreneur and, most recently, as director of development for Xaverian High School.

The people from the 13th C.D., Cochrane said, “Only have one voice to send to Washington. It has to be someone that’s uncompromised. He has to stand by what the people he represents want him to do. The guys that go down there are surrounded by special interests, and they change their mind. It’s going to take a hell of a lot to change my mind,” Cochrane vowed.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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