Democratic Councilman Vincent Gentile and his Republican-Conservative challenger John Quaglione went head to head in their long-anticipated first debate on Wednesday, trading verbal jabs over quality of life issues and arguing over who is best suited to bring taxpayer funds back to the district to fund neighborhood improvement projects.
The two men are running in the Nov. 5 election to represent the 43rd Council District, covering the southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. The contest is one of the most closely watched council races in the city.
Quaglione, a first-time candidate, repeatedly charged that Gentile, a 10-year-veteran of the City Council, has failed to secure adequate funding for the district for such things as parks, libraries and schools. The challenger also suggested that the incumbent doesn’t have any real clout in city government, despite his long tenure, and that this hurts the district’s residents.
Gentile countered that contrary to Quaglione’s statement, he has delivered big-time for the district. He said he has brought back tens of millions of dollars to the middle class communities he represents, including $13 million for parks, $11 million for libraries and $8 million for hospitals. And he has brought back much of those funds during the city's tough economic times, he said.
The 43rd Council District is next to last when it comes to the amount of taxpayer funds it gets back from the city, as compared to what it pays in taxes to the city, said Quaglione, who is deputy chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn).
“Every other neighborhood in the city of New York is getting more of our tax dollars than we are. We are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to city funding. We deserve better. I am running to change that,” Quaglione, 34, told the audience at the debate, which sponsored by the Bay Ridge Council on Aging. The forum took place at the Fort Hamilton Senior Citizens Center.
Quaglione sought to contrast Gentile with his predecessor, Marty Golden, whom the challenger said had a stellar record of delivering funding, particularly for parks-related projects, to the district. "We used to be number one," Quaglione said.
Quaglione noted with derision that the only committee Gentile chairs after a decade-long tenure on the council is a subcommittee on libraries, for which he receives a $4,000 stipend from the council.
Gentile, 54, said he has used his position to fight for improved city services in the community such as increased sanitation collections on commercial strips, security lighting on streets in shopping areas, and transit services. He brought an eco-dock to the 69th Street pier, established two greenmarkets, and successfully fought to convince the Bloomberg Administration to fund a ferry service at the Brooklyn Army Terminal pier that takes riders to Manhattan.
“That’s leadership, my friends!” Gentile told the audience.
As far as not having a high-profile committee leadership position, Gentile said that up to this point there have been council members with more longevity than he has. This election will change that, he said, noting that the council will have a high turnover rate due to term limits and that he will finally have seniority.
A third party candidate, Patrick Dwyer, running on the Green Party line, also participated in the debate. “I’ve come here today to offer you a real alternative,” he said, adding that senior care, affordable housing, and the climate crisis are issues he cares about.
But audience members appeared to regard the little-known Dwyer as if he was the undercard in a title boxing match. The Gentile-Quaglione matchup was what everyone came to see. The councilman and his challenger will debate each other four times this month.
Each man used the first head to head meeting as an opportunity to test campaign themes, with Gentile touting his experience in the council and his expectations that his influence will increase in the next administration; and Quaglione hammering away at what he described as the incumbent’s lack of clout and the need for a change.
Gentile, who first won the council seat in a special election in 2003 and is now seeking a third term, said that if he wins re-election, he will have the most seniority of any council member in the city because of the high turnover rate the council will experience due to term limits. “I intend to use my seniority for the benefit of my community,” he said.
The incumbent, whose name has been mentioned in various media reports as a possible candidate for city council speaker, said he would accept the position, but only if he feels it would help his district. “If it helps my district, I would be available to it,” he said.
Quaglione, who said he will soon release a comprehensive plan with 43 ideas on how to improve the 43rd Council District, vowed to hit the ground running if elected and get to work immediately on turning the ideas, including ways to increase parking in the neighborhood, into reality.
Quaglione, who noted the district contains large numbers of senior citizens, said he would work to develop senior citizen housing in the community. To help improve transportation, he said he would establish transportation advisory committee and have representation from bus and subway riders on the panel.
The specter of the mayor’s race came into play during the debate.
Gentile, who has endorsed Democrat Bill de Blasio, said that if de Blasio wins, “I will have influence with the new mayor.”
Quaglione responded that Gentile’s choice for mayor is too liberal and would get rid of the Police Department’s stop-and frisk policy. Crime will go up as a result, the challenger said.
There were some areas of agreement between the two. Both men said they support the stop-and-frisk policy. Although, that too, revealed sharp divisions between them.
Gentile said he voted against the council bill installing an inspector general to oversee the Police Department and the legislation that makes it easier for individuals to sue the NYPD if they believe they have been the victims of racism during stop-and-frisk. Quaglione charged that Gentile voted in committee in favor of bringing the measures to the floor for a vote by the full council. "It could have been stopped at that point," he said.