By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Two local politicians, representing Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill respectively, figured prominently at a Candidates Forum that Brooklyn Congregations United sponsored last Sunday.
Founded in 2007, “Brooklyn Congregations United is a non-profit coalition of faith-based groups and individuals from Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions which works on issues of social change impacting the community,” according to a printed identity statement. The goal of BCU is to transform neighborhoods into healthy and vibrant communities whose citizens join forces for a common good. BCU consists of more than 20 member churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations, generally in the Flatbush, Midwood and Ditmas Park areas of Brooklyn.
The July 21 forum was held in the Rectory Hall of BCU member and historic Flatbush Reformed Church, which was established in 1654. This Candidates Forum was the second for BCU, which hosted the Candidates for Mayor event in 2009.
BCU did even more than offer the opportunity for citizens to meet the candidates for NYC and borough-wide elected office. Educational material was provided, both on the candidates and on the functions of these positions: NYC mayor, public advocate and comptroller; Brooklyn district attorney, Brooklyn borough president, and city council member for District Council 40.
The event opened with prayers from two BCU Board members: Rev. Daniel Ramm, Senior Pastor of the Flatbush Reformed Church; and Imam (prayer leader) Dr. Ahmad Jaber, President of the Arab American Association of NY, who is also active in the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association and the Dawood Mosque on State Street.
A spokesperson for BCU told the Brooklyn Heights Press that all the candidates for these offices had been invited. Mayoral candidates present for the forum were Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, Sal Albanese, John Liu and Anthony Weiner. Also speaking were candidates for public advocate: state senator Daniel Squadron, Cathy Guerriero, Letitia James and comptroller candidate John Burnett—the only Republican to accept the invitation. The only Brooklyn district attorney candidate attending the forum was Abe George.
Moderating the forum was Selena Hill, co-host of the weekly radio program on WHCR-90.3 F.M., “Let Your Voice Be Heard.” She filled in for LYVBH colleague Mike Racioppo, who was scheduled to moderate.
Speaking to a packed auditorium and leaving the podium for more interaction with the audience, the candidates responded to issues of Public Safety, Housing, Education, Healthcare, the Economy, Immigration, Seniors and Youth.
Christine Quinn was the first to speak, thanking BCU for its work in conceiving and ushering into law the Responsible Banking Act in 2012. Ms. Quinn also talked about her plan to institute a voucher program to help homeless New Yorkers transition out of the shelter system. Sal Albanese proposed using city resources to sponsor the creation of living-wage jobs in manufacturing. John Liu also spoke on the need for a living wage, saying that an $11 per hour minimum wage is an economic necessity for basic living in New York City. Anthony Weiner defended parent involvement in public schools, saying that parent coordinators cannot fully support parents while they are on the DOE payroll. The closing mayoral speaker, Bill de Blasio, spoke out against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices after voicing his disagreement with the Zimmerman verdict in the killing of Trayvon Martin. De Blasio also voiced his disagreement with the voting records on this issue of the other mayoral candidates—including Anthony Weiner. Just moments before, Mr. Weiner also had spoken out against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy.
De Blasio, the closing speaker, declared that the hospital closures must be stopped, receiving applause and calls of “Yes!” Public Advocate candidate Daniel Squadron, who gained acclaim at the age of 28 for unseating a 30-year incumbent, spoke about his priority to make the public advocate’s office more accessible to citizens, especially to seniors and families with children and about banning illegal military weapons. Senator Squadron is also active in the fight to save Long Island College Hospital from closure.
Participating organizations included Community Alliance Project Inc., Highland Park Community Development Corporation and the 67th Precinct Clergy Council. Clergy and lay leaders were present from Flatbush Reformed Church, Holy Cross R.C. Church, St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Our Lady of Refuge R.C. Church, the Arab American Association of New York, New Creation Ministries, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lodge among others. Other concerned individuals representing public school parents and staff, healthcare professionals, domestic workers, the homeless population and the disabled were also present.