Political debate signals hot senate race; Golden, Gounardes star in verbal slugfest

State Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and his Democratic challenger, Andrew Gounardes, spared over gun control, women’s rights, and Mayor Bloomberg’s running of the city’s school system in a fierce debate during which the two men made no effort to hide their dislike for one another.
When Golden and Gounardes weren’t trading charges and counter-charges, they were glaring at each other during the Oct. 9 debate, sponsored by the Dyker Heights Civic Association. The audience was filled largely with partisans on both sides who cheered and booed as if they were attending a boxing match between a seasoned champion and a young challenger looking to take the title away from him.
Golden, a retired cop, is running for a sixth term in Albany, representing the 22nd Senate District in the southern end of Brooklyn. Gounardes, a lawyer for the non-profit organization Citizens Committee for New York City, is making his first try at elective office.
During a question and answer session with the audience, Golden was asked if he favored a ban on assault weapons. “We already have a ban on assault weapons here in New York State,” he answered. Golden then touted a bill he is sponsoring that he said would mandate jail time for a suspect for passing a gun onto another person if that person used the weapon to commit a crime.
Golden said the Republican-led state senate has passed numerous bills to reduce the number of illegal guns on the streets but that the Democratic-led state assembly has not acted on the proposed legislation.
Gounardes charged that Golden isn’t serious about gun control because he has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) “Marty gets an ‘A’ rating from the NRA.,” he said. Gounardes also blasted Golden’s bill, invoking the name of the city’s most famous gun-control advocate. “Mayor Bloomberg calls your bill ridiculous,” he told Golden.
Gounardes criticized the incumbent for voting against a fair pay bill for women that he said would have provided equal pay for equal work for state employees. The bill failed to pass in the state Senate.
Golden defended his vote, saying that he is in favor of fair pay but that the bill is too complicated. For one thing, Golden said, the bill used the language of “comparable worth” but did not make clear exactly what “comparable worth” is. “What is and how do you define comparable worth?” he asked. Golden also said the bill “would cripple state and local governments” and would be too costly to implement. “We need clear guidelines,” he said.
“I’m offended by that,” Gounardes said. “You’re saying that we can’t afford to pay women the same as men?”
“The bill was flawed! That’s why it didn’t pass!” Golden said, raising his voice in anger.
On education, Golden said he generally favors the system in which the city’s mayor runs public schools, although he would like to see some improvements. “There’s not enough parental involvement,” he said.
Gounardes, who said the current mayor “is hostile to parental involvement,” added that he believes the mayor shouldn’t be given carte blanche to operate the school system. In 2003, the state education law was changed to allow the mayor to run the school system. “The mayor is running the schools with zero accountability. I’m disturbed by it,” he said. “I will be tough and I will hold the mayor accountable,” he said.
Too much state oversight of the school system is not good, Golden said. “We have a much better education system than before,” he said.
Gounardes also charged that Golden had voted against increased funding for schools and that as a result, schools in District 20, the local school district, are severely overcrowded with large student enrollments.
Golden, who called Gounardes’s charge “pure fantasy,” said he has worked successfully to provide state funding to construct new schools in the district and to expand existing school buildings. “We’ve added 8,000 seats in out district,” he said, adding that the new seats will help ease overcrowding.
Throughout the debate, Gounardes sought to portray Golden as being out of touch and as someone who votes in lockstep with fellow Republicans from upstate New York and Long Island. “Dean Skelos,” Gounardes said, referring to the Senate majority leader, “and his colleagues don’t care about Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst.”
Looking at Golden, Gounardes said a representative “can’t speak on behalf of a community unless you know what the community wants. And the way you know what a community wants is to listen to them.” Gounardes said.
Golden seemed to be insulted by that charge. The incumbent said he has always listened to residents and worked hard to solve their problems. He said he has brought back from Albany millions of dollars for schools, hospitals, and community organizations. “I have been able to deliver for this community,” he said.