Donovan ducks Bay Ridge debate

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The only mark they’ll put next to his name is “absent.”

The Republican candidate in a special election to replace disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm lost votes by ducking a debate in Bay Ridge on April 22, voters said.

“Him not showing up switched my vote,” said Laura Grassi of Bay Ridge. “I would have voted Republican had I heard what he had to say. He did not give me the respect of hearing his position. He made a big mistake not showing up here — what are we, garbage?”

The candidates who did show up spent much of the 90-minute debate slamming Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan for his absence from the debate, which was organized by the Bay Ridge Council on Aging and held at the Ft. Hamilton Senior Center.

“The first thing that sets me apart [from Donovan] is that I show up,” said Councilman Vincent “Vinnie” Gentile (D–Bay Ridge). “This is the most anti-democratic behavior in a campaign that I have seen. It is disrespectful and disgraceful.”

Gentile, Green Party candidate James Lane, and write-in hopeful Tom Weiss stumped to seniors during the forum, agreeing on several points, including their estimations of the Republican front-runner.

“Call him ‘despicable Dan Donovan’ for not attending these forums,” said Green Party candidate James Lane.

Even the moderators bashed the Republican hopeful when one resident posed a question for the absent attorney.

“We have the Dan Donovan chair,” said Peter Killen, gesturing to an empty seat at the dais. “The committee reached out many times to Dan Donovan and all I got from his people is ‘He’s busy, he can’t make it.’ ”

Weiss, who was not slated to speak, slipped into the vacant chair meant for Donovan and took the opportunity to voice his unwavering support for liberating Tibet from Chinese control.

Donovan didn’t show at a Bensonhurst forum on April 19 either, but a Donovan spokeswoman called criticisms of the attorney’s absence “silly.”

“We have now entered the silly season of a desperate campaign when our opponent is upset we didn’t attend his donor’s event,” said Donovan spokeswoman Jessica Proud. “Voters already got the message loud and clear from the last two debates that Mr. Gentile plans to raise taxes and take the DeBlasio agenda to Washington. Why he wants to continue talking about that is beyond us.”

On Wednesday, Gentile and Lane took turns hammering Donovan for congressional Republicans’ plan to cut Social Security and Medicare, which mainly benefit seniors.

Gentile and Lane both support taxing people who earn more than $118,500 — currently they pay no additional Social Security taxes. The move would replenish the program’s trust fund and “save Social Security for generations to come,” Gentile said.

Donovan has not endorsed a specific plan for preserving Social Security but has said that any changes made should not affect current recipients.

One resident who came to ask Donovan to make his plan more explicit felt slighted he didn’t get an answer — or even the chance to ask the question.

“It’s an insult he didn’t show up,” said Ridgite Ray Pucci, a retired detective.

The special election is May 5.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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