The candidates vying for the hotly contested 43rd District Council seat faced off again on Tuesday night and battled for the mantle of biggest outsider, despite all three having past political careers.
Ridgites filled the auditorium at Xaverian High School on Oct. 17 to hear them tout their policy plans for neighborhood issues affecting the district that includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach, while the three candidates — Republican John Quaglione, Democrat Justin Brannan, and the Reform Party’s Bob Capano — tried to distance themselves from their own political pasts while casting their opponents as firmly entrenched in the city’s political establishment.
The debate, sponsored by the Bay Ridge Community Council, kicked off with opening statements, and Capano set the tone for the night, touting his outsider status as a third-party candidate.
“No one candidate has a monopoly on good ideas,” Capano said. “That’s why I think it’s important that parties like the Reform Party are included in forums like this. The status quo just isn’t working. We have a political party establishment that seems to be dominated by special interests and party bosses.”
Not to be outdone, Quaglione declared himself “the only one on this stage who will stand up to Bill DeBlasio and the lunacy of the City Council” and repeatedly referred to Hizzoner as “Justin’s mayor” throughout the hour-and-a-half debate.
For his part, Brannan said he would “be accountable to the people of this district and nobody else,” and said he would take on the Democratic mayor when he had to.
“I’m not afraid of the tough fights and I’m not afraid of standing up to Bill DeBlasio,” he said.
Brannan shot back at Quaglione more directly later on, when he called out the Republican’s long ties to his former boss, state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge).
“John Quaglione has worked for Marty Golden for about 400 years,” Brannan said.
Quaglione quickly corrected him that it was actually 19 years.
Capano seized on the moment of infighting, quickly following the testy exchange by implying that his opponents would not be effective members of the Council because their complaints and sparring showed that they had not done enough to affect change during their times working in city agencies and government.
“This is the problem with career politicians running for office — they work for elected officials for most all of their lives, and then, when they run for office themselves, they complain about all of the things that haven’t been done,” Capano said.
Capano further attacked his fellow conservative later on, claiming he and other taxpayers had paid for Quaglione’s career in politics.
“You have spent your entire life on the taxpayer’s dime, so therefore I hope I get a nice Christmas card from you since I’ve paid your salary your whole life,” he told the former Golden staffer.
But in fact, all three candidates have political pasts: Capano, who vied for the Republican nomination in the primary, worked as a senior aide for former Democratic Borough presidents Marty Markowitz and Howard Golden, as well as for Rep. Bob Turner (R–Brooklyn). Brannan worked as the director of communications and legislative affairs and then chief of staff for the term-limited incumbent Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), and then worked for the city’s Department of Education, beginning in May 2015. Quaglione began working for Golden in 1997, when Golden was running for the same seat.
Audience members submitted more than 40 questions — relayed by moderator Alex Conti — on police reform, affordable housing, illegal conversions, and education, but the lively crowd of attendees also demanded that the candidates take a stand on some of the most divisive cultural and political issues of the day.
In response to an audience question, Quaglione and Capano reiterated that they would vote for President Trump again if the election were today — positions that elicited strong applause in the auditorium — while Brannan maintained his support for Hillary Clinton.
And in response to a question regarding Mayor DeBlasio’s commission to review all city monuments for possible offensiveness, Capano said he opposed the commission, calling it “political correctness on steroids.” Brannan said he agreed with the formation of the commission but opposed taking down the statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle, and Quaglione said that he opposed both the commission and the possible removal of the statue.
The highly engaged audience also sparred with each other and the moderator towards the end of the debate, calling on Conti to ask follow-up questions on the candidate’s positions on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and complaining that he did not ask the questions he received exactly as they had been written.