State Senate hopefuls Anna Kaplan and Elaine Phillips dueled over guns, taxes and the consequences of one-party control at a candidates forum hosted by the Lakeville Estates Civic Association at Manhasset-Lakeville Firehouse No. 5 last Wednesday night.
Civic association members questioned Kaplan, a Democratic town councilwoman, and Phillips, the incumbent Republican state senator in District 7. Anthony D’Urso, the Democratic assemblyman for District 16, and Republican challenger Byron Divins also attended.
Kaplan took aim at Phillips, who spoke of delivering $112 million more in state aid to schools in the district, over charter schools donating $2.5 million to her 2016 campaign.
“Yes, she has brought in funding, but I don’t understand how you could take millions from charter schools and bring back money,” Kaplan said. “It’s like taking with one hand and giving back with the other hand – these are our own tax dollars. We Long Islanders are some of the highest tax payers in the nation.”
Phillips said Democrats voted on giving money to charter schools and that when there was one-party government control, public school districts like Westbury lost money.
“I have never advocated more for charters than public schools,” Phillips said. “The fact is I have gotten more school aid for the Senate district than in decades.”
Kaplan also accused Phillips of being against reasonable gun legislation like the “red flag” protection bill, which would allow parents, teachers and police to pursue a court order to take guns from people considered dangerous.
She said Phillips voted against banning bump stocks, expanding background checks, removing guns from domestic abusers, and the red flag bill two weeks after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 died.
“I absolutely support [the red flag legislation] and this will be one of the first bills that I push,” Kaplan said. “It has not been passed because the Republican Senate has stopped it from happening.”
Phillips said, “It is obvious Anna does not understand the procedures,” to which Kaplan shot back, “Oh, I understand it quite well.”
Bill Cutrone, president of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association, asked the candidates to keep personal comments to themselves.
Democrats sought to attach those bills to unrelated legislation focusing on hunters registering to become organ donors when applying for a license, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The state Senate voted to remove the amendments, finding them not germane.
Phillips highlighted her support of legislation passed earlier this year barring convicted domestic abusers from owning guns.
“It is the first piece of gun legislation that has passed in New York state in five years,” Phillips said. “I also voted for the red flag bill in the Judiciary Committee so all you have to do, please, is check my voting record, because I am honestly tired of people misrepresenting where I stand on guns.”
On taxes, Phillips said she supports making the 2 percent tax cap permanent and said only Democrats in the state Senate voted against it
“This really is a key difference between us: as a mayor, as senator, I have cut taxes, I have made it more affordable to live on Long Island,” Phillips, a former mayor of Flower Hill, said. “My opponent has raised taxes, raised taxes five of the six times and even voted to override the property tax cap.”
Phillips also said that Democrats like New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul have said “one of the best things that could happen for New York City” is a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Kaplan said that after overriding the tax cap, she listened to residents and understood “it was the wrong thing to do.” The town budget has since remained within the tax cap for four straight years, she said, and the town plans to extend that streak to five.
“And not only that, we’ve increased our rating from AA+ to AAA; we are the best government-run town in all of Long Island,” Kaplan said. “We have the highest rating that any municipality could receive. I think that’s the result of my hard work, with the administration and the supervisor.”
She said the 2 percent tax cap will remain.
“I’m a Long Islander, my home is in Long Island, my family is in Long Island, I will always protect Long Island,” Kaplan said. “Don’t group me with anybody. Judge me based on me and what I’ve done and my record in Town Hall.”
Phillips said her commitment to reducing taxes testifies to her dedication to affordability. She also said she pushed for protections on the Belmont development project.
Kaplan expressed support for “more affordable housing” and state help in making it happen through tax credits. She cited the Town Board’s approving the cleanup of a brownfield site and using it to create affordable housing for seniors as an example.
“We need to do a similar thing for our younger generation,” Kaplan said, adding the funding is available from the state.
Both Phillips and Kaplan highlighted Project Independence in North Hempstead, which offers services to seniors. Kaplan said it should be a model for a statewide program.
The candidates were also asked about the Child Victims Act, which would extend the civil statute of limitations age to 50, the criminal statute of limitations to 28, and feature a one-year look back window.
Phillips said “there is nothing more horrible than to steal the innocence of a child.” That’s why Republicans supported creating a $300 million child victims fund and eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, she said, which will aid the vast majority of victims.
“We didn’t just throw out the issue for political gain,” Phillips said. “We came up with a common sense solution.”
Phillips added, “It’s going to take people sitting down at a table” to fully solve the issue.
Kaplan said she wants to pass “sensible laws which will deter people” from committing such a crime and that public funds shouldn’t be the sole source used to benefit the victims.
“We need to hold people who have done the wrong to be held responsible,” Kaplan said. “It’s about time for us to pass this law.”
Asked about legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, Phillips said the governor had set up a task force on the issue.
She then discussed where her “efforts have been” – the heroin and opioid epidemic – and said there have been hearings all around the state and $247 million in “record funding” delivered to combat it.
Kaplan agreed that it is an epidemic and expressed support to help addicts, but said the question was about marijuana.
Kaplan then said she would review the results of the task force and that, even though she comes from a “very conservative family” and wouldn’t personally advocate for marijuana, there would be public forums should legislation arise to get public input on the issue.
There was less debate between D’Urso and Divins, who at times shared laughs or – literally – patted each other on the back.
D’Urso expressed support for affordable housing, walkable cities, maintaining the 2 percent tax cap, passing the Child Victims Act, and getting public input on whether or not to legalize marijuana.
Divins emphasized increasing tax deductions for infrastructure improvements for seniors, making caregiver expenses deductible, the establishment of the child victims fund, maintaining the 2 percent property tax cap and opposition to legalizing marijuana.
Both candidates underscored the importance of addressing climate change.