By Shadi Bushra
BROOKLYN, Oct. 9, 2012 -Boos, hisses, cheers, and applause filled Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Dyker Heights on Tuesday as Republican Sen. Marty Golden and Democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes sparred on a wide range of topics in their first debate.
Although he successfully forced the incumbent to defend his record on gender issues and education, Gounardes appeared ill at ease at times and occasionally became flustered. Golden seemed more at home and was buoyed by a larger number of supporters in the crowd.
When voter questions turned to the New York State Fair Pay Act, which would mandate equal pay for men and women, Sen. Golden — who voted against the act, –initially sidestepped the question by drawing attention to his votes on other women’s issues.
“I voted for a series of women[’s] issues across my time in the senate,” he said. “Whether it’s going with domestic violence or voting with a similar bill we just did this past year on workforce training by the Department of Labor.”
Gounardes forcefully endorsed the Fair Pay Act, and delivered his biggest applause line of the night on the topic.
“Women in New York earn 83 cents to the dollar that a man does for the same job. Every year women lose 24 billion dollars to paycheck discrimination based solely on the fact that they are a woman and not a man,” he said. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m offended by [the idea] that we can’t afford to pay women the same as men.”
Golden, chaired the committee that drafted the legislation, replied that the law was “well-intentioned” but that without “clear and defining guidelines” it would “cripple state and local governments.”
Overall though, Golden, who is serving his fifth term representing state Senate District 22, was more comfortable in front of the crowd of about 100 people, more than half of whom wore his navy blue and yellow campaign sticker.
Golden’s advantages as an incumbent were partly offset by ten years’ worth of votes and positions, which provided Gounardes, 27, with opportunities to attack the senator.
When the conversation turned to education, for instance, Golden was put on the defensive because of his support for Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of city education policy from the state Senate.
In contrast, Gounardes said that he was “very disturbed” by what he saw as a lack of accountability over the mayor’s stewardship of the schools, suggesting that both the city council and state senate should have more oversight.
Gounardes’ complaints about Bloomberg, as much as his stated commitment to education reform, won the exchange on the topic..
On gun control, Golden successfully defended his record in Albany, where he walked out of a vote on mandatory microstamping in 2010 but this year sponsored a bill that increases penalties for certain gun-related crimes.
Microstamping is a process whereby shell casings are imprinted with information that could identify the gun from which they were fired. Supporters argue that it would make it easier to arrest suspects in gun-related crimes, while opponents believe it will cost too much.
Remington, one of the country’s largest gun manufacturers, has threatened to relocate its factory in upstate New York if the bill were passed.
Citing steadily decreasing crime statistics, Golden said, “This’ll be the safest year the city has ever seen. And guess what?” he asked, pausing for effect.
“It’s still not good enough. And the only way it can get better is by going after the bad guys that got the guns and putting them in jail,” Golden concluded to deafening applause.
New York state’s energy policy offered the candidates another opportunity to highlight their differences. Allen Bartnick, 82, asked Sen. Golden why he supports fracking.
Golden said that he supports “safe fracking when it is approved by the state of New York,” while Gounardes delivered a passionate indictment of the controversial gas-extraction practice, saying that fracking is not safe under any circumstances and that he is “opposed to it 100%.”
The night’s final question sapped Gounardes of some of the momentum he had built up over the night. Gounardes supports a controversial part of President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act that mandates that religious institutions receiving public funds must provide contraceptives and other services.
That position drew boos from the audience, after which Gounardes became defensive.
“A majority of the people in this district agree with me, for your information,” he said.
Golden, to great effect, simply said: “Government should not impose on religious freedom.”
The event also featured Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D); Assemblyman Alex Brook-Krasny (D) and his opponent, Tom McCarthy (R); and Congressman Michael Grimm (R).
Allen Bartnick, 82, who posed the question on fracking, objected “to the way this thing is run,” referring to the debate’s format which did not allow the candidates to engage each other directly or ask questions of one another, or for the audience to ask follow-up questions.
Bartnick, who knows Golden personally, says he will support Gounardes.
“Marty Golden will tell you anything you want to hear. He’ll go any way the wind blows. I’ll go out to dinner with him seven days a week and he’s extremely sociable, but his politics suck,” said the senior citizen.
Fran Vella-Marrone, the president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, which organized the event, thought that it was overall a great debate, even though she had to use her gavel and shout over both voters and candidates in order to keep the debate within the bounds of the agreed-upon rules. She plans on voting for Sen. Golden.
“It got spirited at times,” she said. “But you want a debate to be spirited.”