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Congressional Candidates Spar Before Tuesday Primary

forum2Just two days before the Tuesday primary vote, the League of Women Voters of Larchmont/Mamaroneck, Scarsdale, New Rochelle, and the Rivertowns hosted a candidates’ forum for the four congressional candidates running for the Democratic seat on June 24. The candidates were the incumbent Eliot Engel, Jonathan Lewis of Scarsdale, (the former Chief Investment Officer of a Fiera Capital, who left just prior to running for congress), Joyce Briscoe, a paralegal from the Bronx, and Derickson K. Lawrence, the CEO of MarketView, The forum was moderated by Paul Schwartz of the White Plains LWV.

Each candidate was given the opportunity to present an opening statement before responding to a series of questions from the LWV and audience members. In her statement, Joyce Briscoe stated that she hopes to get others to join her in enacting change if she wins the seat. She vowed to open her door for others so they can stand up and voice their opinions. Eliot Engel began by noting that he was named the most effective Democratic congressman by the Center for Effective Lawmaking, and furthered that he is the Chair of the Democratic Caucus on Foreign Affairs. If the Democrats take the house, he would be the Chairman of the entire committee. In his opening, Derickson K. Lawrence attacked Engel, claiming he “Isn’t getting anything done” and is “not voting in our interests”. He also attacked the Democratic Party platform, saying it needs to be developed beyond a solely anti-Trump sentiment. Jonathon Lewis believes that typical Democrats made Trump possible and that the times are too dangerous for "business as usual." His platform is for equal healthcare access and an economy for all among other issues, and he said that he has spent many hours volunteering within the community to help many people.

The first question regarded the recent state and local tax (SALT) deduction limits, and how each candidate as a congressperson would work to alleviate the burden. Engel said we need to “get rid of Trump”, as he passed these punitive tax measures as a means of hurting the states that did not support him in the 2016 election. If the Democrats can take the house in the upcoming midterm elections, he will work with them to pass policies that help everyday Americans, as Democrats are the party of the working people. Lawrence believes people and institutions need to be brought together to build consensus to find a wide range of alternatives to the current limits. Lewis agreed with Engel that the solution begins with getting rid of Trump, but also added that as a Congressman he could promote greater regionalization, eliminate redundant services and manage cost structures to alleviate the burden. Briscoe noted that the budget comes from the census, and the current census system needs to be changed (possibly through electronic means) to better account for the actual population

The candidates were then asked to present their environmental priorities, to which Lawrence expressed frustration over President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. He also highlighted the importance of addressing local environmental issues and to promote low cost solutions. Lewis believes that Indian Point is the single greatest environmental danger to our area, and is glad its being closed down. He did note, however, that there will still be nuclear waste stored there indefinitely, and said he would help to find a solution to clean it up. Briscoe believes in power in numbers on environmental issues, and said that the roll back of environmental regulations on large corporations was a big mistake. Engel noted that he was endorsed by multiple environmental organizations, and attacked the president on his promotion of big polluters. He believes qualified leadership is necessary to take on the President and he’s ready to do it.

On the issue of including a citizenship question in the 2020 US Census, Lewis believes there should be no such question, everyone should be counted and immigrants should be granted a pathway to citizenship. He added that the children in the detention centers need to be reunited with their parents and offered citizenship as an apology. Briscoe elaborated on her previous statement regarding the census and noted that adding a citizenship question will dissuade participation. Engel believes that question is just another obstacle Republicans want to use to dissuade participation, which could lead to gerrymandering. Lawrence, who had to wait fifteen years to become a citizen, vowed to fight to ensure that question is off the ballot.

Briscoe believes the most pressing foreign policy issue facing the US today is the war in Afghanistan and promised to side with her constituents on any stance she takes. Engel reminded the voters of his seniority on the Committee for Foreign Affairs, and believes Donald Trump’s inconsistent foreign policy is extremely dangerous. He also reinforced the US relationship with NATO, and stated that as chairman, he would hold hearings to ensure the Trump administration won’t step out of line. Lawrence attacked Engel for voting against the Iran deal. Lewis noted that great societies collapse when they overdevelop their military and underdevelop their economy. Lewis believes the US ought to prioritize economic development.

All four candidates voiced support for a single payer healthcare system. Lawrence believes a plan needs to be implemented to reintroduce provisions that were rolled back on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under Trump, and specifically highlighted his experience working to lower prescription drug prices in New York State. Lewis pointed to the fact that countries with a single payer system have higher life expectancies, and used rising insulin prices as an example of the broken system. Briscoe believes the ACA would have worked but the Republican agenda weakened it. Engel noted that he cosponsored the Medicare for All bill, which was more encompassing than Obamacare, but wasn’t able to get enough votes to pass it.

On womens’ rights, Briscoe believes women need to be treated equally to men on all fronts, and the government ought to support that initiative. Engel touted his 100% Pro Choice rating and Planned Parenthood endorsement, demonstrating his consistency on the issue. Lawrence referenced the #MeToo movement and his support for women to come forward with their stories. Lewis touted his experience fighting for women on all fronts, including escorting them across abortion lines in front of Planned Parenthood Clinics in the 1980’s with his wife.

The candidates were then asked about recommendations for immigration legislation, specifically regarding the current detention centers. Engel introduced legislation to require embassies to work to ensure children are reunited with their parents and wants to abolish the current policy. Lawrence believed the US needs to look for the reasons why people are crossing the border and should create a policy that effectively targets these reasons. Lewis noted that ICE is the creation of Congress,= and Congress should actively defund ICE while creating a faster track for immigrants to receive US citizenship as US policy has played a role in why people are coming to the borders. Briscoe believes the US should put money into implementing foreign policy that would help prevent the need for people to immigrate here.

The final and most contentious question of the night regarded the enforcement of ethics standards in Congress. Briscoe believes swift justice is necessary for those who commit crimes, and Lawrence believes those who develop the standards should not be the same people who enforce them. Lewis used this question to attack Engel, stating that Engel was investigated by the ethics committee and then voted to defund it. Engel responded to Lewis by stating he was found not guilty, and called it a “low blow.” Engel then proceeded to attack Lewis, and saying, “the last time a one percenter from New York with no political experience was voted into office, his name was Donald Trump”.

With tensions at an all time high, the candidates gave their closing remarks. Lewis said that business as usual is no longer a viable option, that congressman should no longer accept PAC money and expressed the importance of eliminating career politics. Lawrence touted “staying above the fray” during the forum (despite making multiple jabs at Engel) and also mentioned his work in taking guns off the streets in Mount Vernon. Engel reinforced his endorsements and said he is proud of what he’s done to help thousands of people across the district. Briscoe described herself as “bold, present, and courageous” and restated that if elected, she will do everything in her power to help the people of the 16th district.

The forum proved itself to be a great platform for voters to connect with the candidates, despite a few flaws. For starters, some candidates did not answer the questions presented to them by the moderator, and instead generally addressed the topic at hand and/or took jabs at a different candidate. Furthermore, the format of the forum made it difficult for the candidates to respond to any attacks to their beliefs or policy. Considering the competitive nature of this election, perhaps a traditional debate would have been a bit more effective in gauging the candidates’ viewpoints.

Polls will be open on Tuesday from 6 AM to 9 PM and voting will take place at the five elementary schools. In order the vote in this primary election, you must be a registered Democrat. Note: due to the renovation of the Scarsdale Library, voters in Election Districts 5, 11 and 12 will vote at Fox Meadow School.

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