Five candidates for the 6th Congressional district faced off on Thursday night in Queens at a debate in Fresh Meadows. Huddled into the back room of the Christ Lutheran Church, the candidates took questions from the few dozen attendees on a range of issues, including medical marijuana, infrastructure spending and ballot access.
All the Democratic candidates were present: City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Assemblymembers Rory Lancman and Grace Meng, and Dr. Robert Mittman. They were joined by Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou. Republican candidate Dan Halloran was absent from the debate, recovering from surgery.
One of the night's loudest moments took place when Meng deflected criticism by former candidate Juan Sheng, who was taken off the ballot in early May after Board of Elections declared she lacked the required number of signatures to make it on the ballot.
When an audience member asked the candidates about campaign strategies, Sheng stood up and shouted at Meng, who responded by saying she her own signatures were challenged for a run on the Independence ticket.
"The beauty of America, and the beauty of our democracy, is that there's a process for running for office," she said. "Whatever we've been talking about tonight that has happened to other candidates have happened to be as well.”
When the candidates were asked where they stood on medical marijuana, Mittman, a doctor by trade, took the hardest stance when he said he believed in stricter guidelines for prescriptions than in other jurisdictions.
"Look at the states who have already done it," Mittman said. "Go to California. They issue licenses to 18 year olds to grow marijuana in their backyard. Once again, a good thing went bad."
Crowley was the first of the panelists to suggest cuts to military spending as a way to cut the budget and alleviate the joblessness rate among veterans.
"I support our military and I support the troops," she said. "Out troops are coming home and are faced with unemployment higher than the average person. We need to make sure we give our troops respect when they come back home."
An audience member brought up a question about Federal Reserve, which prompted the only non-Democratic candidate Chou to argue for a less centralized banking system.
"We need small banks, community banks," he said "We cannot just have Wall Street insiders walk in and become our Treasury secretaries and SEC chairs."
While most of the debate was focused on the needs of Queens residents, national politics did come up on the subject of taxation policy. All the panelists argued for a fairer tax code that made high-income earners and corporations more accountable, but Lancman went so far as to bring up the presidential race to make his point.
"We have a tax system that honors wealth over work," Lancman said. "The Mitt Romenys of the world can pay a lower tax rate than most people in this room. We need to change those policies. We need to change the direction of this country."