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Inez Barron and Chris Banks Face Off in ENY Assembly Debate

Assemblywoman Inez Barron
Assemblywoman Inez Barron defended her record in a tense debate in ENY. The debate was organized by the Nonprofit Commission, led by Dennis Taylor. Barron is running for her third term. She is being challenged by Chris Banks, Executive Director of East New York United Concerned Citizens, Inc., and executive member of Community Board #5.

Banks said he does not support mayoral control of schools, preferring parent control. “Bloomberg made a terrible mistake by putting private institutions in public buildings,” said Banks, referring to co-location of charter schools. Barron said she is working on legislation to end mayoral control. “There are 150 legislators who are entitled to vote. The downstate legislators, in large measure, did not vote for mayoral control,” said Barron. “We have to influence the upstate people, whose children don’t come to our schools and who don’t understand the problem.”

On the issue of small business development, Banks said he would build on his relationships with local business to form a small business council. Barron said she has put local business in touch with Grants News, a publication that lists available state grants. She also said she worked to establish tax breaks to businesses that hire youth ages 16-24 commencing this summer.

Regarding gentrification, Barron said the district’s annual median income is $20,000. She said the state owns the land to be developed with businesses and housing as an extension of Gateway, but the developer does not want to pay market rate for the land. “We have to make sure the developer does not get a sweetheart deal such as what happened at Atlantic Yards. The plan we have is for them to develop affordable housing like Dumont Green.” Barron said she worked to keep Starrett City in Mitchell-Lama for the next 30 years. Banks said one way to fight gentrification is through jobs. “Right now, the leadership has no plan to bring jobs to the community,” Banks said.

At that point Taylor interjected, stating, “All we want to know is what your vision is, what is your plan, and the method to achieve your plan.” This seemed odd, since any elected official should be able to be challenged on their record in office, yet Taylor compared this to asking someone’s sexual orientation. It looked like he was coming to the defense of Assemblywoman Barron as if she was not capable of defending her record on her own. A similar occurrence took place during a debate when Barron first ran for Assembly in 2008. A candidate alleged that cronyism was taking place because she is married to the district’s Councilman, Charles Barron. That debate was also stopped as several individuals, including her husband, came to her defense.

Asked about plans to include youth in the political process, Barron said we can establish a mentor program. “In Albany, we have interns who get training,” she said. “In addition, we need a curriculum in our schools that shows students civic responsibility.” She also mentioned a new law that allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the primary, to register to vote. Banks said he has implemented a civic awareness program that provides youth participants with a stipend.

The candidates were questioned about advocacy for a supermarket and additional banking services in ENY. Banks said he would build broken relationships to work with big box stores, as well as bring nonprofits, churches and tenant associations together to develop a community benefits agreement that speaks for the entire community and make sure that any business that does come pays a living wage. Barron recalled that in 1995 the community fought for the location of the Linden Multiplex Theater to instead be a supermarket. “We lost that battle,” Barron said. “But a supermarket is part of the consideration for Gateway as well as a community center that would house a bank.”

Barron said cuts to day care centers are a problem and pointed out that Bloomberg is taking contracts for long-established centers and giving them to others who have no cultural connection to the community. Banks said a day care center was closed on his block and replaced with a shelter. He recommends a “vertical coalition” with the state and city legislators to fight cuts to services that the community needs.

The candidates were asked one change they would recommend to better the community. Banks said ENY is oversaturated with shelters and prefers that community residents are educated and gainfully employed as productive citizens. Barron said she would change institutionalized poverty with programs from the federal, state and city that would address the needs of our community.

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