En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Media Coverage

Candidates woo immigrants

One might have thought all the candidates for the District 26 City Council seat
were running together rather than against each other, based on what they said at
a forum on Tuesday evening.

The debate, hosted by an immigrant advocacy
group called Make the Road New York, consisted of a string of questions
involving concerns of the immigrant community — and the four City Council
hopefuls who participated took turns expressing their solidarity with America’s
newest arrivals and pledging to fight for immigrant communities.

District 26, currently represented by Eric Gioia
(D-Sunnyside), who is running for public advocate, encompasses Woodside,
Sunnyside, Long Island City, parts of Astoria and Maspeth.

Democrats
Deirdre Feerick, Brent O’Leary and Jimmy Van Bramer, along with the lone
Republican candidate Angelo Maragos, all stressed their dedication to improving
English language learning opportunities. They said creating more affordable
housing for low-income families is crucial and pledged to do their utmost to put
tenants’ interests over those of the landlords.

All four also said they
support legislation that would require prescription drug instructions to be
available in Spanish, as well as legislation that would make it mandatory for
employers to offer their workers paid sick days.
As Van Bramer put it,
aptly summing up his and his opponents’ remarks, “It is an absolute disgrace
that anybody working in this country would not have paid sick days. … How can
you be forced to make that decision between your or your child’s health and your
pay?”
  
Each candidate pledged to crack down on hate crimes against members
of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and all said they would
do their best to ensure that immigrants are not imprisoned or deported without
sufficient grounds.
 
 More than once, candidates remarked something to the
effect of, “I think we all agree on this.” That’s not to say that there
weren’t minor variations in the candidates’ answers. When asked what they
would do to keep immigrant children from falling behind in school, the
candidates promoted slightly different tactics.
  
Maragos pushed for the
creation of more charter schools; O’Leary, who taught English in Japan for a
year, called for reducing class sizes, ensuring more parental involvement and
raising teacher salaries so talented educators don’t leave areas with large
immigrant populations; Van Bramer said English language classes should be
offered for free and libraries should offer more books in a range of languages,
and he called for immigration reform to ensure that children, regardless of
immigration status, feel safe and welcome in schools; and Feerick said the focus
in schools should be on teaching, not testing, and that students should be
allowed to take more time with their studies if necessary.

Affordable
housing also spawned varying answers.

Maragos would work hard to
prosecute landlords for housing code violations, would make it harder for
landlords to eliminate rent control and would seek federal stimulus money for
affordable housing.
O’Leary agreed that the vacancy decontrol law is a
major problem and added that developers seeking to come to the area should be
required to include affordable housing in their projects.

Van Bramer
would try to stop big corporations such as Vantage from buying up middle-class
housing and forcing tenants out, would strengthen rent control and said
candidates should be banned from accepting contributions from landlords.

Feerick agreed that landlords’ incentives to move people out should be
taken away and added that she would also focus on transitioning homeless
individuals out of shelters.

Some of the main points on which candidates
differed came when the floor was opened to questions from audience members. One
came from an immigrant who participated in cleanup efforts after Sept. 11 and
said he knows many people who are ill but don’t have health insurance and are
afraid to seek medical care because they are undocumented.
Feerick said
it’s extremely important that undocumented immigrants have the right to receive
health care. “You were helping a country that was hurt and torn and fractured,
and now you are hurt and fractured,” she said, adding that she thinks that’s
unacceptable.

O’Leary and Van Bramer both said they think government
should pay for health care, including for undocumented immigrants.

“Health care is not a luxury; I believe it is a right,” O’Leary said.

Maragos had a slightly different take, advocating community-based private
health care options of the sort that already exist in Brooklyn. In addition,
Maragos said he would work to bring health care services and facilities to the
district.

The final question on which the candidates differed came from a
construction worker, who said the classes required for accreditation in the
construction field are costly, and certification takes a long time.

Maragos said the problem is that the city government is “a bureaucratic
mess” which needs to be streamlined. He didn’t elaborate on specific changes he
would push for.

O’Leary would work to reduce red tape and added that
constituents should bring their problems to his office. “I’ll go to bat for
you,” he said.

Van Bramer said construction workers should have access to
unions, and that the city should offer grants to those unable to afford
accreditation classes.

Feerick said classes should be offered in
conjunction with the City University of New York. “With increased accreditations
go increased wages,” she added.

The Democratic primary is set for Sept.
15.