Photos by Ilya Galak
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Middle Class Action Project is holding a candidate forum on jobs and prosperity Wednesday evening with Republican Rep. Michael Grimm; his opponent, Democrat Domenic M. Recchia Jr., and others.
The Advance will provide live coverage of the event on SILive.
The forum will focus on “bringing good-paying jobs and opportunity back to New York state and city,” according to a release from the Middle Class Action Project.
The group said the forum would be “an opportunity for candidates to answer questions from the moderator and offer their views and proposals on the subject.”
The event will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726, 3948 Amboy Rd.
Staten Island Advance
MaryBeth Melendez (D)
MaryBeth Melendez said technology is the wave of the future. The state and the country should attract manufacturing companies that fill the need for technology.
Her parents and three children are in unions. “So do you think I stand behind labor?” she said.
Because historically workers have been exploited by employers, organizing into labor unions is important, she said.
If you’re working in fast food, you need fair working conditions and a living wage, she said.
Development occurred quickly but infrastructure investment didn’t match.
“I never want to see that happen again.”
She supports incentives for small businesses, she said.
Melendez supports raising the minimum wage otherwise “people will continue living in poverty.”
By raising the wage, people have disposable income and can contribute to the economy, she said.
Unable to attend because she has previously agreed to attend the South Beach Civic Association meeting, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis had this to say about jobs when interviewed yesterday:
“I think we’ve made significant inroads in trying to improve the economy here in New York buy eliminating the manufacturing tax, lowering the corporate income tax.”
She cited the restoration of the sales tax exemption on clothing under $110 and STAR rebates, both of which were eliminated in 2010.
“But there’s a long way to go and really I think the key here is lowering the tax burden and the cost of doing business in the state of New York — it will help more local business strive, create more job and that’s the economic cycle.”
“So it has to be about lowering the cost of living for residents so their paychecks go further. As well as reducing a lot of the burdens on the business community so that way they can reinvest their income and expand and create more jobs.”
Gary Carsel (D)
Gary Carsel said he supports the DREAM Act to keep young immigrants in the United States. He said that will keep manufacturing jobs here.
Businesses need support from their government, he said, “making sure they have the resources necessary for them to succeed.”
Workers should be paid overtime when they work extra hours, he said, and other similar provisions.
He supports a living wage for fast food workers “in order to be able to survive.”
He doesn’t buy the argument that minimum wage jobs are for college students, but rather some people can’t find better jobs.
By raising the minimum wage, more money will be invested in the local economy, Carsel said.
He said Lanza was a counsel to developer Savo, to which Lanza repeatedly called him a “liar.”
In an interview the following day, Lanza explained that he is “of counsel” to the law firm that has represented Savo, Menicucci Villa and Associates.
“I do from time to time work on bank contracts for residential closings,” he said. “It’s a complete lie to say I represent Savo.”
“If I were his counsel then I’d be the worst counsel on the planet because I’m out there fighting tooth and nail to prevent that from happening,” he said referring to the developer’s plan to build 250 condominiums on 15 acres at Mount Manresa, a former Jesuit retreat.
Congressman Michael Grimm (R)
There is an “unfriendly business environment” Rep. Michael Grimm said.
The EPA’s regulations are too high, so manufacturers are leaving, he said.
“We should have clean air and clean water but we should have responsible rules and regulations.”
There is an abundance of natural gas. The U.S. should be tapping into it, he said.
That allows America to compete with manufacturing, he said.
America needs to build back up its infrastructure, he said, which will bring manufacturing jobs.
He pointed to the West Shore – if there was a light rail “it would entice many companies to come there.”
New York State isn’t competitive, he said, and needs to offer smarter tax policy to entice manufacturers to come in.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a bad idea, he said, which will cost America many jobs.
He spoke against Obamacare, saying it kills jobs, which got loud applause.
“Michael Grimm has had your back since day one and he’ll continue to have your back” he said of jobs.
Raising minimum wage too much, too fast will do damage to small businesses, which “will close their doors. They will cut back on their labor force.”
He said incremental wage increase should be done smartly over the years, otherwise it will hurt the middle class.
Responding to those who say, “You can’t raise a family on fast food workers pay.”
“You’re not supposed to,” Grimm said. Those are jobs for college students, or second jobs.
Regarding taxes for millionaires, the congressman said adding in all taxes one pays, going above 50 percent in taxes, businesses will say “it’s not worth it.”
“So we have to be careful how far we can push.”
Grimm doesn’t support adding density to Staten Island. “We do not have the infrastructure to support more people on Staten Island.”
Schools and hospitals are at capacity, he noted.
“We need to be smart about what we’re doing and the incentives that we give,” he said of tax incentives to get businesses to come to Staten Island.
“There needs to be string attached.” That workers will come from Staten Island and Brooklyn and materials should be made in America, he said.
Give-backs to the community “are very important” when development. Whether a senior center, or youth center, some time of community enrichment is needed.
The bottom line is, he said, America hasn’t been friendly to business and that’s why they go overseas.
State Senator Diane Savino (D)
Sen. Diane Savino said the term “middle class” wasn’t created until about 80 years ago with the National Labor Relations Act.
The idea of workers banding together happened then and “as a result, we are the fruit of that generation.”
Offering tax credits and reducing manufacturing taxes to zero have happened but “we are suffering from 30 years of global trade polices” that have driven jobs overseas, she said.
The chair of the Senate labor committee, Savino said the Wage Theft Prevention Act is her biggest accomplishment to stopping employees from shorting their employees in pay, she said.
Mayor de Blasio wants to “tinker” with the civil service merits system, she said, which has given many people jobs.
“We need to be vigilant on this. … We shouldn’t allow anybody to change that.”
If developers get a tax credit or benefit then they need to give back to the taxpayer, she said of a bill proposed in the state legislature.
Of the minimum wage, Savino said, “New York is an expensive place to live.”
Fast food workers do have the right to organize “so we don’t have to ask that question. The question is ‘who wants to organize them?’ Will anyone do it?”
Domenic Recchia (D)
Domenic Recchia supports bringing manufacturing to the United States Supports “Make It In America,” and wants to develop roads and other infrastructure.
America should not reward corporations for shipping jobs overseas. Instead, he wants to see incentives for bringing those companies back.
Once elected, he said, he will work with Staten Island elected officials to bring jobs back.
He has been an advocate for collective bargaining, he said, including fast food workers.
“We cannot afford to go back to a day when workers didn’t have rights.”
He has a lot of experience in rezoning, he said, citing development on Coney Island.
“We learned that we must work with the people in our communities and work with the unions and together we can accomplish our goals.”
Said it’s time for tax cuts for middle class workers and improving the ailing infrastructure, which will create local jobs.
Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D)
Assemblyman Matthew Titone sponsored a bill requiring that before steel is purchased with government money, a public meeting must be held to explain why they’re getting the material from anywhere beside America.
The Island is saturated with housing, he said.
But development on the North Shore is happening, citing the Wheel and planned commercial development, will bring “good-paying jobs.”
He’s “on the fence” about allowing fast food workers to unionize.
Because he doesn’t want children to aspire to be fast food workers as a career path.
“If you’re working at a fast food chain, it should not be your final destination. Your final destination should be to own that. Period.”
Construction jobs should be good-paying, union jobs, he said.
He voted ‘yes’ on raising the minimum wage and co-sponsored the bill.
He supports raising taxes on millionaires, he said, as he has for a long time.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D)
Assemblyman Michael Cusick told a story of how his father bought an American car and said he drives an American car because “this country was built upon the people who manufactured.”
Keeping manufacturing in America is important, he said. Americans purchase mostly foreign goods and called tax cuts a “lynchpin” to bringing businesses back to America.
New York “should lead by example” he said.
He is sponsoring a bill that requires state contractors to get supplies from the United States if possible before going to other countries.
In treating workers fairly, he said New York shouldn’t be a “right to work” place and people should be able to unionize if they want to.
Businesses want to come to the Island and we should welcome them but the government needs to be careful not to allow overdevelopment that was allowed for years, he said.
Cusick said “most of the businesses on Staten Island are very generous” and pay more then minimum wage.
State Senator Andrew Lanza (R)
Sen. Andrew Lanza said “the middle class really are under attack” on Staten Island and across the country.
Regarding manufacturing, he said it’s very complex.
People try to demonize business but we need to have “rational policies” that provide jobs.
Jobs leave because the cost of business is too high, he said.
When overseas manufacturing jobs are lost, “you lose innovation.”
There must be a way to strike balance and bring back jobs, he said. Many things need to be done at the federal level because jobs have gone overseas, no just from one state to another.
“We’ve got to get smart and come together and get rid of all this bickering and attack and lying to people” and start focusing on bringing jobs back.
He supports federal legislation that gives tax credits to any business that comes back to the United States.
The tax burden here tells businesses “we don’t want you here,” he said.
The government does have a role in treating workers fairly and in workplace safety, he said.
Regarding minimum wage, New York is ahead of the federal government “and I think that makes sense in New York.”
Joe Tirone (R)
Joe Tirone, the Republican opponent of Assemblyman Michael Cusick, opened up the event, answering the same four questions all candidates were asked in advance.
Tirone answered the question: American manufacturing has suffered greatly, besides tax cuts, what legislation would you propose to bring back manufacturing?
“Give New York businesses the first crack at taxpayer money,” he said, adding the state should make it possible for foreign manufacturing companies to come to the state.
What role does government play in ensuring workers are treated fairly?
Fast food chains and retail store employees should have the ability to unionize, he said.
Tirone said the government can get involved in the minimum wage debate.
Middle-class income earners are displaced by minimum wage earners “and that’s a problem.”
The government must consider raising the minimum wage but consider small businesses and protecting them.
To the question, What incentives should developers receive on State Island?, Tirone said Staten Islanders haven’t been protected from unwanted building.
He cited an Oakwood Beach development built in an estuary.
“We can’t allow that to happen,” he said.
There’s “tremendous opportunity” on Staten Island right now, he said, adding investors should be attracted here for manufacturing.
But they should be contractually obligated to hire locals.
Asked about making millionaires pay more taxes, Tirone said, there has been legislation to simplify the tax code for years but it’s still being debated today.