As the race for the 14th Assembly District heats up, candidates voiced their opinions regarding the environment, transportation, school taxes and handgun control at a political forum hosted by the NorthWest Civic Association Monday night.
The following are brief biographies of each candidate and key issues incumbent Marc Herbst and challengers Barbara Bubin-Buonagura and Gary Burke are stressing in their campaigns. Challengers Burke and Buonagura attended the forum; Assemblyman Marc Herbst did not, due to prior commitments.
Claiming now is the time for change in Albany, challenger Barbara Buonagura said a new voice is what the district so sorely needs at the state level. Buonagura ran and lost to Assemblyman Marc Herbst in 1998.
Promising to be more responsive to the working families and seniors of the district, Buonagura said she'd be a morally relentless advocate to preserve quality of life, reduce taxes, provide quality education and jobs to residents and redefine health care for all families, especially the
"I am an ordinary person who understands the people's views and who can and will devote all my time to public service," she said. "I will represent with dedication, integrity, credibility and no allegiance to special interest.
"I have my finger on the pulse of everyone who lives in Hicksville. I want to represent the regular person that lives here because that's what I am."
Buonagura, dubbing herself environmentally conscious, claims Long Island has become less suburban. "Over-development has jeopardized our air and water and brought with it increased traffic, noise and pollution. There are over 25 Superfund sites on Long Island that still have not been cleaned up or improved enough."
Claiming the Environmental Protection Agency is under-funded, Buonagura suggests actively fining polluters to keep the island clean. "The board is now appointed by Governor Pataki and must be changed," she said. "It should not include members, some of them polluters themselves, who are reluctant to pursue the issue and punish the violators. Our high cancer rate can be reduced if these sites that are polluting our water and air are cleaned. Cancer mapping is not enough."
Emphasizing the Grumman property and commercial asphalt plants on West John Street in Hicksville, Buonagura fears the government is overlooking public safety in trying to secure an income from the land.
With regard to school taxes, Buonagura said a new education funding formula must be established. "School taxes take up the majority of the property taxes in this district. Our schools are old and all districts have taken up expensive bond issues to repair and update them." Buonagura suggests the state use some of its surplus in allocating higher funds for repair and reconstruction to lower this burden.
"We must stop unnecessary state borrowing and whopping debts that mortgage our children's future," she said.
Buonagura believes some children are being taught to handle their emotional problems with weapons and the numerous number of emotional children in this country is a direct link to gun violence. "There must be a correlation between these two issues," she said.
Buongura is a Hofstra University graduate. She earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science, minored in business administration and concentrated heavily in environmental geology.
Dubbing himself fiscally conservative and environmentally conscious, Democratic challenger Gary Burke is not a politician by trade. He does admit, however, "My two favorite presidents of all time are John Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt. If I can be half the man of either, I will do a wonderful job. If I can't, then I don't deserve to be sitting in office."
Burke considers himself an environmentalist because his wife has taught him the environment's importance. He asserts the environmental bond issue, if it is specific as to where the money will be spent, is a necessity. Believing it's failed to do just that, Burke admits he's uncomfortable with it.
"If the bond issue came out and said this is what we're going to do with brown fields and this is what we're going to do with the land purchase and this is what we're going to do for alternative energy sources, I would say let's pass it no matter what the expense because ultimately it will pay for itself and benefit us. Maybe not today, but certainly in the future."
Alluding to brown fields, which were supposed to be cleaned up through the Superfund, Burke said state senate members stated the $850 million still available to clean up some sites is not enough.
"This money is earmarked for three specific jobs all within the five boroughs of New York City," he said. "Members feel the $850 million is not enough to clean up the three projects alone."
In order to avoid waste and political corruption, Burke added, "Raising more money is a good idea but you don't raise money until you know how you're going to spend it."
Burke suggests anyone wanting to use the brown fields must clean up the property, guided by three grades of clean up: industrial, residential and recreational.
"The state should allow insurance companies to sell the fields to cover the cost of cleanup," he said. "If the property owner is unwilling to clean up the site to whichever standard, the land should become state property. The state would then hold an auction but only to bidders willing to revitalize the sites. The money generated from sales could be paid over to the landlord."
With regard to education, Burke suggests a fixed tuition plan for students, allowing them to "lock in" their tuition at state universities. The plan would also enable parents to budget for college expenses over the course of their child's high school career, he said.
In terms of gun control, Burke said he currently has a "problem with handguns" because the people that have them are often irresponsible.
"If one out of a thousand people are irresponsible with a handgun and it falls in the hands of the wrong person, we've got a major tragedy about to occur," he said. However, Burke believes everyone has a right to bear arms and the government has the duty to determine whether or not citizens are responsible to own handguns.
"In order to drive a car, you have to pass a test. I don't understand why to be licensed to own a gun you don't have to go through a similar situation. There should be a learner's permit that should incorporate education, specifically proper gun use and safety requirements."
Burke is a graduate of Nassau Community College, C.W. Post College and the University of Bridgeport Law School.
Marc Herbst is trying for his fourth win as New York State Assemblyman. He first won in a special election in 1994 and feels his six years of experience will carry him to victory once again. He is the first Hicksville resident ever elected to either the house or the state legislature.
Crediting the support of the voters of the 14th Assembly District, Herbst promises to continue taking an active role in local organizations, including the Hicksville Community Council, Midland Civic Association, Hicksville Historical Association, Wantagh Chamber of Commerce, Hicksville Library Board and more.
Citing transportation issues at the top of his priority list, Herbst sought and achieved the appointment as the ranking Republican member of the Assembly Standing Committee on Transportation last year. He also serves as a member of the Legislative Commission on Critical Transportation Choices and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Capital Program Review Board.
"I am a proponent of the transportation bond act because I believe it's vital for the economy," he said.
Furthermore, MTA Long Island Bus President Neil Yellin recently thanked Herbst for his work to restore funding to support Long Island's main public transportation system.
In January of 1995, Herbst was appointed to serve as the Ranking Republican on the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy. His efforts, devoted to ushering competition into the state's electric industry, led to double-digit rate relief for Long Island ratepayers.
He remains a member of the Assembly Energy Committee and has been appointed to serve on the Long Island Power Authority's Clean Energy Panel.
With regard to the commercial asphalt plants on West John Street in Hicksville, Herbst said the sites have been a thorn in the side of all its neighbors.
"I have worked very closely with residents and have had the Department of Environmental Conservation meet regularly with civic leaders," he said. "They investigate the situation and there have been no spills of record."
While students still become familiar with tough state standards, many school districts are still asking for additional funding to meet those requirements.
Herbst said funding for schools has always been a grave concern and he doesn't think that Long Island ever gets its fair share because of the cost of living.
"When you start talking about raising state standards, you have to make sure you give districts and teachers a chance to do so."
Herbst first became interested in government back in high school while working with the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education. He later worked as the assistant to Oyster Bay town supervisor and board and first deputy receiver of taxes for the Town of Oyster Bay.
Active in Nassau County Republican organizations, Herbst is a member of the Nassau County Republican Committee and Ernest F. Franke Republican Club in Hicksville. Recognized nationally, he is the New York State public sector chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation's largest, bipartisan individual membership association of state legislators.
"I pledge to continue working for the interests of all the residents of the 14th Assembly District," he said. "I am grateful for your continued confidence in my abilities to represent you."
A SUNY Empire State College graduate, Herbst went on to earn a master's degree in transportation planning and engineering from Polytechnic University.