On Tuesday, October 20, 2015 candidates for the 29th Assembly District met for their second debate. Alicia Hyndman, Democrat, and Scherie Murray, Republican and on the Reform Party Line, squared off in their hopes of becoming the next Assembly member for the district.
In a debate that started exceedingly late while the candidates attended another function, the Republican candidate failed to convince the crowd in this Democratic stronghold why she should be their new Assembly member.
That didn’t mean the front-running candidate was gaining the hearts and convincing the minds of those present. “There is something missing,” said a debate attendee, who asked to remain nameless, of candidate Alicia Hyndman. While Alicia is thoughtful, versed on community issues, most voters expressed a hesitancy towards her candidacy. There was uncertainly amongst voters. A feeling many were hard-pressed to pinpoint that made them unable to fully support Hyndman’s candidacy. Interestingly, most voters willing to express concerns about the candidate, were unwilling to go on record with their doubts.
These doubts leave the door open for other candidates to offer alternatives and reasons they should be considered for the seat. Terryl Ebony, who failed to make the ballot by a few votes, was on site for the debate but did not participate. Representatives from the Brinkerhoff Civic Association (part of the consortium of civic organizations that hosted the event), were not looking to exclude Ebony from the debate. Representatives said they did not recognizing her as a viable candidate because she was not on the ballot. They would have been willing to have her participate had they known she was still in the race.
Candidate Murray, although a worthy debate opponent, could not demonstrate enough rationale and insight in her responses to sway the Democratic crowd. Early on, Murray failed a seemingly unassuming question, “what are your three favorite community not-for-profit organizations”. She only named two. Another response that fell short was her stance on the Jamaica Now Project. This program is one of NYC’s major redevelopment efforts to come to the area in recent years. Murray didn’t seem to know about the project and had to ask for clarification. However, Murray’s failures of the evening had little to do with her presence on the stage but with her and her Party’s absence in the community.
Voters at the debate expressed concern that they rarely see Murray at events in the community.
“I see her when she is running for something,” said Kim Francis, President of Concerned Citizens of Laurelton. Murray had most recently previously run for City Council.
It isn’t just Murray that is absent, but her party. Being a Republican definitely sets her apart in this primarily Democrat Assembly District. While Democrats were plentiful in the house, there wasn’t much in the way of Republicans, key Republican Officials or party’s backers at the venue. In addition, all the debates in this series have been sponsored by Democratic clubs. Why aren’t the Republican clubs, (albeit not located in the area) taking the opportunity to showcase their candidate? That absence leads to questions of who is backing her, which surfaced during the debate.
“Who is backing you? Are they from this community? What is their purpose,” Hyndman asked her opponent during an interchange involving communications from current leadership about concerns in the community. Several times during the debate, Murray referred to long-standing leadership that has been in office since she was in “junior high school,” she said. However entrenched the current leadership may be, the Republican Party has been missing in action when it comes to Southeast Queens (SEQ).
With the Republican Party eagerly pursuing the 2016 President’s seat, it would be beneficial for the party to take whatever steps necessary that would lead to more voters putting a Republican in the White House. Having a Republican for the Assembly seat could open doors to future potential Republican voters. However, the party doesn’t seem to be taking the bait. Republicans seem content to have Murray stand alone in the community as a Republican representative offering her little or no support at all. That reinforces a lack of concern Republicans seem to have with urban voters. More importantly, it questions how the Republican Party will back her if she attains office.
Republicans may not have a foothold in this race, but Democrats have some challenges as well. An interesting revelation at the debate was the average tenure of Assembly members. While the overall average is 11 years, SEQ officials average 22 years. When asked about that implication, Hyndman responded “people are using it for job security,” after stating it takes more than one term to be effective.
For the most part, candidates had similar stances on the issues with no earth-shattering revelations on how their candidacy would revive the area. The issue that arose at the last debate, at which Hyndman referred to being a part-time representative, made its way to the debate during its close. Both Hyndman and Murray reconfirmed their commitment to being full-time representatives. That is, of course, if either are elected.