Liz Krueger and John Ravitz Debate

It seems voting never ends in New York City. On February 12, elections will be held in parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island to fill four new vacancies in the city's delegation to Albany. The race for the 26th State Senate District in Manhattan has attracted much interest, partly because Republican Roy Goodman, who has represented the district for 33 years and recently resigned to become head of the United Nations Development Corporation, came within 200 votes of losing to Democrat Liz Krueger, the former director of the Community Food Resources Center, in 2000. (To read Krueger's account of the race and legal battles that followed go to Gotham Gazette).

Now Krueger is running against Republican John Ravitz, a social worker who has represented the East Side in the New York State Assembly since 1990. (Ravitz describes his experiences as downstate Republican in the body in a Gotham Gazette article) Also in the race are Libertarian Jak Karako, and Reform Party candidate Michael K. Zumbluskas.

Krueger and Ravitz debated each other on NY1 earlier this month. The debate was moderated by host, Dominic Carter. A transcript of the debate follows:

Moderator: Liz Krueger, you say your opponent hasn't accomplished enough during his tenure in the State Assembly. What specifically was he unable to do?

Krueger: The fact is Albany is broken. It's been broken for a long time. They don't get budgets done on time. We have a terrible debt situation. We can't pass major legislation. This year we didn't have a debate around legislation or the budget. We need change in Albany. It's not fixable by the people who've been there already.

Moderator: Response?

Ravitz: Well I agree that we have to make change. And one of the things that I have been most proud about is on the floor of the New York State Assembly, bringing legislation and supporting legislation that would make the changes that I think both Liz and I agree need to happen on our budget. We need to have budget reform and I am proud not only to be a member of an Assembly building that has over a hundred and one members, Democrats and Republicans, who want to support a bill that would call for conference committees. And very briefly what that would mean is that when the governor releases his budget, the conference committees would begin the next week in the open for the public to see what we do and what we don't do.

The problem is we have 101 members of the Assembly on this bill. It only takes 76 Assemblymembers to pass a bill and yet the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, for whatever reason, won't bring this bill to the floor for a vote and debate. So, when I'm in the Senate, not only am I going to work with Sandy Gallup, who is the chairperson, sponsor of this bill in the new Assembly. We're going to pass it in the Senate and we're gonna make sure the Assembly passes it because we do need to fix things, but we have to do it together.

Moderator: This State Senate is dominated by more conservative, upstate Republicans. What can you do in the State Senate that you haven't accomplished in the Assembly?

Ravitz: Well I think obviously I'll be in the majority, which will give me to be able to hopefully open some doors to some people in the city, to meet with majority members. But I'm a do what I did in the Assembly, Dominic, which is build coalitions. One of the things I'm most proud about is that in 1991, when I first got into the office and then into the Assembly, we couldn't get the sexual orientation bill onto the floor for a vote. Because there weren't enough Democrats to vote for it. Over the course of the last few years working with the Pride Agenda, I brought them into upstate legislators' offices to go over the bill, to talk about what they might have heard, what was in the bill, what wasn't in the bill. And what I'm most proud about now Dominic, when that bill comes to the floor of the Assembly, not only isn't there a debate on the bill, but we now have half the Republican Congress voting for that bill.

I hope that I can use that same coalition building in the majority to talk about tenants' issues for East Side Tenants. To talk about health care. To get things done as we continue to work on improving our public education system. Serving as a bridge, serving as a coalition builder. That's what I've been all about for eleven years and that's certainly not going to change when I'm in the majority of the Senate.

Moderator: Response?

Krueger: We've heard a lot of these issues before and we supposedly had open budget conference process passed several years ago. They tried it for a couple of days and then threw the whole thing out. In fact, they don't even pretend to sit down and deal with the budget today. Everything is done in back rooms. There is no public discourse and there is no public debate. I don't accept that when John moves into the State Senate, if he were to move into the State Senate, he would have any greater ability to change the agenda of Joe Bruno and the majority State Senate than Roy Goodman had in all the years that he was there.

Moderator: You ran a year ago and almost won and lost by less than 200 votes. In light of the economic downturn for the city, how has your platform changed in the wake of 9-11?

Krueger: I think my platform is even stronger today than it was before the economic downturn and before 9-11. The fact is I spent twenty years on the streets of New York working with real people, with real problems. I have helped to develop programs that are model programs for the city and state that ensure that we help get people back into living wage jobs. That we address the crisis of affordable housing. That we meet people's needs for food and health care. I think exactly what I've been working on the last twenty years is exactly what we need to re-focus the attention on Albany on now that we are in different and more difficult times.

Moderator: How do you explain the fact that Local 1199 has not endorsed your party?

Krueger: I think it's pretty clear that Dennis Rivera (head of Local 1199) made a deal that he believed was in the best interest of himself and his members if he knew where the bread was buttered in Albany. I think that deal is exactly a perfect example of what's wrong in Albany. This is a deal that takes billions of dollars out of the budget process, is a backroom, closed-door arrangement before we even start to discuss the revenue realities and expenditure realities for our state. This is the wrong kind of government. When I demand when I'm going to Albany to do is to make sure that this is all done in public view. That we have serious debate about what decisions get made on our budget, revenue and expenditures. This kind of deal before the governor even put his budget package or his revenue projections out on the table is a perfect example of why Albany is broken and we need new voices and change.

Ravitz: Well, Dominic, we passed that bill at about 2:15 a.m. in Albany and I voted against it. And I voted against it, again because the process didn't work. We were briefed on that bill at about 11:45 p.m. The bill came to our desks at about 1:20 a.m. this morning and we started voting at 1:45 a.m. Liz is right. When we do major legislation and I think we both agree the intent of the legislation is important. We do have to be able to have resources to pay hospital workers who provide very important quality services in hospitals. But, when we have the type of legislation like this, wherein the commuter tax, when they repealed the commuter tax, you don't do it in the middle of the night. You don't do it when legislators don't have a chance to really study the bill and call home to their local hospitals, example, nursing homes in this example or other advocates that find out what they feel about the bill. So, even though I was endorsed by 1199, I couldn't in good conscious vote for a bill that I felt still had some major holes in it.

Moderator: But with this health care bill, the governor was saying that's the way it needed to be done. Was he wrong?

Ravitz: I think that the governor felt that it was important to get this done. My disagreement with the governor and I told the governor this last night was that I didn't like the way it was being processed. And it only diminishes the institution when we do things like this. There's so much cynicism about politics out there right now and the only way we're going change that is if we do break it open. And we do do things in the light of day and we do have conference committees that start Wednesday when the budget is released. And we do it in the open and we don't hold back. And one of the most important things that I think will happen now with the C-SPAN New York version that people will find the channel to watch it, is people are going to see what's happening in both the Senate chamber and Assembly chamber. But more importantly, at times you're going see what's not happening. And that's probably a good thing because we need to know and they need to know that there are certain bills that should be being passed, out of committee onto the floor for debate like this conference committee bill vote. And that one person will lead this whole thing up for debate.

Moderator: Ms. Krueger, do you believe Mr. Ravitz will be independent from Governor Pataki?

Krueger: I think John's position here is disingenuous to the listeners. I think the fact is that John stood there with George Pataki and Dennis Rivera at the rally, supporting of this bill and cheering it on. And then as a duck and cover went into the Assembly and voted against the bill so he could come home and tell the voters in our district that he was on the right side of the process issue. He clearly was a participant in and supporter of this deal.

Ravitz: With all due respect to Liz, I never spoke to Mr. Rivera about the bill, except when I did go to the rally, it was to tell him -- and you can ask him this yourself -- is to tell him that I would not be voting for the bill when I came to the floor. So, I'm sorry to shoot that illusion away from you, but I felt I owed it to him as someone who would endorse me that he couldn't count on my support when that bill came to the floor. And it was a very crazy day in Albany and some days are in Albany and that was a time where I felt the best way to be able to tell him that. And the vote speaks for itself. And again, ask the voters in my district, as well as from the East Side, and that's not the first tough vote that I've taken in which I have shown my independence and that's not gonna change. When I'm in the majority in the Senate, I owe only one thing and that's a commitment to my constituents and to myself. And I'm not gonna vote for anything that I can't look myself in the mirror the next day and say you did the right thing. I never have and I never will.

Moderator: You're smiling, Liz Krueger, as your colleague is responding. Why?

Krueger: I think this shows the continuing pattern in John's positions at Albany versus at home. He serves as the Whip for the Republican party in the Assembly. That means he's paid to line up the votes of conservative, upstate Republicans to vote one way in the Assembly for the party and then he takes a walk on those bills or declares himself independent by voting against his party when he knows his number won't matter.

Ravitz: Well, I guess Whips have been made famous by people like by Tom Delay. Let me tell you what a Whip does and what a Whip does in both the Senate and Assembly. A Whip makes sure that our members know what the agenda for the day and session of the calendar's going to be. A Whip knows that if a member has a bill it's coming out of committee that he or she has questions on that our council can brief them on that. A Whip does know if there is a vote, we do want to know whose voting and who has problems voting in another area. I've been very lucky. I've served under a number of leaders and we have never said you have to vote this is the way or there is the door. I will probably ask you. Do you think I said one thing and did another? It's not there. The fact speaks for itself. When you look at groups who in the past have endorsed me like because of my strong vote on women's issues, the Pride Agenda has always endorsed me in this race because of my strong voting record on gays and lesbians' rights. I think what these groups are hoping for and I hope what they will see is that now we will have an advocate who will continue to build bridges in the majority the New York State Senate.

Moderator: Let me move to the stage of you asking question of each other.

Krueger: You have come out is support to a proposal to cut over $1 million out of the city's education system. Do you think that pulling all this money from our schools will make our education system better?

Ravitz: What we need is to have the best possible public education system, because we have too many kids who going to be in their in schools in the next few years. But we have the major problem is that we give the New York city Board of Education about $12.4 billion and none of them can look me in the eyes and say that the money is going into classrooms, going into textbooks, or going into any type of capital improvement for their schools. What I hope you will see this year in the legislature is school government's building that is the mayor's accountability to for the school system so that we can stop to blame him for what happens.

Right now the schools in our districts, you have to spend at least two or three months having 20 different departments of the Board of Education blaming each other. We need to stop that process so that all the money that is allocated into our school system goes to our tribute. And that means that the money is going where it should be. It's going to our schools, going to our classrooms so that our kinds get the best possible education and our teachers can finally stop taking the money from their own pockets to make sure that they have the supplies they need.

Ravitiz: (To Krueger) You were quoted in the New York Times, August 25,1996, saying that welfare reform will turn the city into a different city. If I can let me just read you what you said: "It kind of looks if we will have a boom in homelessness so extreme that nobody in the modern times could have imagined it. There will be an increase in crime in poor communities."

I have workers who are on welfare. I have seen what it means to have to be dependent on a welfare check and the loss of any type of hope for the future. And now we are seeing hundreds of thousands of people who are independent and they don't have to rely on a check but can support themselves and they feel good about that. The image that you gave of New York City back then, is that the image that you see right now?

Krueger: We were lucky that we had great economic times just as that bill went into effect. As you all know we are now hitting those five-year time limits for people. People cannot move into the job market they way they have been able to because of boom time. But our homeless shelters are now at their full capacity beyond what they've been in the early 1980's. A New York Times story just last week talked about a million and a half New Yorkers having to turn to soup kitchen lines for their food. We have over three million New Yorkers who don't have health insurance. Yes, I stand by the argument that that was a bad bill. We needed to invest in making sure that people got job training, that they got child care, that they got the education to compete in the labor market. Ironically, during these boom economic times Albany squandered the opportunity to use the money which should have been invested in helping people to move out from poverty permanently. The State legislature and Governor Pataki refused to invest the money to help local government to do this kind of work. I hope that we don't see that situation that the bill was wrong. I am not a supporter of the programs we had in the past, but what we did went in the wrong direction. And the five-year time limit was a terrible decision by the federal government.

Moderator: Mr. Ravitz, if you should lose do you plan on running again?

Ravitz: Obviously I don't plan on losing. But if I lose I will obviously sit down and talk to my family. I still have a lot of responsibilities. But again, that not part of my game plan.

Moderator: But if you lose?

Ravitz: I love public service. I can't see a reason why I would ever try to get out of public service. It's my life. It's my passion. So I will always be in public service and that's is not going to finish.

Krueger: I will also tell you that I believe that I am going to win this election. And I not going to evaluate future decisions until after the election. I will tell you that I think there is a reason why we haven't seen the State Senate address redistricting even though they were obligated to. I think they are waiting to see what happens after this election is over and then they'll decide what they will do in their districts.

Moderator: But should you lose, what would be your answer?

Krueger: I won't make that decision now.

Moderator: Why do you want to leave the Assembly.

Ravitz: I've enjoyed my ten years in the Assembly. I have been a minority in the state Assembly. Even though I think I have been able to help stimulate legislation, such as introducing the First School Safety Bill three years before the election. I think it's so critical for New York City. We need to have people from New York City in the majority conference, who would stand for what we need to do to rebuild our economic business. We need to have people who are going to help us to as we continue to pass the Women's Health Bill this year, so that we can get the best health care services available to them. We are going to need, especially next year, in the majority conference who are going to spend only what needs to be. in New York City.

Moderator: Do you favor reinstatement of the commuter tax?

Krueger: Yes I absolutely favor reinstatement and I would have never voted for ending it.

Ravitz: I stood on the floor of the Assembly that night, again very late at night when they went to bed, and I begged my colleagues in the city and the Speaker not to do this because it's going to punch such a huge fiscal hole in our economy. And back then that was when we didn't have the surplus we should do this now. Well again, many of us said: What happens if there is ever have a problem in our economy? Obviously none of us expected the attack on 9/11, but that was just a bad, bad thing to do for the people of the city and now we should get it back.

Moderator: So would you urge for the commuter tax to be reinstated?

Ravitz: Most definitely.

Moderator: And asking for federal money from Washington, was Governor Pataki right? Was he correct asking for all that money for upstate projects?

Ravitz: Well, again I think that he is understanding of the fact that New York City's economy, if New York City economy is not moving in the right direction then the ramifications are felt upstate. And so the key focus is going to be the rebuilding New York City's economy. In the same vein, we do need to restore an economic base upstate and that will also help on the flipside of the equation our downstate economy, if we have both economies in the upstate region and the downstate region thriving. So, no I think the governor is doing a very good job working with both. Again we have a bi-partisan Washington delegation and I think the one thing that hopefully happens after 9-11, with all the sacrifices that have been made, what has to happen is, and I hope you agree with me, is that for now, the partisan gimmicks and stalls and the gridlock has to stop. I think people really want results now and that's something that I'm looking forward to doing when I join the Senate.

Moderator: Do you have a quick question for each other?

Krueger: John, everything you listed that you hoped to do in the Republican State Senate are Democratic agenda issues. The fact is attempting to be a liberal Republican in Joe Bruno's State Senate is an oxymoron. If you become a State Senator, you will become part of a majority leadership that is anti-choice, fought against tenant protection, fought against giving fair funding for education, public transportation to our city. We'd have sixty-four years of Republican control. We need change. We need Democrats.

Ravitz: Well, again I think that people want to see in New York now is results. And I think that what we need to have if we are going to continue to keep a women's right to choose, the law of the state. We need Republicans and Democrats working together. If we want to keep the rent laws in place so that people can stay in their apartments, we're gonna need Democrats and Republicans working together. If we're going to continue to pass the sexual orientation bill, we are gonna need Democrats and Republicans working together. These issues can't be litmus tests and we can't just have one party saying, "It's my issue and nobody else can play the game."

Moderator: Your quick question.

Ravitz: Obviously the mayor has called for, and other business leaders have called for, a structure that would give the mayor accountability for our school system. Would you support that legislation if it came before us in the legislature?

Krueger: Yes, I would absolutely support this. I think it is time for radical change in governance. I would also like to see Albany stay out of the politics of education in New York City. Let's give the mayor a chance.