Sparks flew from the start of Monday night’s debate between candidates for the 88th District of the New York State Assembly. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of New York, incumbent Democrat Amy Paulin and Republican opponent Rene Atayan squared-off in a debate that featured two candidates with two very different views. The 88th Dist. includes Scarsdale, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, Bronxville, Pelham, Pelham Manor, and parts of New Rochelle and White Plains.
Atayan threw the first punch midway through her opening statement. "There’s no reason to believe that [Paulin] will be a fiscal conservative. We will get into the facts here, but she has in her ten-year time doubled our taxes. She has voted for tax increases 312 times to the tune of 18.8 billion dollars."
Paulin dismissed Atayan’s comment as complete political rhetoric. She said that the 312 votes for sales tax increases are local sales tax that her residents are not paying for. "And because I want to make sure that White Plains sales tax passes, and New Rochelle sales tax passes, those are my two cities, I vote in turn for other cities because I want to make sure our property taxes stay low."
New Rochelle resident Ashley Ward said that this is not true for her and her family. "Our taxes are out of control in New Rochelle. We pay really high property taxes."
Gun control was the second topic the candidates disagreed upon. Atayan is a firm believer in the second amendment and said, "bad people will get any type of weapon that they choose to get regardless of any type of legislation we put in place." Paulin strongly disagreed and backed up her argument by pointing out specific loopholes in the system. She also referenced the 2009 shooting in Binghamton, where a gunman killed 13 people at an immigration center with a gun he legally obtained through these loopholes.
Abortion rights were another sensitive topic. Paulin, who is sponsored by all three pro-choice organizations in Westchester simply stated, "if you are pro-choice, I am your candidate. And if you’re not pro-choice, then you can vote for my opponent." Atayan, who was consistent for most of the evening on cutting taxes, said that she would, "like to see more funding and emphasis placed on prenatal care and adoption. I think that would be a wonderful thing to have in our culture. And for women who are living on the margin, you can care about the wonderful things, and the impact you would have on that woman’s life."
The debate got out of hand when an audience member asked whether or not the candidates would vote to return Sheldon Silver as Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Silver, many feel has too much power, is widely disliked by the Republican Party. Atayan immediately answered the question out of turn saying, "absolutely, positively not!" She earlier accused Paulin of voting in ‘lockstep’ with Silver, or 99.1% of the time. Paulin explained that, "the legislator operates on a committee process, when the floor votes come to a vote, everyone votes 99% of the time. I can tell you that my record is as consistent of the majority leader as it is the minority." When the audience member interrupted Paulin, demanding a yes or no answer, she reiterated an earlier point she made that, "Nobody can question my independence since I’ve been here…. I am known as one of the most independent legislators and I have bucked leadership many times."
Scarsdale resident Jeff Levin defended Paulin from these accusations. “Amy Paulin is the real deal. She is very well respected up in Albany. She gets legislation passed. She is not one of Sheldon Silvers puppets."
Voting will be held on November 2nd. The polls open at 6 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m.
—Reported by Ben Miller