Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries was a no-show for the Fort Greene Association-sponsored event, but fellow Democrat Councilman Charles Barron and hopefuls Colin Beavan of the Green Party and Republican Alan Bellone were on hand to answers questions from potential voters.
As with most political conversations these days, the debate kicked off with the economy. Barron was banging the Democratic battle drums early, saying that “we should tax the rich.” He also added that the focus should be on “our quality of life issues and not the rich getting all these breaks.”
Meanwhile, Bellone advocated restraint when it comes to taxation. “Instead of spending over 20, 30, 40 billion dollars on other countries to help them in their needs, we should take that money and distribute it to people in our country who do need it,” he said.
However, the focus quickly turned towards education, a major issue in many of the communities that make up the 8th Congressional District. Each of the candidates offered reasonable suggestions as they acknowledge the severity of the problem in the education system.
Beavan garnered a rousing applause when he, acknowledging his British education, explained that “education is free (in Britain) and it should be free here,” and went so far as advocation for canceling outstanding student debt. He also recommended cuts to the military budget in order to provide more funding for an overloaded system.
Barron, meanwhile, maintained that funding is not the problem. Instead, he said that the money has simply been spent foolishly on programs like No Child Left Behind, insisting that “you can't just have test prep every other period.” Instead, he wants new computers, better science labs and a broad curriculum teaching everything from leadership to economics.
Bellone called for a kindergarten through college approach, where children are fostered by more daycare centers, after-school programs, and recreation centers. However, Bellone was less certain when he addressed the hot-button issue of the charter school program.
“Charter schools work” he said, but he quickly backtracked, saying “I don't know if charters schools are going to work, I don't think they're the answer.” When asked again about charter schools, Bellone replied, “are charter schools working? No. I think the Department of Education should give their teachers money, and let those who know what they're doing do their jobs.”
Beavan was quick to denounce the program, stating that “charter schools are nothing but a lifeboat for a few people on a ship that is sinking.” Barron also condemned the schools claiming that “charters schools are an incremental way to privatize the public school system.”