Tuesday, October 28, 2008

10 Questions for State Senate Candidate John Chromczak

As a preview of tonight's State Senate debate at St. Francis College between Democratic nominee Dan Squadron and his Republican challenger John Chromczak, The Optimist presents the following interview. While some may perceive the fact that I have only interviewed one of the candidates as bias on my part, to be accurate, this interview stemmed from an earlier blog posting in which I had stated that it was a foregone conclusion that Squadron would win this race after besting longtime Democratic incumbent Marty Connor in the primary.

It was then that I received an email from Chromczak's spokesman, reminding me that Squadron had a Republican opponent and that it would be both unfair and undemocratic to simply count him out of the race. I agreed with this reasoning. Despite the overwhelming statistical odds of a Republican winning in Brownstone Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, particularly in a year that is shaping up to be so profoundly anti-Republican, it is always in the best interest of the people for us to understand all our options in the voting booth, so we can make the most educated decision possible.

Hence, the following interview. For my part, I am happy to have conducted it. Chromczak, an unconventional candidate in many ways, gave frank answers to all of my tough questions, which ranged from the recent extension of term limits to how Chromczak can reconcile being openly gay with being a Republican. Give Chromczak's answers a read. I think you might be surprised with what he has to say.

The Optimist: One of your most prominent campaign promises entails fighting for term limits in Albany. Does this mean that you are appalled by Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council's move to extend their time in office for another four years?

John Chromczak: Appalled isn’t the word, it’s more like disgusted. I personally believe that nothing is more sacred in a secular society than the right of a person, in the privacy of a voting booth, to have their voices heard and their vote count. The mayor and the City Council have disrespected the people of New York by ignoring their decision on this issue. I believe it undermines the democratic process. If they wanted to extend their terms they should have put it before the voters and let us make the decision.

The Optimist: Why do you think of your opponent Daniel Squadron and why do you believe you'll be a better State Senator than him?

Chromczak: I have meet Dan a few times and also debated him once. [Chromczak and Squadron will meet for another debate at St. Francis College tonight at 8 p.m. – Ed.] He seems to be a nice person but I believe he’s running for office for all the wrong reasons. I’m running because I’m tired of all the political pandering, the selling out to special interests, and the abysmal economic policies promoted by both parties. I don’t come from a political family or class; I haven’t sought the endorsements of any unions – including my own 1199/UFCW and AFM – or other groups because I want to run a clean campaign. I want to be free of any undue influence that truly doesn’t help the community, the city, or the state. Unlike my opponent, nearly all of my volunteers come from people within the community.

I would be a better State Senator because I will bring real world experience, as opposed to bureaucratic experience, to Albany. I live the blue-collar middle class life. I see how failed policies affect me, my family, and my neighbors. I also have the benefit of having lived in different parts of the state, so I have a better understanding of how the different regional socioeconomic realities are intertwined with one another. That’s a perspective that is sorely needed in Albany.

The Optimist: You only moved to New York City three years ago. What makes you think that you know the City well enough to represent it in government?

Chromczak: Like millions of others, I moved to NYC to create a better life for myself and to explore all the possibilities that the city could provide. I live in one of the fastest growing residential communities in the U.S. I want to help shape what it is going to become in the future. I’ve meet thousands of people from very different neighborhoods across the Senate district and I’ve listened to what their concerns are; some are the same (education, housing, transportation), while others are different (views on congestion pricing). My opponent has said that once he’s elected, “He’s going to go across the district to hear what people’s concerns are.” Isn’t that something he should have been doing already? My point is, I’ve lived hear for nearly four years, I’m a native New Yorker, I understand the issues because I’ve talked to voters, I’ve studied the issues, and I’ve tried to develop policies that find solutions to our problems. I believe that is what makes a strong leader, someone who has the will to make a difference.

The Optimist: The majority of the issues and videos on your website focus either on citywide concerns or the Manhattan portion of your district. What specifically would you do for Brooklyn?

Chromczak: Since I’m running for state office I have tried to emphasize those areas that a State Senator could have influence over. Some of the issues that would specifically affect Brooklyn are:

1) Removing the cap on the number of charter schools. The fact is charter schools have show to be highly effective, especially in minority communities.

2) Fighting for stronger legislation that imposes stronger prison terms on sex offenders. According to a study performed by Rep. Weiner’s office last year, there are nearly 2200 registered L2 and L3 sex offenders in NYC, over 700 of those live within Kings County, and over 200 of those offenders live within five hundred feet of a school. This is highly disturbing to me. There is nothing more precious or important in a society than the safety of our children, yet Albany has not had the courage to deal with this issue more effectively.

3) Congestion Pricing. I have no doubt that this issue will come up again in the future. I don’t support it because I haven’t seen one published economic impact study for the residents that would be affected by such a fee. It also isn’t going to decreases the amount of traffic on the BQE, which, according to some studies, is a cause of high asthma rates in certain areas of Brooklyn.

4) I would pressure City Hall to stop the opening of the Brooklyn HOD. This is a perfect example of government not keeping up with the changing demographics of local communities. The area surround the HOD has become increasingly more residential with more retail businesses opening up. I believe reopening the prison is going to detrimental to the growing Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill community.

The Optimist: Ground Zero is within your Senate district and you say in one of your YouTube videos that you will make sure that Lower Manhattan is rebuilt properly if you are elected. Who do you think is to blame for the fact that seven years after 9/11 so little reconstruction has been accomplished?

Chromczak: The mayor, the governor (Pataki and Spitzer), Speaker Silver, State Senator Connor. All of these elected officials had numerous opportunities to ensure that the construction and development of the WTC site (and the Fulton Street Subway Station) was done within specific budget outlines and within a certain time frame. Instead, all we had was talk, talk, talk. The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Everyone wanted to go to ribbon cuttings, but nobody wanted to take any responsibility for what was happening at the site. The LMDC has been a complete and total waste of taxpayers’ money with nearly no oversight by the elected officials, who represent the community. The bottom line is the development of the WTC has been mismanaged by both the city and state governments. I’ve supported Gov. Paterson in his leadership to move the project along and I’m looking forward to learning more about PA Director Ward’s reports on defining the problems and subsequent solutions to the WTC development.

The Optimist: Statistically, registered Democrats in Brooklyn and, to a lesser extent, Manhattan overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans. The majority is so great that it is widely believed that, with the exception of the Bay Ridge area and the Mayoralty, whoever wins the Democratic Primary is the de facto winner of the General Election. With the numbers so staggeringly against you, why bother running as a Republican?

Chromczak: I’m a Republican because I believe in certain ideals and values that the Republican Party has always supported: fiscal responsibility, strong public safety policies, supporting small businesses, and individual freedoms. There are roughly 200,000 registered voters in the 25th SD, yet only 30 to 40% have come out to vote in any given election for State Senator. That means the majority of voters really don’t identify with the candidates on the ballot, so they don’t come out to vote. Also, I think the Democratic Party has disenfranchised some of their own voters in the district, so there is an opportunity to get some crossover support for a Republican candidate.

There are also an increasingly large number of registered blank (independents) who may not necessarily support a Democratic agenda, yet have no choice in who they would vote for. There hasn’t been a serious Republican candidate in the 25th Senate District in over 30 years. I’ve changed that. I’ve given people a choice. I’ve put forward issues that are important to me and to many people across Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

The Optimist: In recent years, the New York State Republican Party has suffered a series of devastating blows. Democrats regained the governorship, the lone New York City Republican in Congress was brought down by scandal, and now the GOP is in real danger of losing control of the State Senate for the first time in decades. What does the State Republican Party have to do to revitalize itself and stay relevant?

Chromczak: Fred U. Dicker wrote in a column in the New York Post a while back that the Republicans have become “doppelgangers” of the Democratic Party. In many respects, that is true. Voters across the state don’t see a difference between one or the other, so their votes are based on personality over policy differences. I’m working to change that.

The governorship has always flipped back and forth between Republican and Democrat so chances are there will be another Republican governor at some point. As for the Senate, I think in many areas the party has lost touch not only with our base, but also with the voters. Until we come back to our roots and show the people of NY that there are significant differences between our two parties Republicans are going to continue to lose elections across the state.

The Optimist: As a Republican, did you feel betrayed by Mayor Bloomberg's decision to leave your party?

Chromczak: Mike wasn’t a Republican until he decided to run for mayor. After he won a second election he had no use for the Republican brand, so he dumped it. I don’t feel betrayed, but I am disappointed. But, what can I say, money has a lot of influence in politics.

The Optimist: Although groups like the Log Cabin Republicans exist, the national platform of your party has been consistently intolerant of homosexuality. How do you reconcile being gay and being a Republican?

Chromczak: There isn’t anything to reconcile. I’m a Republican, because of my views on the function and purpose of government, on taxes, on public safety, on the role of the courts, etc. Like any family, we, Republicans, have some family disputes or disagreements. But I’m not going to abandon my party over one or two specific issues. I’m going to work from within to change those attitudes in my own party.

Who supports continuing the cycle of shame and staying “in the closet” by supporting the federal policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? The Democrats. Is that inclusive? Who voted for and signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act? Senator Schumer and President Clinton. I don’t know of one legislative body controlled by Democrats (Massachusetts, for example) who have written, passed, and signed into law a gay marriage equality bill. They’ve abdicated their legislative responsibility and given it to the courts in hopes that they won’t have to deal with the issue. That’s not standing up for the gay community.

At least I’m not afraid to fight for my own community on this issue. I’m not saying one thing and doing another.

The Optimist: Like many Republicans, you call yourself a fiscal conservative, yet under the stewardship of the Bush Administration; America has run up record deficits and fallen into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Do you think that the Republican Party still represents fiscal conservatism?

Chromczak: The President and Congress are both equally responsible for the current economic crisis that we’re experiencing. Congress got lax on their oversight of Fannie and Freddie and the President let government spending on pork barrel projects get completely out of control.

As for Republicans living up to their mantra of fiscal conservatism and responsibility? They’ve let much to be desired and it’s shown in losses at the voting booth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great interview. I attended the Chromczak/Squadron debate and continue to be impressed with this guy. He isn't in the pocket of anyone and even declined to solicit an endorsement from his own union. That's the type of people we need to be sending to Albany. There's no doubt Squadron is sharp but I don't see him as independent. You can't expect any decision to be made by Squadron until it's run by Schumer and Bloomberg first. Let's get someone in there who doesn't have any political connections.

Most of the local Obama voters I have spoken with have told me they are going with Chromczak and after seeing him trounce Squadron on Tuesday night I have to say I agree with their judgement. Nice work John.