This article appeared in the Queens Chronicle
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Republican challenger Michael Conigliaro actually agree on some things, from prioritizing education to the need to address the alarming increase in hate crimes.
They diverge 180 degrees over whether an experienced hand or a new voice is needed to deliver for the 29th Assembly District.
Hevesi is a 17-year veteran of the Capitol. Conigliaro, a longtime educational and civic activist, is a lawyer and managing attorney at a Floral Park firm.
“I’m actually working on preventing our societal problems,” Hevesi said Tuesday on the way to a hearing of the Children and Families Committee, which he chairs; a committee, he said, that can influence great change in the short- and long-term future.
“Including crime, and other things we are seeing manifest themselves today, because I believe all of them are preventable,” he said.
The hearing had to do with primary prevention, which aims to get services to children and teens before they become enmeshed in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. He also is working to expand childhood trauma funding that he said heads off crime, homelessness and other problems down the road.
“I would ask the people to give me another shot to come back here … I would ask the opportunity to go back to Albany to continue working on policies that are helping young people avoid the pitfalls of modern society.”
He has asked Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) to be considered for chairmanship of the powerful and influential Health Committee.
Conigliaro, on the other hand, said a new voice with new ideas actually would work to the district’s advantage in Albany.
“I have a better way of dealing with members on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “That being the case, especially when it comes to certain issues like bail reform and education, I think I would be able to sit down with people on the other side of the aisle. I can take the broad picture and say, ‘Look, things are bad out there. Forget that you’re a Republican. Forget that you’re a Democrat. Take a good look at what’s going on.’ I don’t think Andrew Hevesi has the ability to do that.”
He said Hevesi’s voting record indicates that he would be unlikely to stand up to Heastie or party leadership.
Both said crime and public safety are the biggest issues when they go door-knocking.
But they are in almost complete disagreement as to the impact of the 2019 bail reform legislation on present-day crime statistics.
Hevesi stands by his vote in 2019.
“We’ve seen a national increase in crime, and it’s manifested itself in New York State,” he said. “Some people were under the impression, looking at Democrats, they were associating some Democrats with the left wing of the party, which I do not believe I am a part of. Crime is a primary issue. Public safety is a primary issue.
“But I would suggest a couple of things. Bail reform was designed to address a historic injustice. We don’t want to be locking up people who are innocent until proven guilty. I will take the unpopular position that the goal of bail reform has been successful. We’re not locking up tens of thousands of people, mostly from minority communities, before they have a chance to face their accusers.”
Hevesi acknowledged the authorities also are not locking up some violent repeat offenders, including people with multiple open gun cases.
“That is correct, which is why we’ve gone back to Albany twice to make adjustments to the law, which I am open to,” Hevesi said. “But I’m also going to push back on the idea that you can attribute most of the crime you see in New York State today to bail reform.”
Conigliaro said no one person will go to Albany and individually stop bail reform.
“But take a look at the neighborhoods in the district,” he said. “Middle Village, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth. It’s gotten to the point where they are saying ‘Either we fix this or we’ve got to go.’ People are afraid. They are afraid to ride the subways. They’re afraid to walk their dogs at night. Small businesses want to close earlier at night. People are walking into our drugstores and are just clearing the shelves, because they know the new laws protect them.”
Hevesi said if he does not get the Health Committee chairmanship he will gladly continue on Children and Families, where he feels much good has been done in the last two years and much more can be done.
Conigliaro, given his choice, would like to serve on Veterans Affairs, followed by Education. He believes the state should be using resources to house and care for military veterans before using them to accommodate “people Maduro released from prisons in Venezuela.”
With many sources forecasting a dismal budget outlook in the coming session, Hevesi said it may not be as bad as anticipated with a recent report from the state comptroller citing higher-than-anticipated tax revenues.
He said while budget shortfalls under Gov. Andrew Cuomo were dealt with by first slashing social service funding that Hevesi advocates for heavily, that was not the case this year under Gov. Hochul.
Conigliaro said he would like to see more transparency with the budget process, with fewer expenditures lumped into an omnibus spending bill.