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Spike it to mike

Less a debate and more a conversation with concerned citizens, the mayoral candidates’ forum at Our Lady of Refuge Church last week was “give and take” in its purest form.

While Democratic candidates William Thompson Jr. and Tony Avella spoke on their strengths and plans for the future, they took more time listening to what the standing−room−only crowd wanted the next leader of this city to focus upon.

Topics broached included concerns about affordable housing, health care and the development of meaningful educational and work opportunities.

These concerns couldn’t be ignored — they were coming right from everyday residents who live with the problems each and every day, explained Joan Tropnas, co−chair of Brooklyn Congregations United (BCU), a coalition of 20 ecumenical religious groups who organized the special meeting.

“This was not a theoretical exercise,” Tropnas said following the forum. “All of the questions were actually testimonials from people in the communities facing these issues. We had a senior talk about senior issues and one of our children speak on the need for after−school programs.”

One of the more interesting questions posed to the candidates came from Bernardo Castellanos, who freely admitted that he entered the United States illegally back in the 1980s. He became a legal resident through amnesty a short time later.

“I continued to work hard, started a family, paid my taxes, bought a home, all of which are elements of the American dream,” he explained. “I stand here before you today to ask you how you will work to ensure that today’s undocumented immigrants, who also work very hard and also want a piece of the American dream, will get an opportunity to live in this city without fear of detainment, deportation and be able to seek medical attention, and possibly achieve legal status.”

These weren’t just questions. They were hard−hitting whoppers which ranged the gamut from the closure of senior citizen centers and affordable health care and crime reduction. Other questions were more nuts and bolts, such as moving a Flatbush bus stop from one location to another so it wouldn’t be used by trucks delivering to local stores.

Thompson and Avella’s answers were too numerous and wide ranging to recount.

Yet BCU chair John Kemp felt that both candidates fared well.

The year−old BCU, which is a merger of the Community Action Project (CAP) and Southwest Brooklyn Congregations (SBC), does not make endorsements in political races, Kemp noted.

“I don’t think there was a clear favorite,” he said. “Each candidate had their view points and both were well received.”

But what was more important was that the candidates listened to what everyone had to say.

“We gave them a chance to air their views, but it was also an opportunity for them to hear from the people in the neighborhood,” Kemp said.

“Where there is no vision, the people will perish,” Reverend Janis Pauliks told the candidates as he quoted from the Book of Proverbs.

Speakers Claire Sejour and Lori Pandolfo gave the lofty passage real−time meaning.

“The members of Brooklyn Congregations United, seeing how our families are paying the price for public policies that do not always reflect our priorities, made a decision to develop and proclaim a new vision for our community that reflects our desire to create ‘shalom’ in Brooklyn,” the two said.

BCU members hope that the two candidates took their vision of more job training, affordable health care, housing and education and the creation of safe streets for seniors and children to heart.

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