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Election Candidates Debate at Somers Library

SOMERS, N.Y. - More than four dozen citizens turned up at the Somers Library on Monday evening to listen to the election candidates present some of their views.

The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters , with Susan Auslander acting as moderator. Candidates’ statements were limited to two minutes each.

Peter Michaelis (R,C), challenging incumbent Peter Harckham (D,WF,I) for the District 2 Legislature seat, opened by saying, “It’s all about bringing taxes down,” pointing out that Westchester is the highest taxed county in the country.

Harckham responded by saying that his concerns in office have concentrated on reducing the size and cost of county government, protecting families and safeguarding  drinking water.

The moderator asked how the candidates felt about hydrofracking in New York State. Both candidates agreed: “No hydrofracking!”

They were then asked about the controversy surrounding closing Indian Point.

“We are power hungry,” said Michaelis. “Indian Point has been certified and provides a great deal of consistent power. It needs to stay in place until we can come up with a feasible replacement.”

Harckham stressed that thought needed to be given to alternative forms of energy, such as a transition to gas starting immediately.

An audience member asked about reducing county spending and taxes. Harckham said the size of the county work force can be reduced by 11% and “structurally reduce our costs moving forward. We have a 6,000 line budget. We go through it line by line.”

Michaelis said, “A 1.8 billion budget in this county is way too high. In 12 years of Democratic rule it went up 60%. Union employees need to pay for their own health insurance. That’s a start. There are a lot of tough decisions.”

In their closing statements, Harckham said, “My opponent is loyal to the county legislator -- I am loyal to you.” He is “a rubber stamp” for County Executive Rob Astorino. “We’re leaner, we’re meaner, we’re smarter, we’re putting more emphasis on technology and we’re getting the job done.”

Michaelis said, “We’re not better off this year. I’m not a rubber stamp for Rob Astorino. There are plenty of things he wants to do that I don’t want to do. But we must cut spending and cut taxes.”

The debate between Legistature incumbent Michael Kaplowitz (D,WF,I) and his challenger, Terrence Murphy (D,WF,I) was much more heated. Kaplowitz, who has been in office for 14 years, said he is focusing on two issues: the financial side and the environmental quality of life.

Murphy, a Yorktown Councilman, responded, “I’m not a career politician, I’m a small business owner. I want to make Westchester more affordable for seniors and middle class families. We are the tax capital of the world. We pay seven times the national average. It’s time for a change.”

The moderator asked for each candidate's opinion of the Affordable Housing Settlement . Kaplowitz defended the decision. “If we had taken the lawsuit to court, it could have cost the county nearly half a billion dollars. We’d have been bankrupt. With the settlement, we pay $51.6 million, and we end up with housing for workers -- teachers, carpenters, people who already live here.”

“My opponent is gambling with the future of Westchester County," Murphy said. "The $51.6 is just a down payment, folks. That’s not the cap. The federal government is going to come in and take home rule away from us. They’re going to rezone any way they want to. We think there should be affordable housing. But you can’t change the game midway through at halftime. We’re going to lose home rule.”

The opponents also disagreed on where and how the budget can be streamlined.

Murphy objected to Kaplowitz’s support of a law requiring gas stations to conspicuously post prices for cash and credit. Kaplowitz said it is not fair to the purchaser to be drawn into a gas station by a low price, only to find out it applies strictly to cash purchases.

“But gas stations who don’t comply would be fined $1,000 a day,” retorted Murphy. “This is just government getting in the way of all small businesses.”

Unlike the contentious battle for the Legislature seat, all of the local candidates in Somers are running unopposed. Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy made a brief statement, as did Councilman Richard Clinchy, on behalf of himself and Councilman Thomas Garrity, who was not present.

Kathleen Pacella, running unopposed for reelection as Town Clerk, itemized her many duties, such as issuing birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, park permits, dog licenses, and taking minutes at meetings.

Asked by an audience member what she does in her spare time, she responded, “I cook for my husband of 48 years.”

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