Something was missing from the meeting of several Nassau County Legislature candidates on Oct. 9 at the Merrick Library. It was debate.
This was not the fault of the candidates who participated. It was the fault of those who did not.
All along, the meeting, which the League of Women Voters of East Nassau organized, was billed as a forum, and not a debate. But with both major party candidates in each of four legislative races scheduled to attend, discuss the pertinent issues of their campaigns and answer questions from the audience, voters may still have wanted and expected to hear opponents engage one another in a competitive exchange of ideas. This notion disappeared, however, when the meeting began with Jonathan Clarke, a Democrat running in District 15, Ed Kraus, a Democrat running in District 13, and Debbie Pugliese, a Republican running in District 5, squaring off against empty chairs rather than their opponents.
Norma Gonsalves (R-13), the Legislature’s presiding officer, was absent. Her colleague Dennis Dunne Sr. (R-15) showed up 20 minutes late, sat at the candidates’ table behind Gonsalves’s seating card, announced that Gonsalves and he had other meetings to attend, delivered a two-minute stump speech and then he left. Laura Curran, a Democrat running in District 5, opted to attend a meeting of the Baldwin Board of Education, of which she is president, instead of the LWV’s forum, according to an announcement by Harris Dinkoff, the LWV’s moderator.
Dave Denenberg (D-19) and his Republican opponent, Steve Rhoads, were the only pair of opponents who attended the forum in full. Unsurprisingly, their exchanges were the most animated, with both frequently challenging each other’s statements and offering opposing views about the county’s recent history and what must be done to secure its future.
About 45 members of the public attended the forum. Each candidate made an opening statement and then answered questions that Dinkoff posed, followed by questions from the audience. Finally, they made closing statements. The LWV allocated each candidate two minutes to talk whenever it was her or his turn.