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Candidates for Long Beach City Council debate at North Park forum

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Six of the seven candidates running for three seats on the Long Beach City Council found themselves largely in agreement on such major issues as the need for a civilian-complaint review board, a comprehensive plan for the city and affordable housing at a virtual candidates form sponsored by the North Park Civic Association Tuesday night.

The forum took place only four days before early voting begins in the Democratic primary, at City Hall on Saturday. The official date of the primary is June 22.

The North Park section of Long Beach is largely Black, and some residents have voiced complaints that the area is ignored by the city, a charge city officials deny. Questions at the forum focused on the concerns of North Park residents.

“This forum is coming from a North Park point of view,” civic association president Ronnie Myles said.

City Council President John Bendo, who is seeking re-election, talked about the accomplishments of the city administration, including hiring the first African-American city manager in Long Beach’s history; raising the salaries of a number of city workers and providing them with benefits; and tackling Long Beach’s shaky finances.

Bendo is running on the Long Beach Democratic Committee ticket with Paulette Waithe, a Wall Street financial services professional, and Tina Posterli, president of the Long Beach Board of Education. The slate is supported by the Nassau County Democratic Party. Posterli was attending a school board meeting, and a statement was read at the forum on her behalf.

In response to questions from Myles and civic association Vice President Anissa Moore, all six candidates said they supported a civilian-complaint review board.

Bendo said that the city was about to put into place a plan that would give citizens who engage with the police the ability to provide the department with feedback on how they were treated. The department’s Police Benevolent Association may not like the idea, Bendo added, “but it will determine, do we need a civilian review board?”

Kevin Heller, who is representing the Long Beach United Party, said he supported such a board, but added, “We must listen to it.” His running mates, Leah Tozer and Bill Notholt, agreed, but all said they supported the Police Department, as did Bendo and Waithe.

“The short answer is yes,” said Tozer, a real estate broker in town, “But we must not forget our police do a great job.”

Roy Lester, a bankruptcy attorney, a former school board president and a mainstay at City Council meetings who is running on his own, said, “I do support this, even if it’s not needed.

“People would feel they have an independent body” to examine complaints, Lester added. He also noted his strong support for the Police Department.

A key issue was what to do about brownfields, and why an area of North Park has not been cleaned since pollutants were left behind by the former Long Beach incinerator. The area is also in a state economic opportunity zone, which grants developers certain benefits. The candidates were asked how North Park could benefit from the zone, but they did not appear to have precise answers.

Heller and all others called for a cleanup. The public, he said, needs to be better educated about the opportunity zones. “We have to tackle rezoning,” Heller said.

Notholt said it had taken too long for a cleanup, and that one must take place.

“Brownfields are a huge issue,” said Tozer. She called correcting the problem “environmental justice.” “The problem is, we don’t have any economic policies” in the city, she added.

Lester called it “an economic issue.” “The fact that it hasn’t been cleaned up in all these years is ridiculous,” he said.

Bendo said that some of the property in the area is not owned by the city, and that the incinerator is on a Superfund list, but that the federal government has been slow to get cleanup work going.

All of the candidates also expressed their support for more affordable housing in the city, and said they would favor changes in its zoning codes to encourage that. “The zoning codes need to be changed to allow for low-income housing,” said Notholt, a retired director of wastewater operations in the city’s water treatment plant, where he worked for over 35 years.

“Zoning is everything,” said Tozer, adding that the city needed an improved downtown and affordable housing. “If we’re not going to change our zoning and building codes, nothing will happen,” she said.

Waithe noted that she had lived in Section 8 housing in Brooklyn, and later became a homeowner in Long Beach. “Zoning should reflect Long Beach’s diversity,” she said. “It’s why I came here.”

Lester argued that “there is no such thing as affordable housing on Long Island.” He said that housing prices and rents have climbed exponentially, and that many people needed second incomes to afford to live on the Island. He called for more housing subsidies.

Bendo noted that at Arverne by the Sea, a development in the Rockaways, some residents are allowed to buy two units, one to live in and one to rent, to help pay mortgages or rent. That is something Long Beach might consider, he said.

“We can and should rezone,” Heller said, “but we have to act, not just speak.”

Moore asked how candidates would get North Park residents more involved in city government. “That’s easy,” Tozer said. “We have to reach out and say we need your help.”

Waithe called for more open dialogue with the area’s residents.

Lester said, “If you want more participation, you’ve got to make it easier,” and that virtual meetings have been helpful. “You can’t always ask people to leave their homes at night and in rainy weather,” he said.

Posterli said in her statement that she has been fighting for environmental justice and to “right-size” the budget, which she said had been “woefully mismanaged in the past.” She also noted that the school board this year had produced a budget with no tax increase and that she would take “a neighborhood approach” to the city’s problems.

The United Party candidates basically argued that they could do a better job of running the city. Bendo, however, said ”The city has a reputation for corruption,” and that in his time on the City Council, “We are fixing that.”