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Long Beach City Council candidates to debate at forum

Democrats running in June 25 primary amid party split

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As the race for three open seats on the City Council heads to the June 25 Democratic primary, seven candidates will field questions at a candidates forum next week.

Incumbent council President Anthony Eramo, council Vice President Chumi Diamond and their running mate, Jim Mulvaney, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, will answer questions at a gathering at the Long Beach Public Library on June 12 at 7 p.m., hosted by the local League of Women Voters.

They will be joined by challengers Liz Treston, a community advocate and the chairwoman of the Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters; Karen McInnis, a financial executive; and Ron Paganini, a retired city worker and former union leader, who are running as part of a group called the New Wave Dems LB.

Additionally, Long Beach resident Tim Kramer — who owns an auto leasing business and is a founder of Waves of Hope, a charitable group that led a relief effort last year for victims of Hurricane Harvey — is seeking election independently as a Democrat.

“All of the candidates have committed [to the forum],” said Eileen Lilly, co-director of voter services for the League of Women Voters of Long Beach. “Our hope with the forum is that people will become informed and head to the polls on June 25 — it’s early, and there’s such a full slate that I think the forum is really important.”

Councilwoman Anissa Moore, a Democrat who is also up for re-election this year, is running on the Republican line as part of a coalition ticket in the general election in November.

In January, the State Legislature passed a series of voting reforms that consolidated federal and state primaries in June instead of September. Should the incumbents lose in the primary, however, they would retain their seats until Jan. 1.

“The earlier primary means that you could potentially have two lame-duck council people for six months, which would be a first — it’s crazy,” said Steve Kohut, a lifelong Long Beach resident who is involved in local Democratic politics. “You also have seven people running for three seats, and there are a lot of wild cards at play here. My prediction is you’re going to have a very low turnout because the primary is so early.”

The vote comes at a time when Long Beach Democrats are divided. Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs said in February that the county party was backing Eramo, Diamond and Mulvaney, a slate that received the backing of the Long Island Federation of Labor this week.

Eramo has highlighted the city’s accomplishments during his six years in office, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. He noted the recent completion of the Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal protection project, which included the reconstruction of dunes and jetties on the beach, as well as projects to shore up the north side of the city with bulkheads and other resiliency measures.

“Since I’ve been on the council, the one thing I’ve been proud of is the investment in our flood protection and infrastructure, and our city needs to continue down that path,” said Eramo, a West End resident. “As the beach side is starting to wind down, now we’re going to see all the hard work we did come to fruition on the bayside.”

Eramo has acknowledged Long Beach’s financial challenges, and has said that an influx of federal and state disaster relief funds after Sandy masked the city’s financial problems.

“I really believe we need to grow in a smart way,” he said. “We need smart-growth initiatives, and that includes adopting our comprehensive plan in an effort to expand our tax base and solidify our long-term economic stability. We also want to maintain the awesome quality of life and continue to provide the services that our residents deserve.”

For their part, the challengers have criticized city officials over their handling of finances. Long Beach remains in “significant” fiscal stress for the second year in a row, according to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office, and Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded the city’s credit rating to near junk bond status.

DiNapoli’s office is also auditing the city’s financial practices, including what many have described as questionable separation payments to current and former employees over a six-year period. Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas is also investigating the payouts.

McInnis, Paganini and Treston said they are running to restore “integrity, trust and stability to both the city and the local Democratic brand,” particularly in the wake of the city’s fiscal crisis.

“The current administration has not been open in . . . answering residents’ questions and concerns in a timely and adequate manner,” Treston said. “I’m concerned, as residents are, about the separation payouts. If you look at the pyramid of how the power structure is supposed to work in the City of Long Beach, the residents are at the top, then you have the City Council and the city manager. If you think it’s been working like that, by all means, vote for the status quo.”

Kramer emphasized that he is running independently of any local Democratic group. He said that Long Beach has become unaffordable, and residents say that they’re “being forced out.” He also said that residents have expressed concerns about the payouts, the city’s reliance on borrowing and growing debt, tax increases, infrastructure, quality-of-life issues and more.

“When you have 90 percent of your revenue going to wages, benefits and debt, the people feel like the government isn’t working for them anymore,” Kramer said. “The reason these people run as a political group is, if you get enough of your political team on the council, you control the council. If you control the council, you control the jobs and control the city. I want the residents to control the city.”

Treston strongly disagreed with the contention that her camp is running to secure jobs for its supporters. “That is not anywhere near where we stand as residents, who have gone to City Council meetings for over a decade and have been very critical of the nepotism and pay-for-play government contracts and jobs,” she said.