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GOP primary for 17th District heats up at public forum

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The two Republican candidates vying to represent the State Assembly’s 17th District sparred at a public forum on Aug. 29 at the East Meadow Public Library, sponsored by the Nassau County League of Women Voters. Tensions flared when incumbent John Mikulin and challenger James Coll quarreled over each other’s party allegiance and qualifications for the position.

Both candidates said they opposed many of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decisions, which they believe do not benefit their district, such as his stances on gun control legislation, his recent statements about American exceptionalism and his distribution of state funds to school districts.

“Governor Cuomo and Assembly Democrats do not care about Long Island,” Mikulin said. “I’m here. I’m fighting for Long Island.”

Coll had a similar view, saying, “People are tired of the far-left agenda coming out of Albany.”

Asked how they would work to promote school safety, Coll said that he had 21 years of experience in crisis management as a member of the New York City Police Department. “The last thing we need are more lawyers trying to understand school safety,” he added.

Mikulin, who has worked as the deputy attorney for the Town of Hempstead, said that his experience as a survivor of a shooting at St. John’s University in 2007 helped him understand what needs to be done to protect schools from violent crime. He added that he has supported and will continue to support any legislation in Albany that promotes bolstered security in schools.

Coll, however, accused Mikulin of getting “on-the-job experience,” and not having the fortitude to initiate change at the state level. He asserted that Mikulin was the pick of the party and not the people, citing the April special election, for which Mikulin was chosen by party leaders, and won.

Mikulin fired back, citing two donations Coll made to Democratic candidates running for state office in the past five years, both of whom Coll said were personal friends with bipartisan values. Nevertheless, Mikulin said, “How are you going to say you stand up to Cuomo if you fund his enablers?”

Mikulin emphasized his support for the creation of jobs as a way to keep young people on Long Island. In contrast, Coll said he would support the creation of more affordable housing, and added that the easiest way to support the local economy would be to cut political patronage and nepotism, in which, he said, the party is mired. He criticized Mikulin for contributing to the trend, revealing documents that stated that Mikulin spent more than $1,000 on political mailers per day in his first 25 days in office, totaling more than $30,000.

Mikulin did not refute the documents, but in his closing statement, he said he was proud of what he had done in office since April, and of the support that Republicans like U.S. Rep. Peter King and State Sen. Kemp Hannon have given him.

Voters can cast their ballots on Sept 13. Along with East Meadow, the district includes Bethpage, Farmingdale, Levittown, Massapequa, Seaford, Uniondale and Wantagh.