Town of Union, NY (WBNG Binghamton) With 47 days left until elections, Broome County Executive Candidates Tarik Abdelazim and incumbent Debbie Preston took to the debate table for the first time.
Organizers did not allow the actual debate to be recorded, which ran for an hour and thirty minutes and covered a number of different topics.
It was clear from the start that hese two candidates have little in common when it comes to how a county should be run.
A question on natural gas development highlighted their differences, as both candidates stuck by their well-known positions.
While Preston supports safe and responsible natural gas drilling, Abdelazim says there is time to hold off until more information is available.
One of the most controversial debate moments surrounded Preston's 0% tax increase proposal for the 2013 budget, and a shift in sales tax distributions putting more money in county coffers.
"This change to the sales tax formula was a shift of the tax burden to all of our local municipalities," said Abdelazim. "It was supposed to be reversed. Deborah Preston campaigned on a promise to reverse it. I think what happened, she got into office in January and, as the new county executive, realized, wow, this will help me put together a really good re-election budget."
Preston said she has been working on the budget since February and is proud of the product.
"I can tell you right now that the county is not as well off, it's just that we're doing things the right way," said Preston. "Over $4 million in re-ocurring savings, so you know, I would have to say, come visit us anytime, and we'll show you the numbers, because I'm not embarrassed by my budget."
Future flood mitigation planning was another hot topic.
Preston said she is a proponent on dredging rivers and working more closely with state and federal partners to fix the streams. But she also said the county can't rely on the federal government because it takes too long to get through the red tape.
Abdelazim agreed with Preston on the time issue with government agencies like FEMA, but said the county needs to look into green infrastructure initiatives. He said more flood retention areas are necessary, and that driveways, roofs and parks can all serve as retention areas.
The candidates did agree on a few matters, including the issue of drug abuse and gangs.
But they didn't agree on the solution to it.
Abdelazim said he doesn't see the police as the front line: "The goal is not just attracting finance capital. It's also cultivating social capital," he said. "It's making people feel invested in their neighborhoods and their future."
"We need more education, we need to keep our law enforcement more involved with our citizens, we need more neighborhood watch programs," said Preston.
Overall, Monday night was a civilized debate. The room did get a little heated when someone asked when the next debate is.
Abdelazim said he has been telling Preston for months to clear her schedule, that he is ready for a debate any time, any place.
Meanwhile Preston said she has a county to run and has a very packed schedule, working 14 hours a day.
When Preston pointed out she was there debating, Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, who was sitting in the audience, actually yelled out it cost $25 dollars to listen.
Both Ryan and Abdelazim said they want there to be more open and free debates before election day.