A Debate About Debates in Upper East Side State Race

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:14

    Assembly candidate Ed Hartzog challenges opponents to regular debates before Sept. 9 primary

    Upper East Side Ed Hartzog, the journeyman candidate vying to succeed Micah Kellner in the 76th Assembly District, has issued an open invitation to his Democratic rivals to participate in a series of regular debates between now and Primary Day on Sept. 9.

    Hartzog, a two-term Community Board 8 member and lawyer, regards himself ? naturally ? as the best man for the job.

    "I think I do have the best grasp of the issues because of my service on the community board and having to work with these issues for a long time," said Hartzog, who also works on voter protection issues in New York. "I think what we're trying to do is give the voters an opportunity to hear what everyone has to say."

    Hartzog has proposed five debates between now and Sept. 9. The candidates in the Democratic primary are scheduled to face off Aug. 11, in a debate sponsored by Our Town, Citizens Union, and the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.

    But talking points in the district are well known ? stopping the East 91st Street marine transfer station, progress of the 2nd Avenue subway, lack of green space, school overcrowding, increased access to pre-K, construction on Roosevelt Island.

    "Whether you feel like everybody is on the same side of the issue, how do we go about solving the problem?" said Hartzog. "What experience do my opponents have in terms of dealing with these issues and what has been their record in terms of advocating for the solutions they're trying to look for?"

    In a conversation with Our Town, Hartzog framed his vision for the debates as more of a forum for voters in the district to ask questions of each candidate and compare their answers.

    "I'm sure there's some ability to discern the difference between the candidates once you're asking them direct questions," said Hartzog. "I don't think the electorate just wants to be fed pre-packaged [political mailers]."

    And lest his opponents feel they're playing into his hand, Hartzog said the terms of the debates ? locations, moderators, and topics ? will be decided by the candidates together.

    "I'm not here to be presumptuous about how it has to be," he said. "It would be a collaboration. I don't want people to feel as if we're setting it up."

    Menegon, the only candidate to respond to the challenge according to Hartzog, said he'd be happy to debate anyone on the issues as long as it isn't a waste of time.

    "I talked to Ed, and I'd be more than happy to talk to the other candidates because I know the issues more than all of them and I'm the best qualified," said Menegon. "But five may be a little redundant unless there were different audiences that were inviting us to speak."

    Menegon said he spends most of his free time meeting voters in the district, but that he's open to crossing swords with his rivals at any time. The Iraq War veteran and Xerox executive told Our Town he's bested his opponents at each of the speaking engagements that have been held in the district so far.

    "Hands down I've done better than all of them. I know the issues and I think I'm a little bit more articulate, my view of the state and the Upper East Side is a little bit broader than the rich guy and the person picked to run by a couple politicians," said Menegon, referring to Gus Christensen and Rebecca Seawright, respectively.

    The heavily endorsed Rebecca Seawright, the only woman in the race, said through a spokesperson that she is "committed to debate and to the democratic process." The spokesperson touted the Seawright campaign's planned participation in a debate and forum co-sponsored by Our Town.

    But the spokesperson indicated that they would not be taking up Hartzog on his challenge of five debates between now and Sept. 9.

    "We think it's important that [debates] are moderated by fair and trusted institutions like Citizen's Union and our local newspaper," said the spokesperson.

    Christensen, a former Wall Street executive, told Our Town that his campaign is focused right now on voter interaction, but that he too is up to debate Hartzog and the other candidates if his schedule allows it.

    "To the extent that any additional debates or candidate forums are scheduled beyond what is already on the calendar, I will absolutely make an effort to attend them so long as they fit into my campaign schedule of direct voter contact," said Christensen.

    Hartzog said he's still waiting for a formal response from Christensen and Seawright to a letter he sent them proposing the debates.