Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and challenger Ben Akselrod sought to distinguish themselves from each other at a candidate’s forum for the 45th Assembly District organized by the Manhattan Beach Community Group last week. Although the rivals agreed on many issues, the two expressed different approaches to campaign financing and improving traffic safety, among a few other disagreements.

Cymbrowitz, Akselrod

Though the campaigns have been in full swing for many months, the two candidates for the Democratic primary had not yet done much to set themselves apart ideologically. Aside from an uninspiring dust-up over nominating petitions, voters had only the incumbent’s record and his challenger’s claims from his 2012 campaign to base their vote until Wednesday’s forum.

The two differed on public financing of campaigns, an initiative that watchdogs say would limit or eliminate the influence of special interests. Public financing sets caps on how much contributors can give to a person seeking office, and offers matching funds for small donations from individuals. New York City has a public financing system for the City Council and other citywide posts, while Albany does not.

Akselrod said he opposes public funding because the public should not pay for it.

“We have too much money going through government and this is where it shouldn’t be. We have numerous examples of people running for office … for one single reason, to get matching funds. I do not want people’s money to be involved in a campaign,” he said.

He did not provide any examples of such candidates. Public financing proposals all impose far stricter spending controls on campaign funds than Albany currently has, and funds cannot be used for personal expenses.

Cymbrowitz threw his support in for public financing, in line with the majority of Democrats in Albany. Public financing of campaigns has so far been blocked by Senate Republicans.

“For the last six years I’ve voted in favor of [public financing] … it has not passed the state legislature because the Republican Senate has not voted in favor of it,” Cymbrowitz said. “We’re very hopeful that this year after the November election the governor will put in a campaign finance program that Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate will be able to vote for.”

Akselrod, however, did say that ethics reforms would be at the top of his priority list. One area he hopes to see reform is in the use of discretionary funding, a small pot of money pols are given to distribute to groups in their district. The challenger said he hoped to implement something along the lines of participatory budgeting (although his words were “participatory democracy”), a program in the Council where the community itself proposes and votes on such items.

Cymbrowitz pointed out that this year is the first time in five years that state legislators were given the funds. He didn’t directly answer the moderator’s question on how more controls can be put on the spending, but did note that the funds are used to keep non-profits and community organizations funded. He said oversight is provided by the agencies that the money is allocated through, which have their own criteria, not the legislators who steered it.

On road safety, both candidates said that enforcement technologies like speed cameras were not enough (and outright opposed by Akselrod). Cymbrowitz said more police enforcement was necessary, and expressed hope that the new leadership at the 61st Precinct and in the citywide administration would be more responsive. Akselrod pushed his proposal, first made in June, for mandatory driving courses in high school.

The event was cordial and the two rarely interacted with each other. They agreed on most issues including:

  • Medical marijuana – in favor of the limited program that passed in Albany earlier this year, and oppose full legalization and legalization of smokable forms of medical marijuana.
  • Moreland Commission – Governor Andrew Cuomo should not have disbanded it. Cymbrowitz said he looks forward to the Attorney General continuing the investigations.
  • Democratic National Convention in Brooklyn  - both said they were for it, noting the potential increase in economic activity.
  • Charter schools – a good initiative, but co-locations with public schools should be stopped.
  • Term limits for Albany legislators – they both opposed term limits, saying elections were sufficient.

Primary elections will be held on September 9.

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  • Daniil

    I sent Cymbrowitz an email to discuss traffic and Ocean Ave. vagrant issues in our community and am yet to get a response. I prefer active representation that addresses the needs of the community (Our problems aren’t that difficult to fix – this isn’t Detroit). Come election day, I might have to vote against the incumbent instead of voting “for” the other guy.

    • MyBrooklyn

      What you and them will discuss how to install more red cameras and speed cameras and bus lanes…..in order to extort more money meanwhile these bastards like cops and city officials drive their personal cars with plate covers….its very savage of you to align yourself with crooks aka law makers and politicians ….why don’t you address they corruption and constant harassment for non sense

      • Daniil

        MyBrooklyn -> we’ve had too many people young and old get killed by cars in this community and I’m sure you will admit, its our local population here that is responsible for most of this. I disagree that a) red light cameras, b) speed cameras, and c) bus lanes are the answer.

        It’s more about good old fashioned police work where you get pulled over for speeding, not yielding to pedestrians and reckless driving.

        • MyBrooklyn

          speaking of people….have you noticed how nowadays people cross streets against the light or playing with their smartphones while crossing the street….have you notice how cops on duty and off duty talk on the phone and text….why you people always want to create more rules and regulations…..it just gives more power to savages aka law makers and politicians to come up with new laws and restrictions meanwhile average person does not gain anything from it…..I am both a driver and a pedestrian…for most part I drive only on the weekends I work rest of the days…and I always scream at my kids if I catch them playing with their gadgets while crossing a street….if you have nothing better to do find a hobby…..

          I understand if you would express your concern for better schools or better hospitals….or extending damn school hours so damn working parents don’t have to stress out to find and spend money on people to watch their kids after school…or ask these damn politicians provide better after school activities so young kids can extend their knowledge further

    • Andrea

      I reached out to his office about the same issues about the vagrants and received a reply fairly quickly. Never had to wait more than a day for an answer on most questions unless they needed to get more info from soewhere else. The answer I got was that the precinct is working with a nonprofit that deals with homeless in the area but they’re not allowed to arrest them or force them to move just because they are homeless because they have rights.

      Andrea

      • Daniil

        Thanks Andrea, that’s helpful!

  • Guest

    Cymbrowitz thinks it was okay for Silver to pay our tax money to cover up criminal activity. Is he trying to protect his own future or maybe even the past?

    • Jimmy

      Cymbro came of as a seasoned politician. However, Ben showed that he was a lot more than just some crazy Russian racist. Ben would be tougher on crime and corruption. That is until the powers that be begin to line his pockets. Give this freak a chance I say.

      • David

        Giving this freak a chance is the supideat idea I’ve heard. Watch the video, he can’t even speak for god sakes. Forget the accent, forget the racism for a moment, do you really want a guy in Albany who can’t even form words properly?

        • MyBrooklyn

          It does not matter if these savages can or cant form words properly they all work against interest of common man….do you really think people who can speak good in public are better….take a look at Obama I like his speeches but damn I must say what a arrogant bastard he is

  • Maya

    All of them, our elected officials, are the same. They never ever will take care of us, who vote for them. Al their promises just bla-bla-bla.
    I represent Abused Shareholders – people who are shareholders of cooperative apartments. Nobody wants to help us to defend our rights.
    We met with a lot of elected officials and candidates. No way. Why?
    To move our cause means to act against extremely powerful real estate lobby, the main contributor at every candidate’s campaign.
    To be elected official is a SINECURE. No one of them does not to risk loose money from donors.

    • Bob A

      So why would you vote for a guy who doesn’t support public financing of elections to get big money out of politics?