The race for the 19th Assembly District began to heat up in earnest at the end of last month when incumbent Edward Ra formally announced his bid for a fifth term against his challenger, William Carr, on Aug. 29.
Ra, 37, a Republican from Franklin Square, first won election to the 21st District in 2010; after redistricting, he won three more terms in the 19th District, which stretches from Franklin Square to Glen Head and includes Carle Place, Garden City, Mineola, West Hempstead and Williston Park.
A 2007 graduate of St. John’s University Law School, Ra also received a master’s degree in intellectual property law from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 2008. He then served as legal aide to the state attorney general and as deputy attorney for the Town of Hempstead.
Carr, 43, a Democrat from Williston Park, grew up in Freeport and graduated from Freeport High School and the Harry Van Arsdale School of Labor Study. He is making his first run for state office after serving for more than six years as a trustee for the Village of Williston Park.
A union electrician for the past 22 years, Carr spends most of his working hours underground as part of the crew that is building the Long Island Rail Road’s $11.1 billion East Side Access project. “I build New York — literally,” he said.
Carr admitted the difficulties of taking on an incumbent who was re-elected in 2016 with more than 60 percent of the vote. “He won his last election by something like 13,000 votes,” he said of Ra. “But why not send some regular people to Albany? We have enough lawyers and businessmen.” Carr contended that the Legislature would benefit from having a larger proportion of “common-sense, practical people” among its members.
The two candidates stressed common issues of education and the high cost of living on Long Island.
Alarmed by the cuts to paraprofessional staff in many school districts, Carr said he would like to see more funding for after-school programs. “Kids need a healthy alternative to the kind of aimlessness that gets them into trouble,” he said. “They get out of school, and if their parents work, [children are] on their own until at least 6 or 7 o’clock.” He was also concerned about the effects of violence in and out of the schools. “Whenever kids are surveyed about their friends, the surveys nearly always include a number of friends or acquaintances who’ve been the victims of drug overdoses or other criminal behavior,” he said. “Kids are dying young in every demographic.”
In light of the ongoing epidemic of school shootings, Carr said he also favored a package of legislation to enact “sensible gun control,” including “red-flag laws” like New York’s Extreme Risk Protection Order, through which family members and police can request to “temporarily prohibit a person from having guns before they pose a significant danger to themselves or others,” according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. The measure passed the Assembly in the last session and is awaiting Senate approval. Carr also urged the reinstatement of statewide bans on assault rifles. “There’s no reason for anyone to need a gun like that,” he said.
Ra was concerned that many of the needs of local school districts are determined in Albany. “Districts vary by demographics and by the solutions they try,” he said. For example, “Elmont and Franklin Square don’t have the same kind of diversity, so they don’t need the same approach” in teaching English as a New Language. “I’d like to see more local control over how money is spent or which programs are needed. A cookie-cutter approach imposed by Albany isn’t going to fit every case,” he said.
“We need to look at schools in terms of outcomes,” Ra said, emphasizing that a lack of trust sometimes prevents local schools from attaining the best results. “Testing is a case in point,” he said. Districts need a plan to conform to standards set by the federal government and enforced by the state. “But where no trust exists, parents aren’t going to opt in at the level that guarantees continued funding,” he said. When the wrong tests are sent to the wrong districts, or when districts experience software difficulties, as Franklin Square did this past spring with the Regents’ English boards, “parents don’t trust the schools or believe the tests benefit their children.
The cost of living concerned both candidates as well. Carr spoke of the hikes in water rates that some of the Assembly district’s residents have experienced. The district comprises 125,000 residents who are served by a patchwork of municipal and public-interest water companies. Carr pointed to his experience in negotiating a settlement to a water dispute between Williston Park and East Williston, and said it would enable him to help those constituents now served by New York American Water. “Some of them have been billed hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for the same — or in some cases lower — water usage than last year,” he said.
“Economic issues are always uppermost in everyone’s mind,” Ra said, adding that partially unfunded mandates, such as Medicaid and schools, are “the biggest drivers of tax increases.” But a combination of the tax cap, enacted in 2011, and the rise in property values means that “the only effective way of reducing taxes is to look at the state mandates.” Ra stressed that he was not advocating a reduction in services, but rather, “we need a long-term program where the state can take on more of the cost.”
Returning to the issue of trust, Ra said he wants to see more serious efforts to punish public officials who are guilty of ethics violations. “When I was elected in 2010, the Assembly had 27 new members, out of a total of 150,” he said. “Many, like me, were first-time office holders. The public was fed up” with ethics scandals and abuse of the public trust. “Measures like pension forfeitures represented important steps” toward reform, he said, but “a breach of the public trust has to cost something.” He added that “too much power is still concentrated in the hands of too few people in the Legislature.” He urged more oversight by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, saying that “he has a constitutional duty to oversee how public moneys are spent. We need to help him do his job.”