Reps for Sanders, Clinton and O’Malley face off on drugs, guns and financial reform
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Over a dozen local political clubs sponsored a forum for the Democratic Presidential candidates this past Sunday afternoon but rather than appear at the forum personally, all three campaigns for the leading candidates sent representatives on their behalf. The event was held at the SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street.
Adam Stolz represented Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Sean Patrick Murphy spoke on behalf of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was represented by New York Democratic Assemblyman Keith Wright instead of a representative of her campaign.
Wright’s lack of familiarity with Clinton’s campaign tripped up the local elected official on a handful of issues during the forum, including on financial reform.
“(Clinton) has a plan to go further than Glass-Steagall,” he said of legislation passed in 1933 that limited commercial bank securities, which was repealed in 1999. “I’m not intimately involved in the campaign but she has a plan to take it further.”
When pressed, Wright could not provide additional information about what he meant by taking Glass-Steagall “further.”
One of the noticeable differences among the candidates was their stance on the death penalty. Both Stolz and Murphy said that their of character for a moment to say that he was “emphatically” against it. Members of the audience clamored for him to instead answer the question as the candidate he was representing, but he said no more on the topic, possibly to deflect the fact that Clinton was the only of the three candidates not opposed.
Stolz reiterated O’Malley’s opposition to the policy and the candidate’s disagreement with the former Secretary of State on the issue.
“Senator Clinton once said that we have to be smarter and more carefully consider how we use the death penalty, but what we really need is a candidate who says we shouldn’t be doing this,” he said.
Moderator Ronnie Eldridge took a quick poll of the audience on the issue following the responses and found it in line with the stances of Sanders and O’Malley.
“Take the measure of this audience back to your candidate,” she suggested to Wright.
Wright acknowledged that, unlike with the death penalty, there are not always noticeable differences among the candidates on some issues, but he believes that Clinton stands out in a positive way on the issue of income inequality.
“Clinton has been an impressive voice among the candidates, for women’s inequality especially,” he said. “She has been at the forefront of this issue.”
Murphy argued that income inequality has been a cornerstone of his candidate’s campaign.
“This is Bernie Sanders’ issue,” he said. “He has stood for worker’s rights his entire career and he’s standing up for the working class, for the marginalized. This will be a centerpiece not just of the campaign but of the presidency.”
Eldridge asked the representatives about their candidates’ thoughts on drug use, especially given the implications of racism due to a renewed focus drug treatment for heroin users because of the increase in drug addiction in white communities.
“Our criminal justice system does have some racism and it’s out of balance,” Wright said. “We need a holistic approach and Hillary Clinton wants to bring in the mental health component, ensuring that non-violent offenders aren’t persecuted and prosecuted. We have been issuing a clarion call for years and now people seem to be waking up.”
Stolz noted that O’Malley has continually been a supporter of drug treatment programs.
“He doubled the number of drug treatment beds and started a national program for heroin use,” Stolz said. “He has done a lot to make the system work better.” Stolz added that O’Malley has decriminalized possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less and banned the use of questions about criminal history in job interviews.
Murphy said that his candidate approaches this issue from a decriminalization standpoint.
“Sanders wants to decriminalize marijuana, not because he’s a pot smoking Socialist but because it’s taking people away from their communities for much longer than it should,” Murphy said. “We criminalize these things more than any other country.”
When it came time to take questions from the audience, State Senator Brad Hoylman posed an inquiry to the representatives about gun control.
“What are the differences among the candidates; what do they think about the imports of illegal guns and hell, what about repealing the second amendment?” he asked.
As stronger gun control laws is a popular topic among Democrats, a failing rating from the National Rifle Association would be a point of pride for any of the candidates and the representatives for both Sanders and O’Malley were quick to point out the poor rating both candidates have with the organization.
“Senator Sanders has a D+ rating from the NRA and is in favor of immediate background checks,” Murphy said. “We need to make sure that we’re addressing loopholes. There are too many homes with accidental shootings.”
Stolz pointed out that, despite the poor rating Sanders currently has with the NRA, the candidate was previously supported by the organization as a congressional candidate in 1990.
“O’Malley has never wavered when keeping guns out,” Stolz said.
When Murphy pointed out that Sanders has a nearly flunking record with the NRA, Stolz countered, “Martin O’Malley has a flunking record, not a nearly flunking record.”
A straw poll of the audience at the end of the forum, conducted by Stuyvesant Town resident and Tilden Democrats president Mark Thompson and Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club District Leader Tiffany Townsend, found that Sanders had the most support with 59 percent of the vote. Clinton came in second with 52 percent and O’Malley places third with 36 percent of the vote.