Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) and State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) yesterday said pending the end of the state legislative session they will attend tomorrow night’s multi-race debate at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center, but they insist on a level playing field .
The lineup for debate includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jessica Ramos and Catalina Cruz — the individuals challenging Peralta and Espinal as well as U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley.
Both Espinal and Peralta have questioned the objectivity of the main organizers of the verbal sparring match Naureen Akhter and Amanda Vender as both have either contributed to the challengers and have supported them on social media.
In accepting the challenge to debate Espinal and Peralts wrote a joint letter to Akhter and Vender demanding that measures be taken to ensure a fair and unbiased event.
“Thank you for inviting us to your debate on June 21st. We both firmly believe that debates are important to the democratic process and give the community a real chance to hear from candidates and their elected officials. With that said, it is imperative that debates be unbiased and fair,” the state lawmakers wrote.
Espinal and Peralta further elaborated on their suspicions the debate is rigged against them by noting in the letter the lack of outreach to both of them before setting a date leaves them and then public thinking, “that your stated intent to have all parties participate was perhaps disingenuous. By not working with us before the event was announced, we were left in a position to attempt to reschedule events that had been confirmed weeks ago. If you had engaged us in this process we would have also pointed out that scheduling an event the day after the legislative session is scheduled to end is perilous at best.”
“It is also important to mention that there is serious reason for concern about the neutrality of this debate. Several of the sponsor organizations have strong ties to our opponents. One of our opponents even serves on the board of one of the sponsors. Another organizer is actively campaigning for our opponents. Under these circumstances, there is real concern about the debate being organized by our opponents and their supporters, rather than as a true impartial forum to exchange ideas and a vision for our communities,” they wrote.
Peralta and Espinal also requested that the organizers ensure that the questions asked reflect the diversity of the district, and that the audience questions come from all attendees, not just from the friends and allies of our opponents who are organizing this debate.
KCP reached Akhter last week on the issue, and she responded that neither her nor Vender are moderating the event and they are trying to be as fair as possible.
Akhter said they are collecting questions that registered non-profits in the district submitted as neighborhood organizations.
“There will be an equal amount of time given to all candidates for opening and closing statements, and as many people as possible will have the opportunity to ask what they want to ask to ensure a fair and free debate,” Akhter said.
The debate is slated for 7 p.m., tomorrow night, June 21 at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, 37-06 77 Street.