Candidates for Assembly and Congress clashed in a debate that provided context for this June’s primaries Friday at the Hayward Demos Democratic Club in the presence of a small audience of Hayward residents.
The debate started with 15th Congressional District Congressman Pete Stark against his competitor Dublin councilman and prosecutor Eric Swalwell, followed by the 20th Assembly District debate with optometrist Jennifer Ong, Hayward councilmember Bill Quirk and New Haven School District Trustee Sarabjit Kaur Cheema.
Since the debate was hosted by a Democratic club, only Democratic members were allowed to participate in the debate, which excluded two assembly candidates, independent Union City Mayor Mark Green and Republican Luis Reynoso.
For Congress, independent Chris Pareja was not allowed to debate but did attend the event.
All candidates were allowed a five-minute opener, to which Stark took the opportunity to express his commitment to his district. He reiterated a common theme, calling on national debates on health care and social security as instances requiring leadership to pursue what is right for American citizens.
“Standing up for the Affordable Health Care Act is the right thing to do,” Stark said softly at first. “Standing up for Medicare and Social Security is the right thing to do!” Stark then exclaimed. “To ensure that our children have access to education to compete in a global economy is the right thing to do!”
Resources that can be brought to the district to build an infrastructure to get people to work is “the right thing to do,” according to Stark, with the crowd responding in verbatim.
“Because of my experience and record you can count on me to do the right thing. Protecting the freedoms of human beings and Americans and our diversity is what makes us special. We can patronize what makes our country strong or continue to allow cynicism to dominate our conversation,” said Stark.
The crowd responded in support for Stark, to little surprise, considering the Hayward area has been part of Stark’s district for much of his political career. It proved to be more alien to Swalwell, whose support emanates from the Tri-Valley area.
Swalwell introduced himself with more fervor and energy than Stark, boasting a stature commonplace in his campaign, echoing a campaign emphasis of “new energy and new ideas.”
Swalwell couples his theme “new energy and new ideas” with hope to overcome a “grim” economic standard in Hayward.
“Hayward fluctuates somewhere around 12 percent unemployment,” said Swalwell. “Because of the state raiding our redevelopment agency funds, many projects slated for Hayward were ended, the dollars that were there will no longer be there.”
Taking advantage of the national labs, the hi-tech energy, manufacturing and job creation were reiterated here alongside accusations against Stark’s history, as they have been before by Swalwell.
“Stark was passed over for the Ways and Means Committee […] And the right thing to do would be to show up and vote and the last session of Congress Stark missed 20 percent of the vote,” said Swalwell.
The last time Stark and Swalwell met was at the Tri-Valley Democratic Club in February, where Stark admitted to having pneumonia that prevented him from being available to vote. Stark didn’t repeat this point during the Hayward debate.
During questions and answers, audience members asked candidates questions concerning health care, gas prices and gay marriage.
Stark highlighted an “importance” to battle Republicans on healthcare and social security while Swalwell, who agreed with Stark, also added that “we need more than that, we need a solution.”
“Studies show that if we lift the cap on social security we can help end the deficit,” to which Stark interrupted Swalwell prompting audience laughter, “It’s a bill I already introduced, you are too late.”
Swalwell also agreed with Stark on Wall Street speculations being responsible for rising gas prices.
Stark says the best thing we can do is “make oil companies pay their fair share of taxes,” to which Swalwell adds, “We should put a tax on trades on wall street, speculations does control the cost of oil and I believe we can put a tax on reckless speculation.”
“You are right on with that; I introduced a bill saying that several times,” said Stark, to which Swalwell replied, “Well, when I get there I’ll make sure I have the credibility to get those bills passed.”
When gay marriage was brought up by one audience member, both candidates said they supported the implementation of marriage for homosexuals.
Swalwell took it as opportunity to attack Stark accusing him of using gay slurs in Congress.
“I don’t know what he is talking about, he seems to be making stuff up like he always does,” countered Stark.
Swalwell was referring to a 2003 legislative mark-up session on pension funds where Stark called a conservative congressman a “fruitcake,” which can be considered a homosexual slur or being “nutty” or “crazy.”
Stark also has been accused of calling the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in 2003 a “cocksucker.”
The Hayward Democratic Club, Castro Valley Democratic Club and the Gay and Lesbian for Betterment and Equality Club (GLOBE) all endorsed Stark for Congress after the debate.
Assembly candidates Quirk and Cheema spoke first during the assembly debate, giving their opening statements where they boasted their achievements and why they were running for assembly. Quirk made note to list off major endorsements, especially the Democratic Party endorsement, and touting his scientific background as evidence to expertise in clean energy.
Ong showed up late, missing the opening statement. According to Ong, she was late because she was having a discussion with the former mayor of Hayward about the St. Rose Hospital. She was able to engage in the question and answer for a portion of the debate.
None of the candidates had a stark contrast between their views and values, all being Democrats with similar Democratic angles to tackling economic concerns.
What set them apart was particular focuses, with Cheema consistently mentioning education, a cornerstone to her campaign she made prevalent with her first kick off in early February, and Quirk using his scientific expertise to discuss clean hi-tech energy in the East Bay.
Candidates were questioned about redevelopment agencies and how the Hayward area can hope to cope with the lack of the seed money it provided. No candidates were able to offer a solid solution in part possibly because of the time limitation.
Both Quirk and Cheema simply said, “We need to find the money elsewhere.”
Ong believed that reform should have been a proper solution, which could have been considered instead of simply slashing the redevelopment agencies from the state.
Candidates via questions expressed their support for the Measure G school district special parcel tax proposal, the importance of job creation in the Assembly District and clean energy.
When questioned on their leadership and past accomplishments in the area, Ong made note of her work on senate bills that resulted in the posting of nutritional values on restaurant walls.
Quirk referred to his city council experience and how they have “balanced the budget for the past eight years” and “how imperative that is to the city’s economy.”
Cheema heralded her civil engineering experience and how involved she has been with local transportation projects from local bridges to highway construction. For Cheema, transportation is a crucial part to creating construction jobs and spurring economic growth.
Quirk received the endorsement of the Hayward Democratic Club, Castro Valley Club and GLOBE.
Thus far, Quirk is the leading candidate financially with the largest endorsements approaching the primaries in June with a strong lead in local support.
By: Shane Bond, The Pioneer