Downtown Express photo by Caroline Debevec
John Chromczak campaigning on the Lower East Side this week..
G.O.P. candidate vies to stop Squadron in State Senate race
By Josh Rogers
Republicans are scarce Downtown so it is never easy when they run for office, but John Chromczak can’t even rely on the famous line of G.O.P. hero Ronald Reagan: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago.”
Chromczak is not running against an incumbent for State Senate, he’s battling Daniel Squadron, who defeated State Sen. Martin Connor in the Democratic primary in September. Republicans have controlled the Senate for decades and Squadron argues that his election is more likely to bring change because it increases the chances of Democrats winning the majority. Chromczak said his victory in an overwhelmingly Democratic district would bring more change to the Senate than a change in parties.
“It would send a very profound message,” he said in an interview in his Chinatown campaign office Monday.
Chromczak, 38, is a medical technologist and used to be a substitute elementary teacher in Utica, New York, where he was raised. He moved to the city five years ago and currently lives in an apartment in a converted office building on Wall St., which he shares with his gay partner.
He is supporting John McCain for president (he thinks McCain will better protect the country from terrorism) in a district where Barack Obama is likely to surpass 80 percent. He acknowledges his uphill fight but bristles at the assumption from community leaders and political observers that Squadron’s victory on Tuesday is a foregone conclusion.
The 25th Senate District covers much of Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. Chromczak said Republicans warned him, “‘Listen it’s a 9-to-1 [Democrat to Republican] voter registration. People aren’t going to like you because you’re a Republican.’ My experience has been when I’ve gone to people …and talked to them about the issues they’ve been very open-minded.”
Chromczak is in line with many state Democrats on affordable housing and same sex marriage, but he and Squadron, 28, differ in other areas. Unlike Squadron, Chromczak opposes congestion pricing and backs cuts to almost all subway construction projects to close the M.T.A.’s budget deficit. He favors restrictions on late term abortions and backs parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions with some exceptions.
Traffic pricing was defeated earlier this year when Democrats in the Assembly and Senate blocked it from coming to the floor for a vote, but the two candidates are out of step with many in their own party. Some form of the plan, which would charge drivers to enter Midtown and Lower Manhattan at busy times, is expected to come back for consideration at the end of the year when a commission headed by former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairperson Richard Ravitch releases a report on how to close the $14 billion capital deficit.
Chromczak said he opposes congestion pricing because it is likely to raise prices in Lower Manhattan due to increased delivery costs, and he is skeptical the money will truly be set aside for capital transit projects.
He said the funds are just not there for big projects under construction like the Second Ave. subway. “I think we need to not do capital improvement projects when we can’t simply afford keeping the M.T.A. running,” he said.
The only project he mentioned saving is the Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan. Construction on the underground connections continues but the M.T.A. has no money to pay for the grand hall it promised several years ago before it displaced about 140 small businesses for construction.
He said the center would help attract companies to New York, and has a symbolic pull since it is part of the post-9/11 rebuilding efforts. He praised the Democratic governor for taking a firmer hand on the slow-moving World Trade Center reconstruction, but said if elected, he would keep “Gov. Paterson’s feet to the fire.”
Squadron, who worked on the successful campaign to get transportation bond money for the Second Ave. subway, said congestion pricing is the “kind of game-changing program we need to be willing to do” because it will reduce traffic and provide many billions of transit money if the revenue is bonded.
Chromczak said he did not have any specific plans to reduce traffic but said state and city officials should work together on different ideas.
He differs with Senate Republicans who have fought to kill rent stabilization and continue the Urstadt Law, which prohibits the city from passing its own rent protections.
He said he was open to voting for a Democrat as Senate majority leader, but he also talked about his “resounding endorsement” from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and implied he is not planning to buck the Republicans too often.
“I do believe [Republicans] are going to keep the majority and I do think it’s best for the people of the 25th District to be part of that,” he said.
He predicts the G.O.P. will have a one- or two-seat majority depending on the results of his race.
Squadron said changing the party holding one seat will not bring the same change as changing the party in control. “We need fundamental change in Albany,” he said. “That means a Democratic State Senate and the type of accountability I have been talking about since I started running.”
Both candidates favor more education funds for New York City, but Chromczak said he is unwilling to cut school funds Upstate to insure the city gets its court-ordered fair share, based on population. “There’s a balance you have to find there I’m not going to pit one group against another,” he said.
The election is Nov. 4.