One thing Pelham residents can say about U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, D-Bronx/Westchester, is that he isn’t making himself a stranger.
Engel, 65, got acquainted with about two-dozen potential constituents Tuesday night at the during a forum sponsored by the town’s Democratic committee. Although Engel doesn’t represent the town of Pelham now, that may change after a panel of federal court judges chose to adopt new district maps last month. (His district will also include Scarsdale after the change.)
“He’s probably going to be our congressman in January and we wanted to welcome him and hear his thoughts on different issues,” Anne Field, vice president of the Pelham Democratic Committee, said Tuesday
Engel, whose seat is up for re-election, will represent a new district that includes Pelham next year if he wins. The town is currently in a district represented by U.S. Rep Nita Lowey, D-Harrison.
Next year, Engel's seat will be moved to the 16th Congressional District. His territory would still include the northern Bronx, take additional southern Westchester County communities such as Scarsdale, the Rivertowns, Eastchester, Rye, New Rochelle and Pelham.
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On June 6, Engel faces a Democratic primary against Aniello Grimaldi. Other candidates running in the Nov. 6 Congressional election include Joseph McLaughlin, whose running on the Republican and Conservative lines; William Britt Jr., who is listed on the Conservative line; and Green Party candidate Joseph Diaferia.
During the forum, Engel answered questions from the crowd and gave his thoughts on a number of topics ranging from ‘Obamacare’ to the federal budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Engel called Ryan’s proposal ‘horrific’ and said it sacrificed Medicaid and Medicare for the sake of adding tax loopholes for the wealthy and big corporations .
“One of the worst things about it, in my estimation, is that it ends Medicare as we know it, shifting the cost to seniors” Engel said. “It takes away the entitlement of Medicare.”
Engel said Ryan’s budget would move seniors to a voucher type healthcare system that would limit the quality of they receive and force them to pay more.
He also said the Ryan's plan made large cuts to the Pell Grant, a federal program that gives need-based grants to college students.
“We are, in this country, spending more than we are taking in, and I agree with the Republicans on that,” Engel said. “That’s not sustainable. We’ve got to reign in our spending.”
But Engel accused the Republicans of wanting to cut spending without raising taxes.
“You’ve got do a combination of both,” Engel said. “You have got to be smart about it in my estimation and so if we are really, truly going to be honest with our constituents, we have to really bite the bullet and cut back. But we have to do it gradually.”
Engel also commented Obama’s healthcare law, which he supports, and on the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the constitutionality of the law.
“I had hoped that Justice [Anthony]Kennedy would be reasonable,” Engel said. “But if you follow the hearing, he was awful, and the other four Republicans on the court, the five of them together, were all awful...I don’t have any inside knowledge, but I think they’re going to overturn it.”
Engel said he supports the war on terror but feels that the U.S. needed to decrease it's presence in Iraq and Afghanistan at some point.
“I don’t think we can be bogged down in these wars,” Engel said. “Two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq...If you want to look at reasons why our deficit is so high, you don’t have to look any further than those two wars. It wasn’t the only reason, but it is a substantial reason for it.”
Engel, a former teacher and guidance counselor for the New York City School District, also gave his thoughts on the federal government’s role in public school education.
“I think teachers are being made the scapegoats in too many instances for things that teachers cannot possibly take care of themselves,” Engel said. “If you are teaching a child in a poor area, from a broken home where there’s not much ability to get that child to study or whatever, you’re only with that child seven, eight hours a day. I don’t think it’s fair to single out teachers and rate them or publish their ratings.”
He said the federal government needs to play major a role in the funding of public education.
“We need to be very careful that we fund programs that really teach people, rather than teach to a test,” Engel said.