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Manhattan BP Hopefuls Debate East Side Towers, Congestion Pricing

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Three of the four Democrats running to replace Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer took part Thursday in a debate hosted by the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association and Pace University.

Four seats were placed at the table for a debate Thursday among candidates for the Manhattan borough president's office, but only three of them were filled.

An aide said City Councilman Robert Jackson is leading a delegation of doctors on a medical outreach trip to the Dominican Republic.

The fight for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's seat went on in his absence.

"The next borough president, let's face it, has very, very big shoes to fill," said current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Hoping to fill those shoes are City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, Councilwoman Gale Brewer and Julie Menin, the former chairwoman of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan.

They all voiced concerns about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to rezone Midtown East to allow for taller and more modern buildings to rise up around Grand Central Terminal.

"This is moving way too fast," Lappin said. "This is going on Mayor Bloomberg's timetable, which is not the right timetable."

The candidates all said they support congestion pricing, the idea of charging drivers a fee for entering parts of Manhattan.

"I do support the congestion pricing," Brewer said. "I don't think it's ever going to happen."

Menin said she is keeping an eye on Columbia University's growth in West Harlem and the $150 million dollars it pledged to give the neighborhood. It is part of a deal known as a community benefits agreement.

"I am somewhat of a critic of community benefit agreements," Menin said. "We have to make sure the commitment that was made to the community is honored."

Of course, there are some New Yorkers who question whether the borough president's office should exist at all, and whether tax dollars should be used to fund it.

"It's helpful to have someone centrally, who is not the mayor, be able to say, 'This is going on in East Harlem,' 'Try this in Lower Manhattan,' or 'This is how we can work together on greening the whole borough,'" Brewer said. "You need a central person."

Asked to show how they are independent, Menin pointed to her support for a mosque near the World Trade Center site. Lappin and Brewer cited their opposition to extending term limits. Jackson voted in favor of it.

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