An energetic and vocal audience at the Westminster Avenue Elementary School auditorium greeted the candidates running for the 36th Congressional District in a question-and-answer session hosted jointly by the Venice Neighborhood Council and the Mar Vista Community Council April 27.

Sixteen candidates have thrown their respective hats in the ring to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), and 12 of them fielded questions that they were given ahead of time on foreign policy as well as domestic matters. The questions were submitted to the organizers of the forum and came primarily from Venice and Mar Vista residents.

Republicans Patrick “Kit” Bobko, Stephen Eisle, Mike Gin and Craig Huey; Democrats Daniel Adler, Debra Bowen, Janice Hahn and Marcy Winograd; Maria Monta—ez from the Peace and Freedom Party and Libertarian Steven Collett attended the joint election forum, as well as two candidates who decline to state their political parties, Michael Chamness and Matthew Roozee.

Topics regarding transportation, such as closing the Santa Monica Airport, as well as the 30/10 light rail plan held particular resonance with many in the audience, judging by the level of applause from the audience when moderator Brian Watt of radio station KPCC posed them to the candidates.

The 30/10 plan is an initiative to build a dozen transit projects in the next decade by supplementing Measure R money with a federal loan guarantee or another finance mechanism.

Projects under this plan in the 36th District include the Metro Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, which will stop in Westchester and is planned to continue to the South Bay, as well as a portion of the Green Line extension, which reaches El Segundo. Proponents of the light rail project hope to extend the Green Line into Los Angeles International Airport in the future.

Measure R is a ballot measure passed by voters in 2008 that will raise approximately $40 billion in transportation upgrades through a county tax.

Watt alternated the questions among the 12 challengers, so no one contender responded to all of the queries.

Last month, Hahn joined Los Angeles City Council colleague Bill Rosendahl in sponsoring a resolution that calls for federal intervention in closing flight academies in Santa Monica as well as altering the existing flight path from Santa Monica’s airport over Los Angeles. The council resolution passed 11-0.

Martin Rubin, the director of the anti-pollution organization Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, noticed that three candidates with the strongest Westside recognition – Winograd, Hahn and Bowen – have been supportive of his and other groups’ efforts on pollution and runway safety at Santa Monica Airport.

Last year, Winograd initiated a pledge that was later signed by all candidates running for the 53rd Assembly District that promised they would not use jets to land or depart from the city-owned airport.

Winograd, who lives in Santa Monica, was asked how she would address these concerns, and she replied that she would introduce legislation in Congress to establish a minimum distance between aircraft operations and homes.

She also backs a plan to change the takeoff procedures to lessen the idle times at the general aviation airport. Bowen and Hahn were not asked about the airport, but have indicated that they are supportive of these efforts as well.

“The district is fortunate to have three excellent candidates vying for the right to represent us,” Rubin said.

Huey, Eisle and Bobko, all South Bay Republicans, held largely to conservative positions. They called for less government regulation, less spending and promised to defund President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Gin, the mayor of Redondo Beach, took a more moderate stance, pledging to work across political lines if he is elected.

“That’s how we do things in Redondo Beach,” said Gin, who attended a commemoration of the site of the departure of local Japanese-Americans to World War II internment camps in Venice last month.

The candidates who arguably have the highest name recognition citywide – Bowen, the secretary of state, and Hahn, a city councilwoman and the daughter of Kenneth Hahn, a much-admired former city councilman and county supervisor – touched on their legislative accomplishments.

Hahn talked about her work on the modernization of LAX and the ports of Los Angeles, as well as her support of union workers in the Century Boulevard Corridor near the airport and her high-profile endorsements.

Bowen reminded the audience that she represented parts of the Westside and the South Bay in the Legislature for 14 years during the early 1990s and early years of this century, and she touched on her work to improve voting standards and technology in government.

“I feel like I’m coming home,” said Bowen, who resides in Venice.

On the foreign policy side, Winograd, Gin, and Collett were asked if they would assassinate the head of another nation, and each responded “no.”

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq loomed large over the debate in the person of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran turned anti-war advocate, who joined a veterans group at the beginning of the election forum to implore the contenders to sign a declaration pledging that they would not vote for additional supplemental funding for the wars.

Only Winograd, Collett and Monta—ez have signed the declaration as of press time.

Veterans for Peace Los Angeles President Michael Lindley says those who chose not to sign are proponents of the wars, despite the fact that Hahn and Bowen have both publicly spoken for bringing American troops home from the war in Afghanistan.

“To me, I see a candidate who does not sign the declaration as being for the war,” Lindley, a Vietnam veteran, told The Argonaut. “To say you are against the wars but committed to fundingthem is a contradiction.

“Don’t just say it, sign it.”

In her closing statement, Winograd, who challenged Harman for the Democratic nomination in 2006 and 2010, emphasized her peace credentials and took a jab at Hahn for not signing the declaration.

“One of my opponents is using a picture of Arlington West in her campaign mailers but won’t sign the pledge. That’s not peaceŠthat’s war,” Winograd asserted.

Arlington West is a Santa Monica memorial that is installed every Sunday and Fourth of July as a “temporary cemetery” to draw public attention to the deaths of military personnel during the Iraq War.

A Hahn campaign mailer entitled “A plan to reinvest at home instead of spending on wars abroad” refers to her plan to create 25,000 green jobs and displays a photo of the temporary cemetery.

“Americans are facing their greatest economic challenge in generations,” the mailer states. “We need to invest the money we are spending on foreign wars in smart strategies to ensure that we are creating new jobs right here in America.

“That’s why I have put this plan together.”

Mar Vista Community Council Chair Albert Olson was pleased that contenders representing nearly all political parties were present and the audience had the opportunity to hear different viewpoints. “I think the community was served well because there’s a lot of candidates here that otherwise would not be able to be heard,” Olson said.

Rubin agreed. “The Venice Neighborhood Council and the Mar Vista Community Council did a great service to the community and a fine job putting this forum together,” he said.

Ola Mitchell, a Santa Monica resident who lived in Venice for several years, liked the pace of the forum, but said she would have preferred more spontaneity instead of giving the candidates the questions beforehand.

“Maybe next time they can have people from the audience ask a few questions as well,” Mitchell suggested.

Olson said the presence of well-known elected officials like Hahn and Bowen added a great deal of legitimacy to the forum and allowed other lesser known contenders the chance to showcase themselves in the same room with the presumptive favorites.

“I think the great thing was the top-drawer candidates didn’t really have to come but they did, and that gave all of the candidates a chance to really express themselves, and for me that’s really what it’s all about,” he said.

Democrats Lorraine Goodwin, Republicans Michael Webb and George Newberry and Katherine Pilot, who declines to state her party affiliation, did not attend the forum.

Olson thinks the joint venture with Venice could be replicated with other topics that impact their respective communities.

“There are so many issues where we could also be doing this, and I think there is a framework now where we are working with each other and finding relationships to build on in the future,” the Mar Vista chair said.

The special election will be held May 17.