Final “Herd for the 33rd” Debate Produces Little Disagreement, Except on Lampposts

Moderator Grace Rauh and candidates (left to right) Doug Biviano, Evan Thies, Jo Anne Simon, Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone, and Steve Levin. BHB photo by C. Scales.

Moderator Grace Rauh and candidates (left to right) Doug Biviano, Evan Thies, Jo Anne Simon, Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone, and Steve Levin. BHB photo by C. Scales.

Last night was the final debate, before next Tuesday’s primary election, among the candidates for the 33rd District City Council seat being vacated by David Yassky. Six of the seven showed up for the event at St. Francis College auditorium; Isaac Abraham was unable to attend because of a wedding. Responding to a series of questions put to them by moderator and NY1 political reporter Grace Rauh, the candidates found little on which to disagree. All love mom and pop stores and want to save them; all hate condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park; all want to stop Atlantic Yards and Dock Street DUMBO; all want more community participation in planning and zoning decisions; and all think the School Construction Authority is something out of Kafka by way of George Washington Plunkitt. One question did arouse audience participation, if only largely evasive answers from the candidates. It was: given that all the candidates opposed funding Brooklyn Bridge Park from revenues generated by residential construction on park land, assuming that, following completion of the work presently underway on Piers 1 and 6, no more funds were available for work on the remaining section of the Park, would they, “yes” or “no”, favor stopping work and leaving the Park incomplete? As soon as Ms. Rauh read the question, several members of the audience shouted “That’s an unfair question!” and “False choice!” The candidates largely agreed that it was unfair and refused to answer, except Ms. Simon, who wryly noted that, if there’s no money, nothing could be done. Later, when asked what funding mechanism they favored for the Park, most of the candidates said they supported State Senator Squadron’s plan, which would rely on a dedicated portion of greater tax revenues resulting from increases in the value of properties in the Park’s vicinity. Mr. Biviano noted that the Squadron proposal relates only to funding the Park’s maintenance, not capital construction.

In discussing ways to save and promote small business, the candidates were unanimous in supporting some form of commercial rent regulation. Mr. Diamondstone also advocated giving storefront tenants a right of first and last refusal when a landlord puts a building up for sale. Mr. Baer proposed use of “local currency” redeemable only for purchases from local stores, which he said has succeeded in some New England communities. Mr. Thies noted that many business start-ups are not storefront businesses but rather freelance operations that do not have a bricks and mortar presence. He said the biggest obstacle for these businesses is the City’s unincorporated business tax. The threshold for this tax has been raised to $100,000, but Mr. Thies advocates eliminating it completely.

Asked whether, as a City Council member, he would act independently of his former boss, State Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez, Mr. Levin said he would be guided by his own moral compass. Asked what, as a City Council member, he could do about health care, which he has made a central issue in his campaign, Mr. Biviano pointed out that the City’s charter empowers it to protect the health of the citizenry. San Francisco, he noted, has attempted to establish its own health care program, although it is facing a challenge under the federal ERISA statute.

During a “lightning round” in which candidates were asked to give “yes” or “no” answers, all said that some tax increases would be necessary to meet the City’s fiscal needs, but Mr. Biviano said he would address the issue of corruption first. Asked whether some limit should be imposed on the number of double-deck tour buses entering the neighborhood, all said “yes” except Mr. Biviano, who said, “Electric buses.”

One question did elicit some disagreement among the candidates. Asked if $600,000 for installing historic lampposts in the Heights is an appropriate use of funds, the answers were: Levin, “Questionable”; Diamondstone, “Yes”; Baer, “No”; Simon, “Yes”; Thies, “No”; Biviano, “Not now.”

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  • nicky215

    What was clear from last nights debate is that joanne simon is lap dog for the Heights establishment which is an exclusive ,elitist group. Joanne’s treasurer is the BHA office manager Irene Janner. This is the same Irene Janner that works for the BHA that got $600,00 (200,000 from David _I will watch every penny_ Yassky) and $400,000
    from Nydia Velazquez for redoing lamposts that are perfectly fine. Has anyone realized that the new lamposts will help the
    rich increase their property values while others in the 33rd cannot make ends meet in the midst of a recession. Joanne also is a flip flopper on housing in the park. She originally strongly supported it and only when it was politically expedient did she slightly move on this issue. She is a shill for the wealthy of the Heights and deserves to be defeated.
    After all these years as a community leader exactly what has she done.

  • nabegirl

    Go Biv! So sorry I wasn’t there. Sounds like he stood out from the crowd with some thoughtful answers.

  • Frank Bamberger

    Not one of the six candidates at yesterday evening’s forum was willing to support the major educational initiative of the Obama Administration. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, is offering millions of dollars for programs that promote teacher accountability. NYC seems to be reluctant to agree to the conditions necessary to accept these funds, even though millions of terribly needed dollars are at stake. The City Council could support this initiative and help bring it to fruition.
    Asked about their reactions, none of the candidates was willing to commit to even seriously considering this offer. They seemed to think that “accountability” was a bad word when it comes to teachers. No one was willing to consider that some testing might be useful.
    They all defended “our schools” from this onslaught from Washington, as though there is nothing systemically wrong. The candidates thought that we should not doubt our teachers, we should not question them. They rejected any role for charter schools.
    How will our schools ever improve if on the local level we are unquestioningly satisfied with teacher performance?
    Where are the community voices to welcome the Obama Administration’s best educational thinking?
    And why didn’t the reporter care to comment on the candidates’ reactions to this important question?

  • nicky215

    thats right keep picking on the teachers. not joel klein, bloomberg and their bloated expensive administation. its always the low guy on the poles fault

  • M David Longval

    I hope that Steve Levin wins the election. He is a morally outstanding individual, very hard working and will do the right thing for the community which he serves.

  • nicky215

    yes he will win..yes he will do the right think for all the communities which he will serve

  • The Where

    Steve “Astroturf” Levin has a certain ring to it.

  • nabeguy

    nicky, was “think” a typo or just a sly dig?

  • nicky215

    a lucky error

  • the banned

    it’s a shame that no woman is ever likely to win the 33rd because of the satmar vote.

  • nabe girl

    Don’t blame the Satmar vote for Simon not being able to win. She is going to lose because she is unethical and flips on important issues.

  • the banned

    Simon unethical? On the contrary, I think she stands out as the quality candidate. Doug Biviano on the other hand seems to me to be the opposite. He’s a mud slinger.
    Don’t blame the satmars for his loss either. Nobody is going to vote for Doug.

  • Real Reform Brooklyn

    “The candidates largely agreed that it was unfair and refused to answer, except Ms. Simon, who wryly noted that, if there’s no money, nothing could be done.” The bottom line is that Simon supports housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    Real Reform Brooklyn

  • Smarty Smarkowitz

    Banned come clean. You live at 2 Grace Court. You’re don’t like Biviano because he’s tired to being called in the middle of the night to change your lightbulbs.

  • Jerry

    I agree with nabe girl. the banned, you drastically overestimate the percentage of Hasidim in the electorate of the 33rd District. Furthermore, there are many reasons why Jo Anne Simon isn’t likely to win this election, and her lack of success in the Satmar community is fairly low on the totem poll.

    I’ve decided to vote for Doug Biviano. the banned’s personal vendetta aside, I don’t agree that Biviano has “slung mud.” He’s run a hard campaign from the outside, and he’s shown an ability to think clearly about what’s important for our community. He’s exhibited a consistant awareness of the real machinations of politics. His criticisms of his opponents have been legitimate if sometimes overdrawn for dramatic effect.

    But overall I’ve been impressed with his political instincts and think he’ll be a valuable asset for our neighborhoods in City Council debates – particularly with difficult budget negotiations to come. I encourage everyone else here to vote for him on Tuesday.

  • Doug Biviano

    Dennis Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth will be at my steps at 89 Montague St to endorse me today (Sat.) at 11 AM. Please join us.

  • Community Reactivist

    The candidates’ answers to the BBPark funding question were not evasive — it was an impossible question. It’s like asking “which of your children do you love the most — just give one name and no explanation or details,” or the favorite question of 7-year olds, “would you rather burn to death or freeze to death?”

    This question did not even ACKNOWLEDGE the Daniel Squadron PIRC plan, much less Evan Thies’ own PIRC-type proposal, published in the NY Daily News a few weeks before Squadron came out with his announcement. It didn’t take into account the possibility of a lower-cost park plan without wetlands landscapes and 30 foot berms to further impede full public use of the park. What we’re building now is a park with landcape architectitis, a disorder found in parks built not for recreation, but rather to win awards and prestige for their planners. Ken Diamondstone also brought up the metaphorical elephant that actually should be in the room more often — the possibility that, to use his terminology, there’s a lot of “fluff” in the budget. More fluff = more $$ needed = more cries for luxury condos. The housing in the park now is on life support — why is anyone proposing more?

    It’s shocking, frankly, that this kind of a fake question can even be posed by an otherwise usually intelligent organization like the BHA. Daniel Squadron was elected over BHA fave Marty Connor because he pledged to get the additional condos out of the park. Thies came out with a plan for this already, and Diamondstone, Baer, Levin (late to the fair, but he at least is on the right side of this issue) and Biviano are ALL against more housing. Only JoAnne Simon respoded to the inane question, not bringing up other funding mechanisms or plan alternatives — after which she said, turning away from the mike,”oh, and no housing.” A disingenuous, fake afterthought fake to a dishonest question.