Will Brooklyn Heights Resident Stephen Pierson Take Out Steve Levin In NYC Council District 33?

Not since Daniel “Kid” Squadron took out long time incumbent Martin “Marty” Connor in the 2008 NYS Senate D25 race has a local election been pre-packed with as much drama as the upcoming face-off in NYC Council’s 33rd district.

As in previous years the winner of the Democratic primary, held this year on September 10, will be the overwhelming favorite in the general election.

In one corner is incumbent Stephen Levin, successor to David Yassky (now TLC commishsky) and protege of the fallen Vito Lopez. In the other, Brooklyn Heights resident Stephen Pierson. As the NY Times pointed out in an April article published when Pierson, a member of Community Board 2, announced his candidacy both he and Levin are 30-something, liberal, Brown graduates. Pierson went on to start Canteen, a literary magazine with the money he made as a professional poker player which the NYT says makes him “cool”.

Pierson in his poker playing days. Photo: Bluff.com

NYT: Obviously, being cool, in itself, is not a platform. Mr. Pierson’s currency lies in his antipathy for the old-school Brooklyn Democratic Party behemoth, run by Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez until he was accused last year of sexually harassing female staff members.

Before he joined the City Council, Mr. Levin served as Mr. Lopez’s chief of staff in the State Assembly. At another point, he also worked running a lead-poisoning safe-house program for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, the embattled nonprofit organization founded by Mr. Lopez that became the subject of a city investigation three years ago.

Mr. Pierson is aggrieved that, as a councilman, Mr. Levin funneled discretionary funds to Ridgewood Bushwick and has never publicly condemned Mr. Lopez’s alleged treatment of female staff members, as so many others have.

Mr. Levin said that he preferred not to comment on the charges against Mr. Lopez given that the case was in progress.

Levin took some punches over his association with Lopez last week during a candidate forum sponsored by the New Kings Democrats in Williamsburg:

Politicker: “You know, when I took office, I started out working on issues that matter to the 33rd District, and the 33rd District doesn’t really overlap with [Mr. Lopez’s old] 53rd Assembly district,” said Mr. Levin. “I set out to make a name for myself on issues like education, on issues like addressing the homeless issue in New York City.”

“Obviously, you know, I read the report that came out, was appalled, I was shocked, and what was in that report and the actions that former Assemblyman Lopez did are unacceptable in any format whatsoever–in any type of environment whatsoever, workplace, elsewhere, doesn’t matter, totally 100 percent unacceptable, appalling, and in this instance a real break of the public trust,” he added. “He and I have not spoken in quite some time.”

Politicker adds that Levin said he looked forward to “moving past” issues he may have had with the club’s leader, Lincoln Restler. Earlier this year, Restler was rumored to be a candidate for the council seat himself, reportedly launching a so-called push poll which emphasized Levin’s relationship with Lopez.

Pierson also appeared at the NKD meeting which ended with members failing to endorse either candidate by a two-thirds margin.

But “new” Brooklyn vs. “old” Brooklyn aside, the NY Times lays out the true battleground in this race:

Crucial to any chance at victory in Mr. Levin’s district is the support of one of the two factions of the divided Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg. Half of that world follows one rabbi, and the other follows his brother. Mr. Pierson has managed to secure the affections of the Aroynem group, who view Mr. Levin as a puppet of Mr. Lopez and servant to the rival caucus.

“Vito wouldn’t take our phone calls,” Gary Schlesinger, a Satmar community advocate, told me before describing Mr. Pierson as “a real progressive,” untainted by proximity to corruption.

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  • elizabeth_n

    I don’t know much about Pierson, but I would vote for a semi-sentient squirrel over Steve “Vito-pulls-my-puppet-strings” Levin.

  • Brian in Dumbo (since ’95)

    the amount of our money that levin has sent out of our district to vito lopez’s corrupt nonprofit is…staggering. why hasn’t this been written about more??? such a criminal waste of our tax dollars.

  • anon

    I worked with Vito, briefly, back in 2008. He didn’t harrass me. But he was obviously a foul, foul human being. And if Levin were any more deferential to Vito back then, he would have had to live permanently inside Vito’s pants. It was a very unpleasant thing to watch. Levin was so incredibly meak.

  • Lady in the Heights

    Steve Levin has been incredibly supportive of PS8 and is one of the main reasons why we now have a viable middle school option for our neighborhood. He has been supportive and completely responsive to the needs of the public school families in his district. No one was able to accomplish what he did. He’s got my vote!

  • Sylvester

    Don’t blame Steve Levin for what Vito is. Steve didn’t create Lopez, and not even Sheldon Silver could change him. Sometimes you have to play along, and hope for the best. Sometimes the best doesn’t come. Vito is going down on his own. Steve Levin isn’t defending him.

    Steve Levin has proven to be a very strong supporter of his district, don’t condemn him for Vito’s actions. Based on that, I don’t think I can trust an unknown poker player. Who can?

  • Lois

    I received a phone call from a pollster the other day asking me who I preferred. I was given several positive remarks about both candidates and asked if that would change my mind. Then I was given several negative remarks about both candidates (including the Vito Lopez connection to Levin and the poker playing “he just needs a job” comments about Pierson) and asked if that changed my mind. To be honest, I had not heard about Pierson before that phone call.

  • elizabeth_n

    Sylvester: Brian has it right. Levin has sent millions of our tax dollars to Vito’s corrupt nonprofit. This is disgusting. That’s our money, not Vito’s. Levin should know better.

  • brownstoner46

    fwiw, I helped Pierson out with a fundraiser for his nonprofit a few years back. He’s one of the kindest, most sincere, and hard-working people I’ve ever known. Though I know nothing of his political views.

  • Quinn Raymond

    I’ll support the candidate who provided the best answers to the Streetspac Questionnaire:

  • Sylvester

    Do we have proof of Levin funding money to Lopez? Was there anything given back to the 33rd in return? I don’t know. With Lopez gone, there is nothing to worry about with Steve Levin staying.

  • Andrew Porter

    I received three phone calls from the same pollster all within 2 days, also pushing numerous people I’d never heard of for the city council race.

  • gbkm

    vito isn’t running for office. his name shouldn’t even be mentioned in this discussion. My vote is for Levin. He stood up for LICH & fought for the hospital. He responded to the issue and came out for every action & event to help save it from closure. He co-sponsored the city council bill that helped get SUNY to withdraw its plan to close LICH. He’s supportive of the schools, families, and community. The other guy has never stepped up to speak out for any of the above. he’s given me no reason to cast my vote for a poker playing gambling man rather than the current councilman who has proven his worth. Levin has been a good representative & doesn’t deserve to be fired.

  • Brixtony

    Sorry, you CAN judge politicians by the company they keep. The people collecting signatures for Levin in my building are well known party hacks (one of whom predicted that George Bush would go down in history as a great president.) I’m checking out Pierson seriously and I vote.

  • BrooklynLifer

    Sometimes the recipients of a portion of a Council member’s discretionary funds are ‘suggested’ by the Speaker. Not saying this happened here but just wondering. Lots of pols out there wanted to be a FOV (friend of Vito) before the implosion.

  • Lee in BBurg

    I admit I have a bias, as I’ve been sporadically volunteering for Stephen (Pierson)’s nonprofit for the last 5 years. But from what I’ve seen Stephen (Pierson) has devoted most of the last decade of his life to building his nonprofit’s after-school tutoring program–so it seems strange to me that this article doesn’t even mention this.

  • welcometomoviefone

    Shame on the author for not mentioning how Stephen Pierson has spent the last six years building his non-profit tutoring program in Harlem. No salary, no nothing.
    Check it out. Volunteer even!