BHB Exclusive: Pete Sikora Talks About His Campaign for the 52nd AD Seat

BHB: You believe that you can create significant improvements in the 52nd Assembly District though efforts in Albany.

PS: I would work very energetically both on local issues and state issues. To me it’s not an either or; they both feed off each other. What I’ve done in the past on education funding is lobby as part of the Alliance for Quality Education against cuts in schools. I was part of the campaign that temporarily changed the tax structure in this state. The top 1% who make over $600,000 per year, used to pay marginal tax rates at the state income tax level that were almost double what they are today. If you restored those tax rates, that’s another 8 billion dollars in state revenue.

In addition to that there’s 7 billion [dollars] a year in state tax giveaways to developers and to special interests: that are a huge waste of money [on] hand-outs. There’s almost no conditions on them.

We need to change the funding formulas; not to cut funding for the suburban schools but to raise up funding so that schools that have great needs in districts that have a low income population can receive the kind of funding that makes for great schools.

BHB: You’re starting to sound like Doug [Biviano]!

PS: The difference between Doug and me on this issue is that I’ve lobbied on it and have actually worked on it. I was talking about this before Doug was in the race so his message has not affected anything I’ve said.

So there’s 7 billion dollars worth of tax breaks [in NYS]. The one that I’ve worked on most, besides working on the IDA [Industrial Development Authorities] issue and the Economic Development Corporation, because that’s how this money is funneled to corporations, it’s through IDAs and EDCs. The most egregious tax break, and one that I’m very familiar with because I’ve worked on closing it for the last two years, is the MSG tax break. This is the Garden’s tax break where they pay no property taxes: the home of the Knicks and the Rangers. That’s in state law, the only state law of its kind that’s written to benefit one specific company. It’s also unique in that it never expires. Among 7 billion dollars worth of tax breaks [this one] never expires! It’s a huge gift to James Dolan—$54 million a year—that the city loses in funding.

Think if we started closing those kinds of tax breaks, the kind of resources that we could put into communities like this one to provide arts and music education, bring down class sizes, build new schools in existing structures or new areas across the city.

The other thing about New York state that is a crying shame is that low-income school districts do not receive the funding they need. We have a funding formula that advantages suburban school districts relative to low-income urban school districts. We need to change the funding formulas; not to cut funding for the suburban schools but to raise up funding so that schools that have great needs in districts that have a low income population can receive the kind of funding that makes for great schools.

BHB: Hasn’t this inequity already been addressed by the NYS courts?

PS: The Campaign for Fiscal Equity sued the state and won. Rob Jackson is the guy who was the main plaintiff. The ruling from the courts was that they [NYS] need to provide funding [for] a sound basic education [as defined by] the constitution. They have not provided that funding. And the courts have continued to say “You have to provide this funding.”

Under Spitzer they did a big down payment to get there, but Paterson and Cuomo did not follow through. [NYC] is below the levels that the state’s constitution and the courts are mandating schools be funded at.

BHB: How will your efforts as an assembly member in Albany change a complex situation like this?

PS: This kind of macro level change reverberates across every district in the state. My purpose is to affect the 52nd Assembly District. [If we] put more funds into the schools here we would get better teacher training… and professional development. Those are the things we need to improve the schools….

I want to stress that I don’t view working in Albany and at the local level as an either / or proposition. I’ll bring the same level of energy and focus to local issues and as I will to Albany. I’ve worked very long hours for 20 years. I’m ready to do this.

On the local level we have overcrowding. We have very good schools in this district. To bring down class sizes and provide the services in the current structure we have to get new spaces. This isn’t just a problem in Brooklyn Heights, it’s a problem in other parts of the district as well. What we have to do is get the City to look at where can we put new schools in Brooklyn Heights. [T]he most realistic locations… are not to build new buildings but to locate in existing buildings on Court Street and on Montague Street. I would call for a feasibility study from the City to figure out where can we put a new school in Brooklyn Heights.

: How do you initiate concrete change in Albany that affects the 52nd Assembly District in a timely manner?

PS: You have to organize and pull together a coalition of people, institutions and elected officials. It takes an organizer’s mentality, and that’s what I bring: the ability to put together coalitions, see tactical and strategic opportunities to make change. I’ve done that repeatedly throughout my career.

As an assembly person, I’d be in an even stronger position to put those kinds of coalitions together, [to] be able to push institutions whether it’s the School Construction Authority of the Department of Education, or other entities to actually do programs that the neighborhoods need. The [SCA] and the [DOE] will come back with “We don’t have the money.” So it takes both the macro level push and pushing locally for the district’s fair share—a more efficient and effective use of resources than [currently] exists.

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  • stuart

    has this guy ever had a real job? has he worked for CWA for instance? or is he just a hanger on? Biviano as far as I know has never had a real job either, that leaves Simon, who is voting place poison, great race. Seeing as the State Assembly is basically a do-nothing job, both Biviano and this guy seem very well qualified….eye roll.

  • Doug Biviano

    Sikora on proposed ER, “It’s not the kind of lifesaving interventions that are needed in acute emergency situations.” On standing up to Berlin Rosen and WFP, “I have stood up to that kind of pressure repeatedly.” Yet, he praises deBlasio on his efforts to save LICH completely missing the fact that deBlasio accepted Cuomo’s dictates without a whisper (mainly so WFP could get Cuomo’s ballot line) and Sikora doesn’t mention the deceptive Gary Reilly LICH letter that Berlin Rosen and deBlasio’s PAC mailed the voters saying the level of medical emergency care at proposed ER was adequate (doctors immediately disputed). — MR. SIKORA WHY DON’T YOU STAND UP TO YOUR BOSSES ON THESE TWO MATTERS AND APOLOGIZE FOR THE MISLEADING LETTER FOOLING THE VOTERS?

  • miriamcb

    Great questions, and thanks for the quick coverage.

    Pete – I hope you will check back for comments as well (and answer). I noted that you were asked specifically about PS8 and how you would alleviate the overcrowding in the area. I understand solutions take time and as someone who worked in the classroom for years and years (and trained teachers), I also understand what it takes to support teachers. Sometimes it is re-appropriation of current resources and other times it’s taking a different tact altogether. It’s not always about more money (more initiatives at teachers sometimes is a huge waste of time, energy and money!).

    I’m curious with one of your solutions being, “The way to do that is to ask the very wealthy to pay a little bit more of a fair share and use that funding to invest in public services.”

    There are some undefined terms in this statement would like to know if you are considering increasing taxes (and by what amount) on the very wealthy (and who is that).

  • marshasrimler

    I see nothing in Mr. Sikora’s background that indicates he would be superior to Ms. Simon in representing us. He is another young man in a hurry. Joanne is a community person who has done lots of pro bono work not a paid lobbyist. i belive in diveristy of representation and believe we need female as well as male representation.
    Mr. Sikora’s patron Brad Lander has described the destruction of our library(not even in his district) as “creative”. His supporters have been weak on protecting our library. My friend Stephen Levin who I am deeply dissapointed in has remained silent on this city issue even through he has been aware of the library problem for over one year. Daniel Squadron has flip-flopped first remaining silent.
    Is this the kind of leadership Mr. Sikora will provide?

  • Doug Biviano

    Marsha, Jo Anne Simon told CDL that she wants to put a museum in the library to cover the budget instead of finding the money in our budget. I say cut all the tax breaks and abatements to developers that last 10 years so we have the tax $ for our schools, a park, a hospital and the libraries.

  • Tobyen

    I’m concerned about the daily bombardment of full color mailings I receive from Mr. Sikora. Where is all that money coming from? It does not speak well for his judgment.

  • Doug Biviano

    Marsha, No Matter the Harm Cuomo has done to our community closing LICH, Jo Anne Simon still supports him. Given the chance to say she wouldn’t endorse Cuomo at the debate, she didn’t because is supported by Cuomo supporting Party Boss Frank Seddio and law partner Frank Carone (who represented SUNY and Carl McCall in the deal closing LICH). She’s part of this machine and that’s why Jo Anne doesn’t stand up and say things that need to be said just like Sikora is praising deBlasio despite walking away from LICH after elected then deceiving voters again with the Gary Reilly LICH letter lying about the emergence medical protection proposed ER would provide.

  • Quinn Raymond

    I’m not sure you have the strongest grasp of how public service works.

  • Quinn Raymond



  • Quinn Raymond

    You must be new to NYC? Is this your first election?

  • Tobyen

    That was uncalled for,

  • Quinn Raymond

    Serious question!

  • marshasrimler

    He is getting it from the
    working families party and the

  • stuart

    I don’t think you have the strongest grasp on reality. these are do-nothing jobs. its just a lot of blah-blah and postage costs.

  • stuart

    right Doug, put the brakes on development -all the jobs, housing and taxes- and really put the squeeze on the tooth fairy to fund the schools and pensions and cops and everything else. Good thinking!

  • davoyager

    yes, please put the breaks on the over development which is going to lead to another housing crash. Schools, pensions, cops and parks, roads, libraries, hospitals and all other aspects of city infrastructure critically need funding. There is no tooth fairy, only greedy developers making money hand over fist at the tax payer’s expense.

  • davoyager

    Pete, your idea of mandating energy audits for property owners is misdirected and is typical big government heavy handed abuse of small business. Look rather to Government owned buildings because those are the buildings I see with open windows during winter due to over heating and a poorly balanced system. Go by any school on a winter day and observe the open windows especially on the top floor. Lead by example. As a small property owner I work very hard to balance my heating system because those are my energy dollars going out the window if an apartment is too hot. Nobody seems to care enough to see to government owned buildings and I have long thought it a disgrace the way these buildings waste tax payer’s money and spew CO2 into the air.
    If you want to combat climate change than make it affordable for property owners to cover their roofs with solar and wind generating installations and force the utilities to buy back this locally generated power. Every building in NYC should have solar on it and we wouldn’t need to burn #6 oil to generate electricity.Answer the critics of solar by pointing out modern methods of storing power generated during the day for use at night. If you want to mandate something, then mandate that the food industry recycle it’s used oils and fats into bio diesel by subsidizing the collection of this resource so there is no cost to the small business.
    Oh and if we must lose much of LICH because local politicians are failing to stand up to Cumo and sue SUNY downstate for the $dollars they stole destroying our hospital than that campus is the perfect place to situate a large school which can serve this community for decades to come, We don’t need more high end housing and Montague or Court street are already too crowded and busy for a school however the LICH area without the hospital is a quiet area and is on high ground with room enough for a k through 12 school campus. Think big my friend.

  • Doug Biviano

    That is my point about special interest money driving election and sucking power of governing decisions out of our neighborhoods. Simon and Sikora both raised about $200,000. Both are supported by machines that are closed and deceived us. Simon supports a day is supported by Frank Seddio. His law partner Frank Carone was SUNY’s and Carl McCalls lawyer who closed LICH.

  • miriamcb

    I was wondering if any of the candidates would suggest LICH (if we can’t save it as a hospital at least) to be used for another infrastructure necessity and figure that out. Looks like you beat them to it. I’m tired of all the over-development of housing without infrastructure!

  • Michael D. D. White

    I am thankful for these interviews, except that how does it work that the interview setups identify the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library as a top issue in the neighborhood, and then this particular interview pretty much skips over the subject entirely, except for a very oblique mention of it? I hope this is better addressed in the debate the blog is hosting.

  • Doug Biviano

    Michael do I not go into Library despite not being asked? Would you be willing to provide some analysis of positions candidates presented at CDL last week?