BHB: What is your position on the community debate about housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6?
PS: The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation [BBPC] should take a pause. It should re-evaluate the General Project Plan [GPP] and think through what the purpose of the park really is.
BHB: Are you suggesting that the BBPC reopen the GPP?
PS: Yes. They should reopen the General Project Plan. They’re clearly unwilling to do so at this point. They’re [planning] a small scale environmental impact study but it’s clear that they have a mindset that is: “We’ve done a great job of building a park; let’s stick to plan.”
That is the wrong mindset, because revenues have already come in above projections, so it’s clear that there’s enough operating income from existing developments and concessions to run the park. The issue—and the BBPC has not made this case in a transparent way—is whether additional funding is needed to maintain the park in the long run.
Let’s go back to the original park plan under [Mario] Cuomo’s administration. They were not envisioning a park whose capital needs were funded privately. The plan was for a park whose operating needs would be funded through small scale restaurants and concessions inside the park.
On a very basic level I strongly believe that public services could be provided by the taxpayers, not by selling off public assets, monetizing them in order then to create streams of income to support other public services. That’s the worng overall approach. What we need to do is have public investment in all of the public services we need.
Central Park could have been financed by condo construction inside the park but it would have been a less great park. It’s the same thing with Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a fantastic park, they’ve done a tremendous job.
At Pier 6, we have a real decision to make about what should be there. I think we should not rush into an irrevocable decision to build two new luxury towers on that site without taking a pause, examining the finances carefully… and then—if the funding is needed to maintain the piers—then make a decision about how to fund it.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation should take a pause. It should re-evaluate the General Project Plan and think through what the purpose of the park really is.
My proposal is that there will be an Environmental Quality Bond Act on the ballot soon. That’s a multi-billion dollar bond. When I was at NYPIRG I was part of a campaign to pass the [Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act of 1996] What we can do in the upcoming Environmental Quality Bond—which will be a multi-billion dollar bond issue for all sorts of capital construction on all sorts of environmental improvements throughout the city and the state—if we need the funding for pier maintenance and ongoing capital needs of the park that can be solved in one upfront project—we should fund that through an Environmental Quality Bond Act.
If that passes—and these bonds tend to pass—then we would not need two new towers. Because—and this is a personal [opinion] as this should be a community-driven process—I love that park. [BBP Pier 6] is the closest I’ve seen to a free kid paradise playground in the city. When you go into that playground area there are kids on top of kids on top of kids!
We should think about expanding into the area that the buildings are slated for. What a waste if those buildings go in and the money is not needed and instead that area could have been more recreational space for an even better park.
If after three years we are forced into swallowing buildings—which I’m opposed to—I think there should be affordable housing build into those structures. But, I would fight very hard to make sure that the state money was there and the best way to do it is through an Environmental Quality Bond.
BHB: Let’s talk about BerlinRosen, the PR firm that not only works with your campaign, but is working with the Brooklyn Public Library as well as with many other influential New York City entities. How independent can voters expect you to be in going against the agenda of this potent NYC political force?
PS: That’s why we need to change the campaign financing system and the way that Albany runs. At CWUA we made a real priority of passing public financing of elections which would transform the system so that small donors actually have much more influence. They would become the majority of funding campaigns as opposed to what currently is the case, which is 94% of the money in state elections come from donors who are giving at least a thousand dollars. That’s who the system is responsive to now in an unhealthy way. We’ve got to change that.
The basic questions is: what do you do when a supporter of yours for your campaign, whether it’s Daniel Squadron or the NYS AFL-CIO or someone who’s a friend of mine personally comes to you and says: “after the election, here’s the position you should take.” Are you able to then manage that and not be influenced by the pressure?
Not only am I able to mange that… but I have an actual record of being independent and standing up to that kind of pressure, whether it was at NYPIRG, where we were very good at taking things issue by issue. We would have relationships with elected officials where we were supportive of their position on a set of issues and opposed to their position on another set. You have to learn how to manage those kinds of relationships so that you don’t get put in a box where it’s this priority versus that one.
You have to understand tactically and strategically how to avoid being put into that box. I know how to do that; I’ve run those kinds of campaigns for organizations like CWUA, Citizens Union and NYPIRG where you have to think those kinds of things through and actively prevent that dynamic from being created.
I’ve been able to stand up to big pressure and interest and [powerful] elected officials who put a lot of pressure on you, including complaining to your bosses about how aggressive you are. I have stood up to that kind of pressure repeatedly. I understand how to manage those relationships and not end up in a situation where you’re disagreeing with somebody and feel like “Now I’ve got to cave.”
I don’t cave. I stand up, I fight. I don’t get intimidated.