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

BHB: Let’s talk about the other 800lb gorilla in your campaign: the Working Families Party. Can you talk about why there might be some concerns with the influence of your party?

PS: I’m proud to be endorsed by the Working Families Party and to get their support in this race. I agree with the values that they stand up for and that’s why they endorsed me. I am a progressive who gets results. That’s the same energy that the WFP and I bring to this race.

The WPF—just like any one of my supporters—there may be cases in the future where we have to agree to disagree, and that’s what will happen.

[Editor’s Note: Despite an affiliating with Working Families Party, Mr. Sikora is not known for a strong position on the Atlantic Yards project (now known as Pacific Park), WFP’s signature issue.]

I understand that lobbyists in general are not serving the public’s interest. BUT, I’ve pushed the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, fought off tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY, helped raise the minimum raise, fought for campaign finance reform. That’s the kind of lobbying we need more of.

BHB: You have not actually served in government in any level but have primarily worked as a lobbyist.

PS: Let me just take issue with this lobbyist [designation]. I know that you’re not saying it in a loaded way but my main opponent [Jo Anne Simon] is. She uses “lobbyist” like it’s a four-letter word, which it often is.

I’ve stood outside of the [NY] Senate chamber lobbying for pro-consumer legislation on telecommunications and there are 13 Verizon lobbyists standing around me that I recognize. 13 of them lobbying on the other side against the legislation that I’m running a campaign in support of.

I understand that lobbyists in general are not serving the public’s interest. BUT, I’ve pushed the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, fought off tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY, helped raise the minimum raise, fought for campaign finance reform. That’s the kind of lobbying we need more of.

The implication of what [Ms. Simon] is saying is that groups like NYPIRG and Consumers Union should not be lobbying. I just disagree with that.

There’s a real distinction here in that I’ve engaged in policy fights locally, [and at the’ city, state, federal [levels]. I’ve actually done that and my opponents have not. On local issues I want your readers to understand that I’ve been a key part of three campaigns that affect this district very specifically.

The most important for Brooklyn Heights is the Hudson Avenue Generating Station, which is the smokestacks right next to Manhattan Bridge. That used to be a ConEdison power plant that [was] the most polluting power plant in New York City. It burned # 6 dirty fuel oil. The top of that smokestack is right next to the top of the Farragut Houses. When [ConEd] would turn that on, it would belch dirty exhaust all over the neighborhood including directly into the Farragut Houses.

This while area’s air quality was worsened by this facility. I ran the largest aspect of NYPIRG’s campaign to pressure ConEd and the DEC to shut down the [plant], to improve air quality and fight climate pollution. We won that campaign. The power plant shut down later for economic reasons, [partially because of] the pressure campaign we ran, both on the litigation side and by getting the Dumbo Neighborhood Association, the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association, City Tech students, and community activsits to protest at public hearings.

We put a lot of pressure on ConEd and the DEC to shut that facility down, and that’s exactly what they did.

Secondly, Walmart wanted to come into the city in 2004. That was their first attempt to gain a beachhead here. They were looking at several different locations in Brooklyn, one of them was the Albee Square Mall.

When I was with Consumers Union I did a street campaign called “Walmart No Way.” I was friends with some film people, so we had the idea of shooting a really sophisticated TV ad that we would [air] to expose Walmart and put presure on them. We did a street campaign where we raised $18,000 dollars by selling t-shirts and asking for money. We got thousands of people to sign a petition, thousands of people to call 311 to urge Mayor Bloomberg to [prevent] Walmart from [moving into] New York City because… they destroy neighborhoods.

Walmart is still not in the city or in Brooklyn—not because of [our] sophisticated TV ad or [the] street campaign that we generated or the thousands of people we got involved—that wasn’t the reason they didn’t enter NYC. But [our campaign] was part of that.

The third was LICH, which I already described.

I have worked in depth on local issues that affect this district, and I’ve been successful at them. I’ve led those campaigns. I initiated those campaigns.

BHB: Talk about how you’re getting your message out.

PS: We’re reaching out to everybody in the district. I’ve personally knocked on over 3,000 doors. There’s not enough time to do the whole district.

One of the things that bothers me is that this campaign started just before the petitioning period, when Joan Millman announced her retirement. She’s been a great elected official. But, the sense of a handover of power, in a quasi-incumbency sense, in a short timeline does bother me. The day that Joan Millman was announcing her candidacy, [Millman] and Jo Anne Simon were calling around to elected officials for support; the next day Jo Anne Simon was announcing her campaign.

BHB:. A revisionist approach to the LICH photo op with Bill de Blasio in 2013—an event that helped propell Mr. de Blasio’s campaign for mayor—is that it was entirely orchestrated for maximum media exposure.

PS: Of course the context of then-candidate, Public Advocate de Blasio’s actions were influenced by the mayoral election. I think he also was operating absolutely in good faith. He understood the issue—and I talked with him about it—we had a give and take on strategies and tactics. They had a wall between the Public Advocate’s office and the campaign so I was talking to both at the same time, there’s no restrictions on me talking to both. He was personally engaged in LICH on the legal front and played a critical role in the litigation. Without the Public Advocate getting pro bono litigators, that facility would have closed way before it did.

[Bill de Blasio] understood [LICH] was a facility which could be saved with restructuring. And that’s what Andrew Cuomo should have done. He should have done what President Obama did with GM, which is put everyone around a table and force everyone to come up with a solution.

He did a report that analyzed the effect of closing an ER and how much longer the drive times would be for ambulances. That was an immensely substantive piece of research that helped… show why this institution was so vital. Behind the scenes during his campaign [de Blasio] was lobbying the Cuomo administration. So he was burning political points with Andrew Cuomo while he was running for mayor. He was operating in good faith—it wasn’t just a stunt.

All of us and the workers at the facility felt like they [SUNY and Governor Cuomo] were just ramming this destructive [decision] down our throats and we were going to fight back any way necessary. At that point SUNY understood that this [confrontation] was headed to an “occupy Wall Street” type of situation. Bill understood that situation too. So when he came to [an] event [the third of four we organized] he was outraged by the process, not just the substance, which was bad [but] he understood this was a facility which could be saved with restructuring. And that’s what Andrew Cuomo should have done. He should have done what President Obama did with GM, which is put everyone around a table and force everyone to come up with a solution.

LICH was very poorly marketed, it was very poorly run, it didn’t do it’s billing properly but it was not losing the amount of money that SUNY [claimed] it was losing. It was losing much less money than that—we know that from Judge Demarest’s decision and the Comptroller’s audit. Had they done that kind of restructuring, this facility could have been saved. The Public Advocate understood that. He was actually quite angry, and I’ve never seen him [so angry before].

After the election he was personally engaged, continuing to lobby the state and the Governor to keep the facility. We were unable to save a full service hospital, but I think the Mayor is being unfairly maligned for not saving LICH when it’s a state-level decision. The Governor, SUNY and the state Department of Health are responsible for closing LICH to sell it off for real estate. I take issue with activists who focus on Mayor de Blasio rather than focus on Governor Cuomo. I think it’s misplaced.

BHB: What differentiates your candidacy for your opponents.

PS: My opponents—from what I have heard them say—and I on the surface have similar positions on Brooklyn Bridge Park and the proposed luxury condo development. But, your readers should know that I don’t receive any money from the real estate industry for my campaign, I’m not funded by any lobbyists for the real estate industry or any developers. My opponent [Jo Anne Simon] is. She is taking thousands of dollars from the real estate industry and from the people who are pushing housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. That’s a difference I think is relevant for [BHB] readers.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sikira Campaign

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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?