Thursday, April 23, 2009

Looking at the 33rd district race, AY, and some undercurrents

So, the debate Monday night among six of the seven candidates running to succeed City Council Member David Yassky got a significant amount of coverage, but, since no one looked closely at the Atlantic Yards angle, I’ll address AY and some other issues.

(I didn’t attend the debate at St. Francis College, but Noticing New York’s Michael D.D. White shared a digital file.)

The Brooklyn Paper’s Politicrasher columnist didn’t mention the AY issue. (Clarified: I originally attributed the column to the prolific Gersh Kuntzman, who was spotted at the debate, but can't be certain, though I do believe he at least had a hand in it.)

The column called the debate “the latest in a seemingly endless series of mirth-free events that are doing more to drive people away from the political process than towards it. The main problem is that the candidates differ little on substance, leaving an audience member to ponder the not-so-subtle, and not-so-appealing, differences in each candidate’s style.”

Here’s more from Aaron Short (“Fascinatingly normal debate”), Sarah Portlock (“long and routine”), and Louise Crawford (“But for the most part, they're all on the same page...).

Political undercurrents

While the candidates bring different (and significant) experience, the insider newspaper City Hall points to some political undercurrents; candidates Jo Anne Simon, a lawyer and district leader from Boerum Hill, has longstanding tensions with Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez, whose chief of staff, Stephen Levin, was the one candidate who didn’t attend the debate. (Nor has Levin yet returned a questionnaire to CBID.)

And Yassky has yet to endorse his former chief of staff, Evan Thies, apparently because he’s agreed to stay neutral to gain Lopez’s endorsement in his run for Comptroller.

City Hall suggests that the leaders are Levin and Simon (who has ties to Assemblyman Joan Millman)--though the number of candidates can make the race interesting, and the presence of Hasidic candidate Isaac Abraham could cut into Levin’s hope for a strong Hasidic vote.

During the debate, longtime activist and affordable housing developer Ken Diamondstone cited his independence, saying the “critical and unspoken subtext” of the race was the candidates’ relationship to the Democratic party. He took a potshot at Simon for claiming to be a reformer but, according to the City Hall report, agreeing with Lopez 80 percent of the time.

Against Bloomberg

On the Brooklyn Paper’s web site, White commented that the event “could hardly be considered a “yawn” given the candidates’ pretty much universal objections to the current administration’s development policies and big project initiatives. Isn’t Bloomberg’s ability to create such unity a fascination in itself?”

(Interestingly enough--most of the comments on the Brooklyn Paper’s web site came from supporters of Isaac Abraham, who’s lagging in fundraising.)

Indeed, all the candidates endorsed a statement that the mayor did an end-run around the public in extending term limits.

Perhaps the hosts, the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, might have put the candidates more on the spot, asking them, for example, what they think of Yassky’s performance and how they differ with the absent candidate, Levin.

An odd district

Given that the 33rd District (I’m a resident) is shaped somewhat like a bat, reaching from Greenpoint to Park Slope, the race has attracted candidates from various places: Abraham from Williamsburg; environmentalist Ken Baer from Park Slope; Doug Biviano (who spoke with authority, focusing on education) from Brooklyn Heights; Diamondstone from Boerum Hill; Levin from Greenpoint; Simon from Boerum Hill; and Thies from Williamsburg.

(Map from City Hall)

Not surprisingly, in comments at the debate and on their web sites, the three candidates from the northern part of the district focus on development challenges in those areas, but Thies--who’s been involved in development issues in Northern Brooklyn--also stressed Atlantic Yards.

Other factors beyond geography include gender--Simon is the only woman in the race--and potential bloc voting in the Hasidic community.

About AY and development

From comments at the debate, Baer, Biviano, and Diamondstone all opposed Atlantic Yards, standing with the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn coalition. Baer and Diamondstone have been longstanding opponents.

Simon, who has paid critical attention to Atlantic Yards, has allied herself with the mend-it-don’t-end-it coalition, BrooklynSpeaks. She announced that she promised not to take contributions from developers.

Thies, who has not been associated with DDDB, forcefully criticized AY as “a gaping monument to how bad the city and state have gotten at these development plans.”
While Abraham didn't say anything at the debate about Atlantic Yards, a questionnaire he returned to CBID indicated his opposition "from the very first minute."

Baer, Diamondstone, and Thies agreed that AY was the biggest boondoggle among projects. Simon said it’s very hard to know, “because we don't have good numbers” on many of the projects, though she also criticized “single site control,” which also applies to AY.

Several of the candidates emphasized community planning and community board reform, an issue that Borough President Marty Markowitz has yet to endorse. Simon cited her work on shaping development at Hoyt and Schermerhorn.

Thies has probably the most extensive set of suggestions, proposing "360 Degree Planning":
Evan has proposed that the Uniform Land Use Review Process – the City’s planning process – be amended to include input on any major project from the departments of education, transportation, sanitation, buildings, police and fire.

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