Looking at the 35th District debate: Delia Hunley-Adossa surfaces (and shows why she's been inaccessible)
Now we know why Hunley-Adossa has been so inaccessible. She relies on platitudes and her speaking style is peppered with malapropisms.
Yes, people speaking extemporaneously shouldn’t be expected to speak perfectly, but Hunley-Adossa was well below the bar for political candidates.
James spent most of her time clashing with Estiphanos, an energetic neophyte who lobbed criticisms both off-base and cogent, leaving Hunley-Adossa mostly unscathed--not a wise tactic for the incumbent. The toughest questions for Hunley-Adossa came from Brooklyn Paper staffers, and she didn’t handle them too well.
(Note that the video, which lasts nearly 49 minutes, often cuts off the heads of the participants. The Democratic primary is September 15, and a victory then is tantamount to victory in November.)
Record and goals
Leading off, James cited her record of bringing affordable housing, open space, streetscape, and school improvements. Estiphanos said city government is broken, citing how “slush funds and discretionary funding have corrupted the system.”
Hunley-Adossa said she’d “bring in inclusion” and referenced the need for both affordable housing and economic development--either generic buzzwords or code words for Atlantic Yards.
Moderator Gersh Kuntzman, editor of the Brooklyn Paper, asked if she thought James hasn’t been good on affordable housing or working class issues.
Hunley-Adossa said she’d “just state the facts,” that there’s been more luxury housing and condominiums built in the district than affordable housing.
“Is that a function of what the Councilwoman has or has not done?” Kuntzman asked.
“She is the Councilperson,” Hunley-Adossa said.
“But is it a function of something she did or did not do properly?” Kuntzman followed up.
“Part and partial to that,” Hunley-Adossa responded.
Yes, that’s what she said.
At about 5:50, Brooklyn Paper reporter Mike McLaughlin asked Hunley-Adossa, “Throughout this campaign you’ve been unavailable to the Brooklyn Paper to answer questions. If you are elected, how do we know that you’ll be there to answer these questions...?”
“I first want to begin by saying that I haven’t been unavailable,” Hunley-Adossa insisted. “And I wasn’t aware that you communicated, or tried to communicate with me. If you called me on my personal cell phone and it’s campaign related, I wouldn’t have accepted that call.”
This doesn’t make sense. Does Hunley-Adossa have an operator screening her calls? If she gets a message on her personal phone, she can always write it down and take it to her office.
“If you called my campaign office, which is--the number is public record, 718-622-3515, or you spoke to my campaign manager, I would in fact accept your call,” she continued. “So it’s not like I’m not acceptable.”
Yes, that’s what she said.
“It is what it is. I was communicated with--probably you tried my cell phone and my home number. That is my home and that is my personal cell. The campaign office is 718-622-3515,” she said. “Now once... as soon as you called the campaign office and you spoke to my campaign manager, I was accessible.”
That’s not so. The New York Times blog The Local spoke to her campaign manager, who did not put her through to the reporter.
“Almost always, I deal with Steve Witt,” Hunley-Adossa said, as if unaware that the notorious Courier-Life reporter writes uncritically about Atlantic Yards supporters and strains for ways to cast doubt on AY opponents. “I never had a problem with [Courier-Life reporter] Tom Tracy or Steve Witt and the other reporters. So I don’t know what happened in the breakdown of communication other than what I stated.”
That doesn’t make much sense.
Both James and Estiphanos said they were more accessible. Hunley-Adossa pledged to have a 24-hour cell phone once elected.
Fulton Street BID
Estiphanos led the charge against the Fulton Street Business Improvement District (BID), saying that property owners, rather than merchants, supported it.
James corrected Estiphanos, who said there was a BID on Washington Avenue; rather, there’s a merchants’ association. She said businesses were consulted, and a $300,000 fund has been created to help those who can’t afford the assessment.
“It’s sort of a bitter pill,” James asserted, calling it “short-term pain for long-term gain.”
Estiphanos said he doubted the money was there for the fund. James began sniping at him for being “new to this business, because you’re new to the community.”
Asked what’s wrong with Atlantic Yards, James said she’s against the current version because now the emphasis is on the arena and arena alone, while she favors building affordable housing, not building an arena.
But the earlier incarnation had affordable housing, Kuntzman said. (Actually, the current incarnation is supposed to have it.)
James went on to criticize “a giant superblock, 16 skyscrapers in a brownstone community.” (Actually, two sides would border a brownstone community, while the others would be at major arteries, one of which is opposite a brownstone community, one not.) She cited abuse of eminent domain and displacement.
At 17:57, Kuntzman asked Hunley-Adossa why she supported it.
“I support it for many reasons," she responded. "Because of the economic development that it will bring to the district, as well as the affordable housing. Also, I differ--I say that I beg to differ with the Councilwoman for the simple fact--yes, it does have eminent domain. I’m a product of eminent domain. I live in a Mitchell-Lama housing development.... Had it not been for eminent domain, I wouldn’t be in the community. It’s a Mitchell-Lama building. But even more than that, I don’t understand why this is such a bad project, but in 2004 with the Downtown Brooklyn plan, when 47 of our Council Members voted for that plan, they have large skyscrapers, they don’t have any affordable housing in it that I’ve seen, and it was eminent domain. So it was pretty much did or is doing the same thing as the Atlantic Yards, so I don’t understand the opposition.”
This is an interesting gambit. Atlantic Yards is not the same as the Downtown Brooklyn plan. First, the latter is clearly in Downtown Brooklyn, while the former is in Prospect Heights. AY is essentially a privately-negotiated rezoning, with affordable housing used by developer Forest City Ratner to achieve the density it wants.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was announced by the city as an effort to increase office space and thus jobs; the construction of condos was an unforeseen consequence. While some AY opponents criticized the scale of the rezoning, nobody--including long-time affordable housing advocates like ACORN, or Hunley-Adossa--criticized the rezoning for not addressing affordable housing.
Estiphanos, aiming for a middle ground, criticized James for “demonizing” project proponents like Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Governor David Paterson, and developer Bruce Ratner, and said she’s lost credibility to negotiate.
However, Estiphanos apparently hasn’t listened to Bloomberg demonize AY opponents or Ratner’s allies, such as construction unions, shout down or otherwise interfere with public hearings.
James pointed out that she supported an alternative, the UNITY Plan, and “my opposition”--presumably Estiphanos--contacted AY opponents to learn about it.
Kuntzman asked James to defend her vote for the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning
“As you know, Downtown Brooklyn was split between two councilmanic districts,” James responded. “So I had to respect Council Member David Yassky who supported one side of Flatbush Avenue and decided what was best for his district.” She said she’d negotiated affordable housing for the part of the rezoning in her district on Myrtle Avenue, but it had not yet come to fruition.
At about 21:28, Kuntzman asked Hunley-Adossa how much FCR contributes to Brooklyn Endeavor Experience (BEE), the Community Benefits Agreement signatory she heads.
“When we negotiated the CBA, we had negotiated for a two-year budget, which is a little over a couple of hundred thousand dollars, that would last us through,” Hunley-Adossa said. “That would be for our overhead, office space, it’s all in the CBA. Salaries and different things--and it’s written in the CBA."
Actually, it’s not in the CBA, which talks about working with FATHC [BEE’s previous name] to establish a Committee on Environmental Assurances:
If requested by the Environmental Assurances Committee, the Developers shall work with FATHC to seek and secure public and/or private funding to pay the reasonable expenses of the working group of this committee, in order to provide: an appropriate meeting space within walking distance of the Project, postage and phone communications, webhosting services for a community webpage and message board dedicated to the Project, and the services of an administrative staff to update the community webpage on a regular basis.
Take a look at BEE’s web site for the lack of updates.
Kuntzman asked if that money has been made available? Hunley-Adossa said yes.
According to a 2007 Form 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service, BEE gained $173,000 in contributions. No 2008 Form 990 has yet been made available, so we don’t know if additional contributions have been received, but if it’s “a little over a couple hundred thousand dollars,” there must have been more.
Note that FCR executive MaryAnne Gilmartin said in July that “Forest City has funding obligations and commitments to each of the organizations, and they’re reviewed on an annual basis.” That leaves room for additional funding.
More importantly, experts on CBAs say signatories are not supposed to take money from the developers they negotiate with. And Mayor Mike Bloomberg, an enthusiastic witness to the AY CBA, now calls CBAs "extortion."
What does BEE do?
"What does Brooklyn Endeavor Experience do,” Kuntzman asked.
Hunley-Adossa responded, “What we’ve attempted to do, and I believe that we’ve done--and that’s where opposition and ourselves pretty much agreed on a lot of things. When we were going through the environmental impact statement, we in fact agreed on the downsizing of the project. I lived there. I didn’t want the project to be as huge as it was.”
What? The project wound up essentially the same square footage as originally announced. The developer increased the size and then took it down.
Hunley-Adossa’s written testimony at the hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement had nothing to do with downsizing.
“We also negotiated that it would have LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards,” Hunley-Adossa continued.
Her group is supposedly an environmental group. She should be asked about her expertise in this area; there’s no sign of it.
“We negotiated that they would have like, specific--using low fossil fuels, things of that nature, worried about the particulate matter, the rat and rodent abatement, blah blah blah,” she said.
Actually, there was no negotiation. Her group has a Potemkin function. The CBA states:
It is understood that the Project’s environmental impact statement and review process is administered by the State. All potential environmental mitigation measures, the cost to implement such measures, and the party deemed responsible for their compliance is ultimately determined by the State. Therefore, the Developer shall be in compliance with this Agreement by following the state mandated process.
Hunley-Adossa continued, “Once the Empire State Development Corporation and the actual EIS was completed, you end up with a FEIS, which is a Final Environmental Impact Statement.”
While typically people pronounce the latter F-E-I-S, using the individual letters of the acronym, Hunley-Adossa pronounced it “FEES,” showing her unfamiliarity with the issue.
“Little green people”
“After that, what Brooklyn Endeavor has attempted and is attempting to do, is to educate young people on how to be little green people. So, we have classes, biweekly, with youths,” she said.
“Where are those classes?” Kuntzman asked.
“We have them at community centers. At one point, when I did have an office, we used to have it in the office as well. And we use various locations, sometimes in people’s homes. I send them to environmental camps and we do different projects, relative to that. Because the project--because the project in fact is at a standstill, we have not been able to proceed in the manner and form that we intended to.”
“Was that because there’s no additional money from the CBA coming?” Kuntzman asked.
Hunley-Adossa responded, “Not necessarily money from the CBA, but the project in itself. Some of what we want to do--we’re going to be a part of it as it’s going on and as it’s been developed. So once they break ground and the project is under way, then in fact we’ll take on and do some other things.”
Kuntzman asked, “There have been some reports that BEE’s largest expenditure is on actually your compensation as opposed to program services. Is that accurate?”
“Well, initially, it very well was,” Hunley-Adossa responded. “And that’s because--look at the length of time I’ve been involved. So it made sense. I’ve been involved in this project for almost six years. So it just built up. But you’re talking about $52,000 over six years, you figure it out. How much did I get?”
Kuntzman left it there, but the issue’s actually murky.
It hasn’t been six years. The group wasn't incorporated until 2005 and it wasn’t doing much at the time. According to a 2007 Form 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service, BEE gained $173,000 in contributions and distributed $37,878 in program services and $61,473 on management and other general expenses. That included $51,447 in compensation for Hunley-Adossa.
No 2008 report has been filed yet and it’s unclear what the nearly $74,000 left over has been spent. Hunley-Adossa was not asked about her expertise in this field or why the board consists of friends and relations.
McLaughlin asked James how the can the public can trust her to be a good steward after the mini-scandal of nonpayment of taxes.
She said it was her family’s personal property.
McLaughlin said she paid only after media reports.
James said she was waiting for a tax refund. “The amount was paid. I recognize we all have a duty to pay... I believe it’s a private and personal matter.”
Estiphanos brought up fines posed against James’s previous campaign by the Campaign Finance Board.
“Campaign Finance is very difficult,” James said, unable to state how many times she'd been fined and adding a bit of a non sequitur, noting that Estiphanos didn’t qualify for matching funds. “The rules are strenuous, they’re complicated.”
None of the candidates distinguished themselves on the Coney Island issue. Kuntzman asked James why she supported Bloomberg’s rezoning. He called it a “shocking lack of due diligence,” given that she supported it on the OK of local Council Member Dominic Recchia. (For better or worse, that’s how most Council business is done.)
“There was a significant amount of affordable housing. That was my deciding factor,” James said, sounding not unlike some Atlantic Yards supporters. “[Recchia] assured me that in fact Coney would not lose that character.”
The bottom line is that the rezoning permits towers south of Surf Avenue in the amusement district.
Estiphanos said he supported the rezoning and suggested that the proposed AY arena should be moved to Coney--”it’s not something Tish would come up with.”
Hunley-Adossa said, uninformedly, “I do support the mayor’s rezoning. I think it’s fabulous what they’re doing in Coney.”
James shot back at Estiphanos that “I came out with Coney five years ago... I know you were still in California.”
While James didn’t have a full-blown plan for Coney, a 1/23/04 Bergen Record article quotes Letitia James as suggesting that the arena be moved to Coney Island or the Navy Yard, where eminent domain wouldn’t be abused.
She and Estiphanos continued sniping. James called him “a former Wall Street banker.”
“I’m also a former teacher,” Estiphanos responded.
“And you’re responsible for the decline in the economy,” she continued in an overblown accusation, charging that he’s running for Council because he’s unemployed.
Mayoral control of schools
Kuntzman asked about mayoral control of schools. Both Estiphanos and Hunley-Adossa said it should be tweaked. “Mend it, don’t end it,” James added.
Are schools better? Estiphanos said there was a marginal improvement in graduation rates, but not commensurate with the spending.
At about 33:10, Kuntzman asked, “Some parents claim they don’t have enough voice under mayor control, however, many parents complained they didn’t have any voice under the Board of Education. Where are you on that particular parental voice issue?”
Hunley-Adossa responded carefully, like a contestant on television faced with an unexpected question: “I think that parental voice issue is an issue. And I believe that if we tweak it and we set up a different system and think about, um, changing some of the legislature and less of the rhetoric, we can do something about the Board of Education. We could pretty much have a balance. You can include the parents and then you can still have the mayor and have some sort of oversight.”
Kuntzman asked if the candidates supported charter schools and vouchers.
James said she opposed vouchers, but supported public charter schools.
Estiphanos said James intitially said she was for all charter schools, then amended her position to reflect the will of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). [I haven’t been able to check on this.]
Estiphanos said he supported vouchers.
At about 37:35, Kuntzman turned to Hunley-Adossa: “So charter schools or vouchers or an indirect comment on what’s been said?”
She offered a non-answer: “I’m a product of the--of Catholic schools. I sent my children to both. As far as the charter schools are concerned and the vouchers, y’know, from the school of where I came from, the parents at the time that could afford and sacrifice to send their children to a private school, wasn’t a bad thing. It just wasn’t a bad thing. And if they didn’t pull resources away from the public school system that was in place. So, that’s how I feel about it.”
Estiphanos pointed out that, in a recent hearing held by the Council Education Committee, members were fed questions by the UFT.
The candidates were given an opportunity ask each other questions. At about 40:30, Hunley-Adossa read a long, loaded question--with Kuntzman intervening twice to ask her to get to the point--about why, if James cared for the community as she professes, she supported various condos and the non-union jobs behind them.
“Excellent question. I don’t support any of those projects,” James snapped. “There’s no City Council involvement. They’re all private projects. Thank you.”
“Well, they’re part of the Downtown [rezoning],” Hunley-Adossa tried to say. Actually, several are not.
Estiphanos got a shot: “During the last six years, the one constant about your administration... you’ve insulted virtually any major officeholder... David Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, Bruce Ratner.”
Um, Ratner is not an officeholder.
Estiphanos pointed out that she compared Bloomberg to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and asked, “how does that help the community”?
James said she took issue with that.
Estiphanos said he had the video on his web site.
“I don’t know if I ever referred to Mayor Bloomberg as Idi Amin,” James said.
Actually, had she spent any time on Estiphanos’s web site, she would’ve seen the clip. As noted in the Brooklyn Paper, James said, “It’s a shame that Bloomberg has the same thing in common as Putin, Chavez and Idi Amin and Bush... That he fears the people. That he believes that the people do not know what’s in the best interest of the city.”
That characterization, she could’ve argued, is within the bounds of political discourse, given Bloomberg's steamrolling of term limits.
Kuntzman broadened the question. “I don’t demonize my opposition,” James responded, gathering steam. “I take issue with Mayor Bloomberg, because he wanted to put an intake center in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. I take issue with Mayor Bloomberg because he wanted to close day care centers. I take issue with Mayor Bloomberg, because he wanted to close senior centers. I take issue with Mayor Bloomberg, because obviously he supports Atlantic Yards. Obviously, if you want to be nice with Mayor Bloomberg, that’s your prerogative. I support [Democrat] Billy Thompson.”
James then went after Estiphanos, asking why he’d last voted in 2004.
The candidates were given one minute each for closing statements. Hunley-Adossa took 27 seconds: “Well, I thank you so much--first, I thank you for inviting me, and I’m very pleased that I came here today. I just want to say to the community that I need your support. I am a candidate running for the 35th Council District. I am the better candidate because I have loyalty, integrity and I have the expertise. And I have volunteered, not only 30 years of my life to the community, I’m very faithful to the community. Thank you.”
What exact expertise she has is unclear. She didn’t even mention her longtime role heading the 88th District Precinct Council.
James cited her record and accessibility.
Estiphanos offered a lame explanation for his lack of voting, saying he was out trying to get votes for Democratic candidates like Barack Obama and John Kerry. (Hasn’t he heard of absentee ballots?)
Echoing Hunley-Adossa, he said candidates should be focused on affordable housing.
If so, perhaps before the next debate they can do some research.