Monday, September 14, 2009

Thinking about the 33rd Council District (Part 1)

Several neighbors have asked me my thoughts about the 33rd Council District. I see it as a complex calculation, involving policy, electability, record, and hold-your-nose factors.

Whoever wins likely will have to be watched carefully. (Wasn't David Yassky a reformer?) And I'm convinced that, without Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which allows voters to rank preferences and thus support a second-best candidate, we'll continue to have multi-candidate elections in which a winner is chosen with a bare fraction of the vote.

(Here's Part 2: why I'm voting (gingerly) for Simon.)

Framing the election

I went to the final debate for the 33rd Council District last Thursday and again emerged contemplating a paradox. The candidates who profess to be most pure--least beholden to developers and various parts of the political establishment--are likely the least electable, lacking the endorsements from unions, elected officials, and newspapers that help sway undecided voters.

So, while there have been no polls, it's reasonable to believe--as the candidates themselves indicate--that the front-runners are (alphabetically) Stephen Levin, Jo Anne Simon, and Evan Thies. Ken Diamondstone also deserves consideration, (updated) as does Doug Biviano.

And, as I've written before, the main frame for the election is Levin versus everybody else, given his ties to the county Democratic organization.

Looking at Levin

Levin, former chief of staff to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Democratic Party head, has a host of union endorsements, plus the Courier-Life, the Working Families Party, and officials like Senator Chuck Schumer and Borough President Marty Markowitz.

I've been robo-called on behalf of Levin by Schumer, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Twice volunteers for his campaign have rung my bell.

Either he's a fantastic candidate or things are just a bit fishy.

Beyond the many reasons to avoid someone close to the county organization--dubious use of Council funding, unqualified judicial appointments, support for no-bid deals like Broadway Triangle--Levin has virtually no record in the district. His experience as a community organizer was in Bushwick; meanwhile, Lopez's district barely touches on the 33rd.

At the debate, Levin came off with unctuous insincerity, claiming, for example, that "I am not in favor of Atlantic Yards." (Actually, he's more of a fence-sitter.)

Perhaps the most telling answer came in response to the (very good) question about which Council Members the candidates would feel closest to. Levin said he'd built relationships with Council Members Lew Fidler, Dominic Recchia, and Erik Dilan--all reliable allies of the clubhouse and Forest City Ratner, with the first two from deep southern Brooklyn, far from Levin's base in north Brooklyn.

Levin also claimed good working relationship with Council Members Letitia James and Rosie Mendez, which drew a bit of a scowl from Simon, who's been endorsed by James.

What the others said

Simon also mentioned Council Member Diana Reyna, whom Lopez once supported (he now supports rival Maritza Davila) Robert Jackson, who heads the Education Committee, and Gale Brewer, who heads the Technology Committee.

Thies, former chief of staff to Yassky, mentioned his "good friend" Dan Garodnick, a "progressive reformer," and said that he'd have to have a good relationship with whoever is speaker.

Diamondstone cited Mendez, Garodnick, Jackson, and council maverick Tony Avella.

Biviano cited Brewer, Avella, and Charles Barron--"people who put their community first."

(To be continued this evening.)

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