Saturday, September 05, 2009

Was AY a factor? The Times's endorsements: Simon in the 33rd; Lander in the 39th; and silence in the 35th

Some competitive City Council races just got more complicated, as New York Times endorsements today contrasted with endorsements by Brooklyn newspapers earlier this week.

One question is whether the Times's essential support of Atlantic Yards, given the parent company's business relationship with Forest City Ratner, shaped its endorsements. I can't be sure, but there's strong circumstantial evidence, including the newspaper's failure to mention the project.

The 35th District

Notably, the Times, which said it was weighing in on "several of the most competitive districts," chose not to opine regarding the 35th Council District.

That essentially suggests that the newspaper considers incumbent Letitia James, an AY opponent, and challenger Delia Hunley-Adossa, an AY supporter, equally qualified (or non-qualified)--despite, for example, Hunley-Adossa's curious explanation for her inaccessibility.

The 33rd District

The Times wrote:
There are several excellent candidates vying to replace Councilman David Yassky, who’s also running for comptroller. Stephen Levin would be a prime candidate except for his entanglement in the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine. Evan Thies, an aide to Mr. Yassky, has been active on reform and clean-air issues. Jo Anne Simon has an impressive legal background and has been a strong community organizer who has done important work for the disabled. We endorse Ms. Simon.

The anonymous Thies partisans at Real Reform Brooklyn (RRB) called it "a pretty naked nod to its development partner" and said "the Times endorsed the one candidate who has done more to undermine unified community opposition to Atlantic Yards than any other."

Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it's notable that the Times didn't see fit to mention AY in any part of the editorial. As I've written, though BrooklynSpeaks's stated position is "mend it, don't end it," I think (contra RRB) the group's record is more mixed, and that it engaged people, such as elected officials, who were never going to join Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and other opponents filing lawsuits

I also note that Thies, though he is a strong opponent of the project now, has not played such a longtime role (given his position as an aide to Council Member David Yassky). And surely the Times doesn't endorse Simon's criticism of the project.

But I would agree with RRB that the endorsement is "pretty lukewarm," given that Simon's legal background and work with the disabled are less relevant than her positions on development issues and independence from the county party.

What's the fundamental frame for the race? I've seen it as Levin, who's associated with county Democratic boss Vito Lopez, versus everyone else. RRB sees it as a race between Thies, Levin, and Simon--and the latter two have gotten tough criticism. (RRB says it's not associated with the Thies campaign, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, but the blog treats Thies with more nuance.)

Now, pending an emerging scandal or an extremely persuasive Daily News editorial, there's a three-person race for the 33rd. Supporters of Ken Diamondstone, another veteran activist (with probably the strongest anti-AY credentials), as well as Ken Baer, Doug Biviano, and Isaac Abraham, should think carefully about whom their vote supports.

The 39th District

The Times ignored John Heyer, the choice of the Brooklyn Paper:
The top three candidates to replace Councilman Bill de Blasio, who is running for public advocate, are a remarkable group. Josh Skaller, a former Harvard composer of computer music, has made a name fighting big development in the area. Bob Zuckerman, a former director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, is an activist for environmental issues and gay rights. But it is Brad Lander who has the stronger history of working with the diverse issues the Council addresses. As the former director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and longtime director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, Mr. Lander has worked for affordable housing and for more jobs, parks, mass transit and other community needs. We endorse Mr. Lander.

Regarding Skaller, the Times could not see fit to translate "big development" into "Atlantic Yards. Lander has been more associated with BrooklynSpeaks than Atlantic Yards opponents, though he now says the project should be scrapped--another position that the Times surely doesn't support.

Now this race has likely tightened into a three-person race, given previous endorsements of Skaller and Heyer. Supporters of Zuckerman and Gary Reilly also should weigh their votes carefully.

The 36th District

Also, bizarrely enough, the Times ignored the highly competitive 36th District, where incumbent Al Vann faces seven challengers, with AY critic Mark Winston Griffith one of the best-qualified.

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