Thursday, September 03, 2009

What the 33rd District race is about: Vito Lopez, and the circular firing squad favoring Steve Levin

In the Village Voice, Tom Robbins lays out Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez's role in the 33rd and 34th Council District races, but doesn't quite point out how infighting favors his candidate, Steve Levin, in the 33rd.

And yes, this year, Lopez is pushing the envelope even further, promoting not one, not two, but three of Ridgewood Bushwick's allies into elective office. He is seeking nothing less than a sweep, a kind of Vito-fecta that will further extend his political influence.

...Making judges is just one of the glories of being a Democratic county leader. Another is the joy of being able to bend others to your will. Among the able candidates for the 33rd District seat sought by Levin, Lopez's mini-candidate for the post, is Evan Thies, who was long David Yassky's chief of staff. Yassky—desperate not to antagonize Lopez in his own race for the city comptroller's post—didn't even endorse his own aide.

Even more craven has been the performance of the Working Families Party, which is backing Levin at Lopez's behest in exchange for the county leader's backing for party favorite Bill de Blasio in his bid to become Public Advocate. The party could have chosen any of three other stellar candidates: Thies, affordable housing builder Ken Diamondstone, or veteran civil rights attorney Jo Anne Simon.

De Blasio and Yassky are both Brooklyn products, and it is unlikely that Lopez would have gone against either of them. But the county leader has mastered the art of the bluff.

The Lopez takeaway

I wrote earlier about Lopez's power base, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC). And more on Lopez's connections, notably judicial appointments and support for Atlantic Yards, from the anonymous blog Real Reform Brooklyn.

See how RBSCC received nearly $800,000 in the current (FY 10) budget in discretionary funding from the City Council, notably a $350,000 grant attributed to Council Member Lew Fidler and the Brooklyn delegation.

In the FY 09 budget, it received more than $900,000. Note that nearly $280,000 in grants attributed to 34th District City Council Member Diana Reyna were not renewed, as Reyna has split with Lopez and he now backs challenger Maritza Davila. Now 37th District Council Member Erik Martin Dilan has picked up the slack. A victory by Levin in the 33rd would certainly help Lopez and his organization.

Splitting the vote

Robbins didn't point out that, were the three "stellar candidates" in the 33rd the only ones opposing Levin, they might well split the vote and ease Levin's path to victory. But the situation is even more complicated, and thus more favorable to Levin. (Note, the Queens Ledger/Greenpoint Star, endorsing Thies, said Levin had the least knowledge of the district.)

Beyond that, there are three other candidates, with one of them, Hasidic Jew Isaac Abraham, likely pulling some votes from Levin's base (which includes Hasidic Williamsburg, whose organizations are tied to Lopez).

The other two, Ken Baer and Doug Biviano, will take votes from Simon, Thies, and Diamondstone. Biviano, notably, has been attacking Simon and Thies for not being reformist enough.

While the latter two are hardly invulnerable to criticism, Biviano's sometimes over-the-top attacks (and claims of victory in an online poll), coming from someone with little civic experience and no involvements in the controversies he targets (e.g., AY, Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning), have an element of hypocrisy.

Given that Biviano has little chance to win--Simon has numerous endorsements; Thies has the Citizens Union endorsement; Diamondstone has a long track record--those attacks make the best the enemy of the good. It's hardly surprising that Biviano was the state coordinator for Dennis Kucinich in 2008.

(Similarly, Real Reform Brooklyn treats Simon almost as critically as it treats Levin, leading some to think that those behind the blog favor Thies. His campaign denies any ties.)

In an election with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), supporters of Biviano and Baer might well think they're pursuing reform. In the coming election, votes for them are likely a vote for Levin.

Biviano at least recognizes that he has opponents, and in his campaign statements and advertisements has targeted them.

As the September 15 primary vote approaches, it will be interesting to see 1) whether candidates tout their endorsements (such as from the New York Times, when it arrives) and 2) whether anyone targets Levin.

1 comment:

  1. Norman:

    You are spot on. Levin (Vito) are playing the classic Republican game. Take advantage of the infighting. Our only hope is that the NY Times endorsement will tip the balance. Also, the hasidic vote is not as monolithic as people would believe because of the schism in the Satmar community.

    Keep reading our blog:

    Keep It Real