Saturday, September 11, 2010

In the 57th, a District Leader debate that wasn't, and some signs of the times

Given the charged nature of the battle (as cited in The Local) between incumbent Olanike Alabi and challenger Renee Collymore for the position of Female District Leader in the 57th Assembly District, and given the announcement of the first debate for a District Leader position this season, I hauled over to the Humble Martial Arts Dojo on Fulton Street last night.

After all, some of these District Leader races are highly charged, but fought mainly with press releases and campaign fliers. Nobody debates.

It was not to be.

A handful of people showed up, a couple of them organizers from the Prospect Heights Action Coaltion (aka sisters Patti Hagan, who lives in Prospect Heights, and Schellie Hagan, who lives nearby in Clinton Hill) who know both candidates well; guest moderator Medhanie Estiphanos, a candidate for the 35th District Council seat last year; a couple of bloggers; a staffer for City Council Member Letitia James, and a couple of civilians.

Collymore came 15 minutes late. Olabi never arrived. (She told The Local her attorney advised her not to show and she had another engagement.)

The Collymore charge

For 35 minutes, Collymore got to give her stump speech, so to speak, and answer questions from the crowd.

She comes from the neighborhood, and her family's owned several small businesses. So she's helped fight the Fulton Street Business Improvement District (BID) and will be landlord of a in-progress food co-op. She's founded a new Democratic club.

Her grasp of local issues like Atlantic Yards and affordable housing wasn't exactly strong--"we have to have a plan in place"--and she didn't talk about the role of District Leaders in judicial selection (probably the most important issue), but at least she showed up.

And, though Collymore said she'd told Schellie Hagan she'd only appear if Alabi did, at least she showed up.

And yes, she answered a few questions about the salacious stuff--charges of "possible blackmail," stalking, and tearing down of her signs. (The latter was seconded by an audience member.)

Money and endorsements

Collymore has endorsements from several local businesses and clergy, and Pras Michel of the Fugees.

She said Alabi hadn't been endorsed by local elected officials other than state Senator Velmanette Montgomery--"it has to be looked into." But Alabi wasn't there to answer.

Alabai has contributions--implicit endorsements--from Montgomery, state Senator Eric Adams, and state Senator John Sampson--or, actually, their committees. She even has a small contribution from Male District Leader Walter Mosley.

Olabi's biggest contributions in her July report came from the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, the UFT, SEIU (where she works), then Adams and Sampson.

In her January report, the biggest contributions came from Sampson's committee, the Corrections Officers, and DC 37.

Olabi was endorsed by the Amsterdam News.

Collymore hasn't yet filed campaign finance reports, but said she was mostly self-funded. She said she'd gotten some advice from Thomas (Ziggy) Sicignano, the basketball maven and Forest City Ratner ally who moonlights in politics.

The setting and the changes

The event was held less than a block east of St. James Place, a gentrifying-but-not-gentrified area now known as Clinton Hill, but, a dozen years ago, considered Bedford-Stuyvesant, the home base of rapper Biggie Smalls.

Most telling: Collymore described how her parents scraped together a down payment to buy property nearby ("a challenged area") some 30 years ago, her mother taking a job cleaning at a "white woman's house," and now see their property worth millions.

She'd like to make sure that the neighborhood remains affordable, but there are no easy solutions. (In fact, such a rocketing of value is surely a thing of the past. Anyone who invested in Brownstone Brooklyn 30 years ago was prudent, lucky, or both.)

And, that's not exactly the District Leader's job.

Exiting the event, I chatted a bit on the sidewalk with a Collymore campaign worker, who was handing out flyers to passersby. I gave him my card.

"Atlantic Yards," he said. "I know a couple of guys who need jobs."

That, I said, was not exactly my area of expertise.

But a lot of people do need jobs, and so--paging Al Letson--we may hear more justification for trickle-down economics.

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