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Thinking about the 33rd Council District (Part 2): why I'm voting (gingerly) for Simon

Earlier today, I explained why we should be skeptical about Stephen Levin's effort to replace David Yassky in the 33rd Council District.

And, as I wrote, 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.

Without Instant Runoff Voting, which allows you to rank candidates, you have to make a choice. (NLG proceeds differently.) So I'm voting for Jo Anne Simon, who I think--though I can't be certain--has the best chance to beat Levin.

And by all reports, Levin, who has little experience in the district, has been campaigning very energetically and learning the district.

Simon vs. Thies

Simon has the (mild) endorsement from the Times and many local elected officials (Assemblyman Jim Brennan, City Council Member Letitia James, etc.), while Evan Thies has the Daily News, the Brooklyn Paper, and the Citizens Union. Simon's from Boerum Hill; the southern part of the district. Thies is from Williamsburg, in the northern part.

They both have experience in their communities and in government, and they both--as I'll discuss below--are vulnerable to criticism.

But Simon, I'm told, is the candidate from the southern part of the district who's made the most inroads into the northern part. I'm swayed by people I respect in North Brooklyn, like Phil DePaolo of the New York Community Council, who chose Simon over Thies while recognizing there was no optimal choice.

The decision wasn't easy and if Simon is elected I'll watch her closely, at least on Atlantic Yards issues. She's surely fudged in describing her opposition to Atlantic Yards, but she's been seriously engaged on Atlantic Yards and other issues, which is why some AY opponents have endorsed her. And her last-minute mailer both went after Levin and Thies and went overboard in its criticism of Thies.

And, though Thies is capable, he actually went even farther in his advertising, claiming that he had taken the lead in the fight to stop Atlantic Yards. He did nothing of the sort.

Going negative

Levin has not gone negative in his advertising. Neither has Thies, though his anonymous supporters at the blog Real Reform Brooklyn--an interesting twist to a campaign--have both raised and amplified criticisms of Simon and Levin.

Longshot Doug Biviano, endorsed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, has run a spirited and sometimes not-so-responsible campaign, with his latest campaign advertising taking on Levin, Simon, and Thies. Had he greater experience in community affairs he would've started with a stronger base.

And Ken Diamondstone, who has a long record in the district, has the most claim--along with Ken Baer, who's run an ineffective campaign--to the votes of those concerned about Atlantic Yards. And Diamondstone has been willing to criticize Levin, Thies, and Simon.

There's been little criticism of Diamondstone, perhaps because he didn't have enough of a base to be considered a frontrunner.

Looking at the criticism

There's no more need to analyze criticism of Levin.

Should Thies be criticized for failing to get Yassky's endorsement, as Diamondstone suggests? Well, that says even more about Yassky, studiously neutral to stay in the good graces of Levin supporter Vito Lopez.

Could Thies have stopped the Broadway Triangle project from going forward, as Simon's latest mailer suggests? No, but his departure from Community Board 1 before the vote was not his best moment, at least according to Aaron Short.

Has Thies taken money from "fat cat" developers, as Simon charges? Well, he did get $2500 from developer Dean Palin, who wants to build a 40-story tower on the waterfront, one which is no bulkier than the shorter version but still has neighbors dismayed. (Commenter Laura Hofmann does support Thies, but others in Greenpoint do not.)

I checked with Thies, who said, "I don't and won't accept contributions from anyone who expects any favors in return. Developers have too much influence at City Hall, and I intend to change that. I advocated for a shorter tower at the site, but I concede that remassing the project to build less on the upland portion of the block and more on the waterfront will yield truly affordable housing at the site without adding bulk--a compromise supported overwhelmingly by the community board."

What about contributions to Simon from people associated with Brooklyn Bridge Park, given that Simon--officially against housing in the park--has been fuzzy in her rhetoric?

Simon spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said, “Relationships are multi-dimensional and often, candidates often know contributors for many years and from different arenas of their lives. As an activist and leader in the community for over 20 years, Jo Anne has engaged in many legal and social issues that have touched many people in the community. 

"Contributions for a campaign is part of the political process and frequently come from many corners of a candidate’s life, as well as, from those inspired by the candidate along the way. Most contributions are not made with an agenda attached to them but rather come from one's belief in the candidate to be the best person to serve the community," Donnelly said.

Well, that's the hope. Both Thies and Donnelly offer plausible explanations, as well as reasons the candidates, if they win, should be watched.

A representative of Muss Development gave $250 to each of Levin, Thies, and Simon. After Simon was criticized for it, she gave it back.

Such vigilance will be necessary whoever wins.


  1. Some insight on Broadway Triangle and Evan's resignation:


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