Skip to main content

Sorting through the 35th CD Democratic race: getting "Trumpian"?

Laurie Cumbo
One of the hardest-fought--and most bitter--races for City Council is the Democratic primary in the 35th District between incumbent Laurie Cumbo (previously director/founder of MoCADA) and one of her 2013 rivals, Ede Fox, a former Council aide.

After going to a couple of debates, and reading various documents/articles before the election Tuesday, I find there's a lot to sort through.

When Cumbo disses Fox as a lightweight and calls her campaign "Trumpian"--I'll get to the exaggerations on both sides--that ignores how Fox has been criticizing the incumbent from the left and has garnered significant progressive endorsements.

Ede Fox
(Also see coverage of the Green Party candidates, who've raised some important issues.)

Endorsements split

Cumbo has been endorsed by some major unions (teachers, hotel workers, SEIU, DC37) and the local political hierarchy (Mayor, Borough President, Congress members, Assembly/Senate), as well as several fellow Council members. 

The debate over the Bedford-Union Armory led the New York Daily News, the only daily newspaper to endorse in the race to back Cumbo, blaming Fox for divisiveness. (The Times, which in 2013 backed Fox, is sitting this one out.) 

StreetsPAC backs Fox, citing her commitment to transportation improvements; Streetsblog noted that Fox is more receptive to congestion pricing. (Cumbo actually endorsed dockless bikes because she thinks Citibike racks have taken away too much parking.)

Fox has been endorsed by some more construction-oriented unions (mason tenders, ironworkers, laborers, transit workers), the good-government group Citizens Union (the only race in which CU backs a challenger), KidsPAC, NYS Higher Ed Pac, Tenants PAC, and New York Communities for Change. The latter two groups are critical of de Blasio's development agenda.

For those focused on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, Fox--who lives in Prospect Heights and co-founded a political club--seems more attuned to neighbors' concerns about accountability, with some AY activists working in support. I've pointed out Cumbo's vulnerability on Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park; Fox has briefly raised the issue but focused far more on the armory.

Negative campaigning

When Cumbo, at forums and in a mailer, pronounces herself above negative campaigning, citing Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high," let's take that with a grain of salt.

There's a lot murky here, starting with the unresolved question of whether Cumbo allegedly got Fox fired from her job at the City Council.

Yes, Fox started with a critical mailer and sent a second one, both making legitimate points but also exaggerating. She's also sent mailers stressing her goals and priorities. 

And, yes, Cumbo, while stressing her record has also exaggerated in part.

Looking back

But Cumbo in 2013 was the beneficiary of others' negative campaigning, and has been this year. (So too is Fox.)

Let's recap. In 2013, Jobs for New York, the political action committee (PAC) funded by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), spent nearly $230,000 to help get Cumbo elected, plus more than $27,000 on negative mailers targeting Fox and another candidate, Olanike Alabi.

Cumbo did not solicit that money, but she only belatedly distanced herself from that support. (No, it's not correct for the Village Voice to say Cumbo "denounced the PAC’s spending at the time.")

So, when Fox states, as in the mailer at left, that "Developers and landlords spent over $250,000 to elect Laurie Cumbo," that's an important reminder of a distortion in that race. (Note that real estate represents a small fraction of the more than $121,000 Cumbo has directly raised.)

Getting what they paid for?

Did they get "exactly what they paid for," as Fox charges in that mailer, or have they "bought Laurie Cumbo's Council seat," as another mailer charges?

That's harder to say. REBNY surely knew it wasn't going to get a Council Member cheerleading for development, just one who might be somewhat more sympathetic or open to discussion.  (Note the critical response by NY 1 Inside City Hall host--and Crown Heights resident--Errol Louis to Fox's first mailer, calling it a "factually dubious hit job," and the responses to Louis, some agreeing, others pushing back.

When it comes to projects like Atlantic Yards, Cumbo indeed has been supportive. Focusing on the Bedford-Union Armory, the most heated issue in the campaign, Fox charges that Cumbo initially backed a plan that includes luxury condos. Cumbo claims that she toughened her position after listening to constituents; then again, she moved left after Fox started pounding the issue and calling for 100% affordable housing.

Cumbo's pointed out, though, that on the land-use issues that have been voted on at Council, she's supported affordability. In recent debates, she's stressed the importance of working with nonprofit developers.

In many ways, anyone elected in the 35th would have to be liberal. Fox is unreceptive to rezonings or working in public-private partnerships, to the left of Cumbo and thus resistant to Mayor de Blasio's agenda. That's a discussion worth having, though a tactic that would be politically difficult without more allies.

Fox also opposes charter schools, while Cumbo doesn't support an increase in such schools but wants to ensure "equity across the board."

Fox and supporters have criticized Cumbo's constituent responsiveness; Cumbo's supporters say otherwise. (That's yet another dispute that a local PolitiFact would have to sort out., if it existed.)

Cumbo's record

Cumbo, like any Council Member, has a record of achievement, able to direct capital budget and use a bully pulpit, supporting playgrounds and NYCHA upgrades, and supporting efforts to reduce gun violence and raise the minimum wage.

And when Fox said she aimed to provide legal support for tenants to push back on landlords' illegal tactics, Cumbo was able to riposte, "That sounds very much like legislation I was a co-sponsor on in City Council." (It was led by CM Mark Levine; Cumbo wasn't mentioned in the press release.)

At a recent debate, Cumbo said, "I was very proud, that in the City Council, I was ranked fourth most effective lawmaker in the city council."

That's true, but with a couple of asterisks. City and State, as noted above right, ranked Cumbo tied for fourth in bills enacted, with two colleagues, in bills enacted, but 16th--not shabby, not terrific--overall.

It's not unknown for Cumbo to exaggerate her record, saying, for example that she "created" over 600 units of affordable housing at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, while it was the work of tenant activists, the city housing agency, and multiple elected officials.

At a debate, Cumbo said, "I've been able to create over 3000 jobs at Navy Yard." Actually, a city press release credited "a combination of BNYDC investment, $73.1 million of Mayoral City Capital and $3.7 million from the City Council and Brooklyn Borough President."

Getting nasty

If Cumbo's not going negative herself, she's certainly been the beneficiaries of others willing to do so. Those gathering outside a 7/25/17 candidates' forum in Crown Heights were handed various documents, along with Fox flyers, containing attacks on Fox supporter Alicia Boyd of Movement to Protect the People. (I witnessed it, and it was described by Akosua Albritton in an article in Our Time Press.)

Clearly, those were not from Fox, though the teenagers handing out the literature claimed they worked for Fox. A query to the person who seemed their supervisor was brushed off. To Albritton, Fox supporters expressed concern about the young people involved, and Fox didn't comment. 

But the query should have gone to Cumbo: did she know about this? did she support this? (I later asked, but didn't get a response.)

One page distributed criticized Boyd for opposing gentrification while renting her private home out on AirBnB. That has been an issue within the heated politics of local Community Board 9. And it also might be on the radar screen of the Hotel Trades Council, an AirBnB foe that has vowed to spend big money backing Cumbo, though there's no proof HDC was involved. That said, landlords of apartment buildings who reserve rentable units for AirBnB surely raise more concerns.

Fox, who's notably pro-tenant, has not stated a position on AirBnB, but in response to my query said "we need to do everything in our power to make sure that we're not losing affordable units across the city."

Some of Fox's supporters, including Boyd, directly charged that Cumbo got money from Jobs for New York, which is not true, given the indirect support. Cumbo campaign manager Ben Ernst has pointed out a homemade flyer, with no attribution, that Mayor de Blasio and local politicians connected to the real estate industry are putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into Cumbo's campaign.

On Inside City Hall, Cumbo charged that Fox had spend thousands of dollars investigating her family, and asked why. Fox sidestepped the question. Cumbo didn't respond to my query.

Fox, in response to my query said, "As for the investigator, that's ludicrous. Laurie is making up lies to distract from the real issues in this race--her absence of leadership on a wide range of issues across the district, from the homelessness and affordability crisis to the NYCHA repair backlog to her standing with big developers and against the community on the Bedford Union Armory project. I've never hired an investigator to look into anyone."

Asked in one debate what she'd do differently as Council Member if she had to do it over again, Cumbo did not bring up a policy or admit vulnerability. (So, no second thoughts about how she was curiously reticent, as I wrote in May 2016, when one of her constituents reported that living near the Pacific Park project was like "living in a shark tank," given the harassment.)

"I never look back, in terms of decision or votes or the way I would have handled some things," she said. "If I could do something differently, I guess I’d spend more time refuting on some of the negative things said about me."


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…