Six of the seven candidates vying for David Yassky’s city council seat struggled to distinguish themselves from each other, mostly finding common ground Monday night on a range of subjects from the environment to same sex marriage to education reform.
Jo Anne Simon, Evan Thies, Ken Diamondstone, Ken Baer, Isaac Abraham and newcomer Doug Biviano, shared the stage at St. Francis College’s auditorium (180 Remsen Street), looking to introduce themselves to a polite an attentive audience of over sixty democratic activists throughout the district. Absent from the event was Steve Levin, who said he had a scheduling conflict. The Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and Independent Neighborhood Democrats, of which Simon is a member, co-sponsored the public forum, the first of the young campaign season.
Throughout the two-hour forum, candidates took the opportunity to explain their positions on a variety of topics affecting residents in the 33rd Council District. Five of the candidates supported Governor Paterson’s proposed same sex marriage bill, all of them wanted to repeal vacancy decontrol and shift control of rent stabilization to the city, all were against the Dock Street project and building housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and five of candidates supported designation of the Gowanus Canal as a federal Superfund site, with Simon saying she wanted to study the issue further.
“I think we learned a lot of lessons at Newtown Creek, which I hope will become a Superfund site someday,” candidate Evan Thies said, a Community Board 1 member and chair of its Environmental Committee. “The 33rd district has two of the most polluted waterways in the entire country. We’ve made some progress, but unfortunately we relied on the state and a powerful corporation to do that job for us.”
There was some disagreement among the candidates regarding the issue of mayoral control, with Thies and Diamondstone supporting it in principal with more parental and teacher involvement while Baer, Simon, Biviano and Abraham calling for more transparency and limits to the Mayor’s authority over the public school system.
“[Mayoral control] has been unfettered discretion for him to do what he wanted without educators without involvement from parents,” Simon said. “If we ignore parents and we ignore educators, it’s not going to build good schools. The School Report Card doesn’t make sense, and we must focus on what accountability means.”
Biviano, making his first public appearance in the campaign after declaring to run several days ago, emphasized his experience as an environmental engineer and his role as a parent in a local public school as the reasons he deserved to be Brooklyn Height’s next councilman.
“I am all about livable Brooklyn communities where we can raise our families, life, thrive and survive,” said Biviano. “Most of all we have to focus on a local economy and have some bold ideas—it means big thinking.”
During the forum, the candidates referenced several controversial development projects, expressing their displeasure with the process of development of commercial properties on Atlantic, the proposed condominiums in Brooklyn Bridge Park and the height of the tower on the Dock Street building in DUMBO that could potentially block sight views of Brooklyn Bridge.
“As an opponent of the Atlantic Yards project for so many years, it’s important to begin with a plan that comes from the communities,” Diamondstone said. “We need to use the kinds of funds from federal, state, and city in affordable housing, infrastructure, schools. It’s outrageous that we are using government money for a project like that.”
In his closing statement, Diamondstone chastised two opponents, Levin and Simon, for having strong ties to the Kings County Democratic Party. Diamondstone claimed that Simon, a Democratic District Leader, has supported Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, eighty percent of the time, referring to a quote from Democratic District Leader Alan Fleischman from an article in City Hall News. In a statement released hours after the debate, Simon’s campaign manager Kelly Donnelly refuted this claim, saying that instead of “engaging in politics of division” she has been working to building coalitions within and across party lines.
“Last November, the people of Brooklyn rejected the old school politics of twisting words, and of smoke and mirrors,” said Donnelly. “To imply that the only way a person should assert their political independence is to be mostly oppositional is naive and out of touch with the voters. Just look at the Republicans in Washington and see how well that approach is working.”
Many Democratic voters in audience praised the format and amicable nature of the debate, though some residents, such as CBID and IND member Irene Van Slyke, said she was not ready to endorse a candidate at this time. The CBID’s candidate endorsement meeting is Thursday of this week, just as this article will go to press.
“It was a very good event and the candidates were very impressive,” said Van Slyke. Everybody shined.”
Other Democratic activists, such as Nick Rizzo, believe that most voters in attendance had already chosen a candidate, and their support was likely solidified after the forum.
“I thought Evan showed the most command of policy but I also thought Jo Anne did a good job,” said Rizzo. “I am an Evan supporter and his performance tonight confirmed that.”