Tuesday night marked the third in a recent series of 33rd district city council candidate forums, this one hosted by the New Kings Democratic Club at Harry Van Arsdale High School in Williamsburg. For the first time, all seven candidates—Isaac Abraham, Ken Baer, Doug Biviano, Ken Diamondstone, Stephen Levin, Jo Anne Simon and Evan Thies—showed up in full force, ready to speak on issues ranging from affordable housing and open space to discretionary funding to condom distribution, cellular phones and ROTC programs in public schools.
Each candidate was given roughly 90 seconds to answer each long-form question, and was asked to respond with a simple yes or no during a lightning round. Throughout the evening’s two-hour program, most of the questions were pre-prepared by New Kings themselves, however the two moderators, Aaron Short and Sabrina Gates, fielded a few questions from the crowd as well.
Much of the evening’s buzz, though, surrounded Levin, who missed the two previous forums, making Tuesday night his public debate debut. As Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, Levin was subject to skepticism from his opponents, one of whom, Isaac Abraham, responded to Doug Biviano’s suggestion to implement veto power in the city council by joking that “a lot of people are concerned about VITO power.” Levin responded by stressing the fact that, though closely aligned with Lopez, he would operate in office as “his own guy.”
“I am very proud of the work I’ve done for his office, especially in affordable housing…There are times when I disagree, and I will be independent.” He did, however, tow Lopez’ party line on subjects such as the Broadway Triangle rezoning—he was the only candidate to speak out in its favor—and, defended the 2005 Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront rezoning.
“While I agree the promises remain unfulfilled, I am not as pessimistic as everyone else,” Levin said. “I applaud the affordability ratios in the rezoning.”
The other candidates were incredibly critical of issues pertaining to the 2005 rezoning promises, involving the creation and preservation of affordable housing, open space and park land, calling for more community involvement, and the need for city council to exert additional pressure on the authorities to follow through with what was originally promised. Thies, who operates as the CB1 Chair of the Environmental Committee, proposed a 360 degree plan designed to “force the city to tell the truth about infrastructure in our neighborhoods, make sure they can build what they say they are going to build and introduce monthly penalties forcing the city to pay us back for units not built.”
When asked about priorities for discretionary funding, all candidates expressed the need to support child and senior services, the creation and management of affordable housing and the continuation of funding to worthy organizations already being supported. Simon, who emphasized her role as a truly community-driven politician, stressed the importance of incorporating the community into decision-making processes.
“We have to find ways that we are able to keep services local, and make sure responsiveness comes from community,” Simon said. “Children, kindergarten and pre-k, and senior services are especially important because that connection to other people is what keeps our seniors alive, and we need open space and affordable housing, in a way that is community based and local, in a way that meets community needs.”
When the question of how to support small businesses in Brooklyn was raised, most candidates were unsure, but managed to come up with convincing and (somewhat) plausible proposals involving rent control, small and micro-business loans and the establishment of more Business Improvement Districts.
Though many candidates agreed with one another one the most important community issues, each one certainly displayed a flare of his or her own—Biviano, for example, predicted that soon, city-states will be more important than the federal government structure, while Baer proposed the creation and implementation of local currency.
“Cities are experts on living, and I’m going to harness that,” Biviano said. “I will not be bound by conventional thinking. We’re going to have old and new conversations, and the city state will lead in the future of the economy.”