Tag Archives: 11222

We Endorse Evan Thies

After much deliberation ( and in fighting), we have decided to endorse Evan Thies for City Council.  Our review has been exhaustive and exhausting.  We know that our decision will not come as a surprise to many.  But we wanted to give you our thinking on the matter.

In reviewing the candidates, we looked foremost to the individual records.  We also turned a strong eye to the campaigns and who we think can actually win the race.  Jo Anne Simon seemed like a good candidate from a distance.  A close review of her record (or lack of one) took her out of the running.  Simon has been active in community politics for years.  But too often it seems that she has waffled and wavered on important issues.  She did it on Atlantic Yards and congestion pricing.  She also has no record of reform within the  Brooklyn Democratic Committee.  The final straw that broke the camel’s back has been Simon resorting in her campaign literature to lies and fabrications when she went negative.

As for Steve Levin, we really want to like him.  We think that Steve has campaigned very hard.  We also think that he has hit great themes on senior housing and early education.  But we cannot get over the fact that Levin moved into the District to run.  And we really can’t get past the fact that his headquarters are located outside the District in the Bushwick United Democratic Club — Vito Lopez’s power base.  Levin has consistently tried to separate himself from Lopez in the race.  No matter how much we like Steve, we fear that he will suffer the same fate as Diana Reyna if he tries to move too far away from his mentor.  And if he doesn’t move far away from him, we have even greater concerns.

As for the other candidates, we think none of them fit the bill.  Doug Biviano has run a nasty negative campaign.  We also think that the 33rd representative should provide intellectual fire power that we have not found in him.  We think that Ken Diamondstone lays legitimate claim to the reform and anti-Atlantic Yards mantle.  Unfortunately, Diamondstone has never been able to put together a winning campaign despite coming out of the gate four times.  Diamondstone should realize that his power lies as a kingmaker rather than being a perennial also-ran.  Ken Baer and Isaac Abraham have not really had any consideration by us.  We think that Baer has run an ineffective race and will make a poor showing.  Isaac Abraham seems like a nice person.  He is to be commended for broadening our collective understanding of the Hasidic community.  We are disappointed by his contributions from infamous property owner Joshua Guttman.  We also think that he too has no chance of winning.  

That leaves us with Evan Thies.  Evan is not the perfect candidate.  No one is.  His follow through on the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning deserves criticism.  He has also taken two developer related donations.  One from James Whalen of Muss Development.  (He contributed an identical amount to Simon’s campaign.)  He also took money from developer Dean Palin who is constructing as as-of-right project in Greenpoint.  Money is a constant struggle for campaigns and Thies has lagged behind Simon and Levin.  But we think that criticism on Broadway Triangle is misleading.  The Community Board voted by a margin of 2:1 in favor of that project.  Thies submitted testimony in opposition to its approval to the Borough President and City Planning Commission.  We are aware of no other candidate (other than Simon) that has done so.  On the plus side, we think that Evan is smart and knows the District better than any other candidate.  From north to south, he understands each neighborhood better than anyone else in the race.  His work on environmental, parks and transportation issues has been excellent.  These are all critical to the District.  He also has a great grasp of how to work within the Council to be effective and hit the ground running.  He has run an honorable and honest campaign.  Thies gets our endorsement.

Keeping It Real

Stephen Levin & The Dark Side of the Force

 

Tell young padawan that I want to see him, now.

Tell young padawan that I want to see him, now.

A few days ago Borough President Marty Markowitz announced that he was in favor of the Broadway Triangle rezoning and Stephen Levin – a two for one sale. Markowitz praised Levin for being more concerned with results than process. The subtext is that Marty thinks that Levin has learned not to be concerned with community-based planning. Marty knows all about that with Atlantic Yards. The fact that Levin has apparently learned this lesson early in life is a plus for the party hacks. We think that rings warning bells about deeper issues with young Levin.

 

The fact is that Levin has gotten to witness a whole lot of shenanigans while worshiping at Vito Lopez’s feet. Of course, he now knows how to cut a sweetheart $45,000,000 no-bid development deal. And, how to quietly slip $100,000,000 tax breaks into legislation on Atlantic Yards.  But there is also how to run unqualified judges for the bench, get jobs for family members, and how to exact retribution on your enemies. We wanted to take a look at some of them to see what the young padawan may have learned from the Dark Side:

  • Lopez’s Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council pays his girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, $108,593 a year for 25 hours of work her per week. Times-Union, June 11, 2006.
  • Lopez arranged a $55,000 state grant to the Bushwick Observer, a paper criticized for its slanted reporting of him. Daily News, November 30, 2006.
  • Lopez got Pataki to nominate his Lopez’s daughter, Gina Marie Lopez-Summa, to be a judge with the Court of Claims as payback for Lopez backing Pataki’s re-election. New York Post, September 18, 2006. Lopez got Governor Patterson to reappoint his daughter even though Spitzer refused to do so. Daily News, April 14, 2008. Lopez previously got his daughter appointed general counsel to the Division of Human rights for backing Pataki in 1998. Daily News, September 19, 2006.
  • Lopez backed his girlfriend’s brother, Jack Battaglia, for a seat on the Kings County Supreme Court over more qualified lawyers. Daily News, September 18, 2006.
  • Lopez backed Richard Velasquez for a judgeship even though the New York City Bar Association and the Brooklyn Bar Association from him unqualified. Velasquez had worked for Lopez’s girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. New York Post, February 15, 2009.
  • Lopez backed Judge ShawnDya Simpson for Surrogate Court over reform Judge Margarita Lopez-Torres (no relation) even though Simpson’s family’s primary residence was in New Jersey. Village Voice, July 31, 2007. Lopez also fought Lopez-Torres all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the way party hacks select judges.  Lopez originally went to war with Judge Lopez-Torres because she would not hire Vito’s daughter as a clerk.
  • Lopez backed anti-gay and completely unqualified candidate for the bench, now-Judge Noach Dear, even though Lopez promised that the Party’s judicial screening panel would only back candidates that were deemed qualified. Daily News, September 25, 2007 and October 30, 2007.
  • Lopez is alleged to have demanded the resignation of MTA Chief Elliot Sander for not promoting Lopez’s son-in-law to a higher paying position. The MTA Inspector General is now investigating the allegations. Daily News, May 12, 2009.

Some will take us to task for trying to paint Levin with Lopez’s brush – especially on the judgeships. But Levin touts as his prior experience “having worked on various judicial campaigns…” Brooklyn Paper, January 28, 2008. According to NYS Board of Elections Financial Disclosure Reports, Levin also received over $4,000 in consultant fees and reimbursements between 2004 and 2007 from the “Friends of Vito Lopez” for political work on behalf of his master.

The bottom line is that you cannot separate Levin from Lopez in this race. And, it is dangerous to do otherwise.  As the Village Voice observed, Lopez “would love to add the council district to his direct sphere of influence. Lopez’s enthusiasm for this race is so contagious that Levin is already the second of the party boss’s aides to consider running for the seat.” Village Voice, July 2, 2008. Or as political consultant extraordinaire Hank Sheinkopf has put it, “Vito Lopez’s prestige is on the line because his chief of staff is in the race.” Daily News, February 1, 2009. For more recent stuff. See Tom Robbin’s new piece in the Village Voice.

Real Reform Brooklyn

Postscript:  We also caution those who think, as one blogger said, that Levin “may” turn out to be his own man.  The fact is that Levin has not given us any reason to think that this will be the case. He has said that he has no problem be identified as Vito’s guy. He runs his campaign from a remote headquarters inside Vito’s political club and outside the 33rd District. And, he has never done anything to indicate that he holds any position, belief or thought independent from his master. The chance that he “may” turn out to be his own man is just too much of a risk for us to take.

Steve Levin + Carpetbagging: The Plot Thickens

"Come on, Fluffy.  Vito says we have to move."

"Come on, Fluffy. Vito says we have to move to the 33rd."

For today, we have two further points regarding our earlier piece on Steve Levin & Carpetbagging. We received some comments, presumably from Levin supporters, denouncing the carpetbagging label. Those commentators argued that Levin just moved down the block to his new Morgan Avenue address. They claimed that we were exaggerating the situation. In fact, Levin moved 26 blocks and over 2 miles to ensconce himself inside the 33rd District. But further research now reveals that Levin running in the 33rd is even more of a subterfuge for Vito Lopez that we first though. That the carpetbagging label is even more appropriate than ever. The only way to describe it is pure chutzpah!

First, we have learned that Levin was not considering for a run in the 33rd District as early as February 2008. His name actually floated for the position in a December 4, 2007 piece in the New York Observer. Levin was a registered voter in the 34th District on November 7, 2007. That means, assuming his motives were totally pure, within 25 days (November 7 to December 4, 2007), he moved two miles and 26 blocks into the 33rd District the day, fell instantly love with the place, and decided he just had to have a shot at representing us. If you believe that, we have a bridge in the lower part of that we would like to sell you.

Second, it also turns out that Levin’s campaign office is not even in the 33rd District. Rather, it is in the 34th at Vito Lopez’s political club Bushwick United Democratic Club. According to Levin’s campaign expenditure reports, his only expense for office space has been at Bushwick United Democratic Club.

Picture 1

Levin Campaign Finance Expense Report

Bushwick United Democratic Club is not in the 33rd District. Rather, it is located, as its name suggests, it is in the heart of Bushwick at at 297 Wycoff Avenue.

Picture 2

Posting with address of Bushwick United Democratic Club

Picture 1

Google Map showing Bushwick United Democratic Club

Levin has insisted that he is not tied to Vito Lopez — that he is his own man in this race. Absolutely nothing about his actions or conduct confirm that claim. Levin moved into the District solely for the purpose of running for the council seat. He is not even committed enough to the area to have his campaign office here. And, his ties to Lopez run so deep that he cannot even separate his headquarters from that of his master. That is carpetbagging of the first order. It is troubling and should not go unnoticed.

Keeping It Real

Post Script:  Our thanks to Dwight Milk for posting the comment about the location of Levin’s campaign headquarters.

Evan Thies & The Lost Rezoning

This could get ugly.

Seems like Thies is leaving a bad taste in her mouth.

It has been a busy time in the 33rd. Our piece on Jo Anne Simon was heavily viewed, and there is more to come on her and Steve Levin. We were asked today if we worked for Evan Thies. Doug Biviano says that we are shiling for him.  We are not shilling for Thies or anybody.  We are just trying to comment in a fair, accurate and truthful way so people can make up their minds (without the rhetoric) about this very important race.

Thies has come under criticism and we will now take a look at that.  (We may work our way through some of the other candidates.  But to be candid, we don’t think that they stand much of a chance and may not waste our time.)  From what we can discern about Thies, the criticism of him breaks down into mainly three categories: (1) he resigned from CB1 prior to the Broadway Triangle vote; (2) he bears responsibility for the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning; and (3) he is part of the Machine.  We think that much of it is unfair.  Lets address these in reverse order.

To begin, it seems misplaced to say that Thies is “part of the Machine.” He is running against Vito Lopez’s guy – Steve Levin. He is not a District Leader like Jo Anne Simon.  Thies does not sit on the County Committee or its Judicial Screening Panel. More importantly, the Machine (Vito Lopez) has screwed Thies out of an endorsement by Yassky in return for Lopez supporting Yassky’s bid to become comptroller. This all begs the question: How is Thies part of the Machine? The answer: He’s not.

Some argue though that Thies is still tied to the Machine through Yassky because of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning.  That bring us to the next point.  In order to understand criticism stemming from the rezoning, it is important to have a frame of reference that starts in May 2005. At that time, when the final deal went down at the City Council, many parties greeted the rezoning package positively. There were a lot of people who did not like the height & bulk on the waterfront. People also wanted to see inclusionary housing on the upland part of Northside Williamsburg. But generally people thought that the 33% affordable housing was a win given that the City started at 0% and the community was demanding 40%. As Brad Lander stated in the New York Times “The communities of Williamsburg and Greenpoint win because today there is a guarantee of new and permanently affordable housing, instead of a virtual guarantee that new development would price residents out of their homes.”  Another major housing advocate, Churches United for Fair Housing, also viewed the rezoning positively at the time.

Thies was Yassky’s chief of staff at the time. Yassky was in favor of the height and bulk because it increased the levels of affordable housing. The deal also kept the units in the community, which was an improvement over prior deals that allowed units to be built elsewhere. Lopez wanted the community’s focus to be only affordable housing. But the community held firm that four principles needed to be advanced: (1) affordable housing; (2) acceptable height and bulk; (3) additional open space; and (4) industrial retention. The rezoning package purported to deliver on three items with height and bulk losing to the promise of additional affordable units.

So where does criticism of Thies fit into this mix?  Thies can be certainly be called out for supporting the deal that Yassky cut.  But remember, as noted above, at the time it was heralded as a success in most quarters including by housing advocates.  The place for real criticism, however, is with the follow up. Yassky certainly dropped the ball in not pressing the City to live up to its commitments on the rezoning.  For example, greater effort should have been made on open space – especially where the Mayor has not delivered the MTA bus depot at the very northern tip of the district for park development.  However, the buck may need to stop with Yassky, who has made a habit of running for other offices rather than tending to the 33rd (e.g. DA race, Congressional race, Comptroller race).  Who knows what Yassky’s true motives were for not pressing harder on requiring the City to keep its rezoning commitments…or giving Thies free reign to press for them as his Chief of Staff.  Thies has not fairly criticized Yassky for it.  We think that he should give up being so loyal to his former boss, especially since Yassky has not been loyal to Thies in giving an endorsement.

Finally, as for Thies leaving CB1 before the Broadway Triangle vote, we think that issue is a red herring. The healthy majority of CB1 is controlled by UJO’s Rabbi Niederman and people who answer to Vito Lopez.  For example, the new chair, Christopher Olechowski, runs a social services agency providing home-based nursing to the elderly that thrives on State money. (Sound remotely familiar to Ridgewood Bushwick?)  Bottom Line: Thies stepping down from CB1 did not make any difference.  The vote was 23-12.  The votes were in the bag for Broadway Triangle and there was nothing Thies could do to stop that train.  Thies has stated his opposition to Broadway Triangle openly, publicly and repeatedly – before and after the CB1 vote.  Is it really legitimate to criticize him for not staying around long enough to grandstand and showboat the issue when his vote did not matter?  We think not.  Had he done so, he probably would have just been criticized for doing it to advance his campaign.  A no-win situation if you ask us.  It is also interesting to note that no candidates for the 33rd District showed up to give public testimony against Broadway Triangle either before the Community Board or before the Borough President.  We would not expect Levin to have done so.  But Simon, Diamondstone, Biviano, etc.?  People who live in glass rezonings shouldn’t throw stones.

Keeping It Real

Steve Levin Vito’s Guy – “I think that’s fine”

Vito and His Boy

Veni Vedi Vito

In one of the more chilling exchanges of the race for the 33rd, Steve Levin said that he was fine with being identified as Vito Lopez’s guy in the ring.  When Levin was identified in an interview as “Vito’s Guy” and “the machine candidate”, he said flat out that “I think that’s fine.”

Now lets break that down and think about it.  Levin is openly and willingly embracing the fact that he is the machine candidate.  There is not the slightest pretense of his being a progressive or a reformer.  Not his interest.  This fits into an overall pattern of opportunism that has come to define his candidacy.  He moved several blocks into the district sometime after November 2007 so he could announce his intention to run by February 2008.  Some people think that his move is not a big deal.  But we think that it displays a calculated decision, made in conjunction with his boss who also has issues about living in the district he represents.  For those who think that it is okay for Levin to move and immediately announce that he wants to represent us, why doesn’t he stay where he was living and run against Diana Reyna — where Vito is running another machine candidate.  It is happening because Vito wants to expand his power into Brownstone Brooklyn — plain and simple.

And that gets us back to Levin saying “I think that’s fine.”  What else is going to be fine?  No pay jobs for relatives?  Keeping quality judges off the bench because of petty personal squabbles?  Watering down legislation to protect pedophile priests?  Cutting the community out of any say on what happens with Broadway Triangle?  Allowing $45 million sweetheart deals to Vito?  Read more.

Levin has also said that “working in [Lopez's] office was very instructive about how to use the levers of government.” That is what worries us. That what you learned will just keep the status quo of a rank smell in Brooklyn.

Steve Levin & Carpetbagging

So here is another one for the books.  According to voter registration records, Steve Levin was not living in the 33rd District until sometime after November 6, 2007.  Why do we know that?  Because his voter registration records show that he voted out of the district at his prior East Williamsburg address at 12 Morgan Avenue, which is in the 34th District represented by City Councilwoman Diana Reyna.  The earliest record of him being in the district is March 2008.  Whatever the case (November 2007 or March 2008), he has lived in the 33rd District for less than two years before running for the City Council.  Not that this should come as much of a surprise.  Levin’s mentor, Vito Lopez, has been accused of not living in the district that he represents.  It is pretty remarkable though because, according to the Daily News, Levin was considering a run for the 33rd by as early as February 2008.

What does this all mean?  Simple.  Levin has to vote where he is a resident.  On November 6, 2007, he is still legally declared a resident of 12 Morgan Avenue, which is at the intersection of Flushing Avenue and Morgan.  It is in the 34th City Council District, i.e., not the 33rd District.  By March 2008, he has his legal residence listed at 576 Morgan Avenue, Apartment 3L, within the 33rd District.  Therefore, even assuming that Levin moved the day after he voted on November 7, 2007, he lived in the 33rd District for three months before deciding that he was the best person to represent us in the City Council.  That is not only chutzpah…it is carpetbagging, plain and simple.  The 33rd deserves way better.

Vito Backs Gillenbrand…Schumer Backs Levin…Same Story

Ahhhh, Vito....

Ahhhh, Vito....

You would think that Vito’s timing would be more subtle. But, of course, it wasn’t. A mere few minutes after Sen. Chuck “NeoCon” Schumer backed Vito’s lackey Steve Levin, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney backed off a challenge to Senator Kirsten Gillenbrand. Does Schumer really believe that Levin is the best person for the 33rd District? No! The back story is that Schumer has backed Gillenrbrand for her U.S. Senate bid. With Governor Patterson on life support, Schumer wants Vito in his camp. Vito smelling an opening backed Maloney. Then the backroom dealing got started. Schumer agreed to back Levin if Vito would back off Maloney. As quick as you can say “Quid Pro Quo” or “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, the deal got done and Schumer was out in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall with an anemic gathering of other Vito lackeys cheering the nuptials. Levin gave Schumer a verbal proctological exam that even embarrassed the Senator. Watch it here on the Brooklyn Heights Blog (the only source covering the event).