Tag Archives: Brooklyn Heights

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

Jo Anne Simon: Bald Faced Liar

 

I'm just desperate...

I'm just desperate...

We never wanted it to get here.  Biviano and Diamondstone have engaged in negative campaigning.  Now Jo Anne Simon has joined the negative campaign camp and resorts to a bald faced lie in an attack piece against Evan Thies.  The piece was distributed to the southern part of the 33rd District starting yesterday.  We expect that it will make it to the northern part tomorrow or on primary day.  

Simon’s piece claims “Evan Thies sat out the crucial committee vote that green-lighted the irresponsible Broadway Triangle development project.  If Thies had shown up and voted this irresponsible development would never have gone forward.”   Simon is just plain lying when she claims that Thies’s vote made the difference between Broadway Triangle going forward or not.  That is simply not true.  The final vote on Broadway Triangle was 23-12.  Thies’s vote did not make the difference.  For anyone familiar with CB1, they know that Vito Lopez and the Satmar bloc control what happens.

Why Simon would print this lie in a district-wide campaign piece is obvious.  She has run a completely lackluster campaign, is out of totally options, and needs to sling whatever mud she can lay her hands on — even if it is not truthful.  We are seriously disturbed that Simon would sink to this level.  She has been exposed throughout the campaign as an ineffective, waffling, flip-flopping, busybody with no real record of achievement either for her neighborhood or on reform within the Kings County Democratic Party.  With this latest piece of campaign literature, she has simply proven that she worse than we ever thought.  

Nice job, Jo Anne.  Really sad.

Keeping It Real

Jo Anne Simon & The Record of Reform

Jo Anne Simon claims she is an effective reformer and community advocate.  We wanted to take a look at her record to see how effective she really has been.  We decided to take a look at two issues that she has touted: traffic and judicial reform.

Don't look too close, please!

Don't look too close, please!

On traffic, Simon claims to have advocated for transportation and traffic improvement for fifteen years. One need look no further than Downtown Brooklyn to find the answer of whether she has been effective. The traffic is worse than ever. The parking is non-existent for local residents. Smith Street is an absolute mess in the mornings and it has been getting worse.  Just spend some time at Smith & Bergen.  It is a nightmare.  There has been no real progress on a residential parking program even though it has been discussed for years. The issue is now stuck in the State Legislature (good luck with that!).  Simon has complained about service cut backs on the G-train.  That has gotten worse as well.  Simon also points to her work on the Gowanus Expressway Task Force, which proposes placing the thoroughfare underground.  It’s a nice idea but is it happening?  Bottom Line: While it is unfair to blame Simon for the sad state of traffic and transportation in the 33rd District, she has no record of accomplishment despite touting fifteen years of work on the issue.

On judicial reform, her record also falls short.  Simon says it shows that she stood up to the Machine.  But if you compare her December 2005 reform recommendations for the Kings County Democratic Committee’s Judicial Screening Panel to the rules actually adopted you see she accomplished nothing:

  • Simon Recommendation: Have the Screening Panel (not Vito) pick the Panel’s chairperson.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Panel members should not be partners, suite mates or associated with party officials:  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have the Screening Panel use the same review standard for incumbent judges.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have a reconsideration process for unfavorably rated candidates.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have a “Highly Qualified” option for judicial candidates.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have a judicial candidate forum for District Leaders and others to see the candidates.  NOT ADOPTED
  • Simon Recommendation: Allow Panel members to communicate their review directly to district leaders.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Adopt the standard NYC Bar judicial questionnaire.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Panel review committees should consist of 2 or more individuals.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: No Panel members can act as a reference for a candidate.  NOT ADOPTED.  Panel members are allowed to communicate directly with the (Lopez picked) Panel chair about a candidate.

With basically all of her recommendations being rejected, the County’s record on judicial selections since her December 2005 proposals is completely abysmal:

  • 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 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.

If Simon did not get her recommendations adopted, and the County’s record on selecting judges is as corrupt as ever, can she lay claim to being a reformer in this area as well?  We don’t think so.

The bottom line is that when you look at Simon’s record as a reformer and community advocate, you see years of work but no results. Even the New York Times couldn’t point to anything!  It makes us wonder how effective she will be as a council person.

Keeping It Real

Jo Anne Simon & More Questionable $$$

Following up on our earlier report of Jo Anne Simon’s real estate related campaign contributions, we are deeply troubled because she has also taken money from three board members of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (“BBPDC”).  BBPDC is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation (“ESDC”).  ESCD is the state agency that has been approving Atlantic Yards through by-passing the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Process.  BBPDC is behind the controversial recommendation to build luxury apartments in Brooklyn Bridge Park so maintenance and operations can be self-financing.  Simon claims that she is opposed to development in the park. We question her commitment to that position one the one hand when she is taking money from the members of BBPDC board with the other hand.

 

Why can't you people leave me and my contributors alone?

Why can't you people leave me and my contributors alone?

 

 

The Biviano campaign did not pick up on this clear conflict of interest when attacking Simon for taking money from real estate developers and brokers.  “Nicky215” on the Brooklyn Heights Blog did and we looked into it further.  Nicky posted, “Joanne (sic.) has gotten conributions from ESDC board members that want 1000 luxery (sic.) condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park. To be specific $250 from Joanne Witty, $1250 from David Offensend, $1000 from Henry Guttman and $250 from his wife Karolyn Guttman.”

We checked the Campaign Finance Board donations disclosures for the Simon campaign and found Nicky 215 was completely accurate regarding the donations:

Witty, Joanne
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Unemployed
Civic Volunteer
01/14/2008  $250.00

Offensend, David G.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
NY Public Library
Executive
11/16/2007  $250.00

Offensend, David G.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
NY Public Library
Executive
06/27/2009  $1,000.00

Gutman, Henry B.
Simpson Thacher
Attorney
01/11/2008  $500.00

Gutman, Henry B.
Simpson Thacher
Attorney
07/31/2009  $500.00

Witty, Offensend and Gutman are all listed as members of the BBPDC board of directors.  Simon also took $250 from Henry Guttman’s wife, Karolyn Guttman.

Gutman, Karolyn S.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Retired
05/06/2009  $250.00

With the 6:1 match, these donations total $6,250 (5.8% of the $108,033 in total funds Simon has in her war chest for the campaign).  The Biviano campaign claimed that Simon took 306 contributions totaling $24,068.00 from real estate related interests.  The combined total of questionable funds amounts to 28% of Simon’s total fund raising.

We think that these donations pose a clear conflict of interest for Simon because she has publicly stated her opposition to development of luxury housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. She also touts her engagement on this issue on her law firm website. We are also disturbed by the appearance of a conflict of interest because BBPDC is a subsidiary of ESDC, which is overseeing approval of Atlantic Yards. We would be interested in the opinion of Norman Oder and DDDB regarding Simon taking funds from board members approving ESDC development in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We believe that Simon should immediately return donations by Witty, Offensend and the Gutmans. Simon already has a considerable war chest for her City Council race. She can return these funds without giving up her advantage over the other candidates in the race. We recall another District Leader/33rd District Candidate who won the fundraising battle but lost the war — Steve Cohn. Simon’s disregard for the implications of her fundraising may well lead her candidacy to a similar fate.

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.

Diamondstone, Baer & Biviano with Some Good Ideas: Thies MIA on One

A few folks think that we have been a little too negative in our pieces. We think that we have just been telling voters what they need to hear. The following piece is also something that we think people need to hear. But don’t fret. We are in the back room working up some stuff that will keep teeth gnashing over the coming days. For now, we leave you with the following.

The two most pressing issues in the 33rd District are development and the environment. From Greenpoint to Park Slope, voters agree that development is number one on the list. But ask anyone from Greenpoint/Williamsburg and they will tell you that residents must be ever vigilant on the issue of environmental health. Diamondstone, Baer and Biviano have all offered glimpses of excellent ideas that should become priorities for the next council representative – whoever that may be.

For Diamondstone, we find two ideas very interesting. First, he advocates charging tolls for commercial traffic coming eastbound across the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn. As Diamondstone describes it, trucks regularly travel across the Verrazano from New Jersey, wind their way through Brooklyn, enter Manhattan over one of the 33rd District’s three East River bridges and then exit back to New Jersey through the Holland Tunnel. Total Cost in Tolls: $0. Separate and apart from congestion pricing, Diamondstone thinks that the City should close this loophole. We think that it is a great idea.

Second, Diamondstone thinks that there should be a requirement that commercial tenants have a right of first refusal if a building owner wants to sell. Too often small businesses live at the whim of landlords who have sold buildings out from underneath them. Nothing will ever stop landlords from seeking to maximize their profits. But having a legal requirement to give commercial tenants a right of first refusal would go a long way to solving this problem. Many small businesses may not have the wherewithal to buy. But at least they should be given a fair chance.

Baer and Biviano have also both advanced ideas on development that should be looked at closely. They are similar but different. Baer proposes rent stabilization for commercial tenants. Biviano is in favor of mandatory inclusionary zoning. He is the only candidate to talk about this concept during the campaign – albeit with no detail. Under Baer’s proposal, commercial rent would be subject to limited fixed raises. Biviano proposes that any development of more than 10 units should have 10% affordable housing.

Both ideas will meet with great resistance from the Real Estate Board of New York. Yassky flirted with developing a mandatory inclusionary zoning ULURP application during the Greenpoint/Williasmburg rezoning. The idea got lost in the shuffle of his congressional campaign. Some real estates interests have said that the proposal would be an unconstitutional taking. We think that is a thinly veiled threat of litigation. Thies should explain why the proposal fell by the wayside – and why he has not embraced the idea in his candidacy. Even if REBNY or others are spoiling for this fight, we hope that the next council member from the 33rd District will be willing to wage it.

Real Reform Brooklyn

Jo Anne Simon & Real Estate $$$

 

Simon in the glare of scrutiny.  Maybe they won't notice?

Simon in the glare of scrutiny. Maybe they won't notice?

Doug Biviano launched a broadside into the Jo Anne Simon camp today accusing her of taking in over $10,000 in real estate related contributions. He claims that the total with matching funds exceeds $23,000. According to the Brooklyn Heights Blog, Karen Johnson, the Simon campaign’s political director, characterized Biviano’s claim as “totally untrue.” (You have to ask yourself what a local City Council campaign doing with a “political director”?) “I’m very disappointed,” Johnson said. “He’s resorted to distortions because he’s desperate.” Johnson said that the contributors listed do not have ties to large developers in the city, and are simply small property owners and landlords. As with many things coming from either the Simon and Biviano camps, the truth is often hard to pin down. We thought that we would take a closer look at the question by putting out all the information for you to make up your own mind about who is telling the truth.

 

One point though is that Simon has taken at least one donation from some one tied to a large Brooklyn developer: Joshua Muss. Muss developed the Brooklyn Marriott and Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza. Muss is also tied to development on the Gowanus Canal. The donation was from James Whelan, Muss Development on July 10, 2009 in the amount of $250. Therefore, Simon’s political director is incorrect when she claims that Simon’s contirbutors are not tied to large New York developers. There are two other developers who have also given donations to Simon as well (one on six occasions). The designation as real estate developer were provided by these individuals and entered by the Simon campaign on their campaign finance disclosures. We are not familiar with these developers or whether they have projects in the City. Please let us know if you can provide any verifiable information regarding these individuals:

Barry L. Levine
Puddingstone Developers LLC
Real Estate Developer
06/23/2008 $250.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
12/17/2004 $250.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
01/18/2008 $500.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
01/23/2008 $150.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
04/23/2008 $250.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
03/03/2009 $150.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
07/11/2009 $1,250.00

Finally, there are a slew of real estate brokers and other real estate related individuals who have also made donations (some on multiple occasions). Again, these designations are provided by the individuals and then reported by the Simon campaign on their campaign finance disclosures.

Austin, Jacqueline J.
Brooklyn Bridge Realty
Real Estate Broker
03/13/2008 $100.00

Barcelon, Allen
Boerum Hill Realty, LLC
Real Estate Broker
06/25/2008 $65.00

Carberry, Kevin
Real Estate Broker
08/10/2009 $200.00

Crow, James
Corcoran Group
Real Estate Sales
06/19/2008 $65.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
12/19/2008 $100.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
01/08/2009 $50.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
07/22/2009 $50.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
08/04/2009 $50.00

Harris, William L
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
11/28/2004 $1,500.00

Harris, William L
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
12/31/2007 $2,750.00

Havens, Chris
Creative Real Estate
Real Estate Broker
07/07/2009 $100.00

Huebener, Roslyn B.
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
02/09/2008 $250.00

Hunter, Virginia
Warren Lewis Realty
Independent Contractor – Real Estate Broker
12/16/2004 $25.00

Kerby, James M.
Self-employed Real Estate
01/20/2008 $100.00

Klein, Scott
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
01/11/2009 $50.00

Klein, Scott
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
04/24/2009 $50.00

Lennard, Margaret
Self-employed
Real Estate Owner
12/30/2004 $100.00

Lennard, Margaret
Self-employed
Real Estate Owner
01/20/2008 $100.00

Lennard, Margaret
Self-employed
Real Estate Owner
05/19/2008 $100.00

McLoughlin, Declan
Self-employed
Real Estate
07/11/2009 $100.00

Osgood, Jane E
North Garden Management Real estate
06/25/2008 $25.00

Paz, Zahivit
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
07/10/2009 $510.00

Perry, Lucy
Corcoran
Real Estate Salesperson
05/23/2008 $50.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
12/13/2004 $25.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
11/13/2004 $13.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
01/09/2008 $50.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
01/20/2008 $25.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
04/21/2008 $100.00

So who is telling the truth? It seems that Simon is definitely misrepresenting where her money is coming from. It is true that many are small donations from real estate brokers. But there are some large ones from this group. Also, she has definitely taken money from real estate developers including Muss Development which has done major projects in Downtown Brooklyn and is proposing development on the Gowanus Canal. The fact that Simon would not fess up to this donation is troubling especially given that part of the Gowanus falls in the 33rd and superfunding the area has been an issue in the campaign. Biviano on the other hand may be overstating the case by lumping all of the small real estate broker donations into the argument. But there is no question that Simon has taken a large pool of contributions from real estate brokers (practically all of which have been matched 4:1) including several from Corcoran Group one of the CIty’s largest.

Bottom Line: Between Simon and Biviano, we don’t know who to trust.

Real Reform Brooklyn