Tag Archives: Williamsburg

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

Jo Anne Simon & Atlantic Yards: The Revisionist History

Our recent piece on Jo Anne Simon and Atlantic Yards sparked quite the response.  No one rose to her defense on the blog’s comments.  But Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report posted an article looking at whether Simon was, in fact, an early and vocal opponent of the project’s eminent domain as Simon repeatedly claims on the campaign trial.  Contrary to Simon’s statements, after thoroughly reviewing the record, Order found that “she hasn’t been a consistently leading or prominent opponent of eminent domain.”  Oder’s findings, as well as a posting by DDDB spokesman, Daniel Goldstein, and on a Daily Gotham, forces us to revisit the issue about whether Simon has been truthful when it comes to Atlantic Yards. Our conclusion:  She hasn’t been honest.

Our initial piece Simon and Atlantic Yards made two points.  First, that Simon was not truthful when she claimed, in her words, to be “an early and vocal critic of the use of eminent domain.”  Second, we also took issue with the fact that Simon has not offered any legal assistance to the Atlantic Yards opposition or other land use controversies in the 33rd District. Simon recently said during the Brooklyn Papers/BIT Debate that she has “worked with DDDB on many, many legal issues.”  Some other examples of 33rd District land use fights include Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Dock Street project and the Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning.

In reviewing the record of whether Simon was an early and vocal critic of eminent domain, Norman Oder pointed out that the Boerum Hill Association’s Atlantic Yards Task Force, which Simon chaired, opposed the use of eminent domain in a February 2004 press release.  In fact, the press release does not state that Simon’s Task Force was opposed to eminent domain.  Rather, it only said “we oppose any use of eminent domain…for private purposes….”  Daniel Goldstein also noted in a comment to the Atlantic Yards Report that Simon has not been as solid on the issue.  As Goldstein stated, “My criticism would be about BrooklynSpeaks’ (as a coalition) lack of a clear position on eminent domain specifically for the Atlantic Yards project (which is a position itself), and the times Jo Anne has kept silent on the issue as a representative of that coalition.  So I wish Jo Anne had been more outspoken on eminent domain specifically….”  Goldstein’s statement and Simon’s claims on the campaign trail do not square.  Quite simply, the record does not support Simon’s campaign statements that she has been an “early and vocal opponent” of the Atlantic Yards’ proposed use of eminent domain.

Our second point has to do with Simon not offering legal assistance on Atlantic Yards or any of the other land use battles waging in the 33rd District.  As for Atlantic Yards, at the Brooklyn Papers/BIT debate Simon said she has worked with DDDB on “many, many legal issues.”  Norman Oder found that this was not the case when it came to the many eminent domain lawsuits surrounding Atlantic Yards.  Oder observed, “Simon’s a civil rights lawyer, not a land-use lawyer, so it’s not surprising she didn’t participate in the DDDB-organized eminent domain lawsuits.”  But Oder ignores the fact that eminent domain is a civil rights issue.  In fact, the City’s most prominent civil rights firm, Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady, represents DDDB along with DDDB’s team of volunteer lawyers.  Oder also observed that Simon “didn’t stand with DDDB when it announced its first lawsuit in 2006, and she hasn’t been a presence–as far as I remember–at any of the court arguments.”  Daniel Goldstein also noted that Simon has not done legal work for DDDB: “We never even asked her to… Sure she could have joined our volunteer legal team, but there are scores of lawyer/politicians out there who didn’t either… Jo Anne has been an elected official and a practicing attorney, which leaves her little time to give us legal representation….”  Yet again, Simon’s public statements about her work on Atlantic Yards find no support from the people closest to the matter.

In the end, our issue with Simon on Atlantic Yards is a question of her honesty.  Simon, like all candidates for the 33rd, jump on the Atlantic Yards wagon in search of votes.  Daily Gotham, which has endorsed Simon, has taken issue with Doug Biviano’s literature claiming that Simon effectively divided the Atlantic Yards opposition.  Daily Gotham goes so far as to call Biviano an outright liar.  The fact remains that Simon’s opposition to Atlantic Yards remains murky, at best.  She was not an early and vocal opponent to the project’s use of eminent domain although it now makes for a good sound bite.  She has also not offered her legal skills to the fight even though it is a civil rights issue – her area of expertise.  Rather, Simon has taken a cautious “wait and see” approach to Atlantic Yards.  She has waited to see which way the wind is blowing before committing to a position.  While that may be an effective approach to life as a politician, we do not think that it makes for a good public servant – especially when the approach is coupled with misrepresentations about one’s record on the issue.

Keep It Real

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.

Doug Biviano: Emperor of the Air

We have been discussing amongst ourselves whether we would look at candidates beyond Steve Levin, Jo Anne Simon and Evan Thies.  The reason is simple.  We do not think that any of the other four candidates have any real viability: Isaac Abraham, Ken Baer, Doug Biviano or Ken Diamondstone.  Baer and Diamondstone have advanced some interesting ideas on development and the environment.  But none of the four seems to have the organization or fund raising to win.  Sorry to be so blunt.

We have decided though to take a closer look at Doug Biviano because he is the only candidate that has responded to us directly on our blog and elsewhere.  Biviano’s record of working on behalf of the 33rd District is basically nil.  We don’t say so necessarily by way of criticism.  He could still be a good candidate without any real record.  But he’s not.  His only direct political work has been two months as New York State coordinator for Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential campaign.  There appears to be a small discrepancy in Biviano’s resume with respect to his work for Kucinich.  Biviano claims to have worked for Kucinich from December 2007 through February 2008 — three months. In fact, Kucinich actually abandoned his presidential campaign on January 24, 2008 after he failed to poll more than 2% in any contest.

Our issue with Biviano is not his lack of political experience or work on behalf of the 33rd.  Everyone needs to start somewhere.  Rather, it is the fact that he resorts to platitudes and attacks instead of a real understanding of the issues facing the 33rd District.  Looking at his campaign website’s “Big Ideas” page shows that he has no real plans or concrete legislative agenda if elected to the Council.  Rather, he is the “Emperor of the Air” focused on buzz words without any substance or plan like the following:

  • Support union jobs and livable wages.
  • Create tax incentives and recruitment programs to bring back industry to NYC.
  • Lobby Albany and Washington for more funds to keep our infrastructure safe and in good service instead of expanding wars.
  • Lobby Albany in support of the LGBT Community, Same-sex Marriage and the economic opportunity for NYC in leading the way.
  • Green NYC buildings.
  • Constantly remind everyone what’s really at stake with affordable housing.
  • Repeal rent decontrol.
  • Develop great teachers and supportive parents.
  • Great pay and city benefits for great teachers.
  • Ending the Middle School nightmare and other disincentives of public schools.
  • More ball fields for Downtown Brooklyn schools.
  • Cut military budgets not school budgets.
  • CUNY school-fare not warfare.
  • No fare hikes!
  • Transit-fare not warfare.
  • Bail out people getting to work and their favorite places.
  • Put a toll on war budgets.
  • No service cuts or overcrowding.
  • MTA Make-over (reform from “top to bottom”).
  • Designate Brooklyn Bridge Park a park and NYC control.

We also have an issue with Biviano’s main campaign tactic — attacking his fellow candidates.  Biviano’s main targets have been Levin, Simon and Thies.  He feels that he needs to try to tear down the three front runners to have any chance.  (That’s our job.  Not his.)  To do this, he has adopted a “Rage Against the Machine” approach.  But in truth, it only works for Levin — “Vito Lopez’s padawan.”  Simon may be an ineffective reformer and just another a politician.  She may also have a record of going along with Lopez’s County Committee most of the time.  But she is not the Machine’s horse in this race.  Therefore, to call her part of the Machine is inaccurate.  Similarly, Thies is not the Machine’s candidate.  In fact, he has been screwed over by the Machine because Lopez has required Yassky to not endorse Thies in return for the County supporting Yassky’s comptroller bid.

It is easy for Biviano to throw these rocks at the front runners.  He has nothing to lose.  For reasons that we will get into later, we think that a vote for him or the other also rans puts the District at risk of a Machine victory for Levin.  That concern aside, Biviano disappoints.  He is a fresh face.  He has a great wife and family.  But his mastery of the issues is lacking and his negative approach to campaigning has been disappointing.

Real Reform Brooklyn

Jo Anne Simon & The Fall from Grace

3470809781_d8427cd185

Stand up and take a shot!

There comes a time in the life of any politician when they need to make a decision that defines their character.  A time when their core beliefs are pitted against self-interest.  A time when they need to ask: Do I do something because it is politically advantageous?  Or, do I stand up for the principals have always defined me and let the chips fall where they may?  Jo Anne Simon now faces that moment with IND’s endorsement of John Heyer.  Up to now, she has failed the test.  We hope that you will ask her about it and that she takes steps to immediately correct it.

Many of you are already aware of what we are talking about.  For those who aren’t: we are troubled because Simon stands mute while her political club, Independent Neighborhood Democrats (“IND”), of which she is an officer and long-standing member, endorses an anti-choice and anti-gay marriage candidate for City Council in the 39th District named John Heyer.  Simon has made no statement critical of Heyer or his endorsement by IND, despite calls from at least two candidates in the 33rd District race and many, many others to do so.

Heyer, an assistant to Atlantic Yards booster Marty Markowitz, was backed at IND by long-time member and Carroll Gardens resident Buddy Scotto.  Heyer has conceded that he is pro-life and not in favor of gay marriage.  In conformity with IND rules, Scotto packed the membership over the prior three meetings to put votes in Heyer’s column at the May endorsement meeting.  After an very contentious gathering, which reportedly lasted over four hours, IND endorsed Hayer over his openly gay opponent, Bob Zuckerman, the leader of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and three other challengers: Brad Lander, Josh Skaller and Gary Reilly.  Simon also received IND’s endorsement at that same meeting.  She has stood mute since that time while the Heyer endorsement controversy swirls around her.

While IND members are not bound to support endorsed candidates, Simon’s silence is deeply troubling.  As a civil rights lawyer, we would think that Simon would stand against IND endorsing a candidate openly opposed to the fundemental rights of women and gay couples.  Gay marriage is one of the major civil rights issues or our era.  The IND endorsement has given Simon a golden opportunity to stand up for her convictions and show true leadership.  Kenn Lowy, president of IND, temporarily relinquished his position rather than lead IND through the primary with the Heyer endorsement in place.  Simon should do something to register her objection…something…anything.  Refuse IND’s endorsement.  Accept it on the condition that she objects to the Heyer endorsement.  Tell us how she would have voted if she didn’t conveniently absent herself from committing to a position.  The longer she keeps silent, the more cancerous the issue on her character and campaign.  The longer she stands mute, the more she proves that she is just another hack politician putting her own self-interest above the values that she professes to hold most dear.

Keeping It Real

Post Script:  In this week’s BrooklynPapers/BIT debate, Simon responded to a question on the Heyer endorsement by avoiding the issue.  She said that she has long supported a woman’s right to choose including working in a family planning clinic.  She also said that she has been endorsed by at least one LGBT organization because of her longstanding commitment to gay rights.  Given what Simon says her record is on choice and gay rights, we continue to be troubled that her present inaction on IND’s Heyer endorsement is foregoing her principles solely for purpose of political advantage.

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

…And What About Jo Anne Simon? Atlantic Yards & Beyond

Excuse me, which way is Atlantic Yards?

Excuse me, which way is Atlantic Yards?

While Steve Levin has certainly been deserving of our ire (and there is more to come), it would be unfair to forgo questions with some of the other candidates running for the 33rd.  We have decided to start with Jo Anne Simon because her record (or really the lack of one) is most deserving of scrutiny.  Simon claims the be a reformer who has worked on every important issue in the 33rd for the past several years.  But this begs the question: What has she done exactly?  The answer: Not much.

The best place to start is with her two websites: the one she maintains for her legal practice listing community service and the one for her campaign.  Her legal practice website touts expertise in land use issues (which she also stumps at events like the St. Francis College debate this evening).  Specifically, her site lists her work as Chair of the Boerum Hill Association’s Land Use Committee (1992-2005); Chair of its Atlantic Yards Task Force (2003-2006); and being a member its Hoyt-Schermerhorn Task Force.  She also says that she was a Co-founder of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Coalition, “created to bring forward the voice of the communities surrounding downtown Brooklyn regarding transportation and land use concerns.”

So what does that all mean, exactly?  Well, it appears to mean that she has gone to a lot of meetings, submitted written testimony at public hearings, and nothing really beyond that.  For instance, and perhaps the best example, on Atlantic Yards, Simon claimed strenuously this evening to have been an “early vocal opponent of the use of eminent domain.”  But her “Testimony to the Empire State Development Corporation on the General Project Plan, Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Condemnation of Real Property and terms for the proposed acquisition and conveyance of the Atlantic Yards Project Site”, dated August 23, 2006, never even mentions, let alone objects, to the use of eminent domain or condemnation.  Her August 25, 2006 letter to the head of the Empire State Development Corporation about the project also make no mention whatsoever about the use of eminent domain.  How vocal is that?  It’s not.  In reality, Simon is most identified with BrooklynSpeaks and its “mend-it-don’t-end-it” stance on Atlantic Yards.

Simon’s track record is even more troubling, however, because of who she is — a purportedly talented civil rights lawyer.  The simple fact is that she has never lifted a legal finger to help litigate the numerous Atlantic Yard eminent domain cases.  By way of sterling example, Develop Don’t Destroy has an active volunteer legal team that has worked pro bono for years against that project.  Simon’s contribution to the effort: nothing.  Then, there are other land use legal fights that have taken place in the 33rd District where Simon has been a no show with offers to help as a community lawyer: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Dock Street, Brooklyn House of Detention, Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning.  We just wonder:  If Jo Anne Simon has never used her legal talents to defend her community, how do we know that she is going to be able to effectively fight for us in the City Council?

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.