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