Tag Archives: Atlantic Yards

Congratulations, Councilman Levin…Now What?

Dear Councilman Levin:

We know that it is premature to call you that.  You still need to go through the general election and get sworn in.  But we all know those are mere formalities.  You won.  Vito Lopez hooked you up every which way from Tuesday: the Zalmanite faction with Rabbi Niederman and UJO, the union endorsements, the Bushwick United Democratic Club.  But it would be unfair to say that Lopez won the election for you.  The other candidates sliced and diced themselves up to a fair-thee-well.  All that, and good honest campaigning on your behalf, won the day.  You are to be personally credited with running an honorable campaign.  You never went negative.  You never took a shot below the belt.  That is why we said “we really want to like you.”  

The question is, now what?  We thought that we would give you a few suggestions for your new office:

1.  Don’t move out of Greenpoint.  We took you to task during the campaign for moving into the District immediately around the time you decided to run.  The fact remains, however, that you moved to a hard-scrabble section — not the toney areas like Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill.  Greenpoint needs you.  Stay there.  Live among the working-class people who you promised to help in your campaign.  Live near the environmental challenges that define that community.  Be one of the people.

2.  Tackle Traffic & Residential Parking. You are probably in the best position to help advance legislation in both the council and Albany to get the ball rolling on real solutions to the traffic problems in Downtown Brooklyn.  Get a residential parking program in place for Brooklyn Heights.  Work to achieve traffic calming there and in Boerum Hill.  If you get real results, the residents will realize that you are much more than Vito Lopez’s surrogate.

3.  Don’t Fold On Atlantic Yards.  You have the real opportunity to curb the excesses of Atlantic Yards.  You should work with Lopez to make this happen.  On December 31st, Ratner’s tax-free financing is going to go “poof.”  You need to use that opportunity to force a re-orienting of the proposed arena so that eminent domain is not needed.  You also need to bring about a contextual re-working of the plan to integrate it into the surrounding communities.

4.  Keep Your Campaign Promises.  You ran on the need for senior housing and early education.  Both are desperately needed.  Senior citizens cannot survive in this town living at the whim of private landlords.  They deserve to grow old in dignity and security.  Also, working families cannot make it without better childcare options.  Families must survive on two incomes.  Single-parent homes face even greater challenges.  We need quality childcare and early education opportunities to make it.  

We know that there are going to be a million “asks” from the Satmar community.  They just got the Holy Grail – Broadway Triangle.  Think about the rest of us.  Focus on our issues and prove the doubters wrong about you.  You will be doing yourself and us a big favor.  Also, get your moral compass bronzed.  We know you already have one but you’re gonna need it handy with where you’re going.

Good luck…and congrats.

Real Reform Brooklyn


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

Times Endorsement Continued (Briefly)

We only have time for a really short post.  We are all busy with our families and respective significant others on this beautiful day.  We hope that you are doing the same.

Our criticism of The Times endorsement of Simon generated some interesting comment.  Due to the lack of any analysis, 11211 found it could have ended easily with: “We endorse Mr. Thies.” Norman Oder over at Atlantic Yards Report could not dismiss our view that The Times’s decision was a by-product of Atlantic Yards.  All agree that the nod to Simon was, at best, “lukewarm.”

The Times said that Thies was an “excellent” candidate for his work on reform and clean-air issues — both critical local matters.  It also found merit in Levin but could not dismiss his ties to Vito Lopez. Abraham, Biviano, Baer and Diamondstone did not get any mention whatsoever. It cited no local issue that Simon has worked on.

Bottom Line: Given how blandly The Times crafted its position, we do not think that endorsement is the game-changer Simon’s otherwise lackluster campaign was hoping for.

Keeping It Real

Times Endorsement & Atlantic Yards

The New York Times endorsement this morning was missing only one thing:  “Forest City Ratner is the development partner for the Midtown headquarters for The New York Times Company.”  In a pretty naked nod to its development partner, the Times endorsed the one candidate who has done more to undermine unified community opposition to Atlantic Yards than any other:  Jo Anne Simon.  The Times could not bring itself to write on Councilwoman Letitia “Tish” James’s race in the 35th District because opposing her would be too obvious.

Simon protests that she has been an early and vocal critic of Atlantic Yards.  Like most politicians, she believes that if she repeats something long enough it will be the truth.   The fact remains that Simon started BrooklynSpeaks to “have a seat at the table” in negotiating with Ratner.  She leads the “mend it, don’t end it” camp on Atlantic Yards.  Bottom Line: Simon has been an early and vocal supporter of bargaining on Atlantic Yards.  We believe that is the reason she got the nod from the Times.

Here is the endorsement for those of you who have missed it:

District 33, Brooklyn (Downtown Brooklyn, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights): There are several excellent candidates vying to replace Councilman David Yassky, who’s also running for comptroller. Stephen Levin would be a prime candidate except for his entanglement in the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine. Evan Thies, an aide to Mr. Yassky, has been active on reform and clean-air issues. Jo Anne Simon has an impressive legal background and has been a strong community organizer who has done important work for the disabled. We endorse Ms. Simon.

Pretty lukewarm even for a sell out.

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
Civic Volunteer
01/14/2008  $250.00

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

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

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

Gutman, Henry B.
Simpson Thacher
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
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.

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