Tag Archives: DUMBO

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


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 & 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.

Jo Anne Simon & The Fall from Grace


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.

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

Vito and His Boy

Veni Vedi Vito

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

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

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

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

Steve Levin & Carpetbagging

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

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