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
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged 11211, 11222, 33rd District, Atlantic Yards, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Democratic Committee, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, Doug Biviano, Downtown Brooklyn, Evan Thies, Isaac Abraham, Jo Anne Simon, Ken Baer, Ken Bear, Ken Diamondstone, Steve Levin, Vito Lopez
I'm just desperate...
We never wanted it to get here. Biviano and Diamondstone have engaged in negative campaigning. Now Jo Anne Simon has joined the negative campaign camp and resorts to a bald faced lie in an attack piece against Evan Thies. The piece was distributed to the southern part of the 33rd District starting yesterday. We expect that it will make it to the northern part tomorrow or on primary day.
Simon’s piece claims “Evan Thies sat out the crucial committee vote that green-lighted the irresponsible Broadway Triangle development project. If Thies had shown up and voted this irresponsible development would never have gone forward.” Simon is just plain lying when she claims that Thies’s vote made the difference between Broadway Triangle going forward or not. That is simply not true. The final vote on Broadway Triangle was 23-12. Thies’s vote did not make the difference. For anyone familiar with CB1, they know that Vito Lopez and the Satmar bloc control what happens.
Why Simon would print this lie in a district-wide campaign piece is obvious. She has run a completely lackluster campaign, is out of totally options, and needs to sling whatever mud she can lay her hands on — even if it is not truthful. We are seriously disturbed that Simon would sink to this level. She has been exposed throughout the campaign as an ineffective, waffling, flip-flopping, busybody with no real record of achievement either for her neighborhood or on reform within the Kings County Democratic Party. With this latest piece of campaign literature, she has simply proven that she worse than we ever thought.
Nice job, Jo Anne. Really sad.
Keeping It Real
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
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
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.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged 11211, 11222, 33rd District, Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn Democratic Committee, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, Evan Thies, Jo Anne Simon, Stephen Levin, Vito Lopez, Williamsburg
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
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged 33rd District, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Doug Biviano, DUMBO, Evan Thies, Greenpoint, Isaac Abraham, Jo Anne Simon, Ken Baer, Ken Bear, Ken Diamondstone, Williamsburg