Tag Archives: Greenpoint

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


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.

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


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