Tag Archives: Park Slope

Jo Anne Simon & The Record of Reform

Jo Anne Simon claims she is an effective reformer and community advocate.  We wanted to take a look at her record to see how effective she really has been.  We decided to take a look at two issues that she has touted: traffic and judicial reform.

Don't look too close, please!

Don't look too close, please!

On traffic, Simon claims to have advocated for transportation and traffic improvement for fifteen years. One need look no further than Downtown Brooklyn to find the answer of whether she has been effective. The traffic is worse than ever. The parking is non-existent for local residents. Smith Street is an absolute mess in the mornings and it has been getting worse.  Just spend some time at Smith & Bergen.  It is a nightmare.  There has been no real progress on a residential parking program even though it has been discussed for years. The issue is now stuck in the State Legislature (good luck with that!).  Simon has complained about service cut backs on the G-train.  That has gotten worse as well.  Simon also points to her work on the Gowanus Expressway Task Force, which proposes placing the thoroughfare underground.  It’s a nice idea but is it happening?  Bottom Line: While it is unfair to blame Simon for the sad state of traffic and transportation in the 33rd District, she has no record of accomplishment despite touting fifteen years of work on the issue.

On judicial reform, her record also falls short.  Simon says it shows that she stood up to the Machine.  But if you compare her December 2005 reform recommendations for the Kings County Democratic Committee’s Judicial Screening Panel to the rules actually adopted you see she accomplished nothing:

  • Simon Recommendation: Have the Screening Panel (not Vito) pick the Panel’s chairperson.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Panel members should not be partners, suite mates or associated with party officials:  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have the Screening Panel use the same review standard for incumbent judges.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have a reconsideration process for unfavorably rated candidates.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have a “Highly Qualified” option for judicial candidates.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Have a judicial candidate forum for District Leaders and others to see the candidates.  NOT ADOPTED
  • Simon Recommendation: Allow Panel members to communicate their review directly to district leaders.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Adopt the standard NYC Bar judicial questionnaire.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: Panel review committees should consist of 2 or more individuals.  NOT ADOPTED.
  • Simon Recommendation: No Panel members can act as a reference for a candidate.  NOT ADOPTED.  Panel members are allowed to communicate directly with the (Lopez picked) Panel chair about a candidate.

With basically all of her recommendations being rejected, the County’s record on judicial selections since her December 2005 proposals is completely abysmal:

  • 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 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.

If Simon did not get her recommendations adopted, and the County’s record on selecting judges is as corrupt as ever, can she lay claim to being a reformer in this area as well?  We don’t think so.

The bottom line is that when you look at Simon’s record as a reformer and community advocate, you see years of work but no results. Even the New York Times couldn’t point to anything!  It makes us wonder how effective she will be as a council person.

Keeping It Real

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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
Unemployed
Civic Volunteer
01/14/2008  $250.00

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

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

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

Gutman, Henry B.
Simpson Thacher
Attorney
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
Retired
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

Jo Anne Simon & Real Estate $$$

 

Simon in the glare of scrutiny.  Maybe they won't notice?

Simon in the glare of scrutiny. Maybe they won't notice?

Doug Biviano launched a broadside into the Jo Anne Simon camp today accusing her of taking in over $10,000 in real estate related contributions. He claims that the total with matching funds exceeds $23,000. According to the Brooklyn Heights Blog, Karen Johnson, the Simon campaign’s political director, characterized Biviano’s claim as “totally untrue.” (You have to ask yourself what a local City Council campaign doing with a “political director”?) “I’m very disappointed,” Johnson said. “He’s resorted to distortions because he’s desperate.” Johnson said that the contributors listed do not have ties to large developers in the city, and are simply small property owners and landlords. As with many things coming from either the Simon and Biviano camps, the truth is often hard to pin down. We thought that we would take a closer look at the question by putting out all the information for you to make up your own mind about who is telling the truth.

 

One point though is that Simon has taken at least one donation from some one tied to a large Brooklyn developer: Joshua Muss. Muss developed the Brooklyn Marriott and Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza. Muss is also tied to development on the Gowanus Canal. The donation was from James Whelan, Muss Development on July 10, 2009 in the amount of $250. Therefore, Simon’s political director is incorrect when she claims that Simon’s contirbutors are not tied to large New York developers. There are two other developers who have also given donations to Simon as well (one on six occasions). The designation as real estate developer were provided by these individuals and entered by the Simon campaign on their campaign finance disclosures. We are not familiar with these developers or whether they have projects in the City. Please let us know if you can provide any verifiable information regarding these individuals:

Barry L. Levine
Puddingstone Developers LLC
Real Estate Developer
06/23/2008 $250.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
12/17/2004 $250.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
01/18/2008 $500.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
01/23/2008 $150.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
04/23/2008 $250.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
03/03/2009 $150.00

Nancy E. Schuh
Pinnacle Met USA Corp.
Real Estate Developer
07/11/2009 $1,250.00

Finally, there are a slew of real estate brokers and other real estate related individuals who have also made donations (some on multiple occasions). Again, these designations are provided by the individuals and then reported by the Simon campaign on their campaign finance disclosures.

Austin, Jacqueline J.
Brooklyn Bridge Realty
Real Estate Broker
03/13/2008 $100.00

Barcelon, Allen
Boerum Hill Realty, LLC
Real Estate Broker
06/25/2008 $65.00

Carberry, Kevin
Real Estate Broker
08/10/2009 $200.00

Crow, James
Corcoran Group
Real Estate Sales
06/19/2008 $65.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
12/19/2008 $100.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
01/08/2009 $50.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
07/22/2009 $50.00

Gulotta, Lawrence
Self-employed
Real Estate Appraiser
08/04/2009 $50.00

Harris, William L
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
11/28/2004 $1,500.00

Harris, William L
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
12/31/2007 $2,750.00

Havens, Chris
Creative Real Estate
Real Estate Broker
07/07/2009 $100.00

Huebener, Roslyn B.
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
02/09/2008 $250.00

Hunter, Virginia
Warren Lewis Realty
Independent Contractor – Real Estate Broker
12/16/2004 $25.00

Kerby, James M.
Self-employed Real Estate
01/20/2008 $100.00

Klein, Scott
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
01/11/2009 $50.00

Klein, Scott
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
04/24/2009 $50.00

Lennard, Margaret
Self-employed
Real Estate Owner
12/30/2004 $100.00

Lennard, Margaret
Self-employed
Real Estate Owner
01/20/2008 $100.00

Lennard, Margaret
Self-employed
Real Estate Owner
05/19/2008 $100.00

McLoughlin, Declan
Self-employed
Real Estate
07/11/2009 $100.00

Osgood, Jane E
North Garden Management Real estate
06/25/2008 $25.00

Paz, Zahivit
Self-employed
Real Estate Broker
07/10/2009 $510.00

Perry, Lucy
Corcoran
Real Estate Salesperson
05/23/2008 $50.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
12/13/2004 $25.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
11/13/2004 $13.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
01/09/2008 $50.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
01/20/2008 $25.00

Wolfe, Suzanne H
Corcoran
Real Estate Broker
04/21/2008 $100.00

So who is telling the truth? It seems that Simon is definitely misrepresenting where her money is coming from. It is true that many are small donations from real estate brokers. But there are some large ones from this group. Also, she has definitely taken money from real estate developers including Muss Development which has done major projects in Downtown Brooklyn and is proposing development on the Gowanus Canal. The fact that Simon would not fess up to this donation is troubling especially given that part of the Gowanus falls in the 33rd and superfunding the area has been an issue in the campaign. Biviano on the other hand may be overstating the case by lumping all of the small real estate broker donations into the argument. But there is no question that Simon has taken a large pool of contributions from real estate brokers (practically all of which have been matched 4:1) including several from Corcoran Group one of the CIty’s largest.

Bottom Line: Between Simon and Biviano, we don’t know who to trust.

Real Reform Brooklyn

…And What About Jo Anne Simon? Atlantic Yards & Beyond

Excuse me, which way is Atlantic Yards?

Excuse me, which way is Atlantic Yards?

While Steve Levin has certainly been deserving of our ire (and there is more to come), it would be unfair to forgo questions with some of the other candidates running for the 33rd.  We have decided to start with Jo Anne Simon because her record (or really the lack of one) is most deserving of scrutiny.  Simon claims the be a reformer who has worked on every important issue in the 33rd for the past several years.  But this begs the question: What has she done exactly?  The answer: Not much.

The best place to start is with her two websites: the one she maintains for her legal practice listing community service and the one for her campaign.  Her legal practice website touts expertise in land use issues (which she also stumps at events like the St. Francis College debate this evening).  Specifically, her site lists her work as Chair of the Boerum Hill Association’s Land Use Committee (1992-2005); Chair of its Atlantic Yards Task Force (2003-2006); and being a member its Hoyt-Schermerhorn Task Force.  She also says that she was a Co-founder of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Coalition, “created to bring forward the voice of the communities surrounding downtown Brooklyn regarding transportation and land use concerns.”

So what does that all mean, exactly?  Well, it appears to mean that she has gone to a lot of meetings, submitted written testimony at public hearings, and nothing really beyond that.  For instance, and perhaps the best example, on Atlantic Yards, Simon claimed strenuously this evening to have been an “early vocal opponent of the use of eminent domain.”  But her “Testimony to the Empire State Development Corporation on the General Project Plan, Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Condemnation of Real Property and terms for the proposed acquisition and conveyance of the Atlantic Yards Project Site”, dated August 23, 2006, never even mentions, let alone objects, to the use of eminent domain or condemnation.  Her August 25, 2006 letter to the head of the Empire State Development Corporation about the project also make no mention whatsoever about the use of eminent domain.  How vocal is that?  It’s not.  In reality, Simon is most identified with BrooklynSpeaks and its “mend-it-don’t-end-it” stance on Atlantic Yards.

Simon’s track record is even more troubling, however, because of who she is — a purportedly talented civil rights lawyer.  The simple fact is that she has never lifted a legal finger to help litigate the numerous Atlantic Yard eminent domain cases.  By way of sterling example, Develop Don’t Destroy has an active volunteer legal team that has worked pro bono for years against that project.  Simon’s contribution to the effort: nothing.  Then, there are other land use legal fights that have taken place in the 33rd District where Simon has been a no show with offers to help as a community lawyer: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Dock Street, Brooklyn House of Detention, Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning.  We just wonder:  If Jo Anne Simon has never used her legal talents to defend her community, how do we know that she is going to be able to effectively fight for us in the City Council?

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.

Vito Backs Gillenbrand…Schumer Backs Levin…Same Story

Ahhhh, Vito....

Ahhhh, Vito....

You would think that Vito’s timing would be more subtle. But, of course, it wasn’t. A mere few minutes after Sen. Chuck “NeoCon” Schumer backed Vito’s lackey Steve Levin, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney backed off a challenge to Senator Kirsten Gillenbrand. Does Schumer really believe that Levin is the best person for the 33rd District? No! The back story is that Schumer has backed Gillenrbrand for her U.S. Senate bid. With Governor Patterson on life support, Schumer wants Vito in his camp. Vito smelling an opening backed Maloney. Then the backroom dealing got started. Schumer agreed to back Levin if Vito would back off Maloney. As quick as you can say “Quid Pro Quo” or “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, the deal got done and Schumer was out in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall with an anemic gathering of other Vito lackeys cheering the nuptials. Levin gave Schumer a verbal proctological exam that even embarrassed the Senator. Watch it here on the Brooklyn Heights Blog (the only source covering the event).