All of the candidates in the crowded race for David Yassky’s City Council seat came to Greenpoint last night for the second forum in as many weeks. It was hosted by the Greenpoint Gazette, and most of the debate focused on issues affecting the northern tip of the district.
With seven candidates on the stage, and most of the responses capped at 60 seconds, there was not a lot of time for the participants to distinguish themselves, particularly because this is a field that unanimously supports affordable housing, parks, and downzoning.
Not surprisingly, the first question was about the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, and apparently by coincidence, it went to Evan Thies. Thies was working for Yassky in 2005, when the councilman helped push through rezoning that kicked off the local condominium boom of the last few years. In the meantime, almost all of the open space and affordable housing the city promised in exchange has not materialized.
“I’m very disappointed in what’s come from that deal with the city,” Thies said.
That sentiment was echoed by each of the candidates that followed. Thies distinguished himself somewhat by calling for prorated penalties for every month the city does not hold up its end of the bargain.
Joanne Simon, a community leader from the southern part of the district (Brooklyn Heights and part of Park Slope), suggested amending the laws to make affordable-housing guarantees mandatory, not discretionary, while Steve Levin, currently chief of staff for Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the county Democratic Party chair, said he has experience writing mandatory guarantees into individual developments. Ken Diamondstone said he would push for the mandatory incorporation of green materials into construction. Later, Ken Baer suggested that five percent of affordable housing should be set aside for artists. [corrected]
The most divisive issue of the night seemed to be the proposed redevelopment of the former Domino Sugar factory, a project that, in its current form, would add 2,200 residential units to the Williamsburg waterfront, with 30 percent classified as affordable housing. In a “speed round” in which the candidates were asked how they would vote on that proposal, Diamondstone, Ken Baer, and Doug Biviano all said they would vote against the project. Isaac Abraham enthusiastically supported it, on account of the affordable housing. Thies and Simon each said they would support it with certain changes, and Levin said those changes would have to be significant to earn his support.
“The density is totally out of scale,” Levin said.
But Levin—and Levin alone—said he would support the city’s current plan for Broadway Triangle, a roughly 50-acre parcel of land in East Williamsburg—near Bushwick and Bed-Stuy—that has been associated with Levin’s boss. Without mentioning him, the other candidates decried the lack of community involvement.
“We cannot have one person decide the issue,” said Abraham.
Baer Biviano called for 50 percent affordable housing on the site. Evan Thies called it “one of the worst shams of a process,” and suggested the proposal might even merit an investigation.