Last night, six of the seven Democratic candidates in the 33rd Council District gathered at a Williamsburg preschool for a forum that was provocatively promoted by a host group, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, as the “Ultimate Verbal Smackdown.” Only one candidate seemed to take the promotion seriously.
Doug Biviano, a building superintendent and first-time office-seeker who had been cordial in previous debates, repeatedly attacked fellow candidates Evan Thies, Jo Anne Simon, and Steven Levin as agents of the Democratic "machine," who were collectively to blame for the unfulfilled promises of a major 2005 rezoning in Greenpoint and Williamsburg rezoning. Thies is a former aide to the incumbent Councilman David Yassky; Simon was a Democratic district leader; and Levin, who did not attend the forum, is an aide to the Brooklyn Democratic party chair, Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
“They never stood up, they cowered away, and you’re seeing Steve Levin right now being a backroom coward,” Biviano said. (Levin, who also missed three prior debates as a result of scheduling conflicts, had notified organizers last week that he would be in Kingston attending a meeting of labor and party leaders, and said later that he planned to attend the remaining debates before the September 15th primary.)
“Are you going to stand up for 8 to 12 more years of the Yassky-Levin-Simon machine?” Biviano asked the crowd.
Biviano, who currently trails the other candidates in fund-raising, later said “the same three people were in the back room designing this development.”
“I’d like to know what three people were in the back room designing what you’re discussing,” responded Simon, a civil rights attorney who, along with Thies, has frequently criticized Lopez and the county organization. “The county leader has a hand-picked candidate in this race,” she said, referring to Levin. “I rest my case.”
Biviano called Thies the “architect” of the rezoning and questioned his resignation from Community Board One prior to a vote on the Broadway Triangle, a development project favored by Lopez.
Thies, in turn, reiterated his opposition to the Broadway Triangle plan, and defended those in attendance who had worked on the 2005 rezoning.
“[They] spent years of their life getting a historic agreement out of the city — a record-setting agreement for 3,300 units of affordable housing and 30 acres of parkland, and it’s disgraceful that you would say that,” Thies told Biviano.
Much of the debate focused on what to do about the area’s stalled construction amid new reports of drug use among squatters in the neighborhood’s many vacant buildings.
“It’s developers who should be paying for security. If they’re not willing to do it, the city should do it and bill them,” said candidate Ken Baer.
Fellow candidate Ken Diamondstone called for the city to buy buildings on the verge of foreclosure and provide them as affordable housing in a lottery available to teachers, firemen and artists. Thies agreed that HPD should take possession of the buildings. Biviano suggested the city acquire them by eminent domain.
Another candidate, Isaac Abraham, proposed that Congress jumpstart the projects with stimulus dollars. “I would advise the federal government, they bailed out AIG, let them find the money for these construction people," Abraham said. "The jobs, the housing, will be there.”
The candidates also grappled with the effects of the developments that have been completed, especially the overcrowding on the nearby L train. Abraham suggested a $2 ferry that would leave from North 7th Street.
Much of the criticism fell on the MTA. “People need to understand MTA was created to evade accountability,” Simon said of the transit agency.
Thies suggested the city take over the agency, perhaps even trading its control over airports to the state in exchange for control over the subway system.