Meet Doug Biviano: Brooklyn-born, just like his father and his father before him; a Brooklyn Heights resident, a P.S. 8 proud parent, as in his three kids with wife Lee are actually enrolled in the public school system; he’s a Girl Scout Dad, too. A Cornell-trained civil engineer (his consultants had to keep reminding him to mention the Ivy League bit), Biv didn’t like working for the machine as a professional any more than he likes machine politicians, or the phonies who claim to be reformers and then play patty-cake with bigwigs behind closed doors: He quit the engineering biz and for the past 9 years he’s worked as the superintendent over at One Grace Court. When the building served him notice that he needed to pack it up and find another gig on account of his family health care plan costing them too much, “I said, you know what, I’m going all in on this,” said Mr. Biviano, who is 40, but has the energy of a 27-year-old guy. He found a store front on Montague Street and hung a shingle: Doug Biviano for City Council. Old school. He lost, came in sixth out of seven candidates. No one can deny Biv shook things up.
“I would say that Doug ran a very energetic campaign,” said Steve Levin, who on Sept. 15 was elected to replace David Yassky as the councilman for District 33, which includes Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill.
“He brought a lot of passion, and when he entered the race, he helped shape the debate,” said Mr. Levin. In particular, he said Biv made other candidates address the issue of health care, and what can be done at the local level. In the final stretch, Biv rolled up his sleeves and turned his fight-the-power fist into a pointed you-dirty-bastard forefinger: He accused Mr. Levin of being a nursemaid to his “notorious” boss Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic Party overlord, Vito Lopez. On page 2 of The Brooklyn Independent Democrat, under the headline “Fiction vs. Fact”—all caps, black type, ensconced in a red banner—Mr. Levin is charged with standing by as Mr. Lopez screwed the little man, including the time he “deliberately tried to destroy a bill in the State Assembly that would have allowed adults who were victims of sex abuse as children to sue their molesters, because of a backroom deal between Lopez and the Catholic Church that gave Lopez control of the multimillion dollar Broadway Triangle development project.”
You’ve heard about all that, right?
Of the roughly 200,000 residents of District 33, around 18,000 voted. Mr. Levin got 5,199 of the votes; Jo Ann Simon came in fourth with 3,109. Evan Thies got 1915, Mr. Biviano placed sixth with 1,127, and someone called Ken Baer brought up the rear with 811.
Biv said he’d heard over and over from residents pushing Bugaboos up and down Montague Street—the Madison Avenue of Brooklyn Heights—that they didn’t give a shit about local politics. That is until they strolled passed the Biv’s store front, and were subjected to his “stroll poll.” Some version of the Stroll Poll has likely been instituted in the past but credit Biv with coining the phrase and shaking things up on Montague, which for whatever reason brings out the worst in Brooklyn Heights: Adults and senior citizens put on their boring cap and go mute, while youngsters armed with dripping ice cream cones—there are at least seven ice cream parlors on the three-block “center of commerce”—run rampant. The Stroll Poll changed all that.
“And check out Doug Biviano, one of the 33’s,” blared the Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn, “who did a ‘stroll poll’ asking pedestrians to write on a chalk board outside of his campaign office on Montague Street. Here’s what he found:
1. 37% — Healthcare (57 votes)
2. 22% — Education (33 votes)
3. 18% — Affordable Housing (27 votes)
4. 15% — Parks & Playgrounds (23 votes)
5. 8% — Corruption & Campaign Reform (12 votes)”
A subsequent Biv poll put education as number one—education and health care were his two main issues. Meanwhile, Mr. Levin’s platform emphasized affordable housing, which brings us back to the “City Council what?” reaction by passersby. Mr. Biviano says that the kids were also fascinated by his homemade solar-power panel.
TO HEAR HIS mother tell it, when Doug was a kid he probably would have been plastering the roof with solar panels if they had been around.
“In kindergarten, they told me he was college material,” said Judy Biviano. “In kindergarten. He used to save his money and go out and buy computers and all these things, before anyone even knew what computers were. Seriously. He was in second or third grade when he bought his first computer.”
His parents split when he was young, and Doug spent summers in Brooklyn Heights with his dad. In high school and college he’d make extra cash doing odd jobs in the building, and developed a great respect for the job of being a super.
Of course, no job is all sweetness and light: “The big water bugs landin’ on you,” Biv told me with a laugh when I visited his office two days after Election Day. His spirit was not broken. He speaks with a Brooklyn–Long Island combo accent. “Fightin’ the garbage compactor, you know, when the sausage bag won’t break and you start fightin’ it and you fall into the garbage, you know, stuff like that. Watching the rats.
“One time I was walkin’ in the courtyard, and a rat came running by and ran right into the curb and kind of popped backwards and killed himself. The unbelievable luck of some of these rats.”
His mom claims that she never once heard him complain, ever. She also says that he wasn’t a nerd in high school, but he got straight A’s and was awarded a scholarship to Cornell. Math and science were his strong suits. He majored in civil engineering. He went on to get his master’s degree there.
Along the way, things got serious with Lee, whom he’d hooked up with in high school but then ran into again at a party one summer back in Long Island.
“They’re both the same way, those two,” said Mama Biviano, who is a conservative but said she would still vote for Doug, who likes to say he’s so progressive he’s conservative. “They’ll try anything. They were really daring when they first met. Jumpin’ out of airplanes and what not. I would be worried sick!”
“DOUG WAS ‘GREEN’ before I ever heard the term,” Lee Biviano begins her op-ed endorsing her husband in “Vol. 1 No.1” of the leaflet, which was distributed all over Brooklyn, and features various pictures of Biv in action: sweeping the stoop, wearing a construction hat, talking to Judge Robert Kerry, a 95-year-old man who lives at One Grace Court.
(Mr. Kerry confirmed to me that Biv was an excellent super and a man of great integrity and said that he used to stop by and have a drink with him some evening before his health deteriorated. He said that Mr. Biviano did not force his politics on anyone in the building. “Of course he didn’t. We would have fired him,” said Mr. Kerry. “I like Doug very much.”)
Congressman Dennis Kucinich also endorsed Mr. Biviano.
In her piece about her husband, Lee describes how when they were married, “Doug built a green sailboat for us and we sailed around the tropics for nine months.” The trip included a two-month stay at some sort of sailboat commune in the middle of the ocean, which Mr. Biviano said taught him a lot about what people can do when they work together.
Lee writes that it was with the birth of their first child that Doug became fixated on helping make the world a better place. He volunteered for a week in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On two separate occasions, he tried to go down and be a part of the relief effort at ground zero. Lee and Judy both vouched that he’s the most dedicated father imaginable; in fact, Lee writes, “If he didn’t believe in our government, he’d be content to spend all day swimming off the side of our boat with our children.”
But he does believe. (He’s also a bit of a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, but whatever.)
“It was literally impossible to get him to go home at night,” said Wilson Karam, 28, a Ph.D. student in politics at the New School, who was Biv’s campaign manager. It was his third campaign, having previously volunteered for the DNC, and serving as deputy state director of Ohio for MoveOn.org.
“He’d be there some nights writing letters to the editor,” Mr. Karam said. “As a campaign manager it’s just like go to bed, keep your schedule, you’re not going to be able to get up to greet people in the subways in the morning.”
In the “What I’m hearing” section part of bivforbrooklyn.com, an impressively dynamic Web site, considering he designed it himself, Mr. Biviano describes his interactions with people on the street. There’s the conservative Catholic delivery man, the Brooklyn mommy blogger. His Open Door gallery series feature local artists. Currently on display is a series of portraits of mug shots of civil rights activists.
“We can pass the law for single payer,” he told me, looking around at the images of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others. “We can do that, and we can also pass the law to raise the revenue for it as well—we can do that. It’s within our charter. Um, but you need leadership to do that, that’s all you really need. And again, look right on my walls. And again this is just a reminder—in small cities, small towns all over this country, there were a few sparks, some courage, some leadership, and look what it did.
“Look where it got us. These aren’t even mayors, these are just ordinary people and a few reverends. And if it’s the right movement”—snapping his fingers—“the right spark, you can tap it. When people come together to solve problems, real problems, miracles can happen.”