The Competitive, Progressive Race for Yassky’s Seat

One of the most competitive 2009 City Council races so far is for the seat being vacated by David Yassky, who represents Brooklyn Heights, parts of Park Slope, Greenpoint, and the Williamsburg waterfront, among other areas.

Of the seven people running, at least five will probably try to claim the progressive vote and at least three have the credentials to court environmentalists. In no particular order, here's a rundown:

–Kenneth J. Baer raised $22,032 and spent $17,825. The former head of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, Baer has the support of Chris Owens, son of the former congressman and outspoken liberal activist. Baer said he was so outraged over Yassky’s vote to extend term limits, he's would run for the seat even if Yassky sought re-election. (Yassky is running in the competitive race for comptroller.) The environment seems to be a major priority–his campaign web site lists the Superfunding of  the Gowanus Canal as one of his issues, although most of the canal is in the district next door.

–Stephen Levin raised $82,356 and spent $23,068, and has significant establishment backing. He's chief of staff to Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic County Leader, and has a number of labor endorsements. But he's been reluctant to attend candidate forums, and with so many progressive candidates, it's not a surprise that his connection to the county machine is already an issue.  At his first (it was the fourth) candidate forum on May 19, Levin assured the crowd, “I will be an independent voice on the City Council. I’m running as my own guy.”

–Jo Anne Simon raised $82,782 and spent $55,956. She is a lawyer and district leader. She casts herself as a reformer within the Democratic Party, and, when necessary, a critic of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. She was endorsed by a progressive political club, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, and is also the only woman in the race, which gives her an advantage.

–Evan Thies raised $71,020 and spent $32,268. Thies is young, but an experienced Democratic operative. He worked as the chief of staff for David Yassky, so he knows the district well, but was also around when the controversial redistricting of the North Brooklyn waterfront went through–an issue that will come up during the campaign. Thies, mindful of the reform sentiment in the district, says he has the knowledge of an insider, with the independence of an outsider. He’s focusing his campaign on government reform, “smart development” and affordable housing.

–Isaac Abraham has raised $40,088, and spent $30,157. He’s an Orthodox Jew, which is no small thing in this district. Abraham caused a bit of a stir when he refused to enter a church where a candidate forum was being held. The location of the event was moved, but whether or not he can represent a diverse consituency will probably be an issue in the campaign. He is great for a quote.

–Douglas J. Biviano raised $11,832 and spent $1,797. Biviano is an environmental engineer, and was a campaign coordinator for Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential race. Not surprisingly, his financial plan, according to his campaign web site, is to take “a slice out of the trillion dollar war pie to feed investment in our communities." Biviano is a big supporter of a single-payer health care system. He has said he approached Representative Jerry Nadler looking for support, but hasn’t gotten it. 

–Ken Diamondstone raised $47,839 and spent $17,650. He ran for this seat in 2001 and came in third in the primary, but got the support of the Working Families Party in the general election. Diamondstone also ran for State Senate in 2006, had a respectable showing and considered a rematch last year. Well-known among activists, he has somewhat more name recognition than other candidates.

The Competitive, Progressive Race for Yassky’s Seat