Nydia Velázquez Backs Challenger to Councilman Steve Levin

Stephen Pierson speaks at his endorsement press conference at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Stephen Pierson speaks at his endorsement press conference.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez does not forgive and she does not forget.

Ms. Velázquez, who has been staunchly battling the faction of Brooklyn Democrats once headed by disgraced former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, continued her fight today, endorsing Stephen Pierson, who is challenging Mr. Lopez’s former chief of staff, Councilman Steve Levin.

“He, like many of us, is tired of the politics of nepotism. He is tired of much-needed resources for our community being allocated outside of the district without any accountability,” Ms. Velázquez said at an event on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall. “On September 10th, the voters of the 33rd Councilmanic district will have a choice for transparency and for reform.”

Mr. Pierson, a community board member and founder of a literary journal, has been waging a feisty uphill battle against Mr. Levin, which has largely centered on Mr. Levin’s old boss, Mr. Lopez. While the two used to be close, Mr. Levin has since disavowed the embattled pol, who was forced to resign his seat this year after a lurid report accused him of repeatedly sexually harassing his staffers. (Mr. Lopez denies all wrongdoing and is currently running for a City Council seat next to Mr. Levin’s.)

Ms. Velázquez was joined at the endorsement event by Alex Low, the president of the New Kings Democrats, an aggressively anti-Lopez club that declined to endorse in the race, and a couple of Democratic district leaders. Their support is pivotal but unsurprising, as Ms. Velázquez has been open about her disdain for any candidate with ties to Mr. Lopez, who backed a primary challenge against her last year. Other Lopez foes, like district leaders Jo Anne Simon–who once ran against Mr. Levin–and Chris Owens, lavished praise on Mr. Pierson and denounced Mr. Levin for failing to sever ties with Mr. Lopez aggressively enough.

“I’m a woman. The incumbent’s statement on Vito Lopez’s sexually harassing conduct was simply too little and far too late,” Ms. Simon said. “He was the last to speak out long after it was abundantly clear that Vito Lopez was a repeat sexual predator.”

Several of the speakers also attacked Mr. Levin for allocating millions of dollars in council funds to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a nonprofit founded by Mr. Lopez that lies beyond the boundaries of Mr. Levin’s district. Mr. Pierson argued the money should have been used to fund local initiatives within the district, like additional after-school programs.

“We could have instead enrolled 3,700 of our children in after school, educational programs for the year. Or we could have paid for the salaries of 112 police officers,” said Mr. Pierson said. Mr. Levin claims he only gave $9,000 to the group after Mr. Lopez’s implosion.

Gary Schlesinger, an Orthodox Jewish community activist in Williamsburg, also claimed Mr. Levin had refused to meet with his sect, which has even set up a website that counts the days Mr. Levin has gone in office without meeting with the community.

“Even though Vito is no longer around, he still won’t talk to us,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

Update: (3:55 p.m.): The Levin campaign said Mr. Pierson’s attacks were misleading and dishonest.

“Today has provided further proof that Stephen Pierson is more interested in scoring political points than being honest with the public,” said Mr. Levin a statement. “My opponent has relied on lies and character assassination from the outset and today I repeat my call for him to repudiate his gutter politics and join me in running a substantive campaign worthy of this district. I am proud to run on my record of delivering real results for the people of the 33rd district and I look forward to focusing on the issues that matter to them for the remainder of the campaign.”

This story has been updated to note that while Mr. Low is endorsing Mr. Pierson, he is doing it as an individual. His club, the New Kings Democrats, did not endorse in the race.  Nydia Velázquez Backs Challenger to Councilman Steve Levin