It has been wisely said that only a foolish man makes the same decisions over and over again, yet expects different results. But that is what voters do all too often: pick the same tired leaders, send them back to Albany or to Washington for decades, then somehow expect these incumbents to bring about change.
What we get instead, of course, is the same old politics.
But on Primary Day, Tuesday, Sept. 9, voters in several Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods will have a rare opportunity to alter that sad political calculus by sending a newcomer to the statehouse and another to the House of Representatives (selection in these Democratic primaries is tantamount to election); and in Bay Ridge (where there will be a Republican opponent in November), Democrats will be asked to choose their candidate to replace the disgraced GOP Rep. Vito Fossella, who is not seeking reelection.
Here are our preferences:
Powell for Congress
Rep. Ed Towns has been in office since 1982. Yet in those 26 years, he has achieved so little that it is shocking that he has only rarely faced a Democratic challenger.
Towns claims to have a rare skill at netting pork-barrel appropriations for his district (which stretches from northern Brooklyn Heights through Fort Greene and central Brooklyn on to East New York). But that talent is hardly the best measure of congressional talent. And even if it were, Towns is certainly no better than most of the other 434 House members at snaring key allocations.
Indeed, Towns has been in the House longer than more than 400 congressmen — yet he does not even chair a committee! In an interview with The Brooklyn Paper’s editorial board, he touted his leadership of a government oversight subcommittee — one that reviews every single government purchase, he said. When questioned, he conceded that he has not even held hearings to investigate the cronyism and overpayments that have been rampant during the Bush Administration.
Two years ago, when this newspaper reluctantly endorsed Towns for reelection, we wrote that “if the Democrats take back the House, Towns’s seniority will give him added clout.” The Democrats did take back the House, yet Towns’s seniority has meant little to his Brooklyn constituents. Indeed, when asked to name his major achievements, he ticked off the same two bills that he mentioned at his endorsement interview two years ago!
And when the discussion turned to foreign policy, Towns was completely baffled by even simple questions about the Russian invasion of Georgia and the planned deployment of U.S. missiles in Poland — both stories that had been widely covered in the media that very week. Perhaps it’s not vital for every member of Congress to have a deep understanding of the entire world, but Towns was so clueless that we were left in shock.
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Newcomer Kevin Powell, a rap music writer, inspirational lecturer and community organizer, has the kind of fire in the belly to shake up the doldrums that Towns tolerates. In his interview with The Brooklyn Paper’s editorial board, he put forth a vision of the kind of hard-working, easily accessible, knowledgeable and committed congressman he hopes to be.
It was hard not to catch Powell’s enthusiasm for changing inside-the-Beltway business as usual.
While Powell’s history of violence — including an incident as recently as four years ago — is alarming, a reckless past (as long as it stays in the past and as long as the candidate is genuinely open about his shortcomings) need not disqualify an otherwise meritorious candidate from elected office, particularly when he’s running against an invisible man.
As such, we endorse Kevin Powell for Congress in his uphill challenge to the status quo in the 10th congressional district.
McMahon for Congress
In Bay Ridge, Democratic voters have two worthy candidates for the congressional seat being vacated by scandal-tarred Rep. Vito Fossella.
But the choice between frequent candidate Steve Harrison and Councilman Mike McMahon is clear: McMahon is far more experienced and ready to serve constituents of the Bay Ridge-Staten Island district on Day 1.
We certainly admired Harrison’s 2006 run against Fossella. With a bare-bones budget and no support from the national Democratic party, Harrison got 43 percent of the vote — the most that anyone had ever gotten against the one-time GOP powerhouse.
And we have no doubt that Harrison would be a strong fighter for the oft-forgotten Bay Ridge portion of the district, which he served for many years as chairman of Community Board 10.
But McMahon has been impressive as a member of the City Council, showing true leadership on issues like solid waste, ferry service, and ensuring that there is always a nurse on duty in every school.
That’s why we strongly endorse Mike McMahon for the 13th congressional district.
Squadron for Senate
Voters in Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg and Greenpoint have been represented for 30 years by state Sen. Marty Connor, an affable, behind-the-scenes power broker who has quite simply not been the same since he was deposed as Senate Minority Leader (by future Gov. David Paterson, no less!) in 2002.
Connor is a tired figure who conceded to our editorial board that he would not even be running for re-election if he didn’t think that Democrats had a chance to retake the Senate. He claims that he would be reenergized if his party retakes power — maybe yes, maybe no — but what if the Democrats don’t? Then we’d be certain to get another two years of worn-out representation.
And on one of the most significant issues in the district — the subversion of Brooklyn Bridge Park from an urban oasis with the potential to rival Central and Prospect parks, to an economic development site driven by condominium and commercial development — Connor let us all down. It was Connor’s bill in 2005 that created the financing scheme that sets aside park residents’ payments in lieu of property taxes as the maintenance budget of the park, a faulty plan likely to give residents of the supposedly public park more control over what goes on there. It also allows commercial development in the park to take place without public scrutiny.
Connor’s opponent, Daniel Squadron, is an ambitious politician like his patron, Sen. Charles Schumer. But unlike Connor, who has been content to sit on a minority bench in the Senate for so many years, blaming his party’s lack of control for his own lack of performance, Squadron is a man on the move who will fight hard and work diligently, if only to make himself electable to Congress someday. Political ambition is hardly a sin.
We do have some reservations about Squadron. He’s barely worked outside the political world and, in fact, he doesn’t need to work at all, thanks to a trust-fund established by his late father, the ultimate insider legal eagle, Howard Squadron. That trust-fund, together with the Schumer machine, is responsible for this contest; voters in the district might be excused if they were unaware that there was even a contest — Squadron’s slick, sometimes negative direct mail pieces came almost daily; responses by Connor’s underfunded campaign were too little, too late.
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We don’t agree with every one of Squadron’s proposals, but we’re impressed with the fact that he has energized political discourse in the district. On virtually every topic in which voters are interested — transportation, reforming Albany, neighborhood character and affordability, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the environment and schools — Squadron has put forth positions that remind voters of how little energy Connor has brought to bear on these intractable problems.
For these reasons, we endorse Daniel Squadron for the 25th state Senate district.