The seven candidates to succeed David Yassky and represent Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights and part of Park Slope in the City Council have got to do better than this.
Monday night’s candidate forum held by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and the Independent Neighborhood Democrats was the latest in a seemingly endless series of mirth-free events that are doing more to drive people away from the political process than towards it.
The main problem is that the candidates differ little on substance, leaving an audience member to ponder the not-so-subtle, and not-so-appealing, differences in each candidate’s style.
Isaac Abraham, a Hasidic activist from Williamsburg, spent much of the night describing himself as an omnipresent “fixer” who doesn’t care how many people he has pissed off — and would seek to piss off if elected. Gays will probably want to get first in line; Abraham is the only candidate who opposes gay marriage.
But Abraham is ultimately a crowd pleaser, a political tummler, if you will. You want passionate anger, Ken Baer is your man. The former Sierra Club chairman spent most of the St. Francis College forum getting so worked up about the current — and, sometimes inept — state of land-use planning in this city that he was practically spitting.
Doug Biviano, the newest candidate in the now-seven-person race, emphasized how much “fun” democracy can be when everyone participates. It was sometimes hard to tell if he was running for City Council or the social committee.
Jo Anne Simon spent much of the night projecting an air of calm, intelligent professionalism, even sensibly saying that she wanted more time to study whether the Gowanus Canal should be made a federal Superfund site while her opponents rushed to support federal intervention (despite its mixed record).
Evan Thies, who has not earned Yassky’s endorsement, despite working as his primary aide for five years, came off as the wonkiest of the bunch, pitching proposals for mandatory affordable housing and ticking off his credentials.
Steve Levin, who is chief of staff to Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman Vito Lopez, was his usual self: He didn’t bother to show up.
And Ken Diamondstone, who called out two candidates (though not by name, alas) as being too close to Lopez, came off as a man without an issue — except his hatred for the party chair and his “gross machine.”
Still, there were some highlights that made it all worthwhile:
Most over-enthusiastic reaction to a boring all-day event: Biviano, still channeling Julie from “The Love Boat,” said he would try to convene events like state Sen. Daniel Squadron’s district-wide convention earlier this year. “He really knocked it out of the park for Democracy,” Biviano said.
Best faux pas of the night: Baer, an accountant by trade, said there were four reasons he was running: “1. Community control over development. 2. Improving public schools. 3. Protecting the water supply.” But lest one think that Baer is running a crooked accounting firm, he did get to his fourth reason during his closing statement: “creating jobs and improving the economy.”
Most radical idea of the night: Biviano’s call for the community boards to have a veto power over all land-use and rezoning proposals came out of nowhere. So if you think your local community board, which doesn’t have a budget to independently review the land-use proposals and whose members are very often appointed as paybacks by the borough president and city councilmembers, should be able to veto the Council, the City Planning Commission and the mayor, then Biviano is your candidate.
Most tortured syntax of the night: When Isaac Abraham said, “If I had to put it in one word why I’m running for Council is would be this: ‘I’ve been there and done that.”
Most bizarre criticism of a developer: Diamondstone lambasted developer Jed Walentas, who hopes to build an 18-story tower and public middle school near the Brooklyn Bridge, a structure that critics say would forever obscure views of the fabled span. “It’s disturbing that a developer would divide the community by offering us something that we all need,” Diamondstone said.
Yeah, the nerve of that developer for offering us something we all need!