At Tuesday night’s 33rd Council District candidates’ forum, sponsored by the New Kings Democrats, most candidates agreed on most issues, which is par for the course for such events.
But some revealing information came via the yes or no “lightning round,” designed to discourage the evasive nuance and hedging of scripted political answers.
For instance, candidates were asked if they support the city’s controversial plan for the rezoning of the Broadway Triangle, a large tract of land bordering Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedfordâˆ’Stuyvesant that is being rezoned from manufacturing to residential, much of which will be affordable.
Opponents, while supportive of the general idea, have criticized the rezoning as being hijacked by a select group of community interests.
To the question, Steve Levin said “Yes.” Isaac Abraham, Evan Thies, Ken Baer, and Ken Diamonstone said “No.” Joanne Simon said “Yes,” but only if the rezoning involved a “communityâˆ’based approach,” finding a loophole in the “yes or no” format. Doug Biviano and Ken Diamondstone both passed on the question.
On whether a federal Superfund designation for the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek is the right approach, all candidates except for Levin and Simon gave an unequivocal “Yes.”
“I support whatever is fastest and most effective,” said Levin. “If that’s a Superfund, then yes, if that’s another method, then I would support that.”
“Ditto,” Simon followed.
On the issue of tolls over the East River bridges, Abraham was the only one unequivocally opposed. Levin said he would not support them unless tolls were directly correlated with a tangible benefit in mass transit fares.
All candidates believe condoms should be distributed in public schools except for Abraham, a Hasidic Jewish Williamsburg resident, who said it should be up to the parents to decide.
And all candidates except Abraham and Thies think the ROTC should not be in public schools.
One question aimed at Levin and Thies asked them to distinguish their own positions from the elected officials they have worked for. Levin is the current chief of staff for Assemblymember Vito Lopez, while Thies worked for Councilmember David Yassky for five years in a variety of positions including chief of staff.
Levin said he disagreed with Lopez’s support on the term limits extension. Thies also cited term limits as a point of disagreement with his old boss.
“I thought it was dead wrong to overturn the will of the people,” he said of the City Council’s decision to do away with term limits.
Thies also said he believes the inclusionary zoning tool, in which developers are allowed higher density if they provide affordable housing, should be mandatory, while Yassky thinks it should be voluntary.
The debate was cordial and never became contentious, and most candidates successfully struck statesmanlike tones. Abraham provided most of the comic relief. Regarding the City Council’s decision to grant itself a term limits extension despite a referendum instituting those term limits, he said, “Democracy went down the City Hall toilet, and I have to clean it up once I’m there.”
There were some ideas that were either “outsideâˆ’theâˆ’box” or flatâˆ’out outlandish, depending on one’s opinion. Baer floated the idea of creating a local Brooklyn currency, while Biviano, who presented himself as a man of sweeping and grand ideas, seemed to advocate for the creation of a New York City cityâˆ’state.
The night’s most awkward moment belonged to Biviano as well, when candidates were instructed to say one kind word about the candidate sitting to his or her left.
Baer said Biviano was “handsome.” Biviano, seated to the right of Diamondstone, who is openly gay, said, “I’m glad the other Ken didn’t say that to me,” a quip that didn’t go over well with the progressive crowd.