City Council hopefuls clash on TV

The Brooklyn Paper
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While no weapons were flashed, teeth were certainly bared during an often raucous debate between the candidates running for Brookyn’s 33rd Council District sponsored by this paper and BCAT Independent Television.

The hour-long contest, moderated by Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman, was designed to be a free exchange of ideas and opinions on a number of issues that concern residents of the 33rd Councilmanic District, which includes Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint and parts of Williamsburg, Park Slope and Boerum Hill.

But by the end of the heated back-and-forth, the candidates’ faces were as red as the socks worn by CNG reporter Aaron Short, who co-hosted and asked questions.

The candidates, all of whom are hoping to succeed City Councilmember David Yassky, include Steve Levin, Assemblymember and Democratic Boss Vito Lopez’s chief of staff; Evan Thies, the former chief of staff of City Councilmember David Yassky; Democratic District Leader Joanne Simon; environmental activist Ken Baer; former Community Board 2 member Ken Diamondstone and community activists Doug Biviano and Issac Abraham.

No one held back as they challenged their opponents’ opinions on city schools and mayoral control, the ongoing Atlantic Yards debate as well as their thoughts on the next big development quagmire to hit Brooklyn -- the Broadway Triangle.

The 28-year-old Levin said that he had been involved in the project since it was first proposed in 2007 during a meeting with “70 or 80 community groups,” and explained that he supported the project because it provided much-needed affordable housing.

His answer didn’t sit well with Abraham, who said that he had been involved in plans to develop the Broadway Triangle since the Dinkins administration.

“Steve, you’re throwing out numbers like this would have been an off track betting parlor,” said Abraham, charging that the younger candidate knew nothing about the project or its history.

The rest of the candidates said that they would not support the Broadway Triangle because they believe the process was flawed.

“[The process behind the approval of the Broadway Triangle] is he best worst example of how the system works,” said Thies. “[Organizers] never opened up the debate or allowed the input of a half a dozen organizations that had a long history of the project.”

Thies caught some flak when his opponents accused him of ducking out of a pivotal vote of Community Board 1, of which he was a member before quitting to run his campaign. He departed the board right before the vote.

“I said I was going to leave three months before,” Thies said. “That’s when I left to start preparing my petitions. It was a very busy time and any comment to the contrary is nonsense.”

“We’re lucky in elections because we get a glimpse of a candidate’s true colors,” Biviano countered. “I work and run a campaign, but I would still have stood up to the community. That’s more important to me.”

Throughout the debate, the candidates’ answers were laced with scathing commentary about their opponents.

But their answers were just warm-ups for the big dance -- the point of the debate when each candidate was able to ask another candidate a question.

Many of the questions were targeted at Simon, who was accused of not supporting the Superfund designation of the Gowanus Canal, shying away from criticizing Lopez’s tenure as Kings County Democratic Chair and for “sitting silent” when a candidate in a neighboring race -- Carroll Gardens resident John Heyer -- stated his opposition toward a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage.

Although she was depicted as some wallflower, she didn’t shy away from answering, claiming that her opponents’ questioning had it all wrong.

“My record speaks for itself,” she said, noting that she had spoken out about Lopez becoming party chair when he was first elected as well as her long established support of LGBT causes.

Following the debate, Simon said she had no problem being turned into a political punching bag.

“I’m the frontrunner in the race,” she said. “They’re all out to get me.”

The other person used as a political punching bag in the debate -- Lopez -- wasn’t even there.

Biviano likened the Democratic Party leader to Hugo Chavez when he asked Simon to join with him to demand he step down from office, while Thies criticized Levin for using Lopez’s political club as his campaign headquarters.

“Are you benefitting from Lopez’s largesse?” Thies asked.

“We are running a strictly positive campaign and I am proud of the work I have done and the union endorsements I have received,” Levin divulged without answering the question.

“Are you the machine candidate?” Kuntzman pressed.

“I don’t think of myself as one,” Levin said. “While Assemblyman Lopez has been very supportive, I am running my campaign as a grassroots campaign.”

This lively debate can be seen in its entirety on Brooklyn Independent Television on the BCAT Network, this Monday, August 17, at 9 pm.

A series of interesting forums for the 39th Council District, the 45th Council District, Comptroller and Public Advocate races, which came about through collaboration between Community News Group and Brooklyn Independent Television on the BCAT TV Network, will be cablecast on the BCAT TV Network on Time Warner 56, Cablevision 69, RCN 84 and Verizon 44.

They can also be found online 24 to 48 hours after the airing at

Coverage of each race and more can be found on CNG’s website

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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