Former City Councilman Steve DiBrienza — who represented Park Slope and Windsor Terrace for 16 years before leaving elected office at the end of 2000 — now says he’ll run for his old seat again, jumping into a race that already has six candidates.
“I’m in it,” DiBrienza told The Brooklyn Paper last week after Crain’s Insider, a political gossip column, reported that DiBrienza was “preparing to run for his former Council seat,” which he was forced to vacate because of term limits.
Currently, Brad Lander, Bob Zuckerman, Craig Hammerman, Josh Skaller and Gary Reilly have declared their candidacies. John Heyer, who works for Borough President Markowitz, has expressed an interest, but not formally thrown his hat into the three-ring circus.
DiBrienza’s competitors, who have been fundraising for the last year in anticipation of the rare open seat, were not excited by the former councilman’s entry into the race.
“He’s been out of the picture for almost a decade now,” said Hammerman, who ran for the seat once before and has been district manager of Community Board 6 for the entirety of DiBrienza’s exile.
“It’s been a while since he’s been at all the meetings, so I don’t whether he is up to speed on the issues.”
Hammerman did say that DiBrienza would be “good at raising money,” which could be a problem, given that six men are currently trying to tap into the same revenue stream in a district that covers parts of Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.
Lander, who runs the Pratt Center for Community Development and is one of the front-runners in the race, said the public would see through the DiBrienza gambit because “the community is hungry for new leadership … at this critical juncture.”
Like other candidates in the race, he reminded that he “has been active on issues from stopping overdevelopment to saving affordable housing to saving Long Island College Hospital to campaign finance reform to more public pre-K seats.”
Hours after DiBrienza announced his return to the race, Lander’s camp rushed out a press release trumpeting a key endorsement: newly minted state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) had made his preference known, saying Lander has “a rare combination of gifts — big ideals, detailed knowledge, and the ability to use both to create concrete change.”
Zuckerman, who currently runs the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, also mocked DiBrienza’s return from the political graveyard.
“In these extremely challenging times, it’s more important than ever [to] look to the future, not to the past, for new ideas and solutions to the problems our communities confront,” he said.
After his 16-year run in the Council, DiBrienza, a resident of Windsor Terrace, ran for public advocate in 2001, losing to eventual winner Betsy Gotbaum. He has been practicing law and teaching courses on public affairs at Baruch College since.
“I feel as connected as ever to the district,” he told The Brooklyn Paper.
If he is known for anything, DiBrienza is best remembered for battling the Giuliani administration over its treatment of the homeless. At one point in the fight, the former mayor sought to evict several community organizations and Community Board 6 from a building at 250 Baltic St. in the Cobble Hill portion of DiBrienza’s district and turn it into a homeless shelter.
The mayor never made good on his threat, and DiBrienza hailed it as a victory.
Of course, one man’s “victory” is another man’s over-reach — especially if the other man is one of DiBrienza’s opponents. Hammerman remembered the battle with Giuliani quite differently.
“I understand why DiBrienza would have hailed it as a victory, but the victory was in fact a community triumph over the Giuliani Administration,” Hammerman said.
“The community organizing that took place, much of it at my conference table (if it could only speak!), resulted in the involvement of thousands of people. … Cobble Hill exploded into an irresistable force the Giuliani Administation was ill prepared to meet.”
“It was Cobble Hill that took on the responsibility to clean up the mess created by DiBrienza’s antagonism of the administration and Giuliani’s vindictive response to it,” Hammerman concluded.
For now, however, DiBrienza says his issues are “protecting public education,” “making our neighborhoods livable,” and working to ensure that “the Council itself is a force for good and is dramatic, bold and strong.”
He dismissed the notion that it is time for new blood in the seat, which DeBlasio has held for two terms.
“I’m just as much ‘new blood’ as they are in many ways,” he said. “Yes, I have a great background in how the Council works, but I have been away, so my energy is as new and as fresh as theirs.
“I will have just as hard a time as anyone else to get the public’s vote,” he added. “But I do think some people remember my terms on the Council fondly.”