Steve versus Steve, round one

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The Steves have begun to rumble.

Democratic council challenger Stephen Pierson came out swinging against 33rd district incumbent Steve Levin on Wednesday night during the first face-to-face clash in the Battle of the Steves.

Pierson landed body blows throughout the evening on hot topics including waterfront development, trash transfer stations, and Levin’s ties to accused serial sexual harasser and former Democratic boss Vito Lopez, drawing loud applause from the packed Polish and Slavic Center and leaving Levin sputtering.

Pierson came out of the gate hard, vowing to sue the city, twice — once if it fails to take the trash transfer burden off of Greenpoint and a second time if it allows the mega-developments near the mouth of the Newtown Creek to proceed before it conducts additional environmental reviews.

“I will actively fight their constructi­on,” Pierson said. “We can sue the city. We can force better environmental studies.”

Levin floundered on both topics. He said he too would sue over the development, maybe, and that he would reduce the amount of garbage in the neighborhood, but he bobbed and weaved around the details.

The two Steves then grappled over who was the more progressive candidate, each pledging to create commercial rent stabilization laws and push for more school funding. The deadlock ended with Levin backing himself into a corner for a round of rope-a-dope about his ties to the disgraced former assemblyman Vito Lopez.

“I haven’t spoken to Vito Lopez in several months and I don’t intend to have a working relationship with him,” Levin said an attempt to preempt the attack.

But Pierson saw the opening and blasted away, saying that Levin funneled more than $6.6 million of city funds to Lopez’s organization, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. The figure is $1.6 million, but still, the taint of gross groping details and corruption in Lopez’s charity hung heavy over the proceedings.

Levin bashed back at Pierson for never voting in a local election in the 15 years that he has lived in Brooklyn but, after the night’s fireworks, the punches fell short.

The fight came with a strange pre-game show in the form of a bizarre, anonymously produced Pierson ad that makes the upstart’s support base look fearsome, if not entirely sane. The one-minute video attacks Levin and Lopez and features an unhinged voice-over, video game buzzers, and a photo of a shirtless Levin.

“We have supporters everywhere and they sometimes do things we don’t condone,” said Pierson, adding that he and his staff had a laugh when they saw the ad.

The 33rd district includes Greenpoint, Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Downtown and parts of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The Democratic primary is Sept. 10.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at
Updated 10:14 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Jimi from Greenpoint says:
I don't know what debate the reporter was at, but this article is so far off the mark she might have written it from a secondhand account given by Pierson himself.

Fortunately, we can go to the tape:
Aug. 23, 2013, 7:14 am
Josh from Bkln Heights says:
Yeah, I was at the same debate and Levin won it handily. He clearly knows how City govt works, while Pierson's response to every issue is that he will fight to change the current situation without any indication that he understands the specifics associated with each issue. And how does someone live somewhere for fifteen years and not vote in any local election (council, state assembly, mayor, etc)?
Aug. 23, 2013, 7:41 am
helene from greenpoint says:
yeah, is this a press release from the pierson campaign? does NOT reflect the actual debate. pierson's recent and rudimentary familiarity with the issues facing the district fell fall short of where it would need to be to get my vote. the fact that he didn't vote in any nyc municipal elections--mind boggling. we're talking bloomberg's third term here... also, imho having a daughter is not a qualification for public office. it's getting a little old.
Aug. 23, 2013, 8:37 am
Lacy from Greenpoint says:
It's amazing how whenever any articles pop up about this election, the same people post the same comment, all within the span of a few minutes. Almost as if there's an organized trolling effort.
Aug. 23, 2013, 9:48 am
Marsha from Brooklyn says:
the Levin internet trolls are quick to work in the comments, wow.
Aug. 23, 2013, 9:50 am
ben there, done that says:
I wasn't at the debate but I have worked in and around city government for several decades. There is only one (general) possible respondent in an Article 78 proceeding and it would never be a developer.

I wasn't at the debate but I read other accounts of the event. This report doesn't bear much resemblance to the others.

I wasn't at the debate but I vote in every election, even the ones where I have to pinch my nose.
Aug. 23, 2013, 10:34 am
Lacy from Greenpoint says:
Helene- can you name a single one of those "outright lies?" I'm curious.
Aug. 23, 2013, 10:49 am
Josh from Bkln Heights says:
It was local elections from what I remember. So he voted for President, but not for the position he's running for or Mayor, State Senate, etc. There have been alot of contentious local elections in the last fifteen years in that area, so it does kind of amaze me that he never voted.
Aug. 23, 2013, 11:24 am
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
Steve Levin lied/misled the audience about the nature of the Hasidic "sects" in question, saying he reaches out to the Pupa as well as the Aronites. The sects that Pierson was referring to are the political voting blocs - the Aronites and the Zalmanites. Zalmanites support Steve Levin and the Zalmanite controlled organizations (like UJO) turn out the vote for him. Aronite controlled organizations have been SOL, even post-Vito.

Pupa is the name of a village where some of the Hasidim come from; so is Satmar. Most of the Hasidim are Satmar. Saying you reach out to the Pupa as well as the Aronites is nonsense.

Why does any of this matter? Because the Hasidim turn out more voters in this district than non-Hasidim, therefore the entire district is at the mercy of this one very special interest, unless we get off our butts and vote. So you should pay attention to this, and you should care that Steve Levin lied about his involvement with the Hasidic community and who he courts for votes.
Aug. 23, 2013, 11:44 am
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
Both candidates deeply disappointed me with their answers to a question I submitted: "If Vito Lopez is elected to the City Council, what will you do?" They both reverted to past: Levin talked about how he has cut ties to Vito. Pierson harped on Levin's ties. Pissed me off. It was a HUGE opportunity for both of them and they blew it. It could have been a really stand out moment in the debate. Gentlemen, I was looking for:
- Demand a vote recount
- Demand that Vito have no female staffers or interns
- Demand sensitivity training for Vito and all Council members and staffers on a mandatory annual basis
- Commit to a pro-woman agenda at the Council, including legislating stronger penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace especially for harassing city employees
- Commit to scrutiny of Vito's actions as Council member, up to and including a commitment to expelling him from the Council for any infraction of rules or laws
Aug. 23, 2013, 11:47 am
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
Josh: Don't conflate the Pupa and the Satmar (which are religious sects) with the Aronites and Zalmanites, which are political factions. That is what Steve Levin did.

The Zalmanites lined up with Vito Lopez and therefore have thrown their support to Steve Levin. That's why he has ignored those Hasidic community members who belong to the Aronite POLITICAL faction, be they Pupa, Satmar, etc.

If you want to browse the NY Times for understanding, this link offers a better Hasidic Politics 101; helpful because it's more recent and in context of politics here:
Aug. 23, 2013, 12:24 pm
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
... and when I say Steve Levin conflated the religious with the political sects during the debate, he did it knowingly and cynically, with the intent to mislead constituents like you, Josh. Which I find abhorrent. Just as abhorrent as I found Stephen Pierson's constant negative attacks all evening.
Aug. 23, 2013, 12:26 pm
Reply to Theresa from Greenpoint says:
Thanks for that NY Times link; I found that a very interesting read. As a longer term Brooklyn resident I'm ashamed not to have known more about the Hasidic residents in our district. I thought Mr. Levin had 'outplayed' Mr. Pierson on that point... now I get it was a confusing/dirty lie.

Thank you for sharing the link.
Aug. 23, 2013, 1:38 pm
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
Josh, you're welcome. I'd say it's my pleasure but it sure isn't a pleasure to call out my elected officials on half-truths and lies. I'm glad our Councilman has broken free from Vito Lopez, but Lopez and the political machine is going strong. Councilman Levin had a lot to do with that, up to and including installing our worthless District Leader, Chris Olechowski (who is also our CB1 chair), bouncing our excellent anti-machine incumbent on Vito's orders. There's a lot for our Councilman to make up for, and I'm not hearing strong, energetic, proactive, visionary words from our Councilman about the next four years, if we decide to give them to him. There's some time till Primary Day - let's hear some plans for our future, including how you'll partner with anti-machine community leaders to win that park that Chris Olechowski's clearly forgotten about.
Aug. 23, 2013, 3:22 pm
Jimi from Greenpoint says:

There are many sects in Williamsburg, though Satmar is the largest and most politically powerful group. There is no such thing as a Puppa Aroni or Zali because Aaron and Zalman are both claimants to Satmar leadership- that would be like a Southern Baptist fighting over who should be Pope.

Most of the Hasidic sects in the area take their name from the town their founders hailed from, I.E. Satmar came from Satu Mare, Puppa from Puppa, Vishnitz from Vyzhnytsia, Klauzenbyrug from Cluj-Napoca, etc. saying "members of the Aaronite POLITICAL faction, be they Pupa, Satmar, etc" doesn't make any sense because they'd have to be a Satmar first in order to be either an Aaronite or Zalmanite.

As the article you linked points out, politics is where the division within Satmar is most often visible to outsiders but that doesn't mean the other Hasidic sects organize their loyalties along Aroni/Zali lines. When and if other sects do line up behind Aaron or Zalman it's for their own short-term political benefit and not because they subscribe to an enduring, cross-sect political loyalty to either Satmar Rebbe. Aroni/Zali is a political divide within a single sect and the terms do not refer to generalized political factions within the Williamsburg Hasidim.

Mr. Pierson said that the Williamsburg Hasidim is divided into 'two sects- Aroni and Zali.' That is not correct and I think Mr. Levin was within his rights to point that out. If you're going to go after someone for not being responsive enough to a community's needs you should make sure you know something about the community first.

To my understanding Mr. Levin was correct about the Hasidim- whether or not you're satisfied with his answer about the needs of the Aroynem is a whole other thing.
Aug. 23, 2013, 7:58 pm
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
I think we're not being mindful enough about the words. I generalized because most people here don't understand anything about the Hasidim at all; since there's finally someone in the comments section who knows about these details, I'll note you're right, the A/Z factions are confined to the Satmar, and the Satmar are the majority of the Hasidic population. I think the use of the word "sect" should be applied only to religious groups; I agree that Pierson was wrong to ascribe it to the Aroni and Zali. However, Levin did exploit that error, and he did confuse the audience by conflating the Aroni with the Pupa, calling them "sects" which muddied the issue.

I agree that the evolved Aroni/Zali factions are still too recent to say they are generalized. There is still a lot of wrangling and who knows when or if it will end. But it is a fact that for the time being, the Zalmanites have lined up with Vito Lopez and the Brooklyn political machine. Is it currently to their benefit? Of course it is. Is it to the benefit of the non-Satmar Hasidic community? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Is it to the benefit of the secular community? By sidestepping the conversation about the overt political push and pull in which he engages with the Hasidic community, Councilman Levin sought to minimize the extent to which he still participates in machine politics. It is that which I find unsatisfying.
Aug. 23, 2013, 8:18 pm
Mike from Greenpoint says:
I am not a Levin supporter, nor a Pierson supporter. I went to this debate, and I don't recognize it in this article. In reality, Pierson came across as weak, and Levin really came across as somebody who knew what they were talking about, and as somebody who had experience.
Aug. 23, 2013, 10:30 pm
Go back Steve from whence you came says:
Levin has wonderful experience... saying "Yes sir Mr. Lopez," and "Thank you Daddy."
Aug. 23, 2013, 10:48 pm
Walter from Greenpoint says:
Teresa is obviously a paid Pierson person, a former POKER PLAYER (illegal by the way). Same with others. Pathetic.
Aug. 23, 2013, 11:36 pm
Marsha Rimler from Brooklyn says:
Last time I checked Mr. Lopez was not on the ballot in our district. Give it a rest
Aug. 24, 2013, 6:50 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
This article by Furfaro reads to me as directed by editorial. It lacks basis in reality, and we don't have to support Pierson nor Levin to recognize that. The self-consciousness to that fact is probably why there is so much activism in this comments section--by participants but more tellingly by "the moderator." This article isn't "reporting." This is "agenda." Furfaro reads as someone who was told before the debate who the "winner" was going to be and had to mold it so it has the appearance of reporting. Thus, special moderation towards that end. And the comments themselves demonstrate what is profound about new Brooklyn media: the reporting is such that readers must take it upon themselves to be writers.
Aug. 24, 2013, 8:09 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
And let's stop this nonsense "oh, you must be a paid hired gun for [Levin/Pierson" whenever someone employs critical acumen [read: we don't like what they write though we lack a full understanding]. I've had static with Teresa from Greenpoint but it's obvious she is commenting on the facts of the debate, not shilling for a candidate. Indeed, she examines both candidates here and her summary of one of Levin's points is more involved because Levin's point was one of the most involved of the night and requires significant unpacking. So much of what passes for reasoned debate on anything in Brooklyn is ad hominem, and it's especially pernicious when we do that at a time such as this one when we must count on each other than reporters for the news.
Aug. 24, 2013, 8:14 am
JJ from Greenpoint says:
Dennis- I agree that the accusations of trolling are childish on both sides. That said, I was at the debate and I don't think this article was unreasonable; my only real argument was that the not voting for 15 years thing was a bigger deal for a lot of people than the article seemed to think. But I definitely think Levin came off much worse on development (getting more % of affordable housing vs. stopping the huge towers from going up at all, plus Pierson schooled him on the legal ways to stop it), which was my biggest issue.

I guess partly that's because I went into the debate pretty neutral, but definitely expecting to see Levin demonstrate experience and Pierson demonstrate a passion for reform. Personally, I care more about the latter, but I get why other people care more about other things.
Aug. 24, 2013, 10:23 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
Well disposed, JJ from Greenpoint. I don't agree about this article's tone, but I appreciate your perspective. I agree most with you here, "but definitely expecting to see Levin demonstrate experience and Pierson demonstrate a passion for reform." T/here you were prescient. Levin has a head start on Pierson, several laps in/deed. Yet that gap can be overcome if Pierson concentrates less on the ad hominem of his campaign towards study with the district's passions--which so Tell, for Real.

pazum tremendum
Aug. 24, 2013, 10:43 am
Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
And shame on Brooklyn Paper and her moderator for censoring bittersweet Meredith on these threads. What has she done that merits your hypocrisy, that compares to fiend proliferation on your threads? Do the right thing and restore her rights here as an articulate citizen and neighbor. Her exclusion degrades you.
Aug. 24, 2013, 11 am
Teresa from Greenpoint says:
I agree with Dennis - how shameful and hypocritical for Brooklyn Paper to allow trolls to run rampant while banning s thoughtful and involved citizen like Meredith from commenting here. Was she classing up the joint too much for you guys? Remove the ban!
Aug. 24, 2013, 11:51 am
Chad from Town says:
Ah, yes. The great contest to see who can spend other people's money fastest!
Aug. 24, 2013, 11:58 am

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