Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Updated Rundown of the 39th City Council Candidates

One of the hottest contested races in the September 15th primary is who will be the next City Council representative for the 39th district (Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Street, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Boro Park). I thought it was worth reviewing the candidates, all of whom I know at least to some degree, and all of whom I have heard speak and done some research on. Keep in mind I come into this as a supported of Josh Skaller for this seat. So I save my endorsed candidate for last.

Let me start with Gary Reilly. Gary is probably the only one in the race who has done no negative campaigning and who is liked and respected by everyone I know. But because he is a relative newcomer he has no real support at this time. Everyone agrees tha Gary is running mainly to introduce himself to the community and get his feet wet politically. Gary is smart, dedicated, honest and very progressive. All he needs to be an ideal candidate is experience, which is exactly what he is getting by running this year. It is very likely we will see a lot more of Gary in the future and I, for one, look forward to supporting him in the future. For now, though, he has little money, few endorsements, and is likely to come in last. But coming in last while establishing respect from almost all sides is actually a good strategy for someone who is looking towards his future. I put Gary first in my list because although voting for him this year would be a waste of a vote, I want to emphasize that he will one day likely be a candidate I strongly endorse.

Next I come to John Heyer, who is likely running fourth in this race but has a strategy that MIGHT work. John is the only true social conservative in the race, though, like all other candidates, he is economically liberal. Heyer is anti-choice and is for tax credits for private schools, two traditionally Republican stands (though you don't actually see this on his website!). He is also viewed as being the least friendly to the LGBT community, though his stand on this is not necessarily the same as Republicans since he believes government should ONLY do civil unions, leaving marriage to religious insititutions. Heyer's game plan is to win by solidifying the conservative pockets in the district--mainly Italian Catholics in Carroll Gardens and Hasids in Boro Park--while the other candidates split the majority progressive votes in the district. It is a long shot strategy, which is why most people would view him as running fourth in the race, but given how nasty things have become among the three front runners (Skaller, Lander and Zuckerman) it is far from impossible that Heyer could win. At first it seemed like Boro Park was being delivered to Lander by his deal with Dov Hikind (see below), but Heyer has run an excellent campaign among Hasids and has a shot at getting the most votes in Boro Park. If Heyer can hide his social conservativism in places like Park Slope (hence his somewhat misleading website) and pick up some majority progressive votes while solidifying the Hasid vote from Lander and Hikind's clutches, he just might pull off an upset. In which case one of the most liberal districts in the nation could be represented by a social conservative thanks to there being so many liberals running and spliting the vote.

Next I come to Bob Zuckerman. I had expected Bob to be the frontrunner in this race, but he is generally recognized as running third behind Josh Skaller and Brad Lander. Bob's original strategy was to solidify the LGBT vote along with the pro-developer vote with the help of Buddy Scotto of IND. His original ties with Scotto probably has cost Bob some progressive votes because Bob had to keep a fairly pro-developer stand on things like the Gowanus canal. But had Scotto delivered IND to Bob, Bob would have had a good shot at being the front runner or at least second. But Scotto betrayed Zuckerman and backed Heyer instead, prefering the Italian ties as he always does. So IND, which is generally seen as a liberal club, is backing an anti-choice candidate this year because of behind the scenes deals and Zuckerman was left in the cold. Given this loss of one of his main backers, Zuckerman has done well. In fact, Scotto's betrayal has allowed Zuckerman to abandon his more pro-developer stands and, I think, stick more to his real values than he could have had he remained beholden to Scotto. Zuckerman is endorsed by a respectable group of people, including district leader Alan Fleishman, the League of Humane Voters, and State Senator Tom Duane, but it doesn't strike me as quite making it within the district. He remains too much the LGBT candidate without as broad support outside this community as I think he needs to win. But, in a low turnout race anything can happen. I think any candidate that can rely on a solid bloc of voters has an edge if they can also take a share of other voters. Heyer has Boro Park and conservative Catholics, though Lander is competing with him for the conservatives. Zuckerman has the LGBT community though some are supporting Skaller. For both Heyer and Zuckerman this is not enough, so the only way to win is to also get votes from other groups. I think Zuckerman is more likely to appeal to a broader group than Heyer, but then again voter turnout in Boro Park is more reliable than elsewhere.

Brad Lander is arguably the most "experienced" candidate and arguably the front runner, though that may actually have changed in the last few weeks. Skaller, Zuckerman and Heyer have each been chipping away at Lander's base. Lander often comes off "too slick" to many people, and he has anger management problems (I have seen this personally and have been told stories by people who know him to the same effect). But he, like Skaller, Reilly and Zuckerman, is basically a progressive Democrat who I would be proud to support anywhere else in the country. But here in Brooklyn we always have a slew of excellent progressive Democrats, and I would say Skaller, Reilly and Zuckerman are all more reliably progressive than Lander and I trust their integrity more than I would trust Lander's. Lander is more obviously a politician than any of the other candidates and that cuts into his credibility at times (as described below). Next to Heyer, Lander is the most pro-developer candidate, though he is more thoughtful about his pro-developer stand than many NYC politicians (such as Marty Markowitz who never met a developer dollar he didn't eagerly dive for). Lander's main problem is he tries to appeal to everyone to get their votes and this gets him caught in some seemingly contradictary situations. He emphasizes his pro-developer stand to pro-development people and yet claims to be anti-developer when talking to groups that oppose things like Atlantic Yards. With Atlantic Yards Lander tries to portray himself as having opposed it all along, yet his record shows he has been weak in his opposition and quite possibly far more pro-Ratner than he claims. He has called into question some of the worst aspects of the project but has not backed any of the alternative, more community-friendly plans as far as I am aware. Nor has he been a supporter of the main opposition to Ratner's plan, DDDB. Similarly he has gotten himself into trouble in his attempt to win by combining support from liberal Park Slope with conservative Boro Park. His alliance with the homophobic and intolerant Dov Hikind has not played well in the progressive parts of the district, and Lander's anti-Israel statements from the past have not played well in Boro Park. His attempts to attract social conservatives led to a very embarassing incident where Lander's name was associated with an article, probably paid for by someone from Lander's campaign, that called homosexuals "abominations" and portrayed Lander as anti-marriage equality. This article does NOT accurately portray Lander's true stands on gay rights, which are very progressive. And Lander is understandably upset about his name being associated with a hateful position. However, it seems to me that his campaigns attempt to compete with Heyer for the votes of social conservatives was bound to lead to his being associated with stands that are more in line with those of his supporter Dov Hikind. And Lander's claims that the article was unauthorized suggests that either he runs his campaign poorly, letting people spend campaign money for ads without authorization, or he actually DID authorize it but hadn't paid attention to the content of the ad. Either way, the incident was an embarassment that Lander cannot afford in such a close race. Finally, Lander is also caught up in a major scandal with the Working Families Party which is costing him money in the last weeks of the race. Seems that WFP along with six of their endorsed candidates, including Bill de Blasio and Brad Lander, were caught violating campaign finance board laws in a big way. Lander has also received donations from sketchy sources, such as Josh Wolf-Powers of Blue Wolf Capital Management (which is at the center of Andrew Cuomo's investigation of Pensiongate, a major scandal involving the pension plans of several states) and an executive from Forest City Ratner, the firm behind the Atlantic Yards scheme Brad claims to oppose. Now Brad points out that he usually has given these sketchy donations back, but this does not change the fact that Brad is tied with many sketchy characters and situations. When you add up Dov Hikind, Blue Wolf Management (Pensiongate), Forest City Ratner, violations of Community Finance Board regulations (with WFP), and the "unauthorized" article wrongly linking Brad to homophobic beliefs, it adds up to a lot of uncomfortable people and situations surrounding one candidate. This just adds to the image of Lander as a typical politician who may be good overall, but whose integrity may suffer a bit from his willingness to skirt rules and core values to win. I would say that of all the candidates in this race, Lander suffers from this willingness to skirt rules and values more than any of the other candidates, though Zuckerman did alter his stands to please Buddy Scotto of IND and Heyer has tried concealing his more conservative values from Park Slope voters. Reilly and Skaller are the only candidates who I don't think have ever been anything but up front about where they stand on things.

Finally I come to Josh Skaller, the candidate I have endorsed. Josh is generally seen as running second in this race, though Zuckerman's recent gains and Lander's recent scandals may have shifted the rankings such that any of these three candidates could lay claim to front runner status. Skaller and Reilly are unquestionably the most progressive and most pro-reform candidates in the race, and unquestionably are the most trustworthy and up front of all the candidates. Skaller's campaign, like Lander's, Zuckerman's and Heyer's, has participated in the negative campaigning that this race has been known for and that has alienated some voters. But overall Skaller is generally recognized as being the most progressive, reform-minded and honest of the main front runners. Skaller and Reilly are essentially the same on all issues and in terms of having appealing personalities. The main thing Skaller has over Reilly is he has real support to win while Reilly has not picked up many endorsements. Skaller has been endorsed by Assemblyman Jim Brennan and State Senator Eric Adams (both far more likeable people than Lander's Dov Hikind!), Governor Howard Dean (see video below), Democracy for NYC and Democracy for America, Brooklyn-Queens National Organization for Women (NOW), the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, the NY Community Council, and a whole slew of others. A far more impressive list than Reilly's, and solidly progressive and reform. And no scandals like Lander.

Here is Howard Dean's endorsement:

The Brooklyn Downtown Star had this to say in their endorsement of Skaller:

The district must have a progressive-minded council member, capable of fighting for reform, who also understands the importance and distinct needs of the district’s more conservative and less affluent southern belt - an area made up of the neighborhoods of Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Boro Park.

The job calls for a liberal but open-minded person of integrity, intelligence, and sound judgment. The job calls for Josh Skaller, whom this paper is endorsing for City Council...

Skaller, an outspoken civic activist for the past decade, has established a broad base of support through his commitment to a brand of progressive but pragmatic politics, a rare combination.

A proactive environmentalist, Skaller plans to use city resources to implement small-scale alternative energy projects to reduce carbon emissions and encourage residents to take environmental issues into their own hands.

From the start, he has supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to place the Gowanus Canal on the Superfund List. Skaller believes, rightly so, that the federal government - not the city - has the right tools to clean the polluted waterway once and for all.

He understands the need for community-based planning when it comes to the all-important issue of development.

Though Lander has more experience in this field, Skaller has shown a more-than-adequate knowledge of development policy, the ways in which overdevelopment harms neighborhoods, and the methods which can be used to protect communities from out-of-context, unsustainable growth.

And here is the statement from Brooklyn-Queens NOW PAC on their endorsement of Skaller:

Council District 39: (Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Prospect Park). Candidate JOSH SKALLER is running for the seat vacated by Bill DiBlasio. Unlike his opponents, Skaller accepts no money from developers and is upfront about his support for our issues. Contact information for Josh Skaller:; phone:(718) 568-9699; email:

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