Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Mayor: Bill Thompson (Democratic Party)

One of the best things I have heard said about Bill Thompson was meant to disparage his chances: Bill Thompson was accused of "being too much of a gentleman" to win against Bloomberg. Honestly, that comment made me like Thompson more. Thompson is a good, solid Democrat and I think it is about time this very Democratic city stop having dictatorial, pro-business, anti-labor mayors. Mayor Bloomberg isn't bad...for a Republican. But he IS a Republican not just in name but in actions. His education policy has been little more than privatizing our educational system. This has made it a money maker for outside contractors who deal with the increasingly arduous and Byzantine testing and admissions processes, but it doesn't really help parents or students. If students don't do well enough, too often they get dropped from the system so the tests won't be affected. Admissions have become insane and yet have done little to equalize the discrepancies between neighborhoods because only the wealthy have the time and money for the admissions process, the interviews, extra tutoring for tests, etc. And the big results that Bloomberg claims vindicates his "reforms?" They can be seen statewide, even in areas where Bloomberg has had no influence. So how can he lay claim to the changes? Bloomberg has also closed firehouses, yet given tax money to developers. Bloomberg pissed on voters when he bullied the City Council into overturning term limits ONE TIME ONLY, specifically so Bloomberg could have a third term. I have never understood the cult of Bloomberg that many follow. Once he called my wife and me "terrorists" because we protested the Republican National Convention and once I learned that Bloomberg was the number one individual donor to Tom DeLay's ant-choice, anti-environment, right wing PAC, I have disliked him.

So Thompson is too much of a gentleman to win against Bloomberg, thus, I suppose, admitting that Bloomberg is an asshole. Well, I for one hope the gentleman who has consistently been a solid Democrat wins. I hope Thompson, who is pro-labor, can win over anti-labor Bloomberg. Bill Thompson has been endorsed by one of my favorite Congresswomen, Nydia M. Velazquez. He has been endorsed by State Senator Eric Adams, Councilmember Letitia James, Councilmember John Liu, Councilmember David Weprin, State Senator Diane Savino, and Congressman Anthony Weiner, all of whom I respect (even if I don't always agree with all of them). Thompson has been endorsed by 504 Democrats, NYC's main disabled rights group, Barack Obama Democratic Club, American Heritage Democratic Club, Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, Lambda Independent Democrats, Out People of Color Political Action Club, East Harlem/El Barrio Democratic Club, Gramercy-Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, Village Independent Democrats and West Harlem Independent Democrats. Thompson has been endorsed by Communications Workers of America, United Auto Workers, Uniformed Firefighters Association, Transport Workers Union and the Teamsters. And, of course, many others. To me Thompson represents a good, old fashioned Democrat supported by a good, old fashioned pro-union, pro-LGBT, pro-minority coalition. I would support that any day over a spoiled, dictatorial billionaire.

36th City Council District (Brooklyn): Mark Winston Griffith (Working Families Party Candidate)

Many people know that I am disgusted by the fact that WFP has been breaking campaign finance laws and has sided with corrupt party boss Vito Lopez this year. To me, WFP was once a great idea that has been descending into the same kind of corruption that they claim to fight. But, there are still remnants of the old style WFP and among the corrupt and sleazy WFP candidates this year there were some great ones. This includes Debi Rose on Staten Island, John Liu for Comptroller...and Mark Winston Griffith for the 36th City Council seat in Brooklyn. The incumbent for this seat is Al Vann who is among the least popular incumbents I have ever seen. In fact, I suspect had there only been one opponent in the Democratic Primary, Vann would be history now. But the opposition split the vote and Vann squeaked by the primary with barely 30% of the vote. The man who came in second was Mark Winston Griffith and he has decided to continue the fight on the WFP line. Mark has been Executive Director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project and has been a community organizer for years. Mark has been endorsed by the United Auto Workers, Educational Justice PAC and Committee for the Future Leadership of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. I firmly believe that the 36th district would be better served by Mark Winston Griffith than by Al Vann. So I urge a vote on the (I hate to say it) Working Families Party line for Mark Winston Griffith in the 36th City Council district.

39th City Council District (Brooklyn): David Pechefsky (Green Party Candidate)

Most people know I have seldom sided with the Greens since 2000. Too often the Greens are counterproductive and obnoxious purists. But sometimes the Green Party really is an alternative. This is, I believe, the second time since 2000 that I have endorsed a Green Party candidate. I first heard about Pechefsky from two of my neighbors. They knew him personally and, though Democrats, were interested in supporting him. At the time I was supporting a Democrat in the running (Josh Skaller) and thought two of the other Democrats (Gary Reilly and Bob Zuckerman) were also good candidates, so I took a dim view of Pechefsky's run given the fact that no fewer than THREE excellent Democrats were vying for the position. Well, none of those three excellent Democrats won. I met Pechefsky and talked with him. He agreed that the candidate I was supporting would be excellent but I gathered he was running in case one of the not so good Democrats won the primary. Which is what happened. The Democrat who won the primary, Brad Lander, is allied with Dov Hikind (a known homophobe and racist), has been publicly anti-Israel, and who has been centrally involved in the WFP campaign funding scandal I mention above. Brad Lander is one of those Democrats I feel I can never trust even if we agree on most things. He is too blinded by his own sense of self-worth and his own ambition to listen to an opposing view. Too often I have seen him face disagreement with disdain or rage. By contrast David Pechefsky is even tempered, thoughtful and willing to listen to opposing views. Pechefsky seeks to be "a catalyst for a truly democratic City Council, eco-friendly living, and the sensible use of our resources." Unlike many Green Party candidates I have met, Pechefsky has a wide range of practical experience to bring to the City Council. According to his website:

David Pechefsky has 12 years of New York City government experience and has worked with Council Members, advocates, city officials, and service providers on a wide range of housing, youth, senior, health, and economic development programs. He has also consulted internationally working on democratic governance issues in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East...

David is a member of the Park Slope Greens and the Park Slope Food Coop and was recently appointed to the Economic Development Committee of Community Board Six.

I think Pechefsky would represent the district excellently while Brad would too often let personal ambition and ego get in the way of effective governing. So I endorse Green Party candidate David Pechefsky for the 39th City Council district.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

WFP Scandal: Now the Wing Nuts have Ammunition

WFP and six local candidates, including Bill de Blasio (candidate for Public Advocate, ironically enough), Brad Lander, Daniel Dromm, et. al. broke campaign finance laws. That is a simple fact. WFP, and SOME (by no means all...John Liu for example did not participate) of their endorsed candidates played a little money scheme that allowed them to escape campaign finance laws that are designed to keep elections a tad cleaner and more transparent. They violated these laws, in effect using opaque and shady schemes to boost their effectiveness illegally.

Those are the facts and I personally think WFP needs to be held accountable for their do the candidates that participated.

Now some right wing nut cases (who I won't do the dignity of linking to) are picking up on this legitimate scandal and using it to show their attacks on ACORN (which WFP grew out of and is still connected with) were legit.

Goddamn it. The WFP and Bill de Blasio just gave these right wing nutcases ammunition to use against us. WFP in essence cheated and the Republicans are going to hold it against the Democratic Party. And those who really are interested in clean elections and fairness are left either helping the right wing nut cases expose WFP's scandal, or to let the scandal alone because we don't want to be associated with right wing nut cases.

This scandal is well documented by City Hall News in a whole series of excellent articles:

In these articles, WFP people basically ADMIT they were skirting the laws. They are even caught in some distortions of the truth. The Campaign Finance Board has said they violated the laws.

This whole thing was discussed even earlier on Room 8 by Hildy Johnson in a difficult to follow but nevertheless revealing article.

And yet some of my fellow progressives want to sweep this under the carpet just because some right wing nutcases want to use it as ammunition. I hear (privately so far) my fellow progressives saying it wasn't so bad what they did or it is class warfare or all sorts of nonsense. No folks. The WFP and Bill de Blasio got caught red handed breaking the law. One of the candidates involved, Daniel Dromm, I had even endorsed myself (before the WFP did) and I am happy enough he won. But he also should be investigated for this because we cannot tolerate breaking campaign finance laws even when we like the culprit. Maybe it will be found WFP took the lead and the candidates didn't know any better. Or maybe all 6, good and bad folks alike, were willing to bend or break the law to win. I don't know. But it should be treated like a scandal and investigated like a scandal even when we like one or more of those involved.

If you don't like the fact the right wing has some new ammunition in their stupid crusade against ACORN (and most of their crusade IS stupid and IS class warfarae), blame WFP. They are the ones who systematically violated the laws and so exposed the left to this criticism from the right. If we sweep it under the carpet, we are being as bad as the Republicans who hide their scandals as long as they can, and then blame the media when the scandal gets exposed. I like to think the left is better than that. When one of our own gets caught, say, with bribe money in his freezer, I like to think we reject the sleazeball. This year WFP violated laws and joined forces with the infamously corrupt Vito Lopez machine in Brooklyn. I will not deny that is a scandal just because the right has latched onto it.

I am not the first blogger to see it this way. Gatemouth on Room 8 has already discussed this exact aspect of the scandal:

So let's not follow the lead of the Republicans and try to hide our scandals. The WFP and six (only six!) of its candidates broke the law to try and get around campaign finance laws. It is that simple. Had Republicans done the exact same thing, every progressive blogger in the city would be on their case about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

John Liu for NYC Comptroller

The runoff for NYC Comptroller pits John Liu (with a degree in mathematical physics and extensive financial experience) against David Yassky (a lawyer and career politician with no financial experience, whose financial abilities are so challeneged he threw $15,000 of taxpayer money to a fake non-profit that did nothing but pay salaries to a former City Councilman's family). Here is a sampling of people and organizations who have endorsed John Liu for Comptroller, with quotes where available. I should note I may have been the first person in the city to endorse Liu for Comptroller!

Uniformed Firefighters Association

Steve Cassidy, UFA President said, “John Liu has demonstrated his leadership as a member of the City Council, supporting firefighter and public safety issues and has a background in finance as an actuary. He fought to halt the efforts in 2003 and 2009 to close our community firehouses and reduce fire company staffing to unsafe levels. John Liu fully understands that while budgetary priorities must be made in the city, public safety must be at the forefront.”

“We are here today because we believe that John Liu is the candidate that fills the duties of Comptroller of the City of New York and can be an advocate for all New Yorkers,” concluded Mr. Cassidy.

United Federation of Teachers

“John’s vision, strong leadership skills and fiscal know-how make him the best candidate in this race in a field of very strong contenders,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Those attributes will be crucial during this time of economic uncertainty. The enormity of the challenges ahead requires someone who can bring people together and find smart and responsible solutions. John has proven that he can and will be that person.

“John is committed to strong public school communities and has had a solid record on education issues throughout his distinguished career,” continued Mulgrew. “He recognizes the importance of oversight, transparency and fiscal responsibility, and has never been afraid to take on the Department of Education or City Hall. John also steadfastly supports and defends working families, and has been a forceful voice in the fight to protect important safety-net services from devastating budget cuts. Once he is elected, New Yorkers can count on Liu to be a relentless and dedicated public servant who will work hard on their behalf.”

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez

“John, with his extensive fiscal management experience at Pricewaterhouse and his strong commitment to serve all New Yorkers, is the best candidate for Comptroller,” said Congressmember Nydia Velázquez. “In this economic crisis, we need a Comptroller who can improve efficiencies in our government and agencies and save taxpayers’ money. We need a Comptroller who will be prudent with our pension funds and invest wisely. John Liu is the best person for the job.”

Amsterdam News:

Liu has a five-point plan in his quest for this position. Liu proposes to diversify the comptroller's investment portfolio by going back to basic portfolio management of stocks and bonds. He wants to bolster diversification of the city's economy by expanding opportunities for WMBEs (women and minority business enterprises) and emerging industries. Liu also wants to support a more graduated income tax for city residents based upon wealth. The Industrial Development Agency that oversees small business development in the city is also in need of reform and Liu believes that the comptroller should have a greater role in this agency's operations. And finally, he believes in using the comnptroller's audit bureau to review the city's business development programs, including the Department of Small Business' services.

This is just where Liu wants to begin. He sees a strong future for this city and wants to make sure that all New Yorkers are part of the success that can be achieved. This is why the New York Amsterdam News endorses John Liu in the Democratic primary for comptroller of the City of New York.

El Nuevo Caribe Democratic Club of El Barrio/East Harlem

Members of Nuevo Caribe, the oldest democratic club in New York, came together to announce their support for John Liu for City Comptroller. Club President Mr. Hector Santana hailed Liu as a strong advocate for all communities and the right leader for New York's future.

504 Democrats (disabled rights)

"The leadership and members of the 504 Democratic Club are proud to stand
with our candidate for City Comptroller, John Liu," said Edith Prentiss,
President of the 504 Democratic Club. "From Access-a-Ride to access in
subway stations, he has been a champion for increasing accessibility in New
York City. He has earned our endorsement with his strong commitment to our
issues, his policy platforms and clear vision for the office. He has
pledged to audit existing and future developments to ensure that promises
made by the City are kept, especially with regard to compliance with ADA
requirements, and that existing developments will meet their obligations
where incentives were allowed in exchange for accommodations for PWDs,
public amenities, affordable housing, or other community-minded provisions.
We are confident that prioritizing accessibility issues, especially in
public transit infrastructure like escalators and elevators, is more than
just campaign rhetoric from Liu--it's a promise."

Gay City News

We are impressed by the commitment of one candidate to go further. “I don’t see the comptroller as a bureaucratic position,” Liu said in a recent Gay City News interview. “It absolutely can be and should be an office as agent of change." That posture is what leads us to endorse John Liu, who has amply demonstrated his follow-through in his eight years on the City Council. Last year, as the Council acquiesced to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s request to extend term limits, Liu took a principled stand in opposition. In a body where bucking the powerful office of speaker carries political risks, he bit the bullet, and says, “I haven’t felt any changes in my role in the budget process.”

“It would be fair to say that my background is one of being excluded, whether blatantly or de facto,” he said of his childhood in Flushing as an immigrant from Taiwan. The first Asian American elected to any legislative position in New York City, Liu has been a stalwart friend and highly visible ally of the LGBT community. That record lends substantial credibility to his pledge to “shatter all the records” in using New York City’s substantial pension investments as a tool to nudge corporate America toward fair workplace and marketplace practices for the LGBT community.

Lower East Side Democratic Club

“John Liu has the fiscal management experience and would be a huge asset as Comptroller to manage our pension funds. Our members have long appreciated John’s integrity and leadership in fighting against racism, sexism and bias of any kind. He has always stood with us as we fought for fairness and justice for immigrant rights, job protection for working men and women, and expand opportunities for small businesses," said John Quinn of the Lower East Side Democratic Club of Manhattan. “John understands the needs of the middle class as they seek to keep more of their hard earned dollars in their pockets. He would ensure that the billions in stimulus money would be used fairly to create and keep jobs in New York City. We are proud to support him.”

United Democratic Organization in Lower Manhattan

Mrs. Virginia Kee, President Emeritus of United Democratic Organization in Lower Manhattan, stated, “We are so very proud of John. His story is similar to that of many immigrants - one full of determination, courage and desire to succeed. John’s leadership has had such a positive influence on our community.
We will demonstrate our commitment to John by coming out in record numbers
for him for Comptroller.”

Northern Manhattan Democrats For Change Club

On-hand for the announcement were President Rolando Cespedes, District Leader Maria Morillo, State County Committeeman Ricardo Ureña and members of the club.

“John’s career in public service has been dedicated to advocating for the rights of the people in this city without a strong voice, and we know as Comptroller, he will continue to help level the playing field for the hard-working men and women of this City,” said Mr. Cespedes.

Democratic Organization of Richmond County

“After consideration of all candidates, John Liu stands as a true reformer and leader and will make a great Comptroller. Moreover, John has the knowledge of issues particularly important to Islanders, ranging from transportation to job creation, and we can count on him to be a champion for our borough,” said Gary Lane, President of The Democratic Organization of Richmond County.

The Democratic Organization of Richmond County is an important progressive political organization in the 13th Congressional district, which encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Staten Island.


State Senator Velmanette Montgomery
State Senator Diane Savino
American Heritage Democratic Club
United Progressive Democratic Club
New Visions Democratic Club
United Auto Workers
National Association of Letter Carriers
Rosa Parks Democrats
Sojourner Truth Democratic Club
Stonewall Democrats
Lambda Independent Democrats
Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens
Out People of Color Political Action Club
Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats
Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan
East Harlem United Democrats
West Harlem Independent Democrats
East Side Democratic Club
Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats
Village Independent Democrats
Village Reform Democratic Club
Staten Island Democratic Association

Support Mark Green for NYC Public Advocate

Here is a sampling of people who have endorsed Mark Green for Public Advocate of NYC with statements:

Bobby Kennedy
Environmental Law Attorney

"My Uncle Teddy finally felt that, after the death of his brothers, the election of Barack Obama was the fulfillment of his life. That he had fought. That America had ultimately come around. And there is one other guy who has been there that long, with him, and that's Mark Green.

The post that he running for is the conscience of the City. It is the post that is supposed to remind all of us how democracy is supposed to function, how the little guy should have as much power as the big powerful wealthy voices. There is nobody who understands it better than Mark. "

Gloria Steinem
Feminist Icon and Activist

“Mark Green’s record of real progressive reform and his successful fights for women in particular – helping domestic violence victims in the workplace, changing divorce laws, stopping discriminatory pricing based on gender – show the kind of outspoken Public Advocate he was and should be again.”

National Organization for Women – New York City Chapter

"NOW-NYC is proud to endorse Mark Green, who clearly stands out as the candidate with the most skills, accomplishments and vision. New York City needs a Public Advocate who understands the struggles women in our city face on a daily basis. Mark Green is that person.”

National Latino Officers Association

"We've know Mark well for years and know his record on security and policing issues," said Miranda. "His courage in taking on Mayor Giuliani over the urgent issue of police misconduct and racial profiling is a perfect example of the type of leadership Mark has provided this City. His lawsuits and investigations led to better discipline and better police-community relations, which is essential to successful law enforcement."

"Especially during difficult times for our City, Mark's unequaled experience as Public Advocate is just what struggling families need to get effective city services and just the kind of watchdog a mayor must have."

Local 2507: Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics, and Fire Inspectors FDNY &
Local 3621: Uniformed EMS Officers Union

"There was a traumatic and tragic event eight years ago this week that deeply affected our City, our emergency medical service personnel members and Mark Green. He was running in a mayoral primary September 11 and our members recall his courage and grace that day and the difficult days that followed. He showed a real knowledge of what the City was going through and a real empathy about what our members were going through.”

"Like so many New Yorkers, Mark's a fighter and a survivor who doesn't quit when the chips are down. So we're endorsing him now because of his years of proven accomplishment and potential to do even more.”

"Our jobs involve the health of New Yorkers under stress. Mark in his way has been a champion of consumer health issues his entire public life. Look at how he exposed how HMOs were violating the state's HMO Bill of Rights by shunning patients when they needed care, how he exposed how major hospitals were ignoring the ‘Libby Zion Law’ to avoid overworking doctors and interns, how hospitals weren't disclosing adverse incident reports.”

504 Democratic Club (disabled rights group)

"We don't have to guess what Mark will do for our community because we saw what he did do -- especially his federal petition that forced Access-a-Ride to reduce its automatic 'denial rate' in picking up the frail elderly and disabled. Mark's an aggressive progressive who's always on our side."

Park Slope FInally Joins the Vito Lopez Machine

“He’s one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, unbelievable,” he said. “Vito Lopez has brought so much dignity and political acumen and respect to the borough of Brooklyn.”

Read more:

--Steve Levin, newly elected City Councilman from Park Slope, praising his mentor, corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez

Steve Biviano, Jo Anne Simon, Ken Baer and Ken Diamondstone were four reformers running for the 33rd City Council district. Of them all, Jo Anne Simon was the only one with even a glimmer of hope of winning. This was true from almost the very start. Baer and Biviano were nobodies who picked up almost no endorsements. Diamondstone might have been a contender had he picked up Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and Lambda Independent Democrats. Once he lost those two clubs, I knew the writing was clearly on the wall in big bold letters: Jo Anne Simon is the only chance to keep Vito Lopez from electing his aide as the City Council representative from Park Slope.

Progressive reform Democrats are good at one, and sometimes ONLY one, thing: forming a circular firing squad that destroys any chances they have of winning. Reform democrats in Brooklyn spectacularly destroyed themselves and, in the process, handed Park Slope to Vito Lopez all nicely wrapped up with a bow. And, not surprisingly, Steve Levin is thrilled as can be and giving full honors to Vito Lopez. Park Slope is now part of Lopez's domain and we can thank the circular firing squad led by Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone and Dough Biviano.

But they aren't the only ones to blame. It is true that had they all banded together, uniting behind Jo Anne Simon (or had things been differently, I would have urged them all, Jo Anne included, behind Diamondstone) their numbers would have brought a win over Levin...barely. But even divided reformers could have won had there not been two other factors: WFP's alliance with the machine (thus proving that WFP are machine hacks as of this year) and voter apathy. Without these two factors, Steve Levin would be just a random shiny faced kid that Vito Lopez had failed to foist on Brooklyn.

WFP: you have chosen to side with Vito Lopez and you worked hard to bring the corrupt machine's rule into Park Slope. I'd like to say voters will remember this, because Park Slope does not like Vito Lopez and his corruption. Sadly, WFP gambled on voters basically being too apathetic to care...and they were probably right. Show voters some shiny campaign lit and they don't care if Levin kisses Vito Lopez's ass or not.

Voter apathy...if there is one thing you can always count on in politics, even more than the left's skill at forming a circular firing squad, it is that voters are apathetic and even if a politician is caught red handed breaking laws or shamelessly lying, voters will either not vote or vote for the sleazy bastard anyway. In fact, I would argue that more than any other factor, those voters who DIDN'T bother voting in the primary are most responsible for opening their streets to Vito Lopez. I can't tell you how often people have told me they hate Vito Lopez or that Vito Lopez is an embarrassment or whatever else about Vito Lopez. Yet I bet most of those people complaining about Vito Lopez didn't bother to get their butts to the polls to prevent Lopez from moving his crony into our Council seat. Similarly, liberal, pro-gay pro-reform Brooklynites didn't bother voting or caring when Vito Lopez foisted a homophobic, unqualified man named Noach Dear into a civil court judge seat. The fact that Vito Lopez can pretty much do this kind of thing at will, regardless of scandals or the lack of any real qualifications in his candidates really means reform is useless in Brooklyn. If voters really don't care if Vito Lopez runs our neighborhoods like private fiefdoms that he bestows as will, then no amount of unity or activism on the part of groups like CBID, LID, DFNYC or whoever will be able to stop Vito Lopez.

I should note that in the 39th the lack of unity among the progressive reform candidates was not so much of a factor. It is true that Josh Skaller would have had a better shot had Zuckerman and Reilly endorsed him, but the numbers show even that wouldn't have been enough, and, unlike the 33rd, there was no bashing of eachother among the reformers. So I think the WFP/Vito Lopez alliance of corruption and voter apathy were the two main factors in the 39th.

And Lopez knows it. That is why he really can be quite tolerant of reformers no matter how hard we try to get him indicted, ousted or defeated. He can be tolerant because we are little more than gnats buzzing around him as long as voters don't care. I think WFP finally woke up to that this year and basically cut a deal with Lopez. Why not? Both WFP and Vito Lopez know that violating laws, lying and cheating will, in the end, win you elections in NYC with almost no consequences...and plenty of spoils. Park Slope is now added to Vito's spoils system of running things. And I am sure Biviano will continue to vacuously pretend he invented reform in Brooklyn, but really we have proven ourselves little more effective than his delusions.

Congratulations Vito Lopez. You have become just as effective at turning corruption into political power as any corrupt Republican. Democrats around here have no moral high ground when confronted with the crimes of Republicans because we elect our own sleaze.

Election Results: Crime Pays, Vito Does Park Slope, Progressives Once Again Self Destruct

Election Results from last night's primary. Most of my commentary will come when I have a chance to relax.

Mayor: Nothing to see here. Thompson trounces Avella. We all knew that would be the result.

Public Advocate: News Flash: CRIME DOES PAY! One of the few mild surprises was how well crime pays in NYC. Bill de Blasio, caught red handed violating campaign finance laws and one of the top slush fund culprits, not only makes it to the runoff but actually pushes Mark Green into second place. NYC does love its corrupt politicians! All it takes is a thousand mailings and some pretty ads and the voters (the ones who bother to vote, of course) forget the corruption. Mark Green will have a hard time here. Most of the developer and corporate money will be behind de Blasio because they want a Developer Advocate as Public Advocate, so they will push hard for de Blasio. Meanwhile, Mark Green, development friendly enough, will have to run on the strength of his personality and dedication to the public. Uh oh...Notice that the two who made it to the runoff are the two Atlantic Yards supporters. No coincidence that, I suspect. I endorse Mark Green of course, as the one who is basically pro-public and willing to go up against corruption on Wall Street while de Blasio will make Gotbaum seem good (at least she did nothing...I fear what Bill will do for his corporate cronies!).

Comptroller: Katz falls flatz. I had thought Katz would beat Yassky to the runoff with Liu. Her ads were good and she had even more developer money than Yassky or Liu. But being too obviously a shill for developers didn't do it for Katz. Yassky's weaseling, where he eagerly takes developer money, votes developers 90% of what they want, then presents the remaining 10% of concessions as some big victory to the voters, won over Katz's blatant shilling. Liu should be able to trounce Yassky. Liu is smarter, actually has financial experience (Yassky and Katz don't), is a much better campaigner an organizer, and isn't as blatantly corrupt as Yassky, whose slush fund participation rivals even Bill de Blasio's and included the infamous Steve DiBrienza pay-to-play scandal and an alliance with a Bruce Ratner front group. Now Liu has done his share of slush funding, but nothing as blatantly corrupt as Yassky's pay-to-play schemes. So Liu SHOULD be able to trounce Yassky. But Yassky will have Wall Street behind him (they want a Comptroller who recognizes the investment value of pay-to-play) and possibly most of the developer money. Both Yassky and Liu are developer funded, but Yassky more so. Since crime pays in NYC (see above) Yassky may have the edge. Liu needs better TV spots. The one I saw was boring and Liu is ANYTHING but boring. John Liu needs to connect directly to the public. Yassky needs to hide his basic sleaziness from the public.

Council District 1: Hey, I won one! Margaret Chin wins. I liked Chin on first glance, but never really got a second glance at the race. One thing I liked about Chin was some people were calling her "too liberal" and even, gasp, "socialist." These days I kind of like the idea of "too liberal" and "socialist" winning after so many years of America worshipping corporate corruption. But I have to say, I don't know enough about Margaret to really say if this was the best result.

Council District 3: Tsarina Quinn wins. See! Voters LOVE it when you screw them. Quinn has shown she cares nothing for voters, overturning term limits and making excuses for slush find corruption. And voters re-elect her. No surprise there. Yetta Kurland did well for an insurgent running against an incumbent. Yetta should be proud and should stay in politics. And voters? Well, maybe Quinn is just being hard to get. Keep re-electing her and maybe, just MAYBE, she will care about you.

Council District 4: I hadn't heard anything about this race before. Yesterday was the first time I saw a sign for Ashok Chandra (outside Curry in a Hurry). Guess something was going on here because Ashok won handily. This is one of the few Republican party primaries.

Council District 12: Another case of sleaze who cares nothing about voters wins big. Larry Seabrook won.

Council District 19: Well, although the most progressive candidate lost (Steve Behar...sorry, but not a surprise), the very worst candidates lost this one! Vallone running with Republican and conservative support and family name lost. Nasty Iannece lost. Kevin Kim won. I don't think either Gatemouth or I (both of whom do not want another DINO Vallone and thought Behar best position to block Vallone) saw that coming.

Council District 20: This also surprised me. I didn't follow this race closely, but I had thought Choe would do better. Chou won.

Council District 23: Mark Weprin won. The Vallone name failed, but the Weprin name still carries weight in Weprin's district...even if it meant nothing citywide. I suspect this is a reasonably good result.

Council District 25: Crime Pays Again...but that may be the best in this case. Daniel Dromm wins! I have mixed feelings about this one. I endorsed Daniel Dromm pretty much before anyone else...and I pushed him as one of my top choices. Until it turned out he was one of the six people involved in the WFP campaign finance law violations. I felt I had to back off from Dromm at that point. But I still felt he was a good guy. So crime paid off, but the crime was done by someone who otherwise is good.

Council District 26: Crime Pays Again...getting tedious, isn't it? James Van Bramer won. Seriously folks. This election makes a mockery of our campaign finance laws. The clearest message is you can break the law and still win. Well, Marrion Barry won after being convicted of drug charges, so what's a little election law crime among friends? In this race I am not sure who was the best, criminal conspiracy with WFP aside.

Council District 29: Karen Koslowitz won. The candidate I picked came in last. By the end I expected that. Gargarin didn't pick up many endorsements or support at all, so though he was a good candidate, he had little chance. Koslowitz picked up some good endorsements and seemed to have momentum, so I am not surprised. But I AM surprised that crime did NOT pay in this race. Lynn Schulman, another key figure in the WFP campaign finance scandal lost.

Council District 31: James Sanders wins...of course. Again, screwing voters is not a liability in NYC elections. I expected more of Marq Claxton. He was picking up some good endorsements. But he came in fourth in the race.

Council District 33: WAKE UP PARK SLOPE! VITO LOPEZ HAS CONQUERED YOU. You know, for all that this district loves to say they hate Vito Lopez, they sure seemed willing to vote for Vito Lopez's aide, Steve Levin. Had Levin lost, it would have been a considerable blow to Vito Lopez, particularly after his loss of both Surrogate judge races. Instead, Park Slope gives Vito's reign of corruption new life. This is about the best thing that has happened to Vito in years. Stupid bickering and vote splitting among the reformers combined with voter apathy and this year's Vito Lopez/WFP axis of corruption wound up making this an easy win for Levin. I had expected Jo Anne Simon to pull it off. With the endorsement of all reform clubs AND the NYT (the only race I know of where the NYT didn't endorse the most scandal ridden candidate) should have done it. But the fact that rival reformers spent most of their time attacking Jo Anne rather than Levin helped hand it to Levin. THANK YOU Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone and Doug Whoever. Vito Lopez now loves you. Oh, and so does Bruce Ratner because now Ratner has a solidly pro-Atlantic Yards City Councilman in Park Slope (despite some slight lip service otherwise from Levin (lying???), the Lopez machine is so pro-Ratner that even Mayor Bloomberg balked at their giveaways to Ratner). That will make things easier for Ratner. And none of Jo Anne's reform rivals even came in third. That was left to conservative Isaac Abraham. Pathetic. I'll have more to say about this race in another post when I get around to it. Until then, this race is actually the biggest news of the day because it really does give the Vito Lopez machine a huge lift. Park Slope Saves the Vito Lopez Machine. THAT is news.

Council District 34: This one is one more example of the ONLY way reformers seem able to beat the Vito Lopez machine these days: when Vito and one of his minions have a falling out, we can back the minion. Vito Lopez has a history of betraying followers who don't toe the line enough. He then runs someone against them. Reformers then are stuck siding with a former machine politician over a current machine politician. And that is when we usually win. Diana Reyna, formerly a Vito Lopez favorite, became too independent. So Vito ran someone against her...and lost. Some reformers, myself included, sided with Reyna. Other reformers went for Gerald Esposito...who came in third. Thankfully, splitting the reform vote didn't hand the race to Vito Lopez the way it did in the 33rd, but the fact remains reformers can ONLY beat Lopez when they side with a former machine politician who has gone independent.

Council District 35: Easy win for Tish James. No surprise. So Bruce Ratner wasn't able to flip this district in his favor the way he helped flip the 33rd district. So now Park Slope, whether they want it or not, is pro-Ratner in the City Council and Prospect Heights is anti-Ratner.

Council District 36: I am shocked at how well Iglesias did. I only met him once and he seemed very earnest, but not very effective. He did still lose, but honestly did pretty well.

Council District 39: So South Slope now has a largely pro-Ratner, anti-Israel politician who like to make deals with homophobic reactionaries. And again, crime pays. Brad Lander, another participant in the WFP campaign finance scandal, won. Again, reform progressives split the vote and lost. But in this case I have to say that the reform progressives, though they split the vote, did not lose it by in-fighting the way they did in the 33rd. The reform progressives were the gentlemen in the race. The conservative (Heyer) and sleazy developer (Lander) candidates were the nasty ones in the end, their campaigns (supposedly without knowledge from the candidates) running virulently anti-gay ads in Boro Park. Heyer handily won the Boro Park competition, but Lander, in the end, didn't need it. So many liberal Park Slope voters seem to have forgiven him his anti-Israel beliefs (strongly held) and his anti-gay flirtations (contrary to his real beliefs but still something he will bargain with when it comes to votes). Had all the reformers united behind one candidate they may still have lost this one it seems. Corruption and sleaze beat out honest progressives in Park Slope even if the progressives aren't forming a circular firing squad as they did in the 33rd.

Council District 40: Another example of how honesty is NOT the best policy in NYC politics. The incumbent is a do nothing liar, but wins easily. Not surprisingly Rock Hackshaw, running on a campaign of pure, raw honesty, lost big. Voters want politicians to tell them sweet, sweet lies. Pity honesty is worth nothing in Brooklyn (and probably NYC as a whole).

Council District 49: One of the few good results. Debi Rose kicked butt. And well she should have. I kept out of this simply because I was overwhelmed with other races. But Debi Rose is one of the good people in NYC politics and North Shore recognizes that! To all those who put down Staten Island, I have to say SI did better in this race than most of the other boroughs did in their key races. Kudos to Staten Island!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Updated Rundown on the 33rd City Council Candidates

Next to the 39th City Council district, the 33rd district is also among the most closely contested races in the city. I personally know all the candidates in the 39th. In the 33rd I know some very well, have met another, and with one, Isaac Abraham, have only heard him speak, not actually met him. This race is a critical one in the fight against corruption in Brooklyn, as outlined in the Village Voice. Brooklyn Party Boss Vito Lopez is trying hard to take this seat and reformers are divided. Here's what the Village Voice has to say about this race:

Power Plays by Party Boss Vito Lopez

The Lord of Brooklyn, a Democratic powerbroker who is flexing his
political muscles these days like a gym rat pumping the free weights

By Tom Robbins - September 01, 2009 - The Village Voice

Say this for Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic powerbroker who is
flexing his political muscles these days like a gym rat pumping the
free weights: He is not one to let a few silly scandals knock him off
the game plan that has served him so well for so long.

Even as the investigation of politicians alleged to have steered government money to relatives and cronies is fast becoming a cottage industry for local prosecutors, Lopez has stayed the course. This year, the veteran State Assemblyman allocated another $350,000 in state funds to the organization he helped found back in the 1970s, the sprawling Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. This was only the latest of many millions in taxpayer monies that Lopez and his political allies have sent the group's way. Given his many and tangled ties to the group, lesser politicians might hesitate to be so openly generous. But that is why they are not Vito Lopez, and not the leader of the Kings County Democratic Party, nor the powerful chairman of the Assembly's Housing Committee.

Yes, it is true he cohabitates with Ridgewood Bushwick's $190,000-per-year housing director, Angela Battaglia, the love of his life...

Yes, he personally makes sure that the city and state spend some $170,000 on the group's massive annual picnic at Long Island's Sunken Meadow State Park...

And yes, this year, Lopez is pushing the envelope even further, promoting not one, not two, but three of Ridgewood Bushwick's allies into elective office. He is seeking nothing less than a sweep, a kind of Vito-fecta that will further extend his political influence...

Lopez protégés are running for election in two adjoining City Council districts, and the assemblyman is pulling out all stops and twisting all arms to make sure his surrogates win office.

In the 33rd District, which skirts north Brooklyn from Union Street to Williamsburg, Lopez's current chief of staff, Stephen Levin, 28, is running to fill the seat being vacated by David Yassky. Levin's complete résumé is this: Brown University, B.A., classics and comparative literature; two years, Ridgewood Bushwick; three years, Lopez legislative aide. As soon as Levin went to work at Ridgewood Bushwick, he immediately enlisted as a campaign aide on various Lopez elections, the dividing line between politics and social work being remarkably thin in these precincts.

For those who aren't familiar with the Brooklyn machine, keep in mind that the former boss, Clarence Norman, is in prison for corruption and Vito Lopez should also be in prison. Steve Levin, as Vito Lopez's right hand man, cannot have been innocent of the corruption Vito Lopez is known for (for more info, see here here, and here).

So we start with Steve Levin, the machine candidate personally put forward by Vito Lopez. My first encounter with Steve Levin was when he came to the CBID dinner, where he quite simply behaved rudely towards Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. At that first meeting I wondered whether Steve Levin has anything else going for him other than the support of the corrupt Party Boss? After that first meeting, Steve Levin skipped most of the candidate forums held in the Park Slope area of the district. The Presidents of both CBID and IND felt outright insulted by his behavior in regards to these forums. Later I met Levin while he was campaigning and he was in better form than previously, acting graciously even though he knew I was a critic. But the fact remains, Levin has NOTHING in the way of experience other than a few years doing Vito Lopez's bidding. He's personable and bright, and the machine is pulling out all stops (and money) to get him elected. But this is the same machine that put Noach Dear (a known homophobe who has never practiced law in his life) in as a Civil Court judge. This occurred while Steve Levin was working for Lopez, so he was part of this effort to foist an unqualified homophobe on Brooklyn as a judge. This is really the only kind of experience Steve Levin has. I consider Levin one of two candidates in the race who has the least qualifications. Add to that coming from the center of corruption in Brooklyn, it is pretty important that he is defeated.

Part of Levin's strategy to win is to use political connections (and Vito Lopez is an expert at political connections) to win enough votes in the conservative Haidic part of the district to balance out the anti-machine vote in the bulk of the district. I have found that in Park Slope the name of Vito Lopez tends to be anathema, so Levin has to get conservative votes from the Hasids to balance this.

Competing with Levin for the Hasidic vote in the 33rd district is Isaac Abraham, a Satmar Hasid who is running on a combined platform of opposition to Vito Lopez (hence technically reform) and what, for the district as a whole, would be extreme conservativism. Isaac Abraham has been a supporter of Connectitcut Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Vice Presidential candidate who became a McCain supporter in 2008. Abraham, who is running in the Democratic primary, has gone on record urging Jewish Democrats to re-register Republican. Abraham supports tax-payer funded school vouchers for private schools, a tradtionally Republican stand. Abraham is also opposed to gay rights and is anti-choice. These stands put him at odds with most of the voters in the district but is in sync with the orthodox Jewish and old-school Catholic neighborhoods. I have seen Isaac Abraham speak and he is a dynamic community activist and entertaining speaker. So he combines a certain odd charisma with activism and...extreme social conservativism.

Levin is using Vito Lopez's extensive political connections and is exploiting personality conflicts among the Hasids to siphon away votes from Abraham. So Hasids have the choice of voting their values (and so voting for Abraham) or voting according to political alliances and exchange of political favors (and so voting for the machine's Steve Levin). It should be noted that Levin's boss has had a history of supporting Republicans over Democrats before he became Party Boss, and even after that has had a history of actively discouraging challenges to Republicans in Brooklyn, so Vito Lopez certainly has his connections to conservatives.

With Levin and Abraham competing over the conservative votes, the remaining candidates are battling hard over the progressive and reform voters in the district. All four of the other candidates are liberals and have little appeal in the Hasidic part of the district and are far more suited for the majority of the district which is mostly progressive and reform minded.

Among these four are two candidates that have little money and few endorsements. Ken Baer is former head of the local Sierra Club chapter. A nice guy and great environmentalist, he simply has been unable to appeal to many voters. He may come in last in the end. Competing with Baer for last place is a complete newbie, Doug Biviano. When I first met Doug I thought he was an earnerst, intelligent guy who, with some time and experience, would become a great asset to local politics. I just figured he was too new and unlikely to get any support. Of all the candidates, Biviano has run the nastiest and most negative campaign, largely alienating anyone who might support him now or in the future. His hope is that if he bad mouths enough people he will win. This is a losing strategy plain and simple and amounts to a crash and burn. Biviano will not only lose big, but will almost certainly ruin all future chances of getting any support in local politics. He claims to be someone with fresh ideas, yet most of what he says I have heard from others long before he came along. He has done absolutely nothing to show he has the skills to accomplish anything in the city council. His concept of the issues are caricatures of reality. One friend said of him in an exasperated tone, "he thinks he invented the word 'reform.'" His ideas are good and he is on the right side of pretty much all issues, but he thinks just because he says good things everyone will flock to him and he attacks you if you don't. I really wanted to like him and look towards future alliances with him. But he has basically claimed credit for ideas people have been advocating for years and he then attacks everyone who doesn't support him. Not only is this unappealing, but it is politically stupid. No one wants to play with the kid who offers nothing buy insults. And no one will give Biviano the time of day after September 15th. It's a pity because he definitely had potential and could have been a great ally. But you don't form alliances by being a dick. And Biviano has been a genuine dick.

Evan Thies is the guy I know the least about in the 33rd even after meeting him several times campaigning. My wife and several others say he reminds them too much of the uber-weasel David Yassky. I think the term used was "the shadow of Yassky hangs over him." But Yassky has not endorsed Thies, somewhat distancing Thies from his sleazy mentor. Looking over his questionaire for CBID, and from what I hear from others, he doesn't sound that bad. Meeting him on the street I find him personable and appealing. There is the real concern that he is exactly the way Yassky was when he was running for City Council, with strong potential but may ultimately become the same sell-out that Yassky has become. CBID found him too reminiscent of Yassky with all his baggage. I have the same bias, but I think this might not be fair. In my book, the fact that Yassky betrayed him is a plus for him. But his only experience is working for Yassky, so I would like to see more before I would support him. Among his endorsements Thies lists the Smolenski Democratic Club which I was unfamiliar with. A political friend (usually as an opponent) did know it and describes it as "reactionary." I doubt reactionary represents Thies' views, but I do take notice when ractionaries endorse a candidate and wonder why. Most of Theis' other endorsements are reasonable, though there aren't many. I think once Yassky betrayed him, he lost some of his appeal. But he has been endorsed by the Freelancer's Union, Citizen Union, Brooklyn Downtown Star and Brooklyn Paper.

My two favorite candidates, who unfortunately seem to hate eachother, are Ken Diamondstone and Jo Anne Simon. Ken Diamondstone essentially is very similar to Doug Biviano on all issues, but actually has years of community activism behind him to show his mettle. Biviano offers a warmed over platform right from Diamondstone, but has done nothing to show his abilities. Diamondstone has been fighting for the community for years. Anyone considering voting for Biviano should really be supporting Diamondstone. Unfortunately, Diamondstone also shares with Biviano a tendency to run a negative campaign. Diamondstone, who could campaign based on his history of fighting for reform and for progressive issues and his excellent ideas (which are so good Biviano wants to call them his own), but instead he has often favored attacking his opponent. This does a diservice often not just to his opponent, but often to himself. In essence, Diamondstone receives great respect among many reformers in Brooklyn, but has a hard time turning that respect into an alliance that can win an election. He came close against Marty Connor once, but Marty Connor is a sourpuss who wasn't very popular. Most of Diamondstone's opponents this year are far more personable than Connor, so Diamondstone has failed to get several key endorsements that he would have gotten had he been better at forging lasting alliances. CBID and LID could easily have endorsed Diamondstone. Instead they found Jo Anne Simon the candidate they feel can best stop the machine even though they both have long standing ties with Ken. WFP also, in my mind, SHOULD have endorsed Diamondstone, but instead have opted to side with the Vito Lopez machine this time around. NY ADA is the only long standing ally of Diamondstone who remained loyal. Had Ken been able to unite these four groups, he would have been the frontrunner. But instead, Jo Anne Simon has become the champion of the reform movement in this race. Ken does, however, have a respectable set of endorsements including Pride Democrats and Stonewall Democrats.

Which brings me to Jo Anne Simon. Of all the candidates, Jo Anne is by far the most experienced. As a lawyer specializing in disabled rights and as a district leader, she has been serving the community for many years. She argued and won a landmark disabled rights case. She has been one of very few district leaders who has reliably stood up to Vito Lopez (despite the claims of some negative campaigning). She is less inspiring than Diamondstone, but this is because she is far more cautious in her approach. This loses her some support because she doesn't have the fire that Diamondstone has, but it gains her the ability to forge the coalition that I think is likely to win. She has the endorsements of the three strongest clubs in the district: Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and Lambda Independent Democrats. Now whatever I have said about one or more of these clubs (and IND can be a real disappointment when it comes to reform), what I have seen is that when all three unite against the machine, they usually beat the machine. When these three clubs go separate ways, all bets are off. But when they unite, they are formidable. And Jo Anne Simon has all three clubs. I greatly respect CBID. I don't know enough about LID to judge. And this year I consider IND a disgrace. But the fact is, when they unite behind a candidate, they do very well. Add to this the fact that Jo Anne Simon also has the New York Times endorsement and I believe she will win. I may not personally respect the NYT that much anymore (like IND they have done better when it comes to reform in the past). But they are influential. More respeactable to me are CBID, Brooklyn-Queens National Organization for Women (NOW) PAC, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, State Senators Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery, Assembly members Joan Millman and Jim Brennan, and Councilwoman Tish James, all of whom have endorsed Jo Anne. Jo Anne Simon has united the reformers and the anti-Ratner forces in the district and added the NYT to boot. Her experience and the impressive alliance of reform and progressive endorsements will win out in the end I believe. Now I have been wrong before, but I think Jo Anne will pull it off.

John Heyer in his Own Words

John Heyer and Brad Lander are fighting it out for the support of the conservative Hasidic vote in the 39th City Council district. Brad Lander has been hoping his ties to the ultra-orthodox, homophobic Dov Hikind will bridge the gap between Lander's anti-Israel views and his largely liberal views on gays and the Hasids. This devil's bargain between Hikind and Lander was at first working, bringing in Boro Park votes for Lander. But then Heyer came along. Heyer is being very honest with the Hasids, more honest about his conservative beliefs than he is on his website or when he campaigns in Park Slope. Some videos of Heyer discussing their social conservativism have popped up on Room 8 and on the Chaptzem blog. I think it is enlightening to hear Heyer in his own words, and comparing this with his website where he mentions little of his conservative views. So here he is, John Heyer uncut:

I find that Brad Lander's ties to Dov Hikind and his anti-Israel views don't play well in Park Slope. But I suspect neither will John Heyer's support for tax payer money going to private schools and his opposition to abortion. Three candidates fit the values of the majority of the district: Bob Zuckerman, Josh Skaller, and Gary Reilly. Lander and Heyer can compete over the conservatives. Hopefully the majority of the district will go for the other three.

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:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

NYC Public Advocate Race: One Clear Choice

In looking over what I have written about the Public Advocate's race, it strikes me that what I originally wrote about Public Advocate candidate Norman Siegel back in 2005 still applies now and is worth reviewing why I think there is only one candidate in the race worth considering. Since 2005 I have watched Norman defend the rights of bloggers, firefighters and so many othres and to stand up during each and every major civil liberties battle in the city that to me it is inconceivable that anyone else should be our Public Advocate. But my best piece on him was back in 2005 and best expresses why I still think he is the ideal Public Advocate for NYC. So I want to update a piece I wrote back in 2005 when my son first went out campaignig with me:

Public Advocate: this office is, as far as I am aware, unique to NYC. In a city where the mayor has so much (almost dictatorial) power, the Public Advocate is the counterbalance to the mayor--the person who stands up to the mayor on behalf of the people. At least that is the ideal. Our current PA is Betsy Gautbaum. I voted for her when she first ran. For the life of me I have no idea what she has done for the past 8 years. When Bloomberg refused to give people permits to protest the invasion of Iraq, Betsy wasn't there for us. When Bloomberg arrested and illegally held hundreds of protestors during the Republican Convention, Betsy wasn't there. When Bloomberg wanted to use eminent domain to take private property to give it to developers, Betsy wasn't there. When Bloomberg started routinely arresting the Critical Mass bicyclists, Betsy wasn't there. Many New Yorkers have felt helpless as financial scandals eat away at our pension funds, slush fund scandals run rampant, the school admissions process becomes increasingly insane and divorced from the actual needs of children (as opposed to the needs of companies Bloomberg outsources the process to), ground zero remains an empty hole in the ground, the subway system gets cut back more and more while fees climb...all under the watchful eyes of Michael Bloomberg, Betsy Gotbaum and Christine Quinn.

You know who WAS there at each of those violations of civil rights that Bloomberg was responsible for? Norm Siegel. He was out there defending protestors when Betsy was nowhere to be seen. Norm Siegel has helped communities fight to keep firehouses open from Williamsburg to Staten Island. Norm Siegel has helped communities from Prospect Heights to Harlem try to stop the government from using eminent domain to take their homes for the enrichment of private developers. Norm Siegel has helped firefighters seeking the implementation of a skyscraper safety program and provisions for our firefighters to guarantee they have proper working communication equipment. Norm Siegel has helped families who lost a loved one on September 11th, 2001, as they seek the public release of materials from that day, including 911 emergency tapes and transcripts. And, here in 2009, Norm Siegel stood up against Michael Bloomberg's putch to arbitrarily extend term-limits against the explicit vote of the people. Norman has been there for protesters, bloggers, bicyclists, firefighters, 9/11 families, homeowners, renters and just about every single New Yorker at one time or another.

Back in 2005 when I met Norman Siegel, I also met another man, Paul Wooten. Paul Wooten was one of the people who wrote the law that created the Public Advocate's position, or so he told us. He said that when they wrote the law, they envisioned someone just like Norman Siegel in the position. Now, I had the impression that he also thought Mark Green had been a reasonable Public Advocate, so I can't speak to how the writers of the law creating the Public Advocate's position would choose between Green and Siegel. But Wooten specifically mentioned Norman Siegel as the perfect Public Advocate as the job was originally written.

Norm Siegel has ALREADY BEEN the public advocate for New Yorkers even though he hasn't yet held that office yet. He was Executive Director of the NYCLU from 1985-2000 and even afterwards has been standing up for the civil rights of New Yorkers to this day (including winning a case for bloggers getting their rights when it comes to press credentials). Siegel has actually been working with the ACLU and Southern Justice and Voter Law Project since 1968, so his civil rights credentials go all the way back. He even spearheaded the New York campaigns for the impeachment of Nixon. I cannot think of a better advocate for the people of NYC.

Norman Siegel has also been endorsed by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Democracy for NYC, Park River Independent Democrats (Upper West Side), the Village Reform Democratic Club, the Grand Council of Guardians (an organization of African-American law enforcement officials), Room 8 blogger and Brooklyn City Council candidate Rock Hackshaw, the New York Metro Area Postal Union (APWU, AFL-CIO), Audubon Reform Democratic Club (Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights), and Brooklyn Democrats for Change (Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Fort Hamilton, Bath Beach and Gravesend).

I should also add that fellow blogger Rock Hackshaw saw this one as a given and endorsed Norman Siegel early on. I have had the pleasure of Rock and Norm interacting at a BBQ at Wellington Sharpe's place and have reported on the mutual respect Rock and Norm have for eachother even if they don't agree on all issues.

Among the other candidates I have nothing negative to say for Mark Green, who showed he was a capable Public Advocate before, or Eric Gioia, who I have personal reasons for not supporting but may well be a decent Public Advocate. Only Bill de Blasio seems unqualified for the position both because of the major scandals he has been involved in (slush fund scandals and the WFP violations of campaign finance laws) and because he is widely known as being the advocate only for developers, not the people. But of the four, Norm Siegel stands out as being the MOST qualified and the STRONGEST advocate for the people. If we can elect Norm Siegel as Public Advocate, we will go a long way to restoring some common sense and honesty to this city government even if Bloomberg manages to annoint himself to a third term.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Corrupt Party Boss Flexes His Muscles in Brooklyn

I recently wrote about the fierce competition between corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez's aide, Steve Levin, and social conservative Isaac Abraham for the conservative votes in the 33rd City Council district while progressive reformers Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone fight over the majority progressive votes. Interestingly, my piece got picked up by several Hasid-targeted blogs as a way of plugging Isaac Abraham among the conservative voters. (The other part of the article covered the 39th district where a parallel fight between Dov Hikind-endorsed Brad Lander and social conservative John Heyer is taking a similar course with progressive reformers Josh Skaller and Bob Zuckerman battling over the progressive majority votes).

Here's what I wrote (in part) about the 33rd District race:

In the 33rd district, Isaac Abraham is a Satmar Hasid who is running on a combined platform of opposition to Vito Lopez (hence technically reform) and what, for the district as a whole, would be extreme conservativism. Isaac Abraham has been a supporter of Connectitcut Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Vice Presidential candidate who became a McCain supporter in 2008. Abraham, who is running in the Democratic primary, has gone on record urging Jewish Democrats to re-register Republican. Abraham supports tax-payer funded school vouchers for private schools, a tradtionally Republican stand. Abraham is also opposed to gay rights and is anti-choice. These stands put him at odds with most of the voters in the district but is in sync with the orthodox Jewish and old-school Catholic neighborhoods. I have met Isaac Abraham and he is a dynamic community activist and entertaining speaker. So he combines a certain odd charisma with activism and...extreme social conservativism.

Competing with Abraham for these conservative votes is the machine candiadte Steve Levin whose boss, Vito Lopez, has connections in the conservative neighborhoods and is pulling strings to get the conservative vote for Levin over Abraham and is exploiting personality conflicts among the Hasids to siphon away votes from Abraham. So Hasids have the choice of voting their values (and so voting for Abraham) or voting according to political alliances and exchange of political favors (and so voting for the machine's Steve Levin). It should be noted that Levin's boss has had a history of supporting Republicans over Democrats before he became Party Boss, and even after that has had a history of actively discouraging challenges to Republicans in Brooklyn, so Vito Lopez certainly has his connections to conservatives. For those who aren't familiar with the Brooklyn machine, keep in mind that the former boss, Clarence Norman, is in prison for corruption and Vito Lopez should also be in prison. Steve Levin, as Vito Lopez's right hand man, cannot have been innocent of the corruption Vito Lopez is known for (for more info, see here here, and here)...

Meanwhile the true progressive reformers, like Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone in the 33rd...compete over the majority of the district with eachother and with the machine candidates who try to downplay the scandals their respective machines are associated with.

The Villiage Voice has an article that goes into some detail about Steve Levin's candidacy and how it represents a power play by Party Boss Vito Lopez. Here's what they have to say about this race:

Power Plays by Party Boss Vito Lopez

The Lord of Brooklyn, a Democratic powerbroker who is flexing his
political muscles these days like a gym rat pumping the free weights

By Tom Robbins - September 01, 2009 - The Village Voice

Say this for Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic powerbroker who is
flexing his political muscles these days like a gym rat pumping the
free weights: He is not one to let a few silly scandals knock him off
the game plan that has served him so well for so long.

Even as the investigation of politicians alleged to have steered government money to relatives and cronies is fast becoming a cottage industry for local prosecutors, Lopez has stayed the course. This year, the veteran State Assemblyman allocated another $350,000 in state funds to the organization he helped found back in the 1970s, the sprawling Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. This was only the latest of many millions in taxpayer monies that Lopez and his political allies have sent the group's way. Given his many and tangled ties to the group, lesser politicians might hesitate to be so openly generous. But that is why they are not Vito Lopez, and not the leader of the Kings County Democratic Party, nor the powerful chairman of the Assembly's Housing Committee.

Yes, it is true he cohabitates with Ridgewood Bushwick's $190,000-per-year housing director, Angela Battaglia, the love of his life...

Yes, he personally makes sure that the city and state spend some $170,000 on the group's massive annual picnic at Long Island's Sunken Meadow State Park...

And yes, this year, Lopez is pushing the envelope even further, promoting not one, not two, but three of Ridgewood Bushwick's allies into elective office. He is seeking nothing less than a sweep, a kind of Vito-fecta that will further extend his political influence...

Lopez protégés are running for election in two adjoining City Council districts, and the assemblyman is pulling out all stops and twisting all arms to make sure his surrogates win office.

In the 33rd District, which skirts north Brooklyn from Union Street to Williamsburg, Lopez's current chief of staff, Stephen Levin, 28, is running to fill the seat being vacated by David Yassky. Levin's complete résumé is this: Brown University, B.A., classics and comparative literature; two years, Ridgewood Bushwick; three years, Lopez legislative aide. As soon as Levin went to work at Ridgewood Bushwick, he immediately enlisted as a campaign aide on various Lopez elections, the dividing line between politics and social work being remarkably thin in these precincts.

I should note I long ago characterized Steve Levin's whole resume as basically doing the bidding of Vito Lopez. Here's what I said back in April:

Levin's only claim to fame is that he is Vito's little boy. My one observation of Mr...Does he have anything else going for him other than the support of the corrupt Party Boss?

The Villiage Voice article goes on to cover two other Vito Lopez power plays:

In the adjoining 34th District, which encompasses a swath of Williamsburg and Bushwick, Lopez is pushing the candidacy of a young woman named Maritza Davila, currently a project director at Ridgewood Bushwick. Lopez is such a Davila fan that he allocated $45,000 in funding for her job there. The money, according to Lopez's legislative initiative form, pays for Davila to take residents to museums, aquariums, and sporting events. She also does double duty: In addition to her day job, Davila serves as a Democratic district leader in Lopez's political club.

Bushwick is Lopez's home base. OK, not his actual residential home. He lives blissfully with Battaglia far from his district in a Queens condo. His political home. He has long controlled the local Council seat, but sometimes, his protégés disappoint him and he is forced to seek their removal. For instance, the incumbent Council member in the district is Diana Reyna, whose training came—where else?—from being a Lopez aide.

Reyna, however, ran afoul of her mentor when she dared to disagree about a large tract of undeveloped land known as the Broadway Triangle. Thanks to his great clout with city and state officials, Lopez arranged to have all of the housing development opportunities there routed to Ridgewood Bushwick and a kindred group, the United Jewish Organizations, which controls social service funds in the Orthodox section of Williamsburg and whose executives happily carry Lopez's election petitions. Lopez has long been a big booster of Mayor Bloomberg, and his influence is such that the city didn't even bother holding its usual competition among would-be developers. It simply
designated Lopez's chosen groups...

So, to summarize, Reyna refused to go along with the most blatant of Vito Lopez's corruption, and so Lopez is running someone against her he hopes will be more compliant.

The third candidate on Lopez's team is a bit of a sleeper. Even inside the district, few are aware that the county Democratic leader has placed an old friend named Pam Fisher on the ballot to be a civil court judge. Fisher lives in Whitestone, Queens, but her local ties are golden. Her sister is Christiana Fisher, the executive director of Ridgewood Bushwick, who pulls in $234,000 a year from the main group and an added $89,700 from its home-care division. She has her political duties as well, serving as records custodian for Lopez's campaign organization.

Pam Fisher, also a Ridgewood Bushwick alumna, has no primary opponent, so her name will automatically appear on the November ballot. This is lucky for her, since she was declared unqualified for the bench by both city and Brooklyn bar associations after she refused to submit to screening. Not that it matters. She is guaranteed to win since Republicans don't even bother running candidates for such posts.

I should note that running unqualified judges is a Vito Lopez specialty, it seems, since a couple of years ago Vito Lopez, backed by Marty Markowitz, ran the virulently homophobic Noach Dear, who was also declared unqualified and had NEVER PRACTICES LAW IN HIS LIFE, as a Civil Court judge as a political favor to others. I covered that travesty of a judicial race in some detail at the time. To me foisting unqualified judges on our community is one of the WORST things Vito Lopez, Steve Levin and the whole Brooklyn machine does since when we go up before judges, we don't want political hacks determining our fate. But that's often what we have thanks to Vito Lopez and Steve Levin. Two other candidates running in the 33rd district have been among the leaders in trying to stop Vito Lopez from foisting these unqualified judges on us: Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone.

Jo Anne Simon is a local district leader, has the backing of Joan Millman, probably the most popular Assembly member in the state, and is the only woman in the race. She has reasonable reform credentials which play well in the district. And she has a long history of advocacy for the disabled, which also plays well in the district. She has been endorsed by all three of the local reform clubs (IND, CBID and LID) and few candidates that have the backing of all three lose. She also has the backing of other very popular local politicians, including Councilwoman Tish James (one of the main opponents of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards scheme) and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez.

Ken Diamondstone has made a name for himself as being the guy who almost deposed Senator Marty Connor before Dan Squadron successfully finished off Connor. In fact, Diamondstone did very well against Connor in the Brooklyn end of that district. Diamondstone has fewer endorsements than Jo Anne Simon, but has gotten endorsements from Stonewall Democrats and Americans for Democratic Action.

I happen to be backing Jo Anne Simon, but my main goal is to keep the corrupt machine candidate, Steve Levin, and the social conservative, Isaac Abraham, from taking the seat.