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Who does Steve Levin represent — you or Vito Lopez?

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Councilman Steve Levin’s loyalty to his political mentor and the embattled Bushwick-based nonprofit where he got his start is so strong he is giving the out-of-district group more than three-quarters of a million dollars to develop a housing facility 10 blocks from any of his nearest constituents.

Levin (D–Greenpoint) requested the $800,000 from the city’s 2011 capital budget — nearly one-fifth his permitted capital budget allowance — so that Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council could acquire and convert a former nursing home on Willoughby Avenue into an 80-unit complex for seniors and families.

The nonprofit was founded by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Williamsburg), who still exerts tremendous influence over its activities and projects — and, it seems, over Levin, too.

The freshman councilman retorted that he is far more swayed by the project’s promise of more senior housing for constituents than by Lopez’s desires.

“There are 200,000 senior citizens on the city’s waiting list for [housing units],” said Levin, whose district includes Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and part of Park Slope. “It is my overriding objective that we build housing for senior citizens, and it is beyond dispute that Ridgewood Bushwick builds and manages good affordable housing.”

That track record of housing is currently being reviewed by the state attorney general and federal investigators — which issued subpoenas requesting documents from Ridgewood Bushwick executives in September.

One of the items under investigation is the unusually high salaries that Ridgewood Bushwick pays its first and second in command — Christiana Fisher and Angela Battaglia, who moonlight as Lopez’s campaign treasurer and his girlfriend, respectively.

The city briefly halted scores of social services contracts to the nonprofit after an investigation found sloppy accounting practices, missing attendance sheets, and in one key instance, phantom city-funded programs — but most of those contracts have since been reinstated.

Throughout the ordeal, Levin has stood by Ridgewood Bushwick and its founder, frequently attending community meetings in Bushwick and East Williamsburg hosted by the lawmaker, and the nonprofit’s taxpayer-funded events such as Ridgewood Bushwick’s annual Thanksgiving celebration and two summer picnics.

Levin donated $12,000 from his discretionary fund to transport scores of seniors to a Long Island state park and feed them while a number of Democratic hopefuls wooed them for votes.

Levin himself has acknowledged several times that he would not be a councilman if Ridgewood Bushwick had not hired him in 2004, and if his mentor Lopez did not poach him from the nonprofit, elevate him to his chief of staff, and then endorse him in a race to succeed Councilman David Yassky.

But Levin has also been an eager backer of Lopez’s agenda in Council, lobbying for the Ridgewood Bushwick-sponsored 1,851-unit Broadway Triangle rezoning while vigorously opposing two significant rezonings, the 776-unit Rose Plaza and the 2,200-unit Domino Sugar plant redevelopment for not having enough affordability and being out of scale with the neighborhood.

Neither project involved Ridgewood Bushwick.

In addition, Levin also planted his former campaign manager, and Lopez’s current chief of staff, Debra Feinberg, on the board of Brooklyn Bridge Park, even though she doesn’t live in Brooklyn.

During his campaign, Levin received a total of $1,775 from Ridgewood Bushwick employees for his council run, as well as strategic planning and volunteer organizing assistance, which was widely credited for helping Levin win a seven-way primary race last September.

In his first year in office, Levin has kept in touch with the nonprofit that nurtured him.

In addition to the $800,000 capital allocation, Levin has directed $64,000 in member items funding — almost 10 percent of his allocations — to Ridgewood Bushwick.

The allocation includes $52,000 to help low-income families safely remove lead paint from their homes — a program that gave Levin his first nonprofit sector job six years ago.

Levin and his colleagues in Brooklyn’s Council delegation gave another $275,000 to Ridgewood Bushwick, including $50,000 for its youth center and $225,000 for its community organizing and legal services programs, none of which are in physically his district.

Some Downtown community leaders, including District Leader Chris Owens, have been grumbling over Ridgewood Bushwick’s share of both capital and expense funding from the city, and from Levin in particular.

“There’s plenty of need in Fort Greene and some of the developments he represents,” said Owens. “Politically, it’s foolish on his part and people should look at that relationship really strongly.”

Levin defended his decision to fund the future senior building, saying that giving outside the district is common and seniors are among the fastest growing parts of the city’s population, but will be searching for affordable places to live since Social security payments will remain about the same.

“We’re keeping apace with 1/1,000th of the need and it’s going to get worse when baby boomers start to turn 65 next April,” said Levin. “This project is building senior housing for a population that needs it, not just for my district, but for North Brooklyn and beyond.”

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Reader Feedback

Katie from Park Slope says:
Steve Levin is a great City Council member and a tireless advocate for the people that live in his district.

As someone that lives in Park Slope but works in Bushwick, I know first hand that RBSCC, one of the City's largest social service agencies, provides services, such a safety for children living with lead paint hazards, legal representation, affordable housing and home care services, to both seniors and non senior families living all over Brooklyn. Just because RBSCCs central offices are in Bushwick doesn't mean that hundreds of Levin's constituents, including those living in neighboring WILLIAMSBURG don't receive life saving emergency services from RBSCC.

Also, it seems obvious that in a City where residents in North Brooklyn are sent all over the city to receive nursing home services, given the incredible shortage of beds, renovating one ten blocks away is a close to ideal as a community can get.
Dec. 8, 2010, 9:51 am
confused from canarsie says:
Most people who incorrectly capitalize "city" write press releases.
Dec. 8, 2010, 10:23 am
thomas from boerum hill says:
i dont get it. how can this sob spend so much money in bushwick - a neighborhood that isnt in his district. he got elected to represent my neighborhood and address our issues - not fund vito's largesse.

this guy needs to grow a pair to stand up to vito and start looking out for his constituents.
Dec. 8, 2010, 10:34 am
Ruven from Greenpoint says:
Didn't I just read this story a day ago?
Dec. 8, 2010, 11:23 am
asame from brooklyn says:
the paper is right!

Levin is a Lopez Puppy.
Dec. 8, 2010, 12:45 pm
JoeZ. from Greenpoint says:
"this guy needs to grow a pair to stand up to vito and start looking out for his constituents."

He is looking out for his constituents. His, as in Vito's. Who said Tammany Hall was dead?
Dec. 8, 2010, 1:06 pm
Wendy from Greenpoint says:
Well this is what people get for voting him in! At least Evan Thies had a pair!
Dec. 8, 2010, 1:27 pm
Bob from Greenpoint says:
you damn right! this young puppy is a copy of buss V.Lopez just following his foot steps, didn't do any good
for his constituents at all, remember election is around the corner!! sounds like a person with no future!!!

Dec. 8, 2010, 1:57 pm
Katie is Steve Levin says:
"Katie" comments all over the internet with the sole purpose of defending Vito Lopez and now, Steve Levin. Pathetic.
Dec. 8, 2010, 2:19 pm
Ken from Bushwick says:
Steve Levin is a Vito Lopez puppet. He needs to be kicked out of office.
Dec. 8, 2010, 2:50 pm
rebecca from boerum hill says:
How can this article quote Chris Owens as a reliable source saying that Councilman levin should spend money in his "own" district. Yet he mentions Fort Greene...not in Stephen's district either....
Dec. 8, 2010, 5:27 pm
pixie from greenpoint says:
Levin is going to have to do a lot for Greenpoint to regain any trust in this neighborhood - That is if he wants our votes next time round.

I am glad that he is helping seniors and that's no bad thing but he should be giving this money to his district.

There are hunger and housing issues with the elderly community here too - just go to any of the free food give aways at the local churches - you will see our seniors need a lot of help.
Dec. 8, 2010, 6:59 pm
Gene says:
There are organizations in Levin's district that provide excellent services to seniors, St. Nick's Alliance to name just one. When Levin claims that he gives money to RBSCC because they're the only ones providing services to seniors, that's a big lie. An ugly, convenient lie.

Though when you consider the company Steve Levin keeps-his mentor Vito Lopez ought to be in jail-it's no surprise that he is a liar.
Dec. 9, 2010, 12:14 am
Antony from Greenpoint says:
Gene you are damn right! he is a liar big time!!
he is not representing everybody in his district that's a big shame, we need a elected person to representing us and do some good for our district, going in Vito Lopez foot steps is wrong he will end up being in jail!!! stave your are still Yong to learn and do some real home work how to run the district that you have to represent.....

kindly "if you cant handle just stay out of the kitchen."
Dec. 9, 2010, 12:24 pm
voter from park slope says:
What a biased article! First term councilman Levin is able to secure funding for a renovated state of the art nursing home blocks from his district and that is a bad thing? Was there another location to renovate in the district? No. As for who is most qualified, RBSCC runs a state of the art nursing home called Buena Vida and has for ten years. The fact that St Nicholas is located in Diana Reyna' district on Catherine St isn't important, but the fact that they have never operated a nursing home is. Levin chose the org with the best reputation. Nursing homes aren't senior housing, and asking St Nicholas to wing it would have been unfair and probably irresponsible.
Dec. 9, 2010, 1:07 pm
Senior Advocate from Billyburg says:
This pork ain't kosher.

I agree that RSBCC does a lot of good, but so do other groups in his district (and nearby, but with spillover benefit to his constituents). As Gene notes, St. Nick's is a good one but they get NOWHERE NEAR this kind of money, nor do other groups that have an opposing opinion about the Broadway Triangle.
Dec. 9, 2010, 1:09 pm
Sam from Williamsburg says:
I'm a constituent, and astounished how this paper distorts Steve's work and energy.

Steve is allover the places. Although he's frsh, he stood up to Bloomy's beloved Mega projects in Williamsburg, and forced them to include more affordable housing to listen to the neighborhood's wishes.

Instead of just following the noise on the PPW bikelane, he really studied the issue and conducted a massive survey to determine what the Park Slope community - not the noise-makers - really wants.

He's standing up against DHS-Coumo plans to burden Greenpoint with another homeless shelters.

He's fighting for NYCHA tenants in all neighborhoods, and is even busy prtecting the goose.

These are just a few of his recent activities that I remember off-head.

Steve really fights for his community. IF THIS IS WHAT HE LEARNED FROM VITO, I WISH WE SEND ALL OUR POLITICANS FOR COURSES BY VITO!
Dec. 9, 2010, 9:37 pm
anywho says:
I guess it is nice to be a white boy!

Damn latino/a would never be able to get away with that sh*t.
Dec. 10, 2010, 10:30 am
damn right says:
anywho is on point.

if he wasnt a white boy, every paper would have run him through the meat grinder.
Dec. 10, 2010, 11:56 am
Paul from Boerum Hill says:
I thought the whole purpose of having local city council members was so they could bring home the bacon...for THEIR constituents! There are dozens of senior services in his REAL district but he throws away money that was supposed to be spent HERE to Ridgewood??? How long till we get to bounce him out of here???
Dec. 10, 2010, 11:29 pm
george from greenpoint says:
He does seem to have some passion for the issues of housing in particular, but will lose all respect and influence he could have by his association and praise of Vito.

Maybe, Steve, it would be a smart move to stop calling Vito your mentor, and just move on from him. ou really have no choice.

And find your own voice!
Dec. 11, 2010, 10 pm
jon jon from Bushwick says:
I know Levin personally. Hes a good guy. Lopez did help him in his career but now its time to go on his own and be one of the very best councilmember there is.
But dont mess with lopez. he is a real power house and can break you as easy as he made you...
i seen him do it.
Dec. 23, 2010, 4:51 pm
Lou from Williamsburg says:
"He's fighting for NYCHA tenants in all neighborhoods...."

right, that's exactly what Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents want our city councilman to be doing.
June 17, 2011, 6:50 pm

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