The organizers of Tuesday’s 33rd City Council District debate dubbed their Williamsburg forum a “Verbal Smackdown,” but only one of the hopefuls took that name literally.
The vociferous upstart and Brooklyn Heights resident Doug Biviano attacked front-running candidates Jo Anne Simon, Evan Thies, and Steve Levin — who was not even at the debate, his fourth such absence during the campaign — for being “machine politicians” who were complicit in the controversial 2005 rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint that has not resulted in promised parkland and affordable housing.
“They were there at the table with the city — they were cutting deals,” said Biviano, who went straight at his rivals from to the first question. “They are part of the Democratic machine. They never stood up.
“Are you going to be a part of the Thies, Levin, Simon machine?” he continued at the July 29 debate, organized by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth at the Williamsburg Northside Preschool on N. Fifth Street. “I’m going to lead. I’m going to do something different.”
Biviano — a civil engineer, building superintendent, and father of three — assaulted Thies and Levin for their resumes, too. Thies was chief of staff for Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), while Levin remains chief of staff to powerful Democratic Party boss and Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Bushwick).
Biviano even demanded that Lopez step down from his role as head of the Kings County Democratic party.
Thies — a Williamsburg resident and community activist campaigning heavily on a more inclusive rezoning procedure he calls “360-degree zoning” — fired back.
“Doug, there are a lot of people in this room who worked very hard for that rezoning,” he responded. “It’s disgraceful you would say that.”
Biviano did not back down. “What’s disgraceful is the empty buildings — and you were the architect!” he said, taunting Thies for stepping down from his role on the Community Board 1 before the controversial vote on the residential rezoning of the Broadway Triangle in Williamsburg, a rezoning that has the backing of Levin and the Lopez machine.
After the debate, Thies downplayed another allegation, namely that he resigned from his volunteer position because he supported the rezoning or was afraid to oppose Lopez. Theis said that he was too busy with his campaign to fulfill his CB1 duties.
“It was just bizarre,” said Thies on Biviano’s strategy. “At the first two debates, he seemed like a nice, earnest guy. But he turned out to be a regular politician.”
Biviano also accused Simon of inaction during her tenure as a Democratic District Leader — an allegation that Simon wouldn’t let stand.
“Do you know what a district leader does? She works with her community,” responded Simon, a frontrunner who is also a civil rights attorney. “I have not been working for an elected official or pulling strings anywhere.”
Levin, who skipped the debate in order to take part in an upstate labor conference, wasn’t able to immediately shoot down Biviano’s assertion that he was a “backroom coward.”
Reached by phone, the Council hopeful who has racked up more endorsements than Lebron James, told The Brooklyn Paper that he wouldn’t delve into name-calling.
“We’re going to keep it positive,” said Levin, who called the labor gathering “a very significant policy meeting regarding affordable housing and the living wage.”
Though they mostly stayed out of the fracas, candidates Isaac Abraham, Ken Baer, and Ken Diamondstone each outlined their plans for the district.
Abraham, a spokesman and activist in South Williamsburg’s Hassidic community, suggested the city delve into an untapped Department of Housing Preservation and Development fund to quickly create more units of affordable housing, and urged the federal government to bail out stalled development projects.
Baer, a longtime environmentalist, proposed downzoning of sections of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront that were upzoned just four years ago and adding more cars to the G train to combat overcrowding.
Diamondstone, a longtime political activist, urged the city to purchase foreclosed condo buildings and turn them into affordable housing, and promised to reform the Council.