Candidates waste big chance to be king of Brooklyn

Queens Councilman John Liu dominated his comptroller rivals, our columnist said, because he went after the hometown boy, David Yassky.
Community Newspaper Group / Ted Levin

I’ve finally got my candidates for public advocate and comptroller, thanks to last night’s Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce debate.

While most of the Democratic candidates for those esteemed offices missed the gift-wrapped opportunity to court Brooklyn’s 2-1/2-million residents by showing off a keen understanding of the city’s most populous and best borough, only Queens Councilman John Liu (running for comptroller) and civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel (public advocate) had the guts to hit me where it counts.

In my Brooklyn gut.

I know they’re running campaigning for citywide offices — don’t quote the municipal charter to me, fella — but Brooklynites always like politicians who know the neighborhoods and keep their eyes on the prize: the borough’s ability to tip an election.

Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D–Park Slope), running for public advocate, and Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), seeking to be the comptroller, had the home-field advantage. But neither brandished the experience and knowledge of the local terrain, choosing instead to bolster their cases by citing other accomplishments — like DeBlasio’s opposition to Mayor Bloomberg in the term limits fight and Yassky’s early years in the city budget office.

Liu, however, went straight after Yassky for funneling $40,000 to a dubious Windsor Terrace not-for-profit tied to former Councilman Steve DiBrienza that organized youth sports leagues, though spent much of the taxpayer money it received on salaries for DiBrienza’s wife and aides when he was in the Council.

“There were … entities that seemed to have served no purpose to the community,” said Liu, who said he “found this out from local Brooklyn newspapers,” namely, The Brooklyn Paper.

That’s a shot across the bow at Yassky, which prompted this riposte:

“It funds soccer leagues and basketball leagues. Do you think that’s a poor use of funds?”

“It’s questioned what games that actually went to fund,” retorted Liu, showing a keen insight into how pork works in Brooklyn.

Alas, my heart rate quickly subsided as the duel — which Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D–Queens) and Councilwoman David Weprin (D–Queens) sat out entirely — was quickly settled and discussion returned to number-crunching acumen and the city’s financial woes.

Earlier in the night, Siegel showed the broadest awareness of Brooklyn issues.

He said he “would challenge the use of eminent domain” in development projects, saying that the state’s plans to condemn homes and businesses for Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project is “developer driven,” rather than providing a clear public benefit.

And he called the case of Kimber VanRy, the Park Slope man ticketed for drinking a beer on his stoop, “Out-effing-ragous.”

Maddening small fines were also on Siegel’s mind throughout the debate. He made repeated reference to Brooklyn Brewery which he said has to budget $30,000 a year just to pay fines it receives while making deliveries around the city.

Councilman Eric Gioia (D–Queens) and DeBlasio agreed that overzealous enforcement agents were a problem, but Siegel as so incensed by them that he lost all sense of time, saying he’d issue “an annual report every month” for the “stupidest fees.”

Compared to Siegel, the others seemed like political caricatures straight from Central Casting, with Gioia portraying himself as the “regular guy” who put himself through college working as a night janitor, and DeBlasio presenting himself as a pragmatist.

He cheered himself for battling the mayor on term limits, and for supporting this year’s controversial city budget that, he claimed, averted drastic cuts in the police and fire departments and layoffs in the public school system. But Gioia lambasted that budget because it did not include enough reform of how elected officials’ discretionary money is doled out.

Norman Siegel clearly won the Public Advocate debate in Brooklyn Heights on Monday night because he defended stoop drinker Kimber VanRy. That was enough for our columnist.
Community Newspaper Group / Ted Levin

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