Voters in the 43rd Council District elected Justin Brannan last month in a tight race to take over the seat occupied since 2003 by his former boss, term-limited Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge). Just a few weeks before he becomes the new councilman for Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and Bensonhurst, the councilman-elect talked to this paper about how he plans to battle the mayor, work across party lines with local Republicans, and win over the nearly half of locals who voted for his opponent. He also shrugged off his opponents’ allegations that he made a deal with his third-party challenger, and outlined his plan to serve two terms in Council and then help a successor hopefully break the district’s glass ceiling. He will be inaugurated in late January.
Julianne McShane: You repeatedly said throughout your campaign that you would be a councilman for all of your constituents. How do you specifically plan to bridge the gap with the 47 percent of your constituents who voted for your opponent?
Justin Brannan: I’m all about town halls, I’m all about bringing the leaders of the different agencies so people can express their concerns and get their answers directly from leaders of those different agencies. I’d do at least two a year that way, where they’re promoted well and held at a time when people can actually come. And I plan to have longer office hours, maybe open later so I can stay open later. I think it’s more important for me to be open at 8 o’clock at night than at 10 am.
JM: The district is also represented by three Republicans — Rep. Dan Donovan, state Sen. Marty Golden, and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. Will you cross party lines to work with them to get things done for the district? And do you plan to actively support those incumbents’ challengers next year?
JB: Absolutely. Certainly on something like public transportation, I would love nothing more than for all of us to sit down once a month … but January 1st I’ll become the lone Democrat in town, except for Assemblywoman [Pamela] Harris (D–Coney Island), so it’s up to me to carry that torch. Electing Democrats is very important.
JM: Your transition team notably includes Craig Eaton, the former Brooklyn Republican chairman who co-chaired the campaign of one of your opponents, Bob Capano. Your other opponent, John Quaglione, alleged last month that the three of you must have made a deal to ensure that Quaglione lost, since Eaton is now serving on your transition team. What’s your response to that?
JB: That’s just ridiculous. There’s no conspiracy here, I’ve known Craig Eaton for a long time. We’re putting together a transition team that’s bipartisan and with folks from all different corners of the community. There was no deal made, that’s ridiculous.
JM: You repeatedly promised to build a school in the neighborhood during your first term. What kind of school will that be, and when do you think you could realistically begin building?
JB: I’ve been looking at a couple spots, I’ve been talking to the School Construction Authority. They’re well aware that that was my one promise and that they can’t let me down. Obviously it’s going to be a public school, ideally it would be a middle school, because that’s really what we need. Certainly we need another high school, because Fort Hamilton is overcrowded, but frankly, all of our schools are overcrowded … I want to take one of those corny photos of me with a shovel in the ground before the end of next year.
JM: Your opponents tried to peg you as one of Mayor DeBlasio’s cronies throughout the campaign since you worked for his administration, but you insisted you’d stand up to the Mayor. What’s the first issue facing the district that you expect to tangle with him over?
JB: Property taxes. He made a promise to put together a committee or a commission to look at he inequities in property taxes and I absolutely plan to make sure that happens, put together a real commission that really looks at recalibrating the property tax system.
JM: You told us in August that you opposed the raise the Council gave itself. Will you still take the full salary? And how will you divest from the Art Room, the small business that you run with your wife in Bay Ridge?
JB: I get a small paycheck from the Art Room now, which obviously I just won’t take anymore because you’re not allowed to. I plan to earn every penny of that salary by working 24 hours a day. Right now I’m fighting because I want to be able to pay my staff more, I want to be able to pay people for how tough a job this can be. When the Council gave themselves a raise, they should’ve given the staff a raise.
JB: Not really. I really believe in ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ which means you step forward, you lead for a little while, and then you have to pass it on to the next person that steps forward. My plan right now is to do a rock-solid job for the first four years, and then do it again for another four years, and then hand it off hopefully to a woman to take over.