Southern Brooklyn council candidates talk infrastructure, healthcare, and housing at political forum

candidates at political forum
Council candidates Amber Adler, Ari Kagan, Ying Tan, and Justin Brannan took questions and discussed important political issues at an Oct. 4 forum in Bay Ridge.
Photo by Corazon Aguirre

Conversations regarding public safety, climate change and affordable housing got heated at the PoliticsNY Brooklyn City Council Candidate Forum on Wednesday.

Each candidate — Republican Council Member Ari Kagan and Democratic Council Member Justin Brannan who are both running for a rezoned District 47 seat; Amber Adler, Democratic candidate for District 48; and Ying Tan, the Republican candidate for District 43 — had 90 seconds to respond to a set list of questions regarding the current state of city infrastructure, illegal e-bikes, access to healthcare and more.

Brannan, who currently represents District 43, and Kagan, who represents District 47, are opponents in one of the most hotly-contested seats this year. After districts were redrawn last year, dramatically changing the boundaries of his current district, Brannan decided to run against Kagan for District 47 seat which includes Coney Island, Bath Beach and parts of Bay Ridge.

The two pols took a few chances to throw political jabs at each other during the forum sponsored by AARP on Oct. 4.

brannan and kagan at forum
Council members Ari Kagan (left) and Justin Brannan (right) sparred during the event. Photos by Corazon Aguirre

Kagan accused his opponent of not speaking on the state of public transportation and the city’s growing migrant crisis. Kagan called the MTA a “dark, black hole” with no accountability or real responsibility. 

“I’m very glad that perhaps this is an opportunity to debate my opponent who clearly had no answers on the most pressing issues of the day like public safety [or] the migrant crisis,” Kagan told Brooklyn Paper after the forum. “What does he know about public transportation? I use it every day.”

Candidates did not get a chance to speak on the migrant crisis, as time constraints meant not every question could be asked.  

However, Brannan did speak on the need to hold the MTA accountable, and the need for increased e-bikes legislation and penalty enforcement. He said enforcement is a challenge but the way to do it is to work with the state to make sure cyclists are both licensed and insured.

“It’s about advocating to make sure that the MTA pays attention to southern Brooklyn and you can do that,” he said. “My opponent does a good job of pointing at things and saying it’s a problem but isn’t actually getting it done. It’s important that taxpayers see a return on their investment, not only the investments in their community but that the city government is working for them.”

Amber Adler political forum
Amber Adler, a Democrat running in District 48, said affordability is a significant issue for her would-be constituents. Photo by Corazon Aguirre

All of the participants acknowledged the city’s need for more affordable housing. 

Adler, who is running against Republican incumbent Council Member Inna Vernikov said affordability is what keeps people in their homes.

“It’s what keeps people able to afford life and not just scraping by,” she said. “I personally believe affordable housing is only affordable if an apartment is rented for more than one week worth of average salary. To me that’s how you live and not just survive.”

The self-proclaimed civic leader openly opposes the proposed Coney Island casino and any potential MTA bus service cuts, especially in District 48 where residents often have to travel by both trains and buses.

She also called out her opponent for not showing up to the forum, noting Vernikov has one of the lowest council attendance rates. Vernikov was invited to participate in the forumbut did not respond to the offer.

“I’m gonna show up every single day and every evening,” Adler told Brooklyn Paper. “It’s important that voters know what you have to say and know you’re going to help them.”

Candidates also discussed questions related to ageism in the workplace, city resources, and accessibility. 

candidates at political forum
Two candidates — Council Member Inna Vernikov, the Republican incumbent in District 48, and Susan Zhuang, the Democratic candidate in District 43 — did not attend the forum. Photo by Corazon Aguirre

On how ageism impacts Coney Island, Kagan discussed the city’s need to invest in their aging infrastructure including sewer systems — but not at the expense of long-term residents. He mentioned Local Law 97, a citywide building emissions law, which would require building owners of spaces greater than 25,000 square feet to meet strict carbon emissions regulations starting next year. Compliance would require many building owners to retrofit their properties or face penalties each year.

“We need to protect the environment but we need to do it in a way that will not squeeze people out of New York City,” he said.

The crowd grew rowdy when a question regarding climate change and the strength of city infrastructure was asked following torrential rainfall that paralyzed the city last Friday.

Kagan tried to use his time to respond to the question on climate change to speak about public safety instead. When instructed to answer the question directly, he declined to make a comment further. 

The other candidates spoke to how climate change poses health and safety threats and how they will work with the city to make sure sewer systems are up to date and properly maintained.

ying tan
Republican Ying Tan said she would use her position on the council to advocate for seniors and connect them with needed resources. Photo by Corazon Aguirre

Tan, a community activist and first time city council candidate, noted that she was not a professional politician but she would use her seat on the city council to connect senior citizens with medical care and the retirement services they are entitled to. As a mother, caregiver and local activist, Tan promised devoted care to her potential constituents.

“I totally understand how you feel and what your concerns are because I’m just like you,” she said in her closing statement. 

Tan is running against Susan Zhuang, Democratic candidate for Ddistrict 43, the city’s newest Asian-majority district. Zhuang declined to participate in the forum.

General elections are scheduled for Nov. 7. Early voting running from Oct. 28 to Nov. 5. Voters can find a list of all poll sites and absentee ballot information on the official NYC Board of Elections website.