Dazzle me? How about underwhelm me? - Brooklyn Paper

Dazzle me? How about underwhelm me?

It was billed as the “Dazzle Me” forum, but six candidates to replace Councilman Bill DeBlasio didn’t do much but talk.
The Brooklyn Paper / Emily True

If this is how City Council candidates “dazzle” us, we’re in for a very long campaign.

Yes, after weeks of hype, the so-called “Dazzle Me Forum,” pitting six candidates to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio, was held last Saturday.

Candidates were asked to amaze and delight a crowd of hardened political activists (how active? They filled a library basement on a beautiful weekend morning).

The Politicrasher had low expectations — aside from Barack Obama, the last time a pol even remotely “dazzled” this grizzled old newshound was definitely pre-Walter Mondale. And last week’s non-“dazzle me” forum for candidates hoping to succeed David Yassky in the neighboring district was pretty banal.

Make no mistake: No one digs local politics more than the ’Crasher. And no one wants to sit in a room for more than three hours — that’s roughly three times the length of a presidential debate, by the way — than me. But journalists aren’t just transcription machines, talleying up all the candidates’ appropriate comments or well-meaning sentiments.

We’re human beings, dammit — and we want our leaders to be, I don’t know, leaders! And we’re not alone. The hundred or so audience members at the forum wanted to connect, too. But alas, they were given few opportunities. No wonder the “Dazzle Me” crowed thinned by well over half before the closing bell rang.

The opening statements did not bode well for the five Democrats and one Green Party member, who leashed themselves to admirable, yet mundane, promises. Yes, at least one even used the term “keep our neighborhoods livable” — a nice sentiment, but hardly dazzling from someone running to represent a neighborhood in which he lives.

But with the preliminary introductions concluded, they couldn’t shield themselves from some sharp questions from the moderators, a panel of neighborhood activists from Carroll Gardens.

The vast majority of queries were about land-use issues, especially about the clean-up and development of the Gowanus Canal, a hot-button issue tearing apart the neighborhood and dividing the candidates.

“No wonder no one ‘dazzled,” griped one participant. “It was three hours of land-use questions. This wasn’t a forum. This was a requirement that the candidates supplicate themselves to the altar of anti-development!”

Gary Reilly, a lawyer and member of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, didn’t have a problem with that. When asked if the inclusion of subsidized, below-market-rate housing would be the deciding factor in choosing what projects he would support as a councilman he tossed off the metaphor of the day.
“Just because [a developer] is going to dust a few crumbs on the community doesn’t make it necessarily worthwhile,” he said.

Young John Heyer, a protégé of neighborhood legend Buddy Scotto and an assistant to Borough President Markowitz, had some of the more visceral outbursts, yet less specific policy positions. He suggested that his mother’s three miscarriages and his family’s history of cancer is connected to its proximity to the Gowanus Canal.

Yet this fifth-generation Gowanus-area resident didn’t have an answer if he supports the federal Superfund program.

Bob Zuckerman, a member of Community Board 6 and former director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, delivered some of the more “dazzling” campaign promises and policy ideas:

• He wants to create a permit for people to park in their neighborhoods and a street-level jitney system to transport people to the subways.

• He also pledged to convert a book mobile into the “Zuck mobile” as a roving field office to meet with constituents and to have town hall meetings in every neighborhood in the district at least once a year.

Others could play at the public policy game:

• Reilly called for making the councilmember position a full-time job, thus ending members’ ability to earn additional income on the side. “As a councilmember you’re well compensated, you don’t need to make outside income if you’re serious about serving the community.”

• Instead of supporting gay marriage, Heyer wants to move away from all forms of “legal marriage” towards civil unions for everyone.

• Josh Skaller, an IT guy and Democratic clubhouse regular, reiterated his campaign promise, which rival Brad Lander has also adopted, to not accept campaign donations from real-estate developers, because “developer money controls politics in New York City.”

For Lander, the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and considered one of the front-runners to win the race, it was a quiet day — but maybe even a harmful one.

He was informed on all the issues, but his delicate dance around the Superfund designation irritated some people. More than one person confided to the Politicrasher that Lander wouldn’t get their votes because, like Zuckerman and Heyer, he’s supporting DeBlasio, who supports the Toll Brothers development along the Gowanus, in his run for public advocate.

And in some circles of Carroll Gardens, DeBlasio is persona non grata, because of his alleged coziness with developers. Never mind that he wins plaudits almost everywhere on education.

Oh yeah, wouldn’t you know — there weren’t any questions about education!

Tough crowd. Dazzle-free forum. Blame the organizers, too.

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