The story of Tuesday night’s debate for the 33rd Council seat wasn’t what was said — but who showed up.
After skipping three early candidates’ forums, Steve Levin took the stage in Williamsburg for his first debate to represent Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Park Slope.
Shrugging off rumors that he was running a “Rose Garden” strategy in an attempt to downplay his connections to his boss — the influential and, in some circles unpopular, county Democratic chairman, Assemblyman Vito Lopez — the 27-year-old candidate emphasized his experience as a community organizer in Bushwick, as well as his tenure as chief of staff for the powerful politician.
“I am very proud of the work that I have done in his office — especially on affordable housing,” said Levin, who last week told The Brooklyn Paper that he wasn’t ignoring the southern part of the district where Lopez has less sway.
That’s not to say that Levin — who recently landed endorsements from key labor unions and leads the six other candidates in cash on hand — didn’t try to distance himself from Lopez.
“There are times when I disagree with him,” said Levin. “I will be an independent voice on the City Council. I’m running as my own guy.”
And on the stage with his six rivals, Levin was his own guy on several issues.
Levin was the only candidate, for example, to support the current Broadway Triangle Rezoning plan, and he was the lone contender to acknowledge that the controversial rezoning Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront yielded any benefit to the communities.
“I applaud that affordability ratios were written into the zoning,” he told the crowd at debate, sponsored by the New Kings Democrats. Other candidates joined Levin in scorning the lack of open space created by the rezoning, but Levin was the only one who specifically cheered the measure for providing service workers better wages.
Few candidates threw jabs at Levin throughout the mostly civil debate, but South Williamsburg community activist Isaac Abraham landed one of his signature quips, riffing off candidate Doug Biviano’s call to give veto power to community boards on zoning issues.
“Doug, I want to correct you on one thing. A lot of us are concerned about ‘Vito’ power,” said Abraham.
Evan Thies, a North Brooklyn activist and former staffer of current Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), didn’t openly claim he was the “anti-Vito” candidate — but he implied as much.
“We need to elect people who can bring positive change. There are still powerful forces at work, in Brooklyn. Citywide. Forces of inertia, forces of power that need to be restrained. We need to work against them,” said Thies, who used to debate to condemn the lack of parkland created following the rezoning.
Biviano, a passionate newcomer and self described “free thinker,” declared that the district needs a fearless councilman.
“We need a leader who is fearless — and I’ve sailed across an ocean on a 27-foot boat,” said Biviano, who declared that in the future the “city-state” will play a key role.
Another priceless exchange occurred when the candidates were asked to say one nice thing about the rival seated beside them. Ken Baer — who touted his experience as both an accountant and environmentalist — told Biviano that he was “handsome.”
“I’m glad Ken [Diamondstone] didn’t say that to me,” Biviano responded, referring awkwardly to his fellow council hopeful’s sexual orientation.
For his part, Diamondstone emphasized his experience fighting for gay rights and railing against the 2004 upzoning of Downtown Brooklyn that is turning the entire area into a new business and residential community.
Democratic District leader Jo Anne Simon — the only woman in the race — used the forum to calmly outline her years of experience as a neighborhood activist.