A tight race for a rare open City Council seat in Brownstone Brooklyn was thrown into turmoil, however briefly, this week after one of the candidates copied another’s press release and passed it off as his own.
Josh Skaller, running well in a five-way Democratic primary for the City Council district covering parts of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Windsor Terrace, lifted passages about a widely criticized Park Slope development project from an e-mail sent a day earlier by his opponent Brad Lander.
Skaller’s wording was almost identical (see sidebar).
Initially, Skaller, an IT director, declined to comment about the apparent plagiarism, but later on Tuesday his campaign sent out a statement, calling the cut-and-paste job a “mistake.”
“This particular e-mail was intended to inform people about Monday’s rally,” said Steven Stites, a spokesman for Skaller. “It was a task assigned to a volunteer, who was trying to help the campaign. In a big campaign, unfortunately, mistakes happen, and it slipped through our fingers. Everyone was trying to help the residents of Carroll Street.”
The embarrassing blunder arose in an effort to get supporters to attend Monday’s protest outside the controversial condo development on that Park Slope street. Lander, the former director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, sent an alert on Sunday asking people to attend the rally between Fourth and Fifth avenues. Skaller’s strikingly similar message hit area Inboxes on Monday morning.
“The developer is already allowed to build a substantial development ‘as-of-right,’” Lander wrote. “Neighbors may not have loved it, but it was within the rules, and included a front-garden area. But now he wants to change the rules and build even more units (where the garden was supposed to be).”
Hours later, Skaller chimed in.
“The developer is already allowed to build a substantial development ‘as-of-right,’” his statement said. “Neighbors may not have loved that, but it was then within the rules and the development included a front garden area. Now, however, the developer wants to change the rules and build even more units — where the garden was supposed to be.”
Lander refrained from criticizing Skaller, instead focusing on the strong turnout at the demonstration.
“It’s great that a lot of people turned out to help their neighbors,” Lander said. “My goal was to get people there.”
Of course, an e-mail is not the first thing the two front-runners have shared this political season. Former presidential candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean made the baffling decision to endorse both men in June.
John Heyer, a funeral director and an aide to Borough President Markowitz; Gary Reilly, an attorney; and Bob Zuckerman, the former director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, are also running for the Democratic nomination to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio, who is running for public advocate.
In cribbing from another politician, Skaller is certainly in good company. During the presidential election, then Sen. Barack Obama used a phrase coined by his friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
And Vice President Biden gave up his 1988 run for president after it was discovered that he lifted passages from speeches by Neil Kinnock, a British politician, and Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.