Meet the candidates running to to represent the 43rd Council District

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Incumbent Councilmember Justin Brannan will face off against Republican Brian Fox in November to represent the 43rd Council District.
Courtesy of campaigns

The race between sitting Councilmember Justin Brannan and his republican opponent Brian Fox is heating up, with seemingly more mud-slinging than in any other Brooklyn City Council contest.

The district — which encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and parts of Bensonhurst — is historically one of the most GOP-friendly in Brooklyn, and is the area of the borough most recently represented by a Republican, making the race for the 43rd City Council seat one to watch.

Part of the area is represented in Congress by Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and it was represented in the State Senate by Republican Marty Golden as recently as 2019. Brannan’s victory in 2017 was one of the narrowest in the 2017 general election, beating Republican John Quaglione 48 percent to 45 percent. However, the district has been trending in the Democratic direction for the past several years.

Fox argues that incumbent Brannan is a speeding, “do nothing” member of the political machine, while the incumbent charges that his challenger, who once liked a Trumpian tweet boasting the need to “Make Bay Ridge White Again,” is unfit to serve his district’s melting pot of communities.

The two differ on local issues such as and crime (Fox alleges that crime has never been higher in the district, while Brannan has repeatedly cited 68th Precinct statistics pointing to the lowest crime rate in the area’s history) and vaccine mandates for local businesses (Brannan supports, Fox does not).

Brooklyn Paper caught up with both candidates to talk about their backgrounds and their priorities should they be elected (or reelected). The candidates’s answers are listed alphabetically by their last name.

Justin Brannan 

Councilmember Justin Brannan.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Justin Brannan: Since 2018, it has been the honor of my life to serve the neighborhoods where I grew up. And I hope the people will put their trust in me once again. Like you, I have high hopes for what 2021 will mean for us, our community, our city, and our country. I don’t have to tell you 2020 was an unbelievably tough and challenging year for everyone. We all put our normal lives on hold, and everyone has sacrificed so much. I’m not going to lie, when I decided to run for office, I never thought I would be governing during a global pandemic but it showed me that when times get tough, leadership doesn’t mean having all the answers: it means communicating as clearly and as often as possible; and addressing every problem seriously, no matter how big or small. It means reaching out, and being there, all the time, for the people who put their faith and trust in me to serve.

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in. 

JB: My mom still lives in the apartment where I grew up in Bay Ridge. Took my first steps on Shore Road cobblestones. I went to PS 185, McKinley and Xaverian. I got my start in politics working for Councilman Gentile and serving on Community Board 10 before that. Being an elected official during COVID-19 has taught me a lot. I saw clearly how many of our neighbors are just one missed paycheck away from losing their home. I saw clearly how inextricably bound we are to one another’s health and safety. Rebuilding after this pandemic is going to be a heavy lift, but I have never been more ready. Now more than ever, we need people in office who will fight like hell for our collective future. I am honored to serve the hardworking people of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and Bensonhurst every single day. New York City isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.     

BP: What’s your political experience? 

JB: There is no standard path. I believe we need more, not less “unconventional” folx running for office. You don’t have to be an Ivy League lawyer or know how to knot a bowtie. Do you care about your neighborhood? Do you have ideas on how to improve it? Can you think outside the box? Are you willing to run through walls and fight like hell for people you don’t know? Then you are qualified to run for office. I believe empathy should be the only prerequisite. Also, solutions. Pointing at stuff and saying “Grrrr! I’m angry and this is a problem!” is easy. Anybody can do that. People wanna know what you’re gonna do about it to make it better and what have you done to show leadership before running for office. 

BP: Since last being interviewed by Brooklyn Paper in March, would you respond differently to what you see as the two biggest challenges in your district? And how would you solve them?

JB: Clean and safe streets remain my number one priority because a clean and safe neighborhood is truly the foundation for everything else. Thanks to the partnership of our neighbors looking out for each other, the men and women of the NYPD, and additional investments in our community and quality of life, crime in our area continues to drop lower and lower and our streets are cleaner thanks to an additional $300,000 towards increased sanitation services in our district.

BP: How would you support the multitude of small businesses on Bay Ridge’s two commercial avenues that have suffered from the pandemic?

JB: It feels good to say “small businesses are the backbone of our local economy” but talk is cheap. And, as the husband of a small business owner, I am well aware that these days, owning a small business is harder than ever before. Small businesses know what to do and what they need in order to thrive, so it always starts with listening to them. Supporting our businesses can mean passing legislation to make their lives easier, and it also means sweating the small stuff that happens on a daily basis. From the beginning of this pandemic, my office has been there to help businesses understand regulations, apply for programs like PPP to help keep the lights on, and to help fight unfair violations on a case-by-case basis. Having a fierce advocate who already knows how all that stuff works is invaluable. Now more than ever, our local businesses need our support. Did you know that for every $100 you spend at a local business, about $68 of that stays in your community? Not only that, but our small businesses are a big part of what keeps our neighborhoods so unique. Without our independent mom and pop stores and restaurants providing flavor, every neighborhood would look the same. We are a community that is truly fortunate to have some incredible small businesses — they are the backbone of our neighborhoods and our local economy. And, as a legislator, I will continue doing everything in my power to make sure things get easier from here and that our local businesses have what they need to recover stronger. But in the meantime, let’s please make sure we are continuing to support our small businesses with everything we’ve got!

BP: Crime has been a pinpoint in the dialogue of this race, what do you know about the district’s crime rates, and if elected, what is your plan to further prevent crime in your district and citywide?

JB: There’s been a lot of noise about this lately — and my desperate opponent and his supporters have been just running around making stuff up about me and our community — so I want to be clear about a couple of things. First of all, I did not vote to defund the police. In fact, this year’s city budget, which I voted for, includes the highest NYPD budget we have ever had. In addition, there are more police in the 68 and 62 Precincts today than there were in 2018 when I was first elected.

Second, as was reported less than a month ago, crime in the 68th Precinct is down and trending even lower.  No victim of a crime wants to hear about statistics and unfortunately, low crime will never mean no crime but facts are facts: crime continues to drop in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, down nearly 20 percent since the beginning of this year. Our community has a great relationship with our local police, and between our precinct, our neighbors, and our other community leaders, I couldn’t be prouder to play for the best home team in the five boroughs. We are all partners in keeping our neighborhoods safe. 

Big picture: when you call 911, someone armed with a gun responds. And that is not always the necessary or appropriate response. We need to let cops do the jobs they signed up for. That means catching bad guys. Cops should not have to respond to non-violent mental health calls, non-violent domestic situations, or situations with people experiencing homelessness.

BP: Do you support vaccine mandates?

 JB: We’ve all been through so much and have come so far. We cannot have a pandemic of the unvaccinated. For everyone’s safety, I want everyone to get vaccinated. If you have questions or concerns, ask your doctor — do not rely on social media for medical advice! Because I support facts and science, I understand why the mandate is now necessary. I also completely understand why small business owners feel overburdened beyond belief at this point and now the city and state are making them the front line enforcement police yet again. Now more than ever, these small businesses need our support. They are trying to take the health, safety, and well-being of their customers and employees seriously while making sure their business survives. The vast majority of the public supports the vaccine mandates. We cannot blame the businesses for enforcing something that the vast majority of the public supports.

BP: There have been three pedestrian fatalities by motorists in District 43 this year, how would you better improve street safety for all users if elected?

JB: Street safety has been a top priority for me since I took office. Even since before I was elected, I can’t tell you how many requests I’ve put in for stop signs, traffic lights, speed bumps, and more in our neighborhoods — and many of my requests have been successful and we’ve made good progress but there’s lots more to do. We have a culture of traffic violence and reckless driving in our community that has gone unchecked for essentially decades. Before I and local partners like Senator Andrew Gounardes took office, no one in local government even talked about this stuff. We need more help both on the street safety/redesign side and with enforcement. I have been a tireless advocate for increased traffic enforcement personnel and resources in our local precincts, and that is a fight I will be proud to continue. I am undeniably committed to improving the safety and livability of our streets so they can be used and shared by everyone.

BP: What endorsements do you have?

JB: 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, ACEC New York, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, CSA, CWA District 1, DC37, District Council of Carpenters, Doctors Council SEIU, HTC, LiUNA-NY, NY and BAC Local 7(Tile,  Marble & Terrazzo), NY-NJ, NY-NJ Regional Joint Board of Workers United/SEIU, NYC CLC, NYSNA, RWDSU, UAW, UFA, UFOA, UFT, USWU, TWU.

Brian Fox

Brian Fox.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Brian Fox: The dramatic uptick in crime is ultimately what made me run. The crime wave we are suffering is self-inflicted — bad policy choices like defunding the police, eliminating cash bail, and ending Broken Window policing brought it on. The City Council needs members who put common sense over ideology, and that’s what I’m all about. When crime skyrockets, New York spirals. Trash and graffiti proliferate, quality of life diminishes as fear grips streets and playgrounds, and an overall sense of lawlessness pervades. We don’t have to live this way. 

I’m also running to fight for my neighbors who deserve their fair share of funding from City Hall for schools, senior centers, playgrounds, trains and buses, trash removal, etc. I’ve got a very loud voice and I intend to use it at City Hall. I’ll also work to bring no-kill animal shelters to the city. 

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in. 

BF: I’m a small business owner who lives and works in Bay Ridge. My family was in the restaurant business historically — diners mostly — and my father became a CPA. After college, I served as a financial advisor, and I now run a staffing agency, finding people jobs for a living. My firm does work in both the US and Canada. I never thought I’d be running for office, but crime compelled me to step forward.  

BP: What’s your political experience?

BF: My political experience has been watching professional politicians screw up this city, sadly. Mayor de Blasio and the incumbent City Council took a city that largely worked and drove it into the ground through poor policy choices. That’s what made me throw my hat in the ring. 

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

BF: Councilman Brannan defunded the police department, supported no-cash bail, and the end of Broken Windows policing, arguably the most effective crime-fighting policy in US history. I will support our cops in every way, and fight to bring back small crime policing because small crimes lead to lawlessness and larger crimes, and by cracking down on them we take guns off the street. I’ll also fight harder for our communities than the incumbent has, ending dangerous practices like drag racing, getting our streets clean, and funding projects for children and seniors. I’ll support charter school expansion, and I’ll fight to keep merit-based Gifted and Talented Schools which have been a ticket to success for countless immigrant families. 

But the biggest difference between Mr. Brannan and me is this: he governs based on ideology; I’ll govern based on common sense. We have a dearth of that in the City Council today and it shows. 

BP: Since last being interviewed by Brooklyn Paper in March, would you respond differently to what you see as the two biggest challenges in your district? And how you would solve them?

BF: Crime remains the number one issue to me, followed by quality of life, and the first directly impacts on the second. Without safe streets, our quality of life is compromised. And I know how to address the crime issue; this city has been here before. We need to bring back Broken Window policing that focused on small crimes; we need to properly fund the NYPD, and we need to get rid of no-cash bail. And again, we need members with common sense on the City Council. The ideologues are ruining us. 

BP: How would you support the multitude of small businesses on Bay Ridge’s two commercial avenues that have suffered from the pandemic? 

BF: Get rid of the vaccine card mandates for starters. They’re punitive and unaffordable. Vaccinated New Yorkers are just as capable of carrying the COVID virus as unvaccinated New Yorkers — science backs that up. I’d also work to stop the harassment of small businesses by state and city government. When they get a letter from city government, is it ever good news? I’d also work to increase community policing to keep storekeepers safe. The spike in thefts and robberies is unacceptable.  

BP: Crime has been a pinpoint in the dialogue of this race, what do you know about the district’s crime rates, and if elected, what is your plan to further prevent crime in your district and citywide?

BF: Again, I would bring back Broken Window policing that focused on small crimes, better fund the NYPD, and get rid of no-cash bail. I’d also work to bring back undercover officers. When you have 88-year-old women being robbed in broad daylight in Bensonhurst and bullets going through apartment windows in Bay Ridge, you’ve got a major problem on your hands. 

BP: Do you support vaccine mandates?

BF: I’m vaccinated; I encourage everyone to be vaccinated and will do so as an elected official, but I don’t support mandates. People have to make choices for themselves. It’s the American way. 

BP: There have been three pedestrian fatalities by motorists in District 43 this year, how would you better improve street safety for all users if elected?

BF: Getting Justin Brannan out from behind the wheel would be a good start. Mr. Brannan has been caught speeding through Brooklyn school safety zones 16 times — 16 times! — and he’s accumulated 60 traffic violations in the past eight years alone. I guess one could call that the arrogance of power. As a City Councilmember, I’ll practice what I preach, and work to slow everyone down. I’ll also stop the drag racing, which Mr. Brannan pledged to do but didn’t. Instead, he joined in.  

BP: What endorsements do you have?

BF: The Detectives Endowment Association; the Lieutenant Endowment Association; Congresswoman Nicole Mallitakis, Assemblyman Mike Tannousis, the Kings County Conservative Party, and the Kings County Republican Party.

New York City’s general election, where voters will make their choices for city council, mayor, public advocate, and more, is Nov. 2. Early voting begins Oct. 23. Find out more about where and how to cast your vote here, and enter your address to view a sample ballot here.

Read Brooklyn Paper’s first interviews with Brannan and Fox here.

Additional reporting by Ben Brachfeld