The fight to succeed Councilman David Yassky in the 33rd Council district was never considered “scrappy” until Tuesday night, when candidates posed no-holds-barred questions to their opponents and showed some of their true colors in the process.
The outcome of the Park Slope Civic Council’s candidate forum was best described by candidate Ken Baer: “We’re not as congenial as the guys in the 39th Councilmanic District.”
The poorly attended forum was all the more empty due to the absence of two of the seven candidates — Steve Levin and Doug Biviano. Neither, it turns out, was invited in time, though Levin did manage to fax over a statement, which was read to the sparse crowd at PS 282 on Sixth Avenue.
Biviano, the newcomer in the race, was “bummed out,” he said.
“I didn’t know about it until later that night,” he said. “It seems to be an oversight, but I couldn’t sleep and I punched my pillow a few times because I missed this great opportunity to address the voters.”
Pillow feathers in Biviano’s Brooklyn Heights home weren’t the only things that were ruffled. Civic Council President Ken Freeman’s request that the candidates ask each other a question allowed things to come to a full boil.
Ken Diamondstone and Evan Thies immediately turned their attention to front-runner Jo Anne Simon, with Diamondstone taking her to task for her approach to the much-reviled Atlantic Yards project. Simon co-founded Brooklyn Speaks, a group that wants to change Bruce Ratner’s project, rather than backing Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which wants to take the project out of Ratner’s hands entirely.
Simon responded that there are many approaches to fixing Atlantic Yards.
Thies tried to link Simon to John Heyer, who is running as a Democrat in a neighboring council district and is opposed to abortion and gay marriage. Simon didn’t answer Thies’s query, but reiterated that she supports abortion rights.
When it was his turn to question a fellow office-seeker, Isaac Abraham didn’t bother with the interrogative form. Instead, he posed a statement at Thies, arguing that Thies’s claim to have worked on environmental issues was invalid because most of the work was done while Thies was a paid staffer to Yassky.
He ended without posing a question: “I’ve done a lot of work on the environment — all without being paid,” he said.
Baer’s asked all the candidates the same question: “Do you own a car and did you drive it here?” Abraham admitted that drove to the forum. When Baer tried to win points by saying he takes the subway everywhere, the Hasidic activist undermined him with a joke: “Bravo,” he said. “You must have more trust in the MTA than I do.”
Diamondstone spoke of owning a 1991 car with a manual transmission that he uses for trips with his partner to Vermont, prompting one insider to later joke, “In this crowd, having a gay partner probably outweighs the stigma of owning a car!”
Though most of the forum was dedicated to questions submitted by Civic Council members, the “let the candidates ask” portion was the highlight of the night.
“It was definitely more compelling,” Freeman said. “Somebody recommended this to me, and it really worked. There was more of a debate than everyone just making speeches. When they’re given a chance to ask the questions, some of them throw an elbow while others throw softballs.”
The 33rd council district includes parts of Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Boerum Hill.”