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Dazzle me? How about underwhelm me?

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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.

Wherever there is a smoke-filled backroom or a smoke-free barroom, The Brooklyn Paper’s Politicrasher will be there, bringing you the inside dope on our next generation of leaders. Got a hot tip for the Politicrasher? E-mail Newsroom@BrooklynPaper.com.
Updated 5:12 pm, July 9, 2018: Story was updated to reflect more of the Politicrasher's unique perspective.
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Reasonable discourse

park sloper from park slope says:
In my opinion Mr. Zuckerman
came across as friendly and smart.
He has some good ideas.
April 29, 2009, 12:28 am
vince from Carroll Gardens says:
I do not know how you can claim to know a damn thing about local politics, you're very naive. A focus on education and we would have really heard the pladitudes from these guys all wanting "better education". The local councilman lords over land use in his district. That was the focus because that is where the money is. Look at the big polical doners and lobbist in this city. Realestate is bigtime. How they handle zoning and land use may be our best measure of integrity.
April 29, 2009, 11:48 am
david pechefsky from park slope says:
You fail to mention my shiny aluminum eco-friendly water bottle, which stood out in marked contrast to the plastic bottles used by the other candidates.

I have seen over a hundred Council Members in action in my 12 years in City government. This field of candidates is smart and well informed. The questioning was a little heavy on the land use side, but on the whole I thought the organizers did an outstanding job. And believe me I have attended many many government hearings, forums etc. Try the Department of City Planning's pubic hearings on New York City's Consolidated Plan if you thought this boring.
April 30, 2009, 12:28 am
Waterfronter from Columbia Waterfront says:
I was VERY disappointed to hear so many of the candidates endorse Bill DeBlasio for PA. DeBlasio has been beyond invisible and unresponsive to the problems of my neighborhood. You also forgot to mention that - I think it was Heyer - in discussing that the Council chair has too much power, actually suggested that the the PUBLIC ADVOCATE s/b the city council chair. So, guess who would be the next City Council chair in that case?

I do agree that the moderators needed to broaden the spectrum of questions. Literally 3/4 of the time was spent on land use and Gowanus superfund status. I hadn't seen Bob Zuckerman before, but I think some of his ideas are very creative and refreshing. Unfortunately, probably too scary to too many voters though...
April 30, 2009, 10:53 am

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