Last year was taken up with fundraising and calling in favors. The winter was filled with bland meet-and-greets. June was wasted collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot. But with just two months to go before the Sept. 15 Democratic primary election — tantamount to victory in most Brooklyn neighborhoods — the race for key City Council seats in Brownstone Brooklyn are about to go into hyperdrive.
This year’s battle features two open seats with big fields (Districts 33 and 39), an Oedipal struggle between the county’s boss and his former protege (District 34), a mini-showdown over Atlantic Yards (District 35), and a weak challenge to a weak incumbent (District 38).
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Parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Downtown, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope
The tense race for the fightin’ 33rd almost turned into a brawl this week, after candidate Steve Levin — the chief of staff to Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick) who has racked up the most endorsements — filed preliminary objections against two rivals.
Levin — whose most important backing, of course, is that of his boss, who is also Democratic Party chairman — sent shockwaves throughout the district this week when his friends and staffers moved to kick frontrunners Jo Anne Simon and Evan Thies off the ballot.
But Levin told The Brooklyn Paper that the preliminary objections to those candidates’ nominating petitions were standard operating procedure, and he promised he wouldn’t log any official challenges against his foes before Monday’s deadline.
Simon — a Democratic District leader and civil rights lawyer who has raised an astounding $103,383 — says the kerfluffle was an attempt to “distract me from my campaign, and I am not going to be distracted.”
Thies — a North Brooklyn activist and former staffer of Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) — called the objections “a common tactic employed by machine politicians.”
But that’s hardly the only big issue in crowded race, which also includes Hasidic activist Isaac Abraham, lively upstart Doug Biviano, environmentalist Ken Baer and perennial candidate Ken Diamondstone.
Key issues in the race include the city’s contentious plan to rezone the Broadway Triangle in the district (everyone opposes the city’s plan, except for Levin, whose boss supports it), and the lack of parkland and affordable housing in the district (everyone wants more of both).
Parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick
The extension of term limits allowed Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg) to run for re-election, but that doesn’t mean she’s guaranteed another four years in the office.
Her campaign is focusing on affordable housing, senior services, job training and gang violence, but her opposition to the city’s controversial plans to rezone the Broadway Triangle in South Williamsburg has opened her up to criticism from supporters of the proposal.
As such, Reyna’s main opponent is backed by none other than the county’s powerful party boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick), who supports the city’s plan and used to be Reyna’s mentor.
“She has not been vigilant — she has not been here. You should be more attentive to what’s happening in your district, than what’s happening in someone else’s district,” said Council hopeful Maritza Davila, who works for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — an organization that is poised to receive coveted affordable housing bonds for the residential redevelopment of the Broadway Triangle.
Making matters more interesting, Davila, as well as Community Board 1 Chair Gerry Esposito — who is campaigning as a reformer capable of cleaning up the Council and is not backed by Lopez — have raised $80,430 and $79,784, respectively, while Reyna has only secured $63,389.
Davila’s sympathizers have already issued preliminary objections to Reyna’s campaign petitions, but it remains uncertain whether or not they will file an official challenge.
Rounding out the field is Gladys Santiago, a longshot.
Parts of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights
Democratic incumbent Letitia James would have been eligible for re-election even without the term limits extension, but that hasn’t stopped two challengers from entering the political ring to unseat her.
Delia Hunley-Adossa, a pro–Atlantic Yards neighborhood activist, and Medhanie Estiphanos, an unknown newcomer, seek to defy the odds — no sitting councilmembers lost in 2005 — and beat James.
James is popular in her district and holds all the advantages of incumbency, but her Achilles heel could be her paltry fundraising, making it tougher to flood the district with a pro-Tish message. Unlike other legislators, she had not focused on fundraising, and has raised just $31,030 compared to the surprisingly strong $22,585 raised by Hunley-Adossa, whose support for the troubled Atlantic Yards project has helped her raise money from labor and construction unions.
Red Hook and parts of Park Slope and Windsor Terrace
Sara Gonzalez, the Democratic incumbent with few Council accomplishments under her belt, is on cruise control to re-election.
Her path back to City Hall became a lot easier when David Galarza, a well-funded previous candidate, dropped out of the race last year, leaving Sunset Park lawyer Robinson Iglesias as the main challenger.
He’s raised $6,264 — barely enough to even pretend to be competitive. Gonzalez has long been dogged by reports of poor attendance in the Council and a limited track record of achievements.
Parts of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and Kensington
The race for outgoing Councilman Bill DeBlasio’s seat is one of the most hotly contested campaigns in the city. This wacky field includes five Democrats, two Republicans and even one Green.
Running under the Democratic banner are John Heyer, a funeral director; Brad Lander, the former director of the Pratt Center for Community Development; Gary Reilly, an attorney; Josh Skaller, an IT director; and Bob Zuckerman, the former director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. All five have been active in various civic organizations and are cut from the similar cloth on policy issues — except for Heyer.
The aide to Borough President Markowitz found himself at the center of a controversy in the early days of the campaign for his distinct views on gay marriage. Though his critics labeled him a conservative for not supporting same-sex marriage outright, Heyer has staked out perhaps the most liberal territory by saying that all state-sanctioned nuptials, gay or straight, should be civil unions, not marriages.
Lander and Skaller have emerged as front-runners, with Lander touting his “16-year record” of “making people’s lives better,” and Skaller championing himself for not taking donations from real-estate developers. The two are also battling for public school parents — a key demographic in the district. Skaller’s child does not attend public school while Lander’s two kids do.
In such a spirited field, it all comes down to street presence. Whoever knocks on the most doors, shakes the most hands, and figures out a way to get some attention will become the next representative.
The GOP primary has already been marred by the recent “stolen petition” scandal of George Smith. But with that behind him, he’ll face Joe Nardiello. Both men are relatively unknown — and whoever wins is headed for an inevitable defeat in November.
©2009 Community News Group
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