This week, a crowd of approximately 70 residents, community leaders and reporters from nine newspapers gathered in the basement of 1st Spanish Presbyterian Church expecting a raucous debate among candidates running for the 34th Council District seat.
There was one problem: onlyone candidate, incumbent Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg) showed up.
The two other challengers, Maritza Davila and Gerry Esposito, confirmed earlier that day that they would not be attending.
“Our main goal was to get the candidates here and make it comfortable for everyone,” said Rob Solano, who organized the debate with the newspaper El Diario at the church, located at 161 South 3rd Street in Williamsburg.“We worked very hard to make sure all three were here.”
A spokesperson for the Davila campaign said that while they were interested, Davila had another event to go to Monday night that conflicted with the debate.Morgan Pehme, a spokesperson for the Esposito campaign, said that his candidate would not be participating in the debate, one reason being there had been too many events scheduled near the end of the race. Instead, Esposito attended a prior engagement.
“We invite the Brooklyn Paper and the Courier to organize a debate, invite all three candidates to attend, decide what the rules will be and we will be there,” said Pehme. “We are happy to debate.Gerry is happy to debate in a forum that is impartial.It will be no-holes-barred.” (Editor’s note: this paper did invite the candidates to a debate on August 25, which had to be postponed due to conflicting schedules.)
Privately, both camps asserted that Solano’s testimony in the Broadway Triangle rezoning debates at Community Board 1 meetings this summer and his financial contribution of $175 to the Reyna campaign in March 2009 made them uncomfortable about participating.
Solano dismissed the concerns, saying that El Diario, El Puente and The Greenpoint Gazette were brought in to sponsor the debate and that the questions were collected by El Diario.
Nevertheless, the show continued on as Reyna gamely answered questions from the audience for an hour in both English and Spanish.
“These last eight years have been a long journey of trying to deliver services for the community and place community first before politics,” said Reyna.
Throughout the question and answer period, Reyna touched on a wide range of topics from mayoral control of schools to gang violence to broken elevators in public housing complexes.
With the first question of the night, a former Los Sures board member asked Reyna about her stance on mayoral control and the growth of charter schools.Reyna said that there is not enough dialogue between charter schools and the public school system and that she favored stronger municipal control as a check against the Department of Education.
Marty Needelman, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services, asked why the Broadway Triangle was an important issue even though it resides outside Reyna’s Council district.
“We cannot expect real leadership when we allow the Broadway Triangle to be developed with site control given to two organizations on city-owned land while 40 organizations were excluded,” said Reyna.“It shouldn’t matter [whether it is in the district].I represent the people of this district.”
Broadway Triangle Community Coalition leader Juan Ramos changed the topic, asking what Reyna would do to ensure public safety while helping provide opportunities for youths interested in joining gangs.
“Last year there was a huge spike in youth arrests and there have been improvements this year,” said Reyna.“We have to make sure we work with organizations like El Puente, working with local youth councils and get access to anti-gang funding.”
Many members of the audience, including Reyna, expressed disappointment that the two other candidates in the race did not attend the debate as the campaigns are nearing their conclusion.
“This is unacceptable behavior.Our community deserves leadership, not cowardice,” said Reyna.