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DiBrienza: I’m back, baby, I’m back!

The Brooklyn Paper
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Former City Councilman Steve DiBrienza — who represented Park Slope and Windsor Terrace for 16 years before leaving elected office at the end of 2000 — now says he’ll run for his old seat again, jumping into a race that already has six candidates.

“I’m in it,” DiBrienza told The Brooklyn Paper last week after Crain’s Insider, a political gossip column, reported that DiBrienza was “preparing to run for his former Council seat,” which he was forced to vacate because of term limits.

Currently, Brad Lander, Bob Zuckerman, Craig Hammerman, Josh Skaller and Gary Reilly have declared their candidacies. John Heyer, who works for Borough President Markowitz, has expressed an interest, but not formally thrown his hat into the three-ring circus.

DiBrienza’s competitors, who have been fundraising for the last year in anticipation of the rare open seat, were not excited by the former councilman’s entry into the race.

“He’s been out of the picture for almost a decade now,” said Hammerman, who ran for the seat once before and has been district manager of Community Board 6 for the entirety of DiBrienza’s exile.

“It’s been a while since he’s been at all the meetings, so I don’t whether he is up to speed on the issues.”

Hammerman did say that DiBrienza would be “good at raising money,” which could be a problem, given that six men are currently trying to tap into the same revenue stream in a district that covers parts of Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.

Lander, who runs the Pratt Center for Community Development and is one of the front-runners in the race, said the public would see through the DiBrienza gambit because “the community is hungry for new leadership … at this critical juncture.”

Like other candidates in the race, he reminded that he “has been active on issues from stopping overdevelopment to saving affordable housing to saving Long Island College Hospital to campaign finance reform to more public pre-K seats.”

Hours after DiBrienza announced his return to the race, Lander’s camp rushed out a press release trumpeting a key endorsement: newly minted state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) had made his preference known, saying Lander has “a rare combination of gifts — big ideals, detailed knowledge, and the ability to use both to create concrete change.”

Zuckerman, who currently runs the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, also mocked DiBrienza’s return from the political graveyard.

“In these extremely challenging times, it’s more important than ever [to] look to the future, not to the past, for new ideas and solutions to the problems our communities confront,” he said.

After his 16-year run in the Council, DiBrienza, a resident of Windsor Terrace, ran for public advocate in 2001, losing to eventual winner Betsy Gotbaum. He has been practicing law and teaching courses on public affairs at Baruch College since.

“I feel as connected as ever to the district,” he told The Brooklyn Paper.

If he is known for anything, DiBrienza is best remembered for battling the Giuliani administration over its treatment of the homeless. At one point in the fight, the former mayor sought to evict several community organizations and Community Board 6 from a building at 250 Baltic St. in the Cobble Hill portion of DiBrienza’s district and turn it into a homeless shelter.

The mayor never made good on his threat, and DiBrienza hailed it as a victory.

Of course, one man’s “victory” is another man’s over-reach — especially if the other man is one of DiBrienza’s opponents. Hammerman remembered the battle with Giuliani quite differently.

“I understand why DiBrienza would have hailed it as a victory, but the victory was in fact a community triumph over the Giuliani Administra­tion,” Hammerman said.

“The community organizing that took place, much of it at my conference table (if it could only speak!), resulted in the involvement of thousands of people. … Cobble Hill exploded into an irresistable force the Giuliani Administation was ill prepared to meet.”

“It was Cobble Hill that took on the responsibility to clean up the mess created by DiBrienza’s antagonism of the administration and Giuliani’s vindictive response to it,” Hammerman concluded.

For now, however, DiBrienza says his issues are “protecting public education,” “making our neighborhoods livable,” and working to ensure that “the Council itself is a force for good and is dramatic, bold and strong.”

He dismissed the notion that it is time for new blood in the seat, which DeBlasio has held for two terms.

“I’m just as much ‘new blood’ as they are in many ways,” he said. “Yes, I have a great background in how the Council works, but I have been away, so my energy is as new and as fresh as theirs.

“I will have just as hard a time as anyone else to get the public’s vote,” he added. “But I do think some people remember my terms on the Council fondly.”

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Reader Feedback

Charles from Bklyn says:
This is exactly the reason why New Yorkers voted twice for term limits. We need new, fresh and untainted persons walking through the doors of power, not former politicans walking through a revolving door. The Bloomberg 29 and Mr. Bloomberg should be thrown out of office, along with anyone else who is using the term limits repeal as an opportunity.
Jan. 31, 2009, 11:47 am
Anony from Park Slope says:
DiBrienza would have been able to run anyway, the old rules clearly allowed for it.

Also, he is clearly is the most qualified for the position. A lawyer who helps people in the community, and a professor at Baruch College.
Jan. 31, 2009, 6:42 pm
James from Carroll Gardens says:
DiBrienza, most qualified? Give me a break! He's just a has-been who wants his old job back. He hasn't done one thing in the community since he left office. Where's he been on overdevelopment? on term limits? on anything? He hasn't done one thing for us. And now he wants us to give him his old job back. What kind of dupes does he think we are?
Jan. 31, 2009, 10:01 pm
Sloper from Park Slope says:
I find it more than interesting that several comments in support of DiBrienza have been cut from this site while others critical of him have not been. That is not responsible journalism.

DiBrienza has been vocal on local issues as a Professor of Public Policy at Baruch College, and has helped people in ways that are more significant than simple protest as an attorney working in Windsor Terrace.

Let this race be decided on the merits, not on cheap personal attacks that are inacurrate and desperate. I understand that some other candidates might be scared that a candidate with a great reputation for fighting for the community, high name recognition, and the experience to win this campaign has come on the scene, but these posters sound shrill in their response.
Feb. 1, 2009, 9:43 am
Ed Weintrob (Brooklyn Paper) says:
Because of a technical problem with The Paper's servers, some comments posted on Friday were dropped. They should be restored sometime on Monday.

Ed Weintrob
Feb. 1, 2009, 2 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
I would like to withdraw my previous statement on term limits. There was an opportunity for Mr. DiBrienze to serve again after a full term has expired after two or more terms in office.
I stand corrected by Anony from PS. Thks.

Notwithstanding, I would further state I am sorry that the term limits amendments to the NYC charter had this provision. Enough with the revolving door of government and the private sector. The intent of term limits is clear: serve and get out. The will of the voters was overturned, and New Yorkers need to wake up and smell the corruption.

As for Mr. DiBrienze, a known factor many years ago, the word on the street is that his financial dealings and connections should be rigorously inspected and vetted by the press and public.
Feb. 2, 2009, 10:38 am
James from Carroll Gardens says:
Sloper --

It is totally "on the merits" to point out that DiBrienza has done nothing for the community since day he left office.

He has not been "vocal on local issues" -- show me one scrap of evidence that he's done anything at all on the issues we are facing. And being a lawyer in private practice is just how he makes money, not how he helps the community.

The fact that he misses his old job is not a reason for anyone to vote for him.
Feb. 2, 2009, 10:50 am
anon from Carroll Gardens says:
Great news.
When I voted for term limits my motivation was to ensure Guiliani's departure but when I made that decision I knew that it would also unfortunately ensure Steve's departure.
Unlike my experience with our current councilmember, Steve is accessible and is a straight shooter.
Feb. 2, 2009, 11:47 am
Wanda from Gowanus says:
DiBrienza helped a bit on the community garden issue against Giuliani, but tis is an ill-advised gambit. Gotta give respect to Lander from Pratt. Wish the real progressives could coalesce around a candidate.
Feb. 2, 2009, 12:05 pm
South Brooklyner from Carroll Gardens says:
Steve DiBrienza was always an outspoken advocate for the people. He let his voice on the issues be heard, whether it was against Mayor Giuliani's proposals or for something for the community. His style was always open and full of energy. He worked hard and deserves his run for the seat. I hope he wins!
Feb. 2, 2009, 10:31 pm
anon from cobble hill says:
I am totally underwhelmed. I guess he is having trouble earning an honest living as a lawyer
Feb. 2, 2009, 10:42 pm
Steve from Park Slope says:
If he does indeed run, he'll have my vote.
Feb. 7, 2009, 10:38 am
Rik Little from Park Slope says:
Steve Debrienza was a GREAT public servant (the very best in the old city council) and I hope he gets elected again
Nov. 15, 2010, 5:26 pm

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