Saturday, April 25, 2009

39th Council District Candidates Submit To Tough Questioning At 'Dazzle Me' Forum

"Dazzle Me" moderators Rita Miller and Vincent Joseph
Josh Skaller
Gary Reilly
David Pechefsky John Heyer
Bob Zuckerman
Brad Lander
This last Saturday, it may have been almost 90 degrees outside, but on stage, in the Carroll Gardens Library meeting room, it was even hotter. For almost two hours, the six candidates for the 39th Council district seat, currently held by Bill DeBlasio, were subjected to tough questioning on issues that are important to Carroll Gardeners. 

Organized by Coalition for Respectful Development (CORD) and by South Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (S0BNA), the event was moderated by Rita Miller and Vince Joseph who skillfully directed specific questions to David Pechefsky, Gary Reilly, John Heyer, Brad Lander, Bob Zuckerman and Josh Skaller individually, before allowing the others to give a one minute response on the same topic. 

Vince Joseph prefaced the forum by stating that none of the organizers of the event had a preference or had chosen a candidate to support. He also stated in no uncertain terms that the questioning was biased, tailored specifically to each candidate, based on the answers to a questionnaire sent to the candidates in advance. 
Rita Miller compared the event to a job interview, an opportunity to choose the candidate who would do the best job for the Carroll Gardens community. She told the candidates that this event was not to be used as another campaign stop, but as a frank discussion on issues that matter most in this neighborhood. 

To this end, candidates had been told beforehand that they would not be allowed to distribute their campaign literature. As one of the organizers, I can attest that a lot of hard work went into the questioning. Great care was taken to address the individual candidates' strengths and weaknesses as well as to give each the chance to explain their positions. 

One of the most important topics covered at the forum was the Gowanus Canal's proposed designation as a Superfund site by the E.P.A.. David Pechefsky, a Green party candidate from Park Slope, is in full support of the designation, stating that the clean-up is a project of such complexity, that no piecemeal approach will do. 

Josh Skaller, a former President of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, is 100% for the Superfund nomination, and is urging a "holistic" approach. 
John Heyer, a 5th generation Carroll Gardener (with the 6th on its way) wants the canal cleaned up "the best way and the quickest way" without specifically saying yes or no to Superfund, though he did state that there were "no funds in the Superfund". 
Bob Zuckerman, Director of the not-for profit Gowanus Canal Community development Corporation, was leaning towards the designation, but was "not there yet". He would like to see a coordinated effort of all the agencies to work together towards a clean-up. He also brought up the lack of funding for Superfund. 
Brad Lander, Director of the Pratt Center For Community Development, is skeptical of a Superfund designation without a commitment for necessary funds. He would like to see the EPA clean up the canal first with their monies and then go after the polluters to recoup the cost. 
The best answer, in my opinion, came from Gary Reilly, an environmental and land use attorney who sees the potential Superfund designation as a " tremendously positive development". He feels that the NYS Department Of Environmental Conservation changed the discussion on the Gowanus Canal when they asked the EPA to take over the clean-up and " took it out of our hands". He also set the record straight about funding for Superfund, by reminding everyone that the government has just allocated $ 600 million in additional funds for the Superfund program. 

Other questioning touched on issues as varied as Public Place, over-development, congestion pricing, 421A Tax abatement and transparency and inclusion of the public in decision making. Below is a small sampling of questions and answers by the various candidates. 

Gary Reilly on transportation issues and congestion pricing: The fare hike is "the worst thing that can happen to ordinary people". Under Governor Pataki, New York State replaced dedicated funding for transportation systems with debt. He would like to see the funding restored. 

John Heyer on his own vision for the Gowanus Canal: He is concerned for the people who are living along the canal right now. His family, which lives close to the canal, has "no member who did not have cancer". His mother suffered three miscarriages. He would like the re-zoning of the area to include space for artists and creative businesses and light manufacturing. 

Bob Zuckerman on staying in contact with constituents should he be elected: He would visit various neighborhoods in his district in regular intervals with a converted bookmobile truck (a Zuckmobile) so that "you don't have to come to your council office, the office will come to you." ( Vince Joseph wanted to know if it would play music, and Rita Miller asked if stamps would be available.) 

Josh Skaller when asked about affordable housing, the 421 A Tax Abatement and the glut of newly developed apartments: Skaller stated that "the road to affordable housing will not come from luxury development". Developers drive up housing prices for the rest of the community. Given the glut of new developments that currently sit empty, he would advocate for the purchase and conversion of these units to affordable housing by the city. He added that he would wait until a development goes into forclosure in order to purchase at the best price.

Brad Lander was asked if the Public Place project should move forward in light of the severity of toxic substance pollution and the possible designation of the canal as a Superfund site. Lander expressed his hope that the public place development move forward as quickly as possible stating that the project will include 2/3 affordable housing. 

David Pechefsky on how to improve the workings of the city council in order to integrate the community which feels increasingly marginalized: "I hear your frustration" answered Pechefsky, who has worked in NYC Government for 12 years. He explained that there is a structural problem within the council, giving the Council Speaker all the power. He would like to see the various committees strengthened and better staffed in order to allow greater autonomy and thereby more power exercised by our councilmembers and citizens. 

After the questioning, the candidates freely mingled with the public. In many ways, the community is in an enviable position. All candidates are well qualified and performed very well under tough questioning. Who will ultimately get the job is difficult to predict at this point. 
For Carroll Gardeners, it may come down to where the candidates stand on Public Place and the Gowanus Canal nomination as a Superfund site. What was your impression of the various candidates, dear Reader? Related Reading:

The "Dazzle Me" After-Party

Six Hungry Candidates at the Dazzle Me Forum (OTBKB) More Thoughts On the Dazzle Me Forum (OTBKB)
For Home Page, click Pardon Me For Asking


Cynthia said...

Thank you Katia, Rita, and everyone else for organizing this event. I really wish I could have been there but it is Little League season so I was in Prospect Park.

david pechefsky said...

Thanks to the organizers for this great event.
For some reason the link to my website from the post doesn't seem to work. Here it is:

Kelly said...

Hi David,
I just fixed the link. Thanks for pointing it out!

Anonymous said...

As someone who attended, I'd like to thank you for an excellent reporting job. As with the moderaters your preferrence,if any, is nowhere to been seen. As for the exent, it was very informative. I know have a better idea of who I will not vote for.

Anonymous said...

In addition to well-prepared and thoughtful candidates, the moderators dazzled me! They were extremely well-informed and asked the tough questions that are fundamental to Carroll Gardens residents getting the representation they desperately need. It is often said that the electorate get what they deserve. With this forum, we earned the right to intelligent, thoughtful, transparent, responsive representation that reflects both our knowledge of the issues and the candidates'commitment to truly supporting us.

Mary Hedge

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your coverage of the Dazzle Me forum, and special thanks to the organizers for putting on a great event.

One small correction: I am not skeptical about Superfund designation, and I don't believe I said this at the event. I am supportive of, and optimistic about Superfund designation; as part of that designation, I want to see a commitment that we'll get the resources we need to clean the Canal.

As I understand it, the EPA has the authority to proceed in two different ways. In one way, they would start litigation against many potentially responsible parties, and wait to see if those lawsuits win enough money to begin cleaning the canal (a process which could take many years, and might never yield enough money for cleanup). In the second way, they can agree to start providing resources for cleanup, while they are beginning to bring litigation, so that cleanup can get started. The second way seems the right answer to me -- designation, with cleanup. And that is what I am going to fight for.


Brad Lander

Anonymous said...

The forum spent a lot of time on the Gowanus and Superfund. I think Brad's approach is a good one and he was not the only candidate to articulate a sensible approach. Start the EPA clean up now while litigation starts as well. We need our leaders, politicians, city and state government to work with developers, especially Toll Brothers to stop grandstanding over this. Stop threatening to pull out and join the good fight to get EPA to put up money now and begin to clean . If Mr De Blasio and Toll Brothers want to be constructive, do not threaten us and try to split the neighborhood over this idea of a loss of city and state funding and a threat to lose development options. Bring parties together. Let the community get involved in the development of other areas of the Gowanus besides the ones in question now. Let's look at the big picture, stop spot rezoning and the favoritism it seems to display. Clean the area and it will be a jewel for public and private development. I would like to see more sincerity here and less threats. I also would like to find a good pragmatic and not derisive political voice out there and look with some hope that maybe Daniel Squadron who is making sincere attempts to be creative and inclusive will take some leadership on this. I believe as state senator it falls to his jurisdiction and certainly it does as a community leader.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Rita and company for organizing this event. While I couldn't attend because of the kids' Saturday activities, I'm grateful that you brought this to our community, and also for the reporting here by Katia.
This is a great start of the conversations that each of these candidates needs to have with our community.