More Details on the Race for the 40th & HDC's candidate forum
Hot seat: Nine vie for council post – Candidates court voters at P.S. 217
By Helen Klein
This time, the focus was neighborhood preservation.
Candidates for the vacant seat in the 40th Councilmanic District, gathered at Public School 217, Newkirk and Coney Island Avenues, for a forum organized by the Historic Districts Council (HDC), which put the changing face of the district first and foremost. Partnering with HDC in organizing the forum were a laundry list of local civic organizations with an interest in historic preservation.
Why hone the focus so closely? While there are many issues of importance, ‘Brooklyn is undergoing an intense and almost unreal real estate boom,” noted Simeon Bankoff, HDC’s executive director. “It’s bringing a lot of money and amenities into the area. It’s also affecting the neighborhood in ways we never imagined, driven by the white hot real estate market.”
The nine candidates attending the forum were Mathieu Eugene, Karlene Gordon, Gerry Hopkins (who is off the ballot but still fighting for reinstatement and pledging to run as a write-in candidate if all else fails), Zenobia McNally, Mohammad “Moe” Razvi, Harry Schiffman, Wellington Sharpe, Joel Toney and Leithland “Rickie” Tulloch. Two candidates – Jesse Hamilton and Jennifer James – did not attend.
McNally said that, “There are ways to build responsibly. I don’t think knocking down two buildings in Stratford Road is a way of building responsibly.”
Beyond that, she said, that day-to-day concerns would be a focus for her. “I know there’s an interest in having beautiful, old-fashioned lampposts on Cortelyou Road. That’s nice, and we should do it, but the other light posts need to have bulbs that work. You can’t be coming home in the dark. If the sewer system is 100 years old, it needs to be fixed.”
McNally was one of two candidates present to say she was against the Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn, as an “unconscionable abuse of eminent domain.” (The other was Gordon.) With respect to the affordable housing component, McNally asked, “What’s affordable, and to whom?” adding, “The benefits being reaped by the developer are way out of scale.”
Schiffman took the opportunity to remind his listeners of his preservation bona fides. He told them that he and his wife had purchased a home in the landmark district of Prospect Park South, eight years ago, “Because we wanted to live in a Victorian home, preserve a Victorian home.”
He said he had been active in trying to protect adjacent neighborhoods, bringing City Councilmember Tony Avella, a strong advocate for preservation, to Ditmas Park West to work with neighborhood residents to change zoning that currently “threatens” some 200 homes with destruction, because their underlying zoning would allow apartment buildings to be constructed.
One issue Schiffman brought up was illegal conversions. They are “not safe, not good for the neighborhood,” he contended, because of increased possibility of fires, as well as increases in sanitation issues.
Community Based Zoning
Sharpe, introducing himself as a community activist of 33 years standing, said that he believed that rezoning, “Should be done on a community basis.”
Objecting to a broad brush which would assume the same needs in divergent parts of the district, he said, “In this area, affordable housing and zoning are totally different from East Flatbush and East New York.
“I’m not going to use scare tactics to get votes,” he added. “I’m telling you hard decisions have to be made and I will make them. I will get things done working with others. I will work closely with them to get zoning laws passed. I want to be your voice in the City Council.”
Toney, who is a resident of Ditmas Park West, also spoke passionately about the beauties of Flatbush’s Victorian enclaves. “When I moved to the neighborhood 18 years ago,” he said, “I did so because I was in love with the neighborhood, the Victorian houses, the trees, the schools.”
Because of development pressures, Toney noted, “Less than two blocks from here there are two empty spaces. Two months ago, there were lovely Victorian homes on those spots, but there are some developers who are intent on destroying our neighborhood. They are going to put up six-story condos in the midst of our lovely Victorian homes. As a city councilmember, I won’t stand for that.
“Affordable housing must be built,” he added, “but, being built, must allow for community involvement that will protect neighborhoods from unscrupulous developers.”
Tulloch also pounded his preservation credentials. He told his listeners that as Land Use chairperson for Community Board 17, he had, “Taken action , over two years ago, before over-development entered the community,” proposing a plan for rezoning that would protect the areas whose underlying zoning renders them most vulnerable.
In the western end of the district, said Tulloch, a major concern is the preservation of the Victorian homes, and the prevention of over-development on the lots they occupy.
He said he would work with community organizations in Midwood Park and Fiske Terrace to bring to fruition their landmarking application now before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). “I’m the candidate who has done something about the issue resonating in the community,” Tulloch added.
Tulloch also said he would try to get a seat on the Landmarks and Land Use Committees, because preservation was, “An issue dear to my heart.”
Despite the focus on neighborhood preservation and development, many of the candidates came prepared with their standard pitches.
Eugene described himself as, “A fighter and an advocate for children’s rights and parents rights.” Through the organization he founded, Youth for Education and Sports (YES), he said, “I’ve been taking children out of the streets, and making them positive, peaceful citizens. In order to make a difference in their lives, I’ve dedicated myself to improving their quality of life.”
In addition, said Eugene, he has been “a bridge between members of different communities. I want to go to City Hall to continue to do what I’ve been doing for many years, improving the life of people in the community.”
Asked about preservation issues, Eugene said the Victorian neighborhoods “should be preserved. I will work very hard with other city councilmembers to pass legislation to preserve the beauty, and I will make sure that people in the community get access to the decision making.”
Gordon spoke of educational concerns and her work to aid victims of domestic violence, noting that as a part of Voices of Women, an organization of survivors of domestic violence, she has, “Been able to address many social issues relating to domestic violence such as housing, unemployment, crime and education. It’s made me an advocate for many of our social issues.
Asked about how she would deal with over-development, she said she was in favor of down-zoning as well as increasing funding for LPC. She also said she would, “Put together a task force to make sure that whatever down-zoning decisions made are adhered to, and to make sure that someone is held accountable.”
Hopkins, for his part, positioned himself as a lawyer, a journalist and a civic activist, as well as being “Very active in my church.” Among other things, he said he had been “working closely” with civic activist Sam Taitt to establish a credit union in Flatbu
sh. “I’m your candidate,” he told the crowd, noting that if he is not restored to the ballot, he would be, “The people’s write-in candidate.”
When asked what he would do for preservation, he said he would, “Fight for more funding for landmark preservation in New York City.” LPC, he said, “Is doing the job with hardly any funding.” He also said that, “You have to ensure neighborhood preservation and balance that with ensuring having sufficient affordable housing.”
Razvi told the crowd about his growth in the arena of civic activism, from local businessperson to the founder of an organization that helped residents deal with immigration and educational issues among others. He had been galvanized, he said, by the events of 9/11, which had cast a shadow over members of the Pakistani-American community.
“What I am is a man of action and achievement. All my life, I have been working for the community.” Among his accomplishments, he specifically mentioned “We Are All Brooklyn,” which brought more than 80 varied organizations together as advocates for cross-cultural cooperation.
Asked specifically what he would do to protect the neighborhood from over-development, he said he would try to get a seat on the council’s Land Use Committee. In addition, he said, he would organize area residents to stage a press conference where they could voice their concerns. “That causes the change,” he proclaimed.
©Courier-Life Publications 2007