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Despite a dwindling budget to do the job, the four candidates for public advocate participated in an often spirited exchange in their latest encounter.
The verbal joust came in a Community Newspaper Group/Brooklyn Independent Televison-sponsored debate to be shown on BCAT TV Network
Squaring off for the public advocate position, in which the office budget has been cut from $3 million to $1.7 million in the past eight years, were City Councilmembers Bill de Blasio and Eric Gioia, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and former public advocate Mark Green.
Under the incisive questioning of Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman and CNG reporters Stephen Stirling of the Queens Times-Ledgers newspapers and Dan Beekman from the Bronx Times-Reporter, the four candidates were given an hour to pontificate and take shots at each other.
All four candidates started by noting that the position’s budget should not be cut.
While Siegel said the office could be funded through grants and other types of fundraising, de Blasio maintained that the office should have an independent city budget along with some possible outside funding.
Both Green and Gioia pointed out that part of the role of public advocate is to act as a watchdog over the mayor and City Council, the very government entities that cut the budget of the position.
Among the most spirited discussions centered around the issue of the $4.9 billion Atlantic Yards project at the Atlantic/Flatbush avenues intersection.
Gioia claimed Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner sold a “bill of goods” to the people to move ahead with the project and he was against it receiving more subsidies. He also suggested the NBA’s Nets move to Sunnyside, Queens.
Siegel said he thought the arena was a ruse to gain control of the site and suggested a venue be built in Coney Island. Additionally, he said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the use of eminent domain for a private developer.
De Blasio said in the past he has supported the project for the jobs and affordable housing it would create, and that while he still supports it, he is against the way the process is moving forward.
De Blasio added he is against the project receiving more subsidies, and said there should be a new EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and a full disclosure of the current project plan.
Upon being pressed on the issue, de Blasio said the neighborhood around Atlantic Yards is rapidly gentrifying and without affordable housing it would be further gentrified.
Green said he is against additional subsidies for the project, but noted that there is a substantial public benefit. He also pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled that the use of eminent domain is legal, even through private developers, if it is in good faith for economic development.
The candidates also denounced the use of ticketing small businesses and residents as a revenue raiser. They spokee about the recent report that the city is paying one-way tickets for homeless and jobless foreigners to return to their native country.
Siegel said it appears the program creates an option and is voluntary. Gioia said it could be useful in some circumstances, but should be used carefully.
De Blasio said he agreed with Siegel, but found it atrocious that the city charges rent for people who live in shelters.
At this point, Green said de Blasio was wrong and that rent for homeless people in shelters was dropped, but that the number of homeless families has gone up 20 percent during the Bloomberg administration.
De Blasio responded that the policy of charging people rent to live in homeless shelters was still alive.
The lively debate can be seen in its entirety on Brooklyn Independent Television on the BCAT Network on Friday, August 21 at 9 p.m. and rebroadcast Tuesday, August 25 at 9 p.m.
All shows will be cablecast on the BCAT TV Network on Time Warner 56, Cablevision 69, RCN 84 and Verizon 44.
It will also be available online 24 – 48 hours after the airing at www.bricartsmedia.org/bitspecials.
Coverage of each race and more can be found on CNG’s website www.boropolitics.com.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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