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The race for Flatbush’s 45th Council District isn’t filled with like-minded candidates.
Rather, it includes one woman, two candidates described as interlopers, the incumbent and the other guy.
That was the Breakfast Club-style breakdown of Monday’s raucous debate, a collaboration between Community News Group and Brooklyn Independent Television (BIT) on the BCAT TV Network.
Gathering at the BCAT TV Network studios in downtown Brooklyn, five of the constantly changing field of six candidates took part in the lively debate that touched on issues of the district’s high rate of HIV/AIDS cases, the city’s plan of making Church Avenue one way, the rezoning of East Flatbush and the state of local schools.
Candidates attending the forum included incumbent Kendall Stewart, Samuel Taitt, Dexter McKenzie, Jumaane Williams and Erlene King, who claimed that she was allowed back on the ballot during a last-minute court hearing that morning.
King’s petition signatures were challenged by Williams’ camp, who claimed that the signatures did not come with a summary cover sheet. King was reportedly put back on the ballot when her attorneys proved she did not need to file a summary cover sheet because she did not file any omnibus petitions, she claimed.
As this paper went to press, King’s legal troubles were not over. Her attorneys were back in court Tuesday morning fighting another legal challenge by Williams’ supporters.
As of late Tuesday, the Board of Elections had yet to receive a judge’s order to put her back on the ballot.
Ernest Emmanuel is also a candidate, but was inadvertently not invited to the debate. He declined an opportunity by this paper to answer the same questions put to the candidates.
While it is odd for five people to run against an incumbent councilmember -- a fact noted by moderator Brian Vines of BIT and CNG reporter Helen Klein, who posed several questions at the debate -- Taitt said that the fact that so many people are running against Stewart showed “a perception that the incumbent was not doing a good job.”
Stewart, who is seeking his third term in the 45th District, which includes part of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands and Midwood, said that he was “happy” that there were so many people in the race.
“It’s a Democratic time and I am happy that there were so many people running against me,” said Stewart. “But they’re going to be running against my history of service to the community.”
Opponents disputed Stewart’s impact on the 45th District. McKenzie even said that Stewart’s legislative career was composed of “eight years of recklessness and horrendous judgements.”
Candidates continued to lob bombs at Stewart by challenging his stalwart support of the Mayor’s repeal of term limits, which Williams said “completely disregarded and obscenely disrespected the will of the people” who voted for term limits in two referendums.
“We always talk about these banana dictatorships where the people don’t get a vote or a say,” added Taitt. “[The repealing of term limits] was a banana republic type of decision.”
In an awkward moment, Stewart stood by his support of the term limits repeal, claiming that council members “were elected to make the tough decisions.”
The hits against Stewart kept coming during a special section of the debate when each candidate was allowed to ask one of their challengers a question.
Williams used his time to harp on a recent Daily News article that Stewart hadn’t fixed major violations regarding rat and vermin infestations on a property he owns in the district.
Stewart said that most of the violations were fixed and then fired back, claiming that a property Williams owned had even more violations. He then linked Williams to another recently published article that claimed that a private agency affiliated with the Working Families Party, which supports Williams, was illegally supporting candidates the ad-hoc group of voters were backing.
“Do you know that [their support] was illegal?” Stewart asked.
“I pay for all my services,” Williams countered. “The story got the facts mixed up.”
Throughout the debate, Stewart referred to a set of statistics on his lap, claiming that city schools improved under his watch. Other candidates questioned just what had improved, however.
“The schools are a mess,” said King, when asked if she agreed with mayoral control of city schools.
“There are a host of other problems that our kids are going through,” said McKenzie, who said that positive test scores are not the only way to evaluate a child’s success. “There needs to be a better approach.”
King charged that both McKenzie and Williams were “interlopers” who had just moved into the district. Both disputed her allegation, claiming that they have been helping the communities in the 45th District for years.
Yet while she claimed that she had over 30 years experience as a neighborhood community organizer, King brought her own neighborhood know-how into question when she said she didn’t know much about the plan to make Church Avenue one-way.
Throughout the debate, the candidates proved that they clearly know about their challengers, warts and all.
Yet it remains unclear if residents of the district know anything about the race at all.
In an “unscientific poll” he conducted over the weekend, Vines said he walked the distance between the Brooklyn College station and Kendall Stewart’s office on Flatbush Avenue and asked 100 people if they knew who was running in the race.
Only a third of those asks could answer the question, Vines said.
Tune into BCAT TV Network next week to watch this debate, as well as forums for the 39th and 33rd Council districts, the public advocate race and the comptroller race hosted by CNG and Brooklyn Independent Television on the BCAT TV Network.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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