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Citizens Union hosts 33rd candidates at SFC

Those battling candidates for the open 33rd City Council district seat continued to get in their digs at each other and plead their case last week.

The latest forum where candidates Jo Anne Simon, Steve Levin, Evan Thies, Ken Diamondstone, Doug Biviano, Ken Baer and Isaac Abraham debated the issues was at the Citizens Union-sponsored debate at St. Francis College.

The district encompasses Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Williamsburg and parts of Park Slope.

Simon, the 57th Assembly co-District Leader; Levin, who has close ties to Assemblymember and Kings County Democratic boss Vito Lopez, and Thies, the former chief of staff for outgoing City Councilmember David Yassky, continued to paint themselves as experienced legislative and community leaders.

Diamondstone, Biviano and Baer portrayed themselves as reformers and outsiders seeking change, while Abraham appeared to characterize himself as a longtime community activist with his own deep resources in the community.

Of the three outsider candidates, Biviano went on the attack first. When asked why he was running, he replied, “to get rid of the machine establishment” style of Thies, Simon and Levin.

This similar theme was echoed by Abraham, who said he was running, “because I’m an independent. I don’t kiss rings.”

In regard to issues in the district, all said that overdevelopment and affordable housing were major issues, but had different views on what to do about it.

Diamondstone said developers were playing by a different set of rules, allowing them to get more subsidies with little concern for the community.

Levin said he helped draft legislation to end the 421-a subsidy that developers were getting. To receive the subsidy, they must now include at least 20 percent of all units they build for affordable housing, he said.

Levin also said all new developments must take into account infrastructure needs such as more police and school support as well as utility upgrades.

Simon agreed that infrastructure concerns should play a part in any new development, and said she believed any new developments should include community-based planning.

Thies said his plan to deal with overdevelopment is called “360-degree planning,” which would require all city agencies to look at any and all problems created by impending developments.

Abraham pointed to the Broadway Triangle in Williamsburg and alleged that certain developers received preferential treatment.

He also said that federal stimulus money should fund some affordable housing developments.

Baer said he believed in community-based planning, while Biviano said corruption was the real problem behind much of the overdevelopment. He again attacked Simon, Thies and Levin for being insiders who have favored certain zoning changes that have allowed large developers into the community.

“It’s either incompetence or complicity,” he said.

Simon, who many see as the frontrunner, appeared to take the most criticism for not being decisive enough on her views toward such issues as how to fund Brooklyn Bridge Park and how to clean up the Gowanus Canal.

But Simon defended herself, noting that she is willing to listen to all sides and serve as a consensus builder.

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