PROSPECT HEIGHTS — On Wednesday night incumbent Laurie Cumbo (D) debated three opponents looking to take her seat representing Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, and Prospect Heights in the City Council.
The debate was an impassioned affair, with Cumbo taking some heat halfway through the evening for her support of the Brooklyn Heights library sale. While candidates took similar positions on charter schools, preservation of green spaces, expansion of green markets, and protection of undocumented residents, there were substantial differences in their approach to transportation policy, bail reforms, and housing developments— although all agreed on the need to take developments out of “public-private partnerships” and into the hands of non-profit developers.
Her opponents were Jabari Brisport (Green Party), Ede Fox (Democrat), and Scott Hutchins (Green Party). Republican candidate Christine Parker was also invited to the forum, but was not able to participate, according to Rachel Holliday Smith from DNAinfo, who moderated the debate.
The four candidates answered 12 questions about their policy positions. Below are the takeaways.
The first two questions addressed transportation. Candidates were asked whether they supported Governor Cuomo’s call for a congestion pricing policy and what a successful plan would require.
Scott Hutchins (G) stated that he was open to a congestion pricing policy but expressed concern that it would not be implemented properly by the MTA. He proposed a “Wall Street transaction tax” of 1%, which he says would make “the MTA free for the citizens who actually have to use it.”
Jabari Brisport (G) supports a congestion pricing policy, and believes a successful plan could include fees for traveling into Manhattan, business hours on weekdays, and areas of peak transportation.
Ede Fox (D) is open to a congestion pricing plan, and added that she wants to see subsidized metrocards for low-income New Yorkers.
Laurie Cumbo (Incumbent, D) does not support congestion pricing, stating that New Yorkers are overtaxed as is.
“Do you support the expansion of bike share programs like Citi Bike and the creation of bike lanes and other cyclist safety features in the district?”
All candidates support the expansion of bike lanes. Cumbo (D) qualified her response stating that she supported expanding bike lanes “responsibly,” and expressed that too often the Department of Transportation rolls out new lanes and bike share programs overnight and without consultation from the community. Cumbo also said that she would like to explore dock-less bike programs, stating that the bike program takes up too much parking.
“Given that HUD is reducing NYCHA funding, what steps should be taken to ensure public housing is adequately maintained?”
Fox (D) believes that the city needs to commit more funds to preserving current affordable housing “no matter what happens with funding at the federal level.”
Cumbo (D), who has served on the NYCHA committee during her City Council term, stressed the importance of including more not-for-profit developers as the city moves forward with the NYCHA Next Gen program.
Hutchins (G) also stated the importance of the city to put funds into NYCHA.
Brisport’s (G) campaign is proposing two new taxes: (1) a vacancy tax on empty lots and empty units, and (2) a property flipping tax.
“Public goods like open space, school facilities and much of the mayor’s goal of 80,000 new affordable apartments will be produced through partnerships with private developers, who will receive subsidized financing and tax abatements for their projects. Do you believe this policy of partnering with private developers to create public goods such as these is working well for the people of New York City? If not, what will you do about that?”
Cumbo (D) stated that the city needs to work with more not-for-profit developers and believes that working exclusively with the top developers in New York City is the wrong model. She suggested working with the 5th Avenue Committee, Pratt Area Community Council, and developers that intend to hire locally.
Hutchins (G) does not support partnering with private developers. “We need to get the profit motive out of this. We need to create community land trusts. We need to stop this private development,” Hutchins said. “All it is is corporate welfare.”
Brisport (G) wants to cut programs that give tax breaks to for-profit developers. “I don’t even like the term ‘public-private partnership,’ Brisport stated. “I think it’s deceptive.”
Fox (D) also does not support public-private partnerships. She supports using not-for-profit developers, but expressed that these need to receive adequate funds from the city in order to be effective.
“Many residents oppose new housing in the 35th district because they believe it causes displacement. But Brooklyn’s population keeps growing. What is your suggestion for creating more apartments to create this growth while ensuring affordability for current residents and businesses?”
Hutchins (G) restated his support of the community land trust model, as well as the importance of creating housing that is affordable for low-income New Yorkers.
Brisport (G) contested the framing of the question, noting that it is not new housing itself that creates displacement, but the development of high-end units. He also noted that in addition to a vacancy and property flipping tax, he wants to explore modular construction as a way to cut costs.
Fox (D) believes that the greatest cause of displacement in the community is landlords who illegally harass and evict tenants from rent stabilized apartments. “We need to enforce laws that protect tenants and provide residents with legal support,” Fox said.
Cumbo (D) noted her involvement on legislation that was passed during her term that ensures every resident who has to go to housing court has legal representation. She also supports the development of transportation and other infrastructure outside of Brooklyn so that people are drawn to other areas.
“Can you give an example of one policy area or decision where you agree strongly with Mayor de Blasio, and one where you do not?”
Brisport (G) supports taxing wealthy residents to fund the MTA. He disagrees with de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.
Fox (D) supports Universal Pre-K and would like to see it expanded to universal after-school care. She does not support public-private partnerships for housing developments.
Cumbo (D) also supports Universal Pre-K. Cumbo disagrees with de Blasio’s solution to homelessness, noting that shelters popping up overnight and lack of community input on locating shelters are problematic.
Hutchins (G) supports de Blasio’s policy of taxing higher-income residents to fund the MTA. Like Cumbo, he does not support de Blasio’s solution to homelessness.
“What is your vision for the Bedford Union Armory in terms of community involvement, affordability levels, and public benefits? What is the minimum of those that you would need to see in order to vote for the Armory’s redevelopment?”
Fox (D) proposed a community land trust model and stressed the need for affordable housing based on the local community’s income. Fox also supports a community center or gym, and thinks the city will need to front more money to support these projects.
Cumbo (D) supports use of the armory for affordable housing, recreational facilities, and space for nonprofits.
Hutchins (G) received both cheers and boos from the audience when he challenged Laurie Cumbo for her support of Councilmember Stephen Levin’s past projects, suggesting that she would not be accountable to the community’s desires for the armory development. “He [Levin] went against what the community wanted for the use of the Brooklyn Heights Library. Can we even trust her?”
Cumbo (D) responded to Hutchins by stating that she supported Levin’s project because it would bring affordable housing into the 35th district, specifically Clinton Hill.
Brisport (G) stated that he does not trust BFC partners as a developer for the armory and wants to see not-for-profit developers.
“A big issue in CB 9 was over zoning and whether we should ask the city to do a zoning study. Do you think that Crown Heights could benefit from looking again at the current zoning and switching that up in any way?”
Cumbo (D) used this time to continue to address Hutchin’s skepticism about her trustworthiness, explaining that she has voted on four developments during her term: The Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, the 1350 Atlantic Blvd development, a tax abatement renewal for affordable housing in Fort Greene, and a 70-30 development on Empire Blvd in Crown Heights. She stated that any other developments that are currently going up were voted on before she was a council member and are not evidence of her “selling out the community”.
Hutchins (G) expressed concern about rezoning leading to gentrification and displacement.
Brisport (G) stressed the importance of community involvement in rezoning efforts.
Fox (D) does not support rezoning, stating that it usually leads to more luxury housing.
“As population density continues to rise, what do you see as the best way to prioritize inclusion of open green space as critical infrastructure in our community? “
All candidates stated general support for preserving green spaces. Hutchins (G) added that developers should be required to include green spaces in their plans.
“Access to healthy local food is a top priority for this community. While programs like Fresh and Health Bucks have made progress in addressing these issues, too many New Yorkers still live in food deserts or do not have access to healthy, affordable food. What are your plans to ensure that every New Yorker has access to fresh, affordable produce?”
Fox (D) supports going back to New York’s history of providing public markets. She also supports purchasing land and building supermarkets.
Cumbo (D) noted past work instating green markets at public housing sites and putting resources into local food pantries.
Hutchins (G) favors expansion of green markets and keeping supermarkets in the community.
Brisport (G) would like to see more money put into food rescue and cutting back on waste. He also supports the expansion of green markets and wants to explore mobile food markets as a food access model.
“How will you protect undocumented members of our community?”
Cumbo (D) stressed the importance of providing undocumented persons with legal representation, and noted the work her office is doing to put these persons on track to receiving their green cards.
Hutchins (G) supports providing undocumented residents with legal aid and protecting New York City’s sanctuary status.
Brisport (G) also noted the importance of providing legal support to undocumented citizens, and added that he would fight to sever all ties between the NYPD and ICE.
Fox (D) said that she would try to legislate a “sanctuary plan” that would lay out how all agencies in New York City should go about protecting the data of New York City residents who interact with these agencies.
“The council is considering a package of five bills to reform the NYC bail system. What strategies do you think would be most effective in preventing accused persons from spending unnecessary time on Rikers Island, and why?”
Hutchins (G ) supports eliminating bail altogether. “The real purpose of bail is to make a profit,” Hutchins said.
Brisport (G) believes the most important reforms put forward are those that would allow convicted individuals to reach out to family before they are sent to Rikers Island, as well as allowing individuals to access to their personal belongings so that they can post bail before they are sent. “It’s a criminalization of people for simply being poor,” Brisport said, referring to the current bail system.
Fox (D) said she supports all the efforts to reform the bail system, and added that she supports regulating the industry that is providing the bail bonds.
Cumbo (D) stated her belief that people who have not committed violent crimes should not have to go to through the bail bond system.
“Do you support charter schools generally, and would you support an expansion of charter schools in District 35?”
Hutchins (G) does not support charter schools and advocates removing public funds for them.
Brisport (D) intends to sever additional funding for charter schools. “They siphon money away from our public schools and kick students out who are underperforming to fudge their numbers and success,” he said.
Fox (D) does not support charter schools and proposes a cap on opening new ones.
Cumbo (D) also opposes any increase of charter schools, but stressed the sensitivity required when considering how many Brooklyn children are already enrolled in the schools. “We need to work on having equity across the board,” Cumbo said.
“We currently do not have enough public school spaces, and even fewer middle school spaces, in the district. What would you do to ensure that our community has sufficient high quality public and middle school seats?”
Fox (D) said that she will prioritize analyzing the formulas that Brooklyn uses to determine when additional schools are needed. Fox believes the proposed school at the Atlantic Yards site is necessary to relieve stress on other schools in the district.
Cumbo (D) stated the importance of making sure new developments include school buildings when appropriate.
Hutchins (G) supports getting charter schools out of spaces that should be used for public schools.
Brisport (G) supports cutting funding for charter schools in order to free up funds for building new public schools.