One candidate wants to downzone the neighborhood. Another wants to remove up to $3 billion from the NYPD’s budget.
Six candidates seeking to replace term-limited District 40 Council Member Mathieu Eugene gathered virtually last night for a forum organized by the Unified Political Association club, and their answers to questions from moderator Hassan Bakiridden shed some light on how they would represent the district that covers portions of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, Midwood and Kensington.
Those candidates included NYPD Lieutenant and whistleblower Edwin Raymond; former staffer for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke Kenya Handy-Hilliard; District Leader Josue Pierre; educators Rita Joseph and Cecilia Cortez; and attorney Blake Morris.
Endorsements and financial disclosures indicate the strongest competitors are Raymond, Handy-Hilliard, Pierre and Joseph, all of whom have maxed out on public matching funds designed to amplify small contributions from city residents. While Raymond has collected the most in private money, Pierre has the largest number of donations from within the district, with 203 to Raymond’s 136.
Pierre also has the backing of major unions including the United Federation of Teachers and the Communication Workers of America, and as District Leader is closely aligned with the Brooklyn Democratic Party, whose controversial leader, Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, is his cousin.
Other notable endorsements include those of major unions 1199 SEIU (Joseph) and District Council 37 (Handy-Hilliard); Public Advocate and son of East Flatbush Jumaane Williams (Raymond); progressive activist Zephyr Teachout (Joseph); and reform-minded political club New Kings Democrats (Handy-Hilliard).
You can watch the full two-hour forum here. Below are a few highlights.
Handy-Hilliard Wants to Downzone the District
In response to a question about land use and affordable housing, Handy-Hilliard said that she wants to scrap the Mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, she wants to push to “downzone our side of the park”—or further restrict the height and density of housing allowed in the area.
“We never got the zoning like other quadrants around the park did,” she said. “And so we need to downzone to create parity, and then we can talk about any other development.”
That proposal may resonate with residents opposed to large-scale development, but it puts her at odds with some planning and housing experts who say the city needs to build more housing throughout the city, including in parts of the 40th Council District. Critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing policy say he has disproportionately upzoned low-income neighborhoods while avoiding wealthier ones.
Elsewhere, she has said she wants to give Community Boards “more power in approving and rejecting zoning requests and public land projects” and has criticized both the rezoning of 1620 Cortelyou Road (as have many other candidates) and a proposal to develop housing at the site of former PS90 on Church Avenue.
You can read more about Handy-Hilliard’s platform here.
Joseph Wants to Remove “Up to $3 Billion” from the NYPD Budget; Raymond Says He’d Push to Be Public Safety Chair
While all the candidates expressed support for removing some power and responsibility from the NYPD, Joseph was unique in calling for “reducing the NYPD’s budget up to $3 billion in the next four years,” the largest dollar figure offered by any candidate in the race.
“The last City Council, they tucked money in different places and claimed it was a cut,” she said. “This time we really want to cut. We want to reinvest that funding into social workers, guidance counselors, nurses, mental health support.”
That position puts Joseph closest to the proposal of mayoral candidate Dianne Morales, who has also called for a $3 billion cut, significantly more than other mayoral candidates.
Handy-Hilliard called for cuts of “at least 1.1 billion, we can start there,” a number cited by another leading mayoral candidate, Maya Wiley. Other candidates did not offer specific numbers, though Raymond, who blew the whistle on alleged arrest quotas pushed by the NYPD, said “one of his main objectives” if elected is to serve as chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee.
“Other people that have held the position have been quite well-meaning,” he said, but “they don’t know the nuances, the operational structure, and they don’t know when they’re being toyed with by the department.”
Pierre Wants to Bring BIDs to the District
In response to a question about how to support small businesses recovering from the pandemic, Pierre said he would support the creation of additional business improvement districts (BIDs)—property-funded nonprofits that offer sanitation and marketing services on commercial corridors. The district currently has two BIDs: one along a stretch of Flatbush Avenue, and another on Church Avenue, both which are run by executive director Lauren Elvers Collins.
“This will be extra sanitation, extra marketing, extra cleanup and an office that actually you can go to as a business owner and deal with real people who will give you some of the resources and push you in the right direction,” he said.
And in an op-ed conveniently published this morning, Pierre got more specific, identifying four possible commercial strips where he would support BID creation: Flatbush Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Church Avenue; Nostrand Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Linden Boulevard; Church Avenue from Rogers Avenue to Brooklyn Avenue; and portions of Cortelyou, Coney Island, and Newkirk Avenues.
Joseph also expressed support for the idea of expanding BIDs, while Handy-Hilliard was more skeptical.
“I think BIDs are great for those corridors that are ready for it,” she said. “There are other corridors in this district that are not ready for it. They can organize to make a very succinct merchants association.”
You can read more about Pierre’s platform here.
All Candidates Support Open Streets; Just One Proposes Specific Locations
All the candidates said they supported the city’s Open Streets program, which turns stretches of the roadway into pedestrian plazas and space for outdoor dining. The program has proven popular amongst New Yorkers and a financial boon for some businesses, but the 40th District currently has just one Open Street, a one-block stretch of East 32nd Street between Snyder and Church Avenues.
The candidates offered differing levels of specificity on what the program should look like in District 40. Raymond said the street locations should be “a decision that the community should make” but said, “there’s really no part of the district we shouldn’t be able to shut down.”
Most other candidates responded similarly, though Pierre, who said he “was skeptical” of the program at first before visiting several Open Streets himself, was brave enough to offer specific ideas for locations.
“Maybe I wouldn’t necessarily want it running straight down Flatbush Avenue because that might not necessarily work,” he said. But he threw out portions of Lefferts Avenue and Martense Street, Lincoln Road near the train station, and Cortelyou Road or its side streets as potential ideas.
“Am I committed to them?” Pierre said. “No. I’m putting them forth for you to consider as a community.”