District 40 Council Candidates Talk Policing, Affordable Housing and Bunny Wailer

District 40 Council Candidates Talk Policing, Affordable Housing and Bunny Wailer

Candidates for Brooklyn’s 40th Council District (Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Midwood) gathered virtually Wednesday night to discuss issues ranging from housing policy and mayoral control of schools to their favorite local business.

Nine candidates looking to replace term-limited Council Member Mathieu Eugene introduced themselves and their vision for the district at the forum, which was co-sponsored by over 20 community groups and businesses.

Those candidates were NYPD whistleblower Edwin Raymond; Kenya Handy Hilliard, a former staffer for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; District Leader Josue Pierre; educators Rita Joseph and Cecilia Cortez; attorney Blake Morris; church administrator Harriet Hines; minister John Williams; and Medgar Evers College student Kenneth Lee.

The competition to replace Eugene, the longest-serving member of the Council, is stiff. Raymond is leading the field in fundraising thus far, with over $90,000 in private contributions, but Joseph, Pierre and Handy-Hilliard have also had strong financial showings.

Meanwhile, prominent elected officials, unions and advocacy groups have started to weigh in with endorsements, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (Raymond); the United Federation of Teachers and New York Communities for Change (both Pierre); and the public employee union DC37 (Handy-Hilliard).

The 2.5-hour event, which you can watch on Facebook, was moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max and the Brooklyn NAACP’s L. Joy Williams. They touched on too many topics to cover here, but below are excerpts from the candidates’ remarks, as well as their responses to “lightning round” questions posed by the moderators.

On how they would create and preserve affordable housing

Pierre wants to create a city “tenant protection unit” to educate renters and enforce tenant laws. He wants to develop housing on city-owned vacant lots, and criticized the proposed development at 1620 Cortelyou Road for not making use of “financing” that would allow for more affordable apartments. He cited Bedford Avenue “when you get closer to Sears” as an area that could support increased housing density.

Williams said he would be “fighting equally for tenants and for landlords.” He said “there is good gentrification and there is bad,” and said he would support “subsidizing” renters to keep them in their homes. He would support “first-time homeownership and the protection of long-term homeowners,” but didn’t specify how.

Handy-Hilliard cited her op-ed in Bklyner opposing a development project at P.S. 90 on Church Avenue, and said the city needs to “triage” renters and homeowners by ensuring state and federal support for rent and mortgage payments. She mentioned community land trusts, and said she wants to “revamp” the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability policies to “bolster community investment” in housing. She said “mortgage fraud and deed theft” were “destabilizing” forces, and said she wants to “close the LLC loophole,” though laws making LLCs more transparent have already been passed in recent years.

Hines wants to create a “community-based” Area Median Income —AMI, the calculation used to measure rents for affordable housing projects—that does not factor in “more affluent counties” outside the city (though this policy is actually set by the federal government). She wants to “have subsidies put in place” for tenants and homeowners, and to “rehabilitate existing structures” instead of developing new ones. She cited her opposition to the proposed development at 1620 Cortelyou, saying she wants more two- and three-bedroom units there.

Morris wants to scrap the city’s rezoning process in favor of “a series of citywide referendums.” The Department of City Planning, he said, would create a list of “30-40 concepts” to present to the public for a months-long review period. The city would then organize a “ranked choice voting” process to identify the most popular zoning proposals, which would become part of a “community-based master plan.” He also suggested using capital budget funds to build “limited equity cooperative housing” on city land, and building housing at the Brooklyn Terminal Market.

Lee said he would “revisit” the AMI, which he called “literally too high.” He would “allocate more of these new buildings to affordable housing” and would create a pathway from shelters to permanent housing, though he didn’t say how.

Raymond said he would “work with federal partners” to create a “more localized” AMI calculation. He said a percentage of “all new development” should be reserved for affordable housing, and said the Council should “create opportunities” for homeownership. He said 1620 Cortelyou should “be preserved as is” because “we will drive out neighbors if we drive up development.” He said “former warehouses” in areas “that are less residential” could handle more development that’s “a little higher, if necessary.”

Cortez said she wants to landmark the western portion of Ditmas Park. She said she’d oppose raising property taxes, and said empty, city-owned lots could be used for housing development, but did not name specific sites.

Joseph said she would strengthen rent regulations to protect tenants from “unfair evictions” and provide tenants with legal services (the city already offers such services to some low income tenants, though Joseph’s campaign later clarified to Bklyner that she was referring to a proposal to expand such access further). She said she would “force developers to do 60-40,” referring to rezoning affordability requirements, and “revisit” the 421a tax break. She also mentioned developing on city-owned lots, but did not name specific sites.

On public safety and policing reform

Handy-Hilliard wants “real front-end investments” in “education, job training, middle-class job access,” which she would fund with $1.1 billion removed from the NYPD budget, though she clarified “I’m not saying ‘get rid of the police.’” She mentioned “strengthening” violence interrupter programs and combining various entities monitoring NYPD conduct to create “streamlined and quicker oversight” on officer wrongdoing.

Hines does not want to cut the police budget, but said “the budget should be used to train police how to deal with people that have a mental disability and stuff” so officers’ “first line of recourse is not just to shoot them.” She mentioned “restorative justice programs” in schools but said she opposed disarming some cops because, as a person with a disability, she would “unable to fight off a person that comes to try to rob me.” She said if complaints are filed against an officer, that officer should undergo “sensitivity training or something,” but if an “officer that has a repetitive behavior,” they should be fired.

Morris said he would “zero out the police budget” as a part of a process of determining the NYPD’s role in city life. He suggested removing police from schools and taking away their oversight of parking meters, street vendors and press passes, roles he called “mission creep.” He wants to “rewrite” the NYPD patrol guide, and said he would support a pilot program to take away weapons from some officers, because “not all police need guns all the time.” He wants to “digitize the process” of filing police misconduct complaints and create “a digital dashboard” to monitor crime and policing activity, and said he supported a “strong, independent” Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Pierre said it was a “false notion” that public safety and police reform were in opposition to each other. He said officers “are not equipped to deal with people who have mental health issues.” He would “reallocate” some NYPD funding to mental health initiatives, provide more funding for the Summer Youth Employment Program, and support an elected CCRB.

Williams said “there is no society that can do without the police” and said he does not support cutting the NYPD budget. He said the police could “play a major role in funding community-based programs” to reduce violence. He cited the 67th Precinct Clergy Council (of which he is a member) as a “bulwark” in ending violence, and said it had facilitated community participation in selecting the precinct’s commanding officer.

Cortez said we have to “re-educate” police to “do their job and protect the community.” She said “we need the police,” but wants the city to ensure “they are not psychologists, they are not counselors.” She would to “demand reforms” from the police academy, and said police should “not be the first responder on many issues.”

Joseph said she wants to “reinvest” some NYPD money into “social work programs, into job programs, and public safety.” She said officers “have no business showing up for mental health calls.” She wants to remove $1 billion from the NYPD budget but “would love to see” $3 billion removed.

Lee said “the police budget needs to be reallocated to other means,” like “community centers, after school programs, robotics competitions” that can “get younger kids off the streets.” He said he wants to build relationships between officers and community members.

Raymond said police reform efforts have been “lackluster” because there’s “a lot of guesswork.” He said “the real issue is deep-seated operational and cultural structure.” He wants to “elevate” justice-minded officers, “shift responsibilities’ and “invest in cure violence” with public funding.

On their favorite small business in the district that they love

On who their second choice would be under ranked choice voting

  • Hines: Handy-Hilliard
  • Morris: Joseph
  • Pierre: Joseph
  • Williams: Morris
  • Handy-Hilliard: Raymond
  • Raymond: “It’s a tie” between Joseph and Handy-Hilliard
  • Cortez: Joseph
  • Joseph: Handy-Hilliard
  • Lee: Joseph

On whether Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign over sexual harassment allegations

  • Pierre, Handy-Hilliard, Hines, Cortez, Joseph and Lee: Yes.
  • Morris and Williams: No.
  • Raymond: “Due process, we gotta investigate.”

On whether they would’ve voted on the city budget passed in June 2020

All candidates said no.

On whether they accept campaign donations from “corporations, landlords or big real estate interests, or police correctional labor organizations.”

All candidates said no.

On whether they support adult-use marijuana legalization

Handy-Hilliard, Morris, Pierre, Raymond, Cortez, Joseph and Lee: Yes.

Hines and Williams: No.

On how they travel around the district

  • Hines: “My scooter.”
  • Morris: “Feet.”
  • Pierre: “My bicycle.”
  • Williams: “Walking.”
  • Handy-Hilliard: “Feet.”
  • Cortez: “Car, bus subway.”
  • Joseph: “Walking, biking and subway.”
  • Lee: “Bike.”
  • Raymond: “Driving and walking.”

On whether they have a favorite record by the recently-deceased Bunny Wailer

  • Hines: No
  • Morris: “I’m sorry, I think I’m too old.”
  • Pierre: “I think I’m too old, too, because I don’t know him.”
  • Williams: “I’m too old.”
  • Handy-Hilliard: “I’m too young.”
  • Joseph: Rise and Shine
  • Lee: “No, I believe I’m too young.”
  • Raymond: Get Up, Stand Up
  • Cortez: “I think I’m too young for that.”

On the New York City leader that most inspires them

  • Morris: Council Member Brad Lander
  • Pierre: Former mayor David Dinkins
  • Williams: Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Handy Hilliard: Former Council Member Una Clarke
  • Hines: “I really don’t have a favorite.”
  • Joseph: Former mayor David Dinkins
  • Lee: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
  • Raymond: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
  • Cortez: Council Member Carlina Rivera

On whether they support expanding municipal voting rights to non-citizen residents

  • Williams, Hines, Lee, Raymond, Handy-Hilliard and Joseph: Yes.
  • Pierre: “Yeah, I think that’s not a bad idea.”
  • Cortez: “Maybe.”
  • Morris: “I want to be an honest broker, so as a city Council Member, I will be leading a discussion in this district on what the voters would like me to vote on.”

On whether they support extending mayoral control of schools

  • Hines, Williams, Joseph, Morris, Raymond, Cortez and Lee: No.
  • Handy-Hilliard: “We have to talk about it. It has to be a good mayor.”
  • Pierre: “Because it depends on which mayor we have, we need a new system. We can’t keep going back and forth on this.”

On whether they support the current plan to build borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island

All candidates said no except Raymond, who said: “From my understanding of the plan, I do support it.”

The primary election is June 22nd.