A crowded field of southern Brooklyn candidates agree on at least one thing.
All eight candidates running to replace term-limited Council Member Alan Maisel in Brooklyn’s 46th Council District committed at a recent forum to launching a participatory budgeting program should they win.
The popular program allows members of the public to propose and develop community projects before voting on which ones to fund. Districts have used the money on everything from park and school infrastructure improvements to a sewing circle for domestic violence survivors and a study of the effects of climate change on bats in Prospect Park. In 2019, 33 Council Members across the city participated.
Maisel, whose district stretches from Canarsie to Marine Park, Mill Basin and portions of Sheepshead Bay, was not one of them. Explaining his disinterest to the Observer in 2015, Maisel argued participatory budgeting benefitted those with the time and organization to push for their projects.
“If you can get together a group of people to push for some project, there can be discrimination against other organizations that don’t have the lobbying skills and organizational effectiveness,” Maisel said then.
To be sure, participatory budgeting has its share of detractors; writer Nicole Gelinas said the program “creates the illusion of good government rather than the reality of good government.”
But the group of Democratic candidates looking to be his successor evidently disagree. At the May 24th forum, organized by community member Lucina Clarke, all of them said they would institute a program in the district.
“I think it’s one of the best ways to make everyone have skin in the game and participate,” candidate Shirley Paul, an attorney, said at the forum.
“The community must be involved at all times,” another candidate, former NYPD officer Judy Newton, told forum attendees. “That’s what the Council Member is elected for, and the Council Member is elected by the community, so we should answer to the community.”
The other candidates—Community Board 18 chair Gardy Brazela, DOE administrator Zuri Jackson-Woods, healthcare worker Mercedes Narcisse, Manhattan DA staffer Tiffany Tucker-Pryor, small business owner R. Dimple Willabus and government veteran Donald Cranston—all agreed, though Cranston insisted voting be done in-person, rather than online.
“People have scammed this participatory budgeting deal in other areas early on,” Cranston said, echoing Maisel’s concerns, “and I would not like our area to be victim to that, especially if you don’t have access to the internet.”
Over 118,000 New Yorkers voted on projects across the city in 2019, allocating more than $39 million in total.
The Council-run participatory budgeting has been suspended since the start of the pandemic, though a few individual Council Members oversaw voting themselves this spring. A fledgling citywide program, established by voters in a 2018 referendum, has been on pause since Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an emergency executive order last April to suspend it as the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the city.
An advisory committee created to oversee the rollout of the citywide initiative has called on the city to provide $500 million to fund it, but de Blasio’s latest executive budget proposal does not include any money for the program.