FLATBUSH – We’ve been reaching out to District 40 Council Member Mathieu Eugene for a year, asking for an interview, but all we got were excuses.
Eugene has been representing Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens since 2007. In the 2017 primaries, he faced challengers Brian Cunningham and Pia Raymond, and won, despite some odd practices witnessed on election day. There’s a law against campaigning in polling places, but Eugene was caught doing that anyway, which is why, the day after elections, I decided to reach out to Eugene for an interview.
The year-long email thread began on Nov. 8, 2017, when I emailed his Director of Communications, Adam Ullian.
Ullian responded exactly four minutes later saying, “I will let him know that you’re interested in speaking with him this morning.” It was a quick response, something I, as a reporter, am not used to getting. I was rather excited.
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Unfortunately, Ullian did not get back to me. In fact, I reached out to him again on Dec. 1, asking “Any luck?”
Ullian responded exactly six minutes later saying the Council Member did not want to comment on the election.
Electioneering is not allowed. The law states, “While the polls are open no person shall do any electioneering within the polling place, or within a one hundred foot radial measured from the entrances, designated by the inspectors of election, to a building where the registration is being conducted. No political banner, poster or placard shall be allowed in or upon the place of registration during any day of registration.”
Surely, if Eugene has been in office for ten years, he must know the rules.
I emailed Ullian back, letting him know I still needed an interview. I told him I wanted to profile the Council Member; I wanted to know his plans for next term and him to elaborate on issues he’s worked on in the past. I told him I didn’t have any specific questions for him at the moment.
Ullian responded 12 minutes later saying, “Got it. Do you have a specific day/time you’d like to speak with him?”
I told him Friday worked best. I also told him I could do a phone interview or come to his office. Or he could come to the Bklyner office. Anything to make it easier for him.
Was I desperate? Hell yes.
Three months passed by and I got no response. So, on March 9, 2018, I emailed Ullian again asking, “Any updates on an interview?”
He responded back about an hour later saying, “Unfortunately not. If the Council Member has time in his schedule I will reach out.”
The Council Member must have been extremely busy because I didn’t hear back for another month.
I emailed him again on April 10. Before sending the email, I thought – what if I wasn’t specific enough. So I asked, “Any chance for an interview with CM Eugene sometime this week?”
About thirty minutes later, Ullian wrote that Eugene was busy with the budget season.
The Council Member must have drowned in his budget season because I didn’t hear back for another two months.
On June 29, I emailed again and asked if Eugene has time to speak the following week. Ullian, always quick to respond, said, “I will check and let you know if he has time to speak with you.”
On Sept. 7, I emailed again asking (again) if Eugene has time for an interview “any time soon.” Unfortunately, the quick-response spell ended and Ullian has not written back to this day.
Every single level of government needs to be held responsible– yes, that includes Council Members in the City Council. Mr. Eugene, why were you electioneering? Why did it take you over four years to install a traffic light and crosswalk outside a public school? Why were you ranked one of the worst on the environmental scorecard, not once, but two years in a row, despite you working really hard during the budget season (legislative and budget actions by the Council are essential to accomplishing environmental goals like cleaner air or less trash on our streets)?
In the decade that you have been representing Flatbush, rents have gone up, overcrowding has gone up, rent burden has gone up, and poverty in your district has gone up. You talk plenty about affordable housing, so how come affordable housing units have not gone up in your district?
Mr. Eugene, why do you live in a rent-stabilized apartment in your district when you are a landlord of two presumably market-rate buildings nearby? Heck, we didn’t even know where you lived for a couple of years, and why you failed to pay your rent a few times while living in your Flatbush apartment.
You are ranked 20th in constituent services; what are you doing to make up for that? You are the first primary sponsor for eight enacted bills in your ten years in office. How come? You abstained from voting on a bill aimed at closing anti-abortion clinics. When you were asked about that in a debate, you said, “When the mother’s health comes into question, and I ask them what they want to do, they always opt to have the baby out of love. I believe we should leave it up to the woman.” With Roe v Wade in jeopardy, what do you tell women in your district? Are you with them or are you not?
Transparency is essential for a Democracy to function. As a journalist, it is my responsibility to ask Eugene questions and hold him responsible to his ineffectiveness. As a constituent, I deserve answers. Citing budget season and being too occupied is not good enough.
So, Mr. Eugene, why won’t you answer my questions?