I'd like to thank the Q at Parkside's highly paid intern for taking notes at last night's Candidate Forum. To the haters who say I'm biased against the incumbent (guilty as charged), I bear no responsibility for the below comments, though I do trust the writer to stick to the facts. By the way, don't blame me if mine is the only blog or media outlet covering this election. It's a sad state of affairs when you Google this election and come up with zip, save some dorky blog.
The four candidates for City Council in the 40th District met
Thursday night for a "Candidates Forum" that was notable
for the broad agreement expressed, and for one pointed and baffling
exchange between the incumbent and his best-funded challenger.
Two candidates arrived on time: John Grant, an engineer with the
New York Transit Authority, and Sylvia Kinard, an attorney who
formerly worked for the New York State Division of Housing and
Community Renewal. The forum began only with the arrival, a few
minutes late, of Saundra Thomas, the former President of Community
Affairs with WABC and the only candidate in the 40th District to
qualify for New York City matching funds.
Mr. Grant, Ms. Kinard and Ms. Thomas were in broad agreement about
the needs of the district, but disagreed on the correct approach.
All three agreed on the need for a City Councilperson who would
encourage small business in the district. Ms. Kinard emphasized the
need for a greater presence in the district by the New York City
Department of Small Business Services; Ms. Thomas emphasized the need
for new BIDS, or business improvement districts, on local avenues;
Mr. Grant emphasized the need for more credit to be made available to
local small business owners.
Likewise, all three agreed on the need for affordable housing in
the district. Ms. Kinard emphasized the need for tax incentives for
working and middle income developments; Ms. Thomas emphasized that
plenty of affordable housing stock exists, but that residents are
being illegally displaced, and that better advocacy was needed to
make sure that existing laws are enforced; Mr. Grant again emphasized
the need for more credit, this time to potential home buyers.
Likewise, all three agreed that something needed to be done to
improve access to healthcare in the district, and all three believed
that this was largely an issue outside of City Council's control.
And then, an hour after the starting time, the incumbent, Dr.
Mathieu Eugene, arrived.
The theme of the night for Dr. Eugene was, "You name it, I am
doing it." Small business? "We just held a small business
forum," which was why he was late to the debate. Affordable
housing? Dr. Eugene said, "I created hundreds and hundreds of
affordable housing units." Hospitals? Dr. Eugene said he gave
$10 million to Downstate and Kings County Hospitals. The candidates
were asked about the need for zoning changes to preserve the nature
of residential blocks in the neighborhood. Ms. Kinard and Ms. Thomas
both spoke of the need for a City Councilmember who would work better
with the Planning Commission. Dr. Eugene replied that he just "sent
a letter to the Commissioner right now."
"I am doing it, I know how to do it, every time there is an
issue, I am there at the forefront," Dr. Eugene said.
The challengers seemed reluctant to challenge Dr. Eugene. An
anonymous question from the audience pointed out a statistic,
recently reported by the Gotham Gazette, that between fiscal years
2009 and 2014 only three City Councilmembers had brought less
discretionary spending to their districts than had Dr. Eugene. Dr.
Eugene called the report false; none of his challengers spoke up.
Asked about what could be done to improve conditions at Wingate Park,
Dr. Eugene spoke of the money he had directed to the Parks
Department, and "also to the Prospect Park Alliance, I gave them
millions of dollars." It was unclear what monies Dr. Eugene was
referring to; none of his challengers spoke up.
Dr. Eugene's brother was in the audience, as were two women whom
Dr. Eugene identified alternately as "on my staff," and as
youth who had benefited from his work with neighborhood youth. Each
time he finished speaking, the three applauded passionately and
The evening's most pointed and most baffling exchange occurred
when the moderater, Pia Raymond, offered the candidates the chance to
ask one another questions.
Saundra Thomas asked Dr. Eugene about term limits as they applied
to his own potential candidacy in 2017—but she flubbed her own
question. She may have meant to ask why, if Eugene voted against the
possibility of a third term for Michael Bloomberg, Eugene wanted a
third term for himself? But what she actually asked was, "Is
it true that you voted for a third term for Bloomberg, and do you
plan to seek a third term in 2017?"
Dr. Eugene saw his chance, and he pounced. He had voted against a
third term for Bloomberg, he declared. He chided Ms. Thomas for not
doing her homework. As for a third term for himself? Grinning
broadly, he said that was in God's hands. And the voters' hands.
John Grant provided the evening's scant moments of humor. When
asked what he would do to stop gang activity in the neighborhood, Mr.
Grant, who has lived in the neighborhood for fifty-three years,
recounted how when he was a boy, the two gangs in the neighborhood
were the Jollystoppers and the Tomahawks. "And I was a member
of the Jollystoppers," he said, quickly adding that what the
neighborhood needed to do was call in the gang members, and "bring
them to the table." When asked what he would do to make Wingate
Park safer, he said the park was already safer than it was when he
was a kid, this time making no mention of the Jollystoppers.
John Grant also provided some of the most specific answers of the
evening. What is the neighborhood's greatest need? Security cameras
and speed bumps. How should discretionary funds be spent in our
district? Solar panels. Does he support contextual zoning? Yes,
because "I have a ham radio" and permitting tall buildings
to come in "screws up my signal."
The forum was organized by the Nostrand Avenue Merchants'
Association, the Visionary Political Action Committee, and the
Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association, and took place
in the basement hall of St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church on
Hawthorne Street. The Rev. Eddie Alleyne graciously concluded the
evening with a reminder that there were refreshments, at the back.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.