In its most public manifestations, politics is not only a contact sport but also live theater. That latter aspect was clearly on display during a forum for candidates in the special election being held in the 40th Councilmanic District, where a vacancy occurred when the former Councilmember, Yvette Clarke, moved on to Congress. While a whopping 13 individuals filed petitions to be on the ballot in the February 20th election, a full nine showed up at the forum, which was held in the Flatbush coffeehouse, Vox Pop, at Cortelyou and Stratford Roads. These were (in alphabetical order) Karlene Gordon, Jesse Hamilton, Gerry Hopkins, Zenobia McNally, Mohammed Moe Razvi, Harry Schiffman, Wellington Sharpe, Joel Toney and Leithland Rickie Tulloch. The remaining four candidates who filed petitions Mozell Albright, Mathieu Eugene, Jennifer James and Ferdinand Zizi did not appear. At Vox Pop, those who participated in the cordial, at times even humorous forum which was MCd by owner and activist Sander Hicks had the opportunity to position their candidacies during opening statements and in response to questions that required longer answers. But, they also had to as think on their feet during a lightning round of questions requiring one-word answers: Hillary or Barack?; Do you support a car-free Prospect Park?; What about same-sex marriage? It feels like were a singing group up here, remarked Hamilton during the round, as he stood with four other candidates on the tiny stage. But then again, as Hicks noted at one point during the forum, Were not the League of Women Voters. Were Vox Pop. Candidates Speak Razvi pitched his candidacy around his existing efforts to help immigrants, to improve services to youth, and to counter the backlash against Islamic people that he foresaw after 9/11. Here in Brooklyn, we need to know each other, get along with each other, Razvi stressed. We need to unite the communities, not divide them. Hopkins sounded a similar theme. Brooklyn, New York and the United States is a nation of immigrants, he told the crowd. I stand here as an immigrant who has spent half of his life living in the U.S., all within the 40th Council District. Much of that time, Hopkins added, has been spent in community-oriented pursuits working with young people by developing a conflict resolution program, and working on a lawsuit against the city of New York, For police brutality. Hopkins has the backing of City Councilmember Charles Barron. For Toney, his history of community service and his experience in diplomacy are keys to his suitability to the job. He also reminded his listeners of his experience as co-chair of the Community Board 14 environmental committee, helping in the redevelopment of parks, and working with former Councilmember Una Clarke to take the vendors off Flatbush Avenue, and relocate them in a special vendors market. Rezoning a Priority Tulloch, too, has had a long history of community activism. As the chairperson of the Community Board 17 Land Use Committee, he pushed for a rezoning of portions of East Flatbush, he told the crowd, Prior to it becoming an issue in the community. Rezoning is essential, he said, because, Developers are knocking down small buildings, especially the Victorian homes, and erecting these big buildings that are totally out of character with the neighborhood. Tulloch also said he was, Committed to bringing resources to the 40th C.D., including funding that would enable immigrants To get the services they need, and funding for the health care sector and child care providers. He also pointed out that he had been endorsed by one of the areas Assemblymembers, Rhoda Jacobs. Schiffman, too, focused on retaining the communitys scale and protecting the older, architecturally significant houses in the neighborhood. Its not right that 200 houses in this community are threatened with destruction, Schiffman contended. We cant let that happen. The other piece is landmark status, as a number of the neighborhoods around here want to be landmarked. But, he added, in addition, We need to make housing affordable. We cant have people paying 25 percent of their income for housing. And, Schiffman added, Tenants need to be protected too. A second area Schiffman focused on was health care. Among the issues he brought up were the closing of Caledonian Hospital Whos going to provide health care services when Caledonian closes? he asked as well as conditions such as obesity, diabetes and asthma which afflict area residents. Joint Venture Sharpe described himself as a community activist living in the East Flatbush area since 1974. Noting that each and every one of us have very good credentials, he tried to differentiate himself as someone who has, Worked with the Brooklyn City Council delegation for years. Sharpe has been endorsed by City Councilmembers Kendall Stewart, Lew Fidler and Domenic Recchia as well as by State Senator John Sampson, because, he said, The people Ive worked with over the years understand that it is necessary to work together. You cant go into the City Council to work by yourself. What that means is that Ill be able to work with other elected officials to get their support to bring goods and services into the community. Education in particular received Sharpes attention. He said he would like to see 15 percent of seats in every school district set aside for gifted children, and expanded funding for early childhood education. Gordon, for her part, said she had decided to run because she saw a void in the community in terms of elected officials taking responsibility to make positive changes. Citing the impending closing and restructuring of Tilden and South Shore High Schools, Gordon said, When schools fail, the answer is not to close down the schools. Its to hold the leaders accountable. In addition to being accountable, you have to be compassionate. If you close down schools, youre sending a horrible message to students and the community. Focus on Youth McNally, when she spoke, reminded the crowd that she had previously run for the seat. Noting that she had lived in the district for 40 years, she said issues included gangs. One of the things we need to do, she stressed, is start engaging children in things other than gang-related activities. One of the reasons they are joining gangs is that they have no place to go. Another major issue in the area is traffic, and particularly truck traffic, McNally said. She told the crowd she would advocate for the Cross Harbor Tunnel, as, A way of getting truck traffic out of this area and out of Brooklyn. McNally also said she would work for economic development. She said that having young people work alongside union tradespeople on projects such as the renovation of the Loews Kings would be doubly beneficial. Not only would we have a beautiful building but the youth would have skills, McNally noted. Hamilton also brandished his community activism credentials. A vice president of Community Board 8, and a former president of School Board 17, Hamilton said one of his current efforts is, Providing pro bono legal services for people who dont have the resources. Over all, said Hamilton, he would be an advocate, Fighting on behalf of working people who are working every day and cant afford to make ends meet, should he be elected to the City Council. He has been endorsed by DC 37. Housing is a critical issue, attested Hamilton. While he said, We have to make sure eminent domain isnt abused, he also contended, If we could use eminent domain to build a stadium, we can use eminent domain to build affordable housing. One key, he said, is, Find(ing) a way to balance density of housing with affordability. More Housing Thoughts The issue of housing, indeed, got more play than most. One idea brought up by Hopkins was to allow Section 8 vouchers to be used to pay off mortgages, With whatever savings people may have so, over time, they can graduate and become homeowners. Toney, at one point, told the crowd he would, Work with the City Council to make sure the process of down-zoning is speeded up. I love this neighborhood. I would like to see it preserved. He also suggested rehabilitating both abandoned properties and the upper floors on commercial strips for affordable housing. Schiffman said that one idea that could be explored would be to add housing on top of one-story libraries. And, Tulloch suggested that affordable housing could be protected if the city had a bigger role in rent stabilization, which currently is overseen ultimately by the state. We have to maintain the housing stock through rent stabilization, he said. Its the key to making sure people stay in
©2007 Community News Group
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