Brooklyn Focus: NYC 33rd City Council Race: The Most Experienced of the Reform Candidates
So the race boils down to two good candidates, Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone, against the Vito Lopez machine candidate, Steve Levin. I have chosen Jo Anne Simon simply because she has formed a strong coalition of reformers and progressives behind her, even taking endorsements from groups that could have been Diamondstone's core support.
I know both Diamondstone and Simon fairly well and like and respect both. There have been many fights I have participated in where one or both of these candidates were strong advocates for the community. Diamondstone's opposition to Bruce Ratner and his strong support of progressive candiates year after year has been powerfully inspirational. I once had the pleasure of seeing him almost single handedly stand up to the then-Clarence Norman machine (this was right before Norman was convicted and Lopez took over as the crime boss of Brooklyn politics) during their County Committee meeting. Jo Anne Simon has, along with Alan Fleishmen, been one of very few district leaders to routinely stand up to and vote against Vito Lopez in County Committee and Judicial Committee meetings. When Vito Lopez tries to appoint a new judge as a polticial favor, Jo Anne and Alan are the most consistent no votes. In fact, to some degree most of what I know about fighting the machine comes from these three people: Ken Diamondstone, Alan Fleishman and Jo Anne Simon. Jo Anne Simon has also been a long-time advocate for disabled rights including arguing, and winning, a landmark disabled rights case (Barlett v. New York State Board of Law Examiners) before Judge Sotomayor. She has also founded and/or served with several disabled advocacy organizations including Association on Higher Education And Disability, the Committee on Legal Issues Affecting People with Disabilities of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the New York Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. I can say from personal experience, that if I go to Jo Anne Simon with a problem, she takes the time and effort to help.
Ken is more of a firebrand in style, is quicker to take a stand more aggressive in asserting that stand. This is often an approach I respect, but it also can at times make coalition building and compromise harder. Jo Anne is more cautious and thoughtful in her decisions and more focused on building consensus rather than contention. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. But it is quite likely that Jo Anne's approach is more successful, at least at the present, since she is the one who has been able to build a strong coalition backing her candidacy while Diamondstone even lost some of his core support to other candidates.
For example, three organizations could have, together, catapulted Diamondstone to frontrunner status among the reform candidates. Diamondstone had (and presumably still has) a close relationship with Lambda Independent Democrats, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, and Working Families Party. Together, these three organizations would have been the core of a strong coalition that would have been hard to beat. However, Lambda and CBID both endorsed Jo Anne Simon instead of Diamondstone, and Working Families Party has opted to side with the corrupt machine this year in several races, including this one. I know many who voted in one or more of these organizations to endorse Jo Anne Simon who maintain their liking for Diamondstone, but I think it shows Jo Anne Simon's strengths that she was able to make her case and add these two reform clubs to her coalition. Ken's more aggressive and firebrand style failed to bring this coalition together even though it is often quite inspiring to watch at other times.
The coalition supporting Jo Anne Simon includes quite a few individuals and organizations I respect quite strongly. Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez is one of my favorite local politicians and has been one of Vito Lopez's strongest opponents. State Senators Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery as well as Assemblymembers Joan Millman and Jim Brennan have also endorsed Jo Anne. Councilwoman Tish James, one of the strongest opponents of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards scheme has also endorsed Jo Anne. I resepect these electeds far more than I do Steve Levin's corrupt mentor, Assemblyman Vito Lopez. District Leader Alan Fleishman has been Jo Anne's partner in opposing Vito Lopez for years and has endorsed Jo Anne Simon. Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, LAMBDA Independent Democrats, 504 Democrats (focused on disabled rights) and NYC Community Council have all joined Simon's coalition. Many others have as well. Ken Diamondstone also has been endorsed by people I respect drawing from a similar range of support (civil liberties, LGBT rights, anti-Ratner and anti-machine advocates), but nothing like the coalition built by Jo Anne Simon.
Her ability to build this strong coalition of reformers and progressives, her long years of advocacy for disabled rights, and my personal observations of her advocacy for the community and her opposition to Vito Lopez's machine year after year all combined to convince me to support Jo Anne Simon for the 33rd City Council district.