Brooklyn Focus: Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats Endorsement Meeting
Three candidates turned in questionnaires for the 12th Congressional Seat: incumbent Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, as well as two unknowns, Bruce Hirschfeld and George Martinez. Both Bruce and George seem to be running based on the fact that they AREN'T the incumbent while Nydia is running on her extremely impressive record as both a Congresswoman and as one of corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez's biggest opponents. As far as I can tell neither Bruce nor George has anything that would indicate they have even a remote chance of beating one of Brooklyn's most popular and active Congressional Representatives. I know Nydia and have always found her to be one of the most progressive and enthusiastic representatives and her willingness to stand up to the Brooklyn political machine makes her an especially valuable politician. Nydia Velasquez's voting record is impeccable and she is one of the best members of Congress from any state. Needless to say, CBID endorsed Nydia. Not having met or heard George or Bruce personally I can't say much about them, but their campaign lit and their answers to the CBID questionnaire are not very impressive. Given the fact that I have always been quite happy with Nydia Velasquez in Congress, I heartily endorse her.
The other Congressional candidate at CBID was Kevin Powell, running in the 10th Congressional district against incumbent Ed Towns. I don't have a horse in that race and don't necessarily like either candidate much. Powell has major anger management issues, some of them quite recent, and Towns is not one of my favorite Congressional Reps. So I don't really have an endorsement to make. Only comment I will make is to take note of the first thing Kevin Powell put on his campaign lit, saying:
Kevin is widely considered one of America's most important voices in these early years of the 21st century.
Sorry Kevin, but that strikes me as being pretty pretentious. Kevin certainly has some accomplishments, but come on...I think there are probably quite a few far more important voices in these early years of the 21st century. I'd tone that down, a bit if I was Kevin's campaign manager. CBID endorsesd Kevin Powell for the 10th Congressional seat.
Then we come to the 18th State Senate seat. State Senator Velmanette Montgomery is being challenged by Mark Pollard, who didn't turn in a CBID questionnaire as far as I can tell. Velmanette has been one of the best State Senators we have. Although that isn't necessarily saying much given some of the sleaze we have in the State Senate, Velmanette has always been excellent. She has led the fight against Atlantic Yards overdevelopment, led the fight to clean up the Gowanus Canal, led the fight for better and more effective sex education in our schools, and I have to say, pretty much every fight I support in Albany Velmanette has been at the front of. She takes a leadership role even with issues that don't get much attention, like sex education in our schools. She knows what the community needs and she fights for it. Velmanette is routinely challenged by Bruce Ratner supported nobodies, and has so far had little trouble fending off challenges. She is very popular, very active and very progressive. CBID enthusiastically endorsed her and so do I. Sorry Pollard, but I see no purpose in challenging one of the few State Senators we can really be proud of.
Now I am going to discuss one of the smaller races, though also one of the most contentious. With the retirement of Alan Fleishman (male district leader for the 52nd AD), one of Brooklyn's very, very few genuine reform district leaders, corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez is making a play for that district leader seat. He would have no shot of winning it if the reform minded groups in the district stuck together. His only shot is to hope the reformers split their vote...which, given his success in getting his aide Levin elected to city council over a split reform vote, he has every reason to expect he can do it. And, it seems, he might get his wish. The Vito Lopez corruption candidate is Stephen Williamson, running simply to try and further expand Vito's power and oppose reform. On the reform side there are two candidates, the well-known Chris Owens (son of former Congressman Major Owens and former Congressional candidate himself) who is popular among the more liberal end of the district, and relative unknown Jesse Strauss (I am already starting to conflate the two names into "Jesse Owens").
I know Jesse Strauss from IND and found him likable but was never that impressed with him or his contributions to discussions. However, I don't think he'd be bad as a district leader (though others I know disagree strongly as I will relate below). I just think Chris Owens would be better. Chris knows the district, has been allied with Alan Fleishman and the reform movement for years, and has been part of the fight against Vito Lopez from the start. Jesse seems to have only a vague knowledge of what is required and how to be a reform district leader in an almost solidly machine town. But I have been a friend and supporter of Chris' for some time, so it is no surprise I am supporting him. My main specific objection to Jesse is his opposition to the EPA's cleaning up the Gowanus canal as a Superfund site. As far as I can tell this position helped no one except the developers who wanted to develop the area with only minimal clean up and almost no oversight of that clean up. It seems Jesse is either easily duped by those developers or is basically in the pocket of those same interests. My observations of him at IND gave me the same impression: he was either easily duped by one particular faction at IND (who happened to oppose Superfund status for the Gowanus Canal and oppose it with an almost fanatical intensity) or he was actively allied with them.
But I think it is more telling what one of my remaining contacts in IND (which also had an endorsement meeting the same night as CBID) had to say about Jesse and Chris. This contact (who wishes to remain anonymous) has been no fan of Chris Owens over the years. Yet he tells me he supports Chris for district leader because Jesse showed no clue about the mechanics of the District Leader job while Chris Owens did. He went even further than I might and said of Jesse:
"...this kid [Jesse Strauss] is the public personification of a spoiled narcissistic bastard willing to pursue his insatiable ambition, even at the cost of handing Vito [Lopez] a victory."
Although overall Jesse Strauss has reminded me (and my wife...and others) of David Yassky, mostly in negative ways, it is in this way that Strauss reminds me of Doug Biviano: both seem like "spoiled narcissictic bastard[s] willing to pursue [their] insatiable ambition, even at the cost of handing Vito a victory." I should add that Biviano has already SHOWN himself to be this. Jesse Strauss merely has the potential to do this. My IND connection thinks he will. I am not so sure. I am still willing to give Jesse the benefit of the doubt, but my endorsement, and CBID's, goes to Chris Owens who we KNOW will do a good job.
Since IND endorsed Strauss and CBID endorsed Owens, perhaps Lambda should be a tie breaker and whoever doesn't get the Lambda endorsement should bow out gracefully. I think that is a reasonable idea and strategically smart. I am not sure if either Chris or Jesse are going to withdraw if Lambda doesn't go their way. Chris is strategically savvy enough to probably do so for the greater good of defeating Vito. I am not sure Jesse is savvy enough since he seems to think Vito is unlikely to get more than 20% of the vote in the district. I guess he wasn't paying attention to Steve Levin's win for Vito in an overlapping City Council district. Chris already claims several other endorsements of some significance in the district while Jesse does not. According to Chris Owens' CBID questionnaire, he already has the support of City Councilwoman Tish James, civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, Dan Goldstein of DDDB, and Beverly Corbin of FUREE. So Chris can add CBID to an existing list of impressive supporters. According to Jesse Strauss' questionnaire he has no other endorsements, so IND is the first. However he says he is anticipating the endorsements of Joan Millman and Jo Anne Simon. Still, it seems to me Chris has more community support, he has the connections to actually challenge Vito Lopez in the projects where Jesse will have little credibility, and has a much better idea what he is getting himself into. But let's see what happens after Lambda endorses. I would like to see a unified reform front rather than a repeat of last year's city council race.
Since I have brought up "the Biv" Biviano and that city council race, it seems appropriate to now mention his latest crusade even though I know it will bring me more vitriolic emails from certain of his supporters. I was very harsh on Doug Biviano when he ran for city council because he served no purpose except to further Balkanize the reform vote and ensure a Vito Lopez win in an otherwise reform district. His ego and outright lies about other candidates seemed quite insulting to those of us who knew the district, the candidates and the race better than him. However, I wasn't going to really discuss his run against Joan Millman for Assembly. Other than the fact (pointed out by others) that it seems rather presumptuous to assume that coming in a distant fourth in a city council race somehow sets you up for running for Assembly against possibly the most popular Assembly member in the state (based on raw number of votes received in elections), I have no particular reason to feel Biviano shouldn't run. Unlike his failed city council bid, he can do no real damage running for Assembly against Millman. She will probably cream him, but even if he won there is little actual philosophical difference between them. Their temperaments are diametrically opposed (with Millman's being the preferable in most ways), but their basic positions on most issues are about the same. And, most importantly, his running a probably losing campaign against Millman is in no way that I can see enabling Vito Lopez the way his losing campaign for City Council did. So I say go for it in this case, Biv. I like Joan and think she has been one of the better Assembly members, but she has made some really poor choices of allies recently and may well need a challenge to remind her of those who REALLY support her rather than just broker deals with her to get their way in a local political club. But my wife had some really choice words about Biviano, and my readers know I always find her insights and phrasing to be particularly to the point and sharp. Here is what Joy had to say about Biviano:
Doug Biviano had an insane "angry populist" demeanor in both his appearance before the club and his responses to the questionnaire. I actually commented on it to him, and asked him whether he felt that Albany suffers from an excess of congeniality. His responses to the club and in the questionnaire were generally nonsensical, e.g., "I'm a Cornell-educated civil engineer, and I know waste when I see it! Joan Millman! Argh!" ...Other highlights include answering the question in the questionnaire about how much money he's raised with, "You'll find out when everyone else does in July" followed by a request for donations (I take it that means $0, but I didn't ask him that question). Loon-o-rama...
He really irritated me - maybe it's genuine (in which case he's just an idiot), but I really felt that the whole faux populist routine was calculated, and insulting to our intelligence...
Again, I say Biviano does no real harm running against Millman and may even give Millman some much needed reminders of who her real friends are. But Joy was quite turned off by him. Needless to say CBID endorsed Joan Millman. She has also been endorsed by IND and Lambda. Now I know I am going to get some hate mail from Biviano's campaign. Save it, folks. I'm not even your most vocal critic from the left/reform side. Learn from the city council race and think long term. Attacking critics who have some sympathy for your views only loses you potential allies later.
Also endorsed by CBID so far have been Assemblyman Jim Brennan, State Senators Eric Adams and Daniel Squadron and, at a previous endorsement meeting, District Leader Jo Anne Simon. District leaders Jake Gold and Lori Knipel were also both endorsed despite their rather heated rivalry.