In Public Service: Dilan calls Bushwick city’s ‘best kept secret’

January 6, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assemblymember Erik Dilan in his district office on Cornelia Street. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas
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Assemblymember Erik Dilan was born and raised in Bushwick, the neighborhood he now represents in the state Legislature, and in an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, he called it “the city’s best kept secret.”

There are so many wonderful things about the neighborhood that its residents know but that the rest of New York doesn’t know, he said, sitting at a conference table in his district office on Cornelia Street.

Bushwick’s family-friendly atmosphere is one of its strengths, he said, adding that many of its residents have lived there for many years, even during economic tough times.

As a state lawmaker, Dilan likes to keep tabs on the neighborhood and is well plugged-in to city issues.

He is paying close attention to the controversy over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. The $41 billion plan, called Housing New York, which was unveiled by the mayor in 2015, has been rejected by dozens of community boards across the city and has been criticized by many for its proposal to change zoning laws to allow for taller buildings to be constructed.

Dilan has not yet taken a position on Housing New York, but said he is watching the debate carefully, partly because East New York, a community that is included in his Assembly District (AD), will be the first neighborhood to be rezoned.

“I know that this has many sides to it. You have to protect residents. I also understand that whatever we do has to be attractive to the people who develop housing,” he said.

Dilan, a Democrat, is currently serving his first term in the state Assembly after having spent 12 years in the City Council. He represents the 54th AD, which includes Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Cypress Hills and East New York. He was elected in 2014.

One of the major differences between the council and the state Legislature, he said, is the configuration of the legislative bodies. “In Albany, you have two legislative houses. In the council, we were one body. We introduced a bill, had a debate and voted on it. It was quick. In the Assembly, you can introduce a bill, but you have to find a sponsor in the state Senate,” he said.

For many reasons, he is happy to be where he is now. Take rent stabilization laws, for example. “The law is shaped and crafted by the state. As a City Council, you can pass a resolution. But a lot of it is already decided,” he said.

Only 7 percent of his district consists of rent stabilized housing units, he said.

Dilan also has a great deal of confidence in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s leadership. “He has been fair to me. He said that ethics reform is going to be very important going forward,” the freshman assemblymember said.

Dilan left behind a great deal of clout when he loved up from the City Council to the Assembly. In the council, he served as chairman of the Housing Committee.

“I feel like I’m starting over again,” he said.

On the day he spoke to the Eagle, Dilan had attended a hearing on the proposal to have NYPD officers wear body cameras. “The city is right to have a pilot program first to see how it is working. Five precincts will be part of the test,” he said.

Dilan also wants the state to take a look at Uber. He is concerned about its effects on yellow cabs, whose owners have to pay astronomical fees for medallions and he wonders if Uber drivers, who don’t have to pay those fees, enjoy an unfair advantage.

“It makes it uncompetitive. New structures might be needed,” he said.

Dilan is the son of state Sen. Martin Dilan (D-Bushwick-Williamsburg).

Father and son have a lot in common in their political careers. Both started as education reformers and both served on Community School Board 32. Both father and son served on the City Council before winning seats in the state Legislature. In fact, the younger Dilan ran for his father’s seat in 2001 when the elder Dilan left the council due to term limits and set his sights on the state Senate.

But politics stops at the front door for the Dilan family. In a recent interview with the Eagle, Martin Dilan revealed that he and his son never talk politics at home.

During his days as a member of Community School Board 32, Erik Dilan was concerned about what he saw as an increasing privatization of public schools. He is not wild about what he sees as a growing privatization of the school system. “It’s the responsibility of government to educate our kids. I’m a strong believer in public education. Taxpayers send a huge amount of money to have us get it right,” he said.

He believes that the privatization movement “really took off” during the Bloomberg administration.

Also, the state law allowing mayoral control of public schools “could have been done better,” Dilan said.

Dilan said that what he wants for the city’s school system is to “have a level playing field” between traditional public schools and charter schools.

Things haven’t always gone smoothly for him in his political career.

In 2012, he challenged U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez in the Democratic Primary, hoping to oust the longtime congresswoman from her seat. Velazquez, who represents the 7th Congressional District (Brooklyn-Manhattan) defeated him nearly 2-1.

“It was a learning experience,” Dilan said, looking back at the loss.

As he looks forward to the new session in the state Legislature, he said the big issues will be increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and fixing Common Core, the controversial educational initiative that stresses standardized tests. “When I was young, there were music classes, vocational classes in school. A lot of that is being diminished,” he said.

A positive step toward reforming education was taken when the state decided to have educational professionals take a cold, hard look at the system. “It de-politicized the process,” he said.

Dilan looks forward to working on raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. He said he understands that it’s a sensitive issue and that not everyone is in favor of it. “I can’t say that it won’t have an impact on businesses. It will,” he said.

But the impact on businesses could be minimized by the fact that the new wage would apply to all businesses statewide, he said. “It would level the playing field for businesses. Their competitors would also have to pay the same wage,” he said.

Raising the minimum wage will help the state’s economy, Dilan said. “A lot of these jobs are targeted toward young people. It will help new immigrants. I hope it will mean lead to more people working on the books,” he said.

“I believe it’s fair. I believe it will be done. I’m hopeful it will be done in the next session,” he added.

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