Boerum Hill

New York City Council District 33 candidates Levin, Cambranes debate in Boerum Hill

Freshman Politico & Creator of Progress for All Party Scores Against Incumbent Before Local Audience

October 30, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Standing between candidates, debate moderator Mitchell Cohen makes a point to the audience. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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A daylong, torrential downpour failed to keep Brooklynites from gathering at the Commons Cafe on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill on Sunday to witness the first debate between City Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Downtown-Heights-Williamsburg-Greenpoint) and challenger Victoria Cambranes.

“After the last general election, when Hillary lost,” said Cambranes, “I thought it was important for me to come home [from where she had been living in England] …  And when I did, I saw there were many problems. I got involved initially to improve the safety of our streets. I contacted the [Department of Transportation], City Council and state Assembly. I warned them that if they didn’t do something, somebody was going to die on those streets. And that is exactly what happened. That is what spurred me to run.”

As her parents and long-term Greenpoint residents watched from one corner, Cambranes took the stage to be introduced by moderator Mitchell Cohen: “For too many years,” Cohen told the audience, “candidate debates have been a spectacle, more entertainment than information … I’m hoping we can break that mold, involve the community and the media to take part in real discussions about our concerns — a return to real grassroots, participatory democracy.”

With timekeepers appointed from among the audience to keep comments from running overlong, each candidate was given the opportunity to offer some opening remarks.

Incumbent Levin went first: “I am running for a third term because I think there is still important work I can do. I served two terms since 2010, and, I think this is true for most councilmembers, there is some lead in time … I’ve become a more effective councilmember than I was in the first time … I’ve passed 15 bills in this term and expect to pass five more. And these are important issues such as reforming the foster care system, addressing environmental issues [and] removing dangerous trucks from historically overburdened streets.”

“I’m the daughter of two wonderful immigrants,” Cambranes said during her opening remarks. “I went to school on Dupont Street, which is now been turned into a private development. That is a very disheartening trend we’re seeing. It’s happening in Greenpoint and in Williamsburg. We’re seeing that people are being displaced, that people can’t afford their rent. We’re experiencing a lot of noise and pollution … Infrastructure isn’t keeping up with the pace of development … I believe that more can be done to negotiate balanced development. I’m not against development. We’re one of the most attractive areas in the U.S. for people to come and live and to develop. We want that … but we want people in the community to benefit from these developments.”

While much of the debate focused on controversial private-public funded developments — 80 Flatbush, the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 — moderator Cohen opened questioning by asking would either candidate support Councilmember Ben Kallos’ bill to reduce pesticide spraying in NYC parks, which had thus far languished in Council chambers.

“I’ll do it tomorrow,” Levin replied, shaking Cohen’s hand to bind the deal.

“I hate mosquitoes more than anyone,” Cambranes said. “Though they seem to like me. It’s not responsible for us to be putting poisons in our air, in our grounds, in our walls, our schools … This city is one huge, polluted city.”

Before long, the topic returned to private-publicly funded developments, and here the candidates’ differences came into sharper focus after the Boerum Hill Association’s Howard Kolins threw a question concerning the controversial 80 Flatbush into the mix.

“80 Flatbush has problematic elements,” Levin began. “When you take a look, it’s really three different neighborhoods converging … You also have a school there now that’s in a building that’s not appropriate for a school.”

“The Academy [Kahlil Gibran International Academy High School] isn’t going to be relocated,” Cambranes replied. “Students are going to have sit through while that construction goes on over their heads for eight to 10 years, which is completely unacceptable … I believe the dating of schools to allow a developer to come in and save the day is the wrong way to go about selling public assets.”

Applause filled the room in response to Cambranes’ statement.

Levin’s attempt to explain that the new plan for the Brooklyn Heights Public Library branch afforded more square feet than the original drew groans.

“That’s a numbers game!” Cambranes retorted. “That’s not true! How many books will the new library hold? Will it be the same?

“It’s hard not to become dependant on developers and their money,” Cambranes went on to say later in the evening, with a side glance at her opponent.

“You’re questioning the integrity of the entire New York City Council,” Levin protested.

“Oh, what a terrible thing to do!” Cambranes demurred.


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