Brooklyn Boro

Borough president candidates take center stage at Democratic Party-sponsored debate

February 2, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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The online debate between candidates for the Democratic nomination for borough president sponsored by the Kings County Democratic Committee on Sunday night revealed some very real differences on some of the issues as well as near-unanimity on others.

Also, some of the “minor” candidates proved to be some of the most vocal.

TV journalist and former politician Errol Lewis served as the moderator, while Brooklyn Democratic Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermalyn introduced the proceedings. The borough president debate was followed by debates between candidates for city comptroller and for mayor.

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Present at the borough president debate were Councilmembers Robert Cornegy, Mathieu Eugene and Antonio Reynoso; Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon; activist and minister Kimberly Council; former hospital vice president Khari Edwards; district leader Anthony Jones and anti-violence advocate Shanduke McPhatter.

The beginning of the debate was basically “mom and apple pie” — for example, most said they had been giving out hand sanitizer, food and masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But eventually, disagreements as well as some interesting proposals began to emerge. 

For example, while all said that it was important to get people onto community boards, Council advocated a “junior community board” of young people, while Edwards wanted to expand membership on the boards to teens. Council said that community input on building projects is needed even before the ULURP process begins, and Edwards said that the boards’ function needs to be changed from advisory to binding.

Also, when Council spoke strongly about curbing police power and practices, Cornegy responded that police reform shouldn’t come from a “punishment process” perspective, although he agreed that there needs to be real accountability for police misdeeds. “The Police Department’s budget is $6 billion, the most bloated budget, and we should shift some money into other programs, but punishing bad behavior is not where I’m at.” 

Calling himself a Police Athletic League supporter, he said, “Helping people and law enforcement are not mutually exclusive. I don’t believe we have the luxury of having a conversation about defunding the police when you have 1-year-olds being shot.”

In the second part of the debate, where candidates got the opportunity to ask their fellow would-be-borough presidents questions, some sharp questions were heard. 

For example, Edwards asked Simon how she can represent a borough in which the average yearly income is $34,000 when she was able to contribute $4,500 of her own money to her campaign. Simon answered that more than 80 percent of her donors were from Brooklyn, and more than 90 percent were from New York City.

Jones accusingly told Cornegy that “gentrification has flourished under your leadership in your district.” Cornegy answered, “In my district, we’re losing more of the middle class than poor people. We have subsidies for the poor, we have subsidies for the wealthy, but we don’t have subsidies for the middle class.” He offered several ways to combat gentrification, such as cracking down on the abuse of lien services and of the third-party real estate transfer program.

Reynoso addressed Simon on the rezoning issue, and had a negative spin on the rezoning process: “Until now, the rezonings have happened in Black and brown poor districts. Now, one is about to come up in Gowanus, a white, affluent district.” 

Simon responded, “You’re not concerned about toxicity, I guess. I’m the only one who has supported a need for a rezoning [there].” As an example of a rezoning that has produced positive change, she cited the rezoning of the Hoyt-Schermerhorn area, once dominated by parking lots and now home to affordable housing.

Toward the end of the debate, the now-defeated Industry City rezoning plan came up, and Cornegy stood out because he had something good to say about it.  “I would go back to the table to renegotiate a project that would create many jobs. The way out of this recession is job creation,”

In contrast, Simon said, “Industry City didn’t need rezoning to make money. We need to look at this things with a fresh eye.” She compared the project to Atlantic Yards, which was carried out only over strong community opposition. 

Reynoso, Jones, McPhatter and Edwards all said that, in Jones’ words, “If the community says no, it means no.” In the case of a recent East New York rezoning, Edwards said, “3,600 people are still waiting for [promised] jobs.”

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