The previous three council members, including current Councilman David Yassky, who is vacating the seat to run for comptroller, were elected to represent the 33rd District as residents of Brooklyn Heights.
This has led to a focus on that neighborhood, and the district’s brownstone belt generally, at the expense of North Brooklyn.
Evan Thies, a Williamsburg resident who served as Yassky’s chief of staff, has pledged to open a district office in North Brooklyn, and bring much-needed resources and attention to the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
For that reason and many others, this paper is endorsing Thies for City Council.
The race for the district, which represents Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights, and parts of Boerum Hill and Park Slope, includes Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone, Isaac Abraham, Doug Biviano, Jo Anne Simon, and Steve Levin.
The attention Thies would bring to neglected neighborhoods is just one example of the kind of fresh energy and new ideas he would bring to City Hall.
Though he is relatively young, Thies already has the necessary experience to be an effective council member. Until recently, Thies served as a member of Community Board 1. He is involved with several civic organizations. Before working for Yassky, he worked for the office of then-Senator Hillary Clinton.
These positions have given Thies, who is articulate and thoughtful, though soft-spoken, a commanding knowledge of how to affect change in Brooklyn.
When compared to his six opponents, he has the deepest knowledge of how the City Council actually works - how to work with colleagues, navigate the legislative system, and pass important legislation.
This last point cannot be stressed enough; a council member’s priority is providing effective constituent services to the people who live in his district.
To do so, one needs to understand the district, its needs, demographic diversity, and social, cultural, and economic challenges. And to ensure their voices are heard, council members need the credibility political independence affords.
Interviews with all the candidates (in some cases multiple on and off-the-record conversations) showed very clearly that Steve Levin, who is considered the front-runner in the race, knows the least about the details and day-to-day issues that define the district.
Additionally, because Levin is chief of staff to powerful Assemblyman Vito Lopez and beholden to Lopez for his political career, there is every reason to believe that Levin will simply be a pawn for Lopez’s agenda if he is elected.
That’s the last thing the district needs.
Perhaps Levin could learn the district better with time, or assert his independence from the machine politics system.
Perhaps, by that same token, Jo Anne Simon, a talented candidate and Assembly district leader, might do the same. The risk of hoping they do so, however, makes supporting either a chance not worth taking.
In an ideal political world, all the members of New York’s City Council would be honest and true. There would be no room for the base pay-to-play culture that exists today. Council members would have the freedom to tackle real structural reform, and the courage to advance policies that produce important change.
Under those circumstances, a candidate of true integrity like Doug Biviano would make for a great council member.
In reality, however, the City Council is a place where, in order to produce results that matter, the most respected council members are ones who have the ability to work within the system, but who also have the fortitude to hew to their core principles and values while doing so.
Negotiating that balancing act is no small feat.
The next council member for the 33rd District must combine the skills of a seasoned in-fighter with the scruples of an everyman community advocate. We are confident Thies can make this happen.