I should start by saying that never in my 4 years of living in Brooklyn, have I ever attended, or even considered attending, a local debate. Like the majority of Brooklynites, or, let’s be honest, people in general, (only 1 in 5 registered voters turned out in 2009), I have never gotten involved in local politics.
I do care about the community. But I tend to refer to a general “they” when discussing policy, in the way that I assume disgruntled elderly ladies do, as they tote their rolling metal carts down the street, speaking to no one in particular.
“They’re building another massive condo,” I’ll say to a friend over coffee, or “They’re cutting G train service this weekend…guess I won’t be going anywhere.
But with the Stephens, who are running against one another for Council Member of the 33rd District, it’s different. That’s because the Stephens are hilarious.
As I wrote last week, the Stephens have many things in common, i.e. their Ivy League education, similar age, and obviously, the names their good mothers bestowed upon them. Stephen Pierson is said by the NY Times to “smack of Brooklyn,” meaning he is hip-looking, while Stephen Levin, incumbent, is a little more old school. Basically, Stephen P. is the Mary Kate to Stephen L.’s Ashley (except that they are in no way similar to Mary Kate or Ashley).
This is why I decided to attend the debate last week, which was aptly titled, Stephen vs. Stephen, (also the name of the facebook event). Yes, local debates have facebook events.
The most shocking thing that I noticed upon entering the room, was the sheer number of people in the basement of the Polish Slavic Center. I was expecting a few guys in suits and a smattering of the local eccentrics that are known to attend anything with free coffee. To my surprise, the auditorium basement was packed with at least 100 people, ranging in age, race, and dress. There were the concerned elderly, the sharply dressed business women, the middle-aged teacher types, and a ton of young people. Even Lincoln Wrestler was there, handing out question cards.
As the debate began, the two Stephens got personal…going out of their way to establish that they are ordinary people, just like the rest of us (classic politician move). Stephen P. began by describing his experience being raised by hard-working teacher parents (i.e. middle class, i.e. relatable), running a non-profit for at-risk youth (i.e. selfless, compassionate), and fathering a precocious 2-year-old daughter (i.e. he’s a dad). He even mentioned that he has another child on the way (i.e. he’s a dad, part 2).
Stephen L. made it clear, time and time again, hat he lives here, in Greenpoint. Right here. Like us. His main arguments were for improving education, making our streets more livable, and increasing transportation (all of which Stephen P. also supports, to varying degrees). He also mentioned his hard work during Sandy. “This area knows me,” he said, firmly.
Both candidates agreed that trash was an issue for our neighborhood (Greenpoint handles 38% of the city’s waste) and advocated less noise from garbage trucks on our streets. Pierson said that he will sue the city if they refuse to change this policy.
Both candidates also voiced opposition to the controversial plans for Greenpoint Landing, but Pierson seemed more adamant, promising to actively fight the construction. “It’s not too late” he said.
Then came the punches.
Blow 1: Stephen P. accuses Stephen L. of continually ignoring the working-class sects of Hassids who voted for him in the last election. Many names of Hassidic sects are then thrown around.
RESPONSE: “The fact of the matter is, I’ve met with all of these sects numerous times,” said Stephen L.
Blow 2: Stephen P. returns by accusing Stephen L. of being loyal to Vito Lopez (who was accused of sexually harassing 8 female staffers), despite Stephen L.’s assertion that those ties have been cut (Levin is Lopez’s former Chief of Staff).
COUNTER: Stephen L says that he only funded a small amount of money into Lopez’s organization in Ridgewood and has told Lopez not to run for City Council. “I have not spoken to him in many, many months,” he said.
Blow 3: Stephen L. aims low, bringing up the fact that in his 15 years as a Brooklyn resident, Stephen P. has never voted in a local election. BAM.
RESPONSE: “First of all, I regret that,” says Stephen P., to a silenced audience. He explains that he was inspired to enter politics after the birth of his daughter and his time working in the non-profit sector. This is only the 100th time he has mentioned his daughter.
And that’s a wrap.
Extra Credit: Stephen P. included lolli pops with his information packets, which was a nice touch.
Well, it looks like Stephen P. and I have something in common after all. We’ll be voting in a local election for this first time this Fall.
But seriously, the debate brought to light some increasingly important issues for North Brooklyn. If you care about community issues, especially the controversial plans for Greenpoint Landing, VOTE SEPT 10th!