Subtle differences emerged Tuesday night at a cordial debate between the two Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for the 54th Assembly district in Brooklyn, with Rev. Kimberly Council and former Councilman Erik Martin Dilan differing on their approach to the minimum wage and casinos.

“People are pushing for $10 an hour and $10 an hour simply moves us form one level of poverty to another,” said Council, who called for a $15 minimum wage.

“I would support $15 an hour. I would support $20 an hour. It wouldn’t pass,” Dilan cautioned, stressing the need to compromise with Republicans who could maintain their control over the state Senate. He called for an immediate move to $10 an hour, indexed to inflation with the the legislature having authority to adjust the wage again down the road.

Asked if they’d support a casino promising jobs and new housing in their district, Council said the issue should be decided by a referendum, and demurred on whether she’d vote yes or no. Dilan was clearer: “A casino in the district is something that I wouldn’t stand for no matter how much housing is attached,” he said. “Casino gambling in general for New York State is something we have to be careful about.”

In the debate, aired by Brooklyn Independent Media and moderated by El Diario‘s Marlene Peralta and this reporter, Dilan—who served part of the district as a Councilman from 2002 through 2013, and whose father is a state senator—emphasized his experience, while Council called for new leadership.

The candidates are seeking the seat vacated by Rafael Espinal when he was elected last November to the City Council seat Dilan was forced to give up because of term limits. Last year, Council lost to Espinal, 46 percent to 32 percent, in the primary for that seat.

The district, which encompasses parts of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York, is one of several vacancies that Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided not to fill via special election.

After Council and Dilan face off on September 9th, they’ll face Republican William Davidson and Conservative Khorshed Chowdhury in the November 4 general election, where Council already has the Working Families Ballot Line. Having raised about $18,000 and with $4,000 or so on hand, she’s at a steep financial disadvantage to Dilan’s $82,000 in contributions and $66,000 in the bank. The last time the 54th district seat was open, in 2011, only 5,500 people cast ballots—roughly 12 percent of eligible primary voters.

The full debate
Council vs Dilan from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.

Both candidates said subsidies for affordable housing should only be for buildings that are 100 percent affordable, with Dilan stressing the need to serve those with “very low incomes” and Council noting the problem with the mismatch between income-levels dictated by federal Area Median Incomes and what people in the district actually make. Council called for local control of rent regulations—”I think we need to return home rule, because people in Buffalo, they’re not as savvy or it’s not their concern what’s happening in New York City,” she said—and for safeguards to ensure local residents get first priority for affordable housing. Dilan said he wants the legislature to increase the threshold for luxury decontrol, so that rising rents don’t push thousands of units out of the rent-stabilization system.

Dilan and Council both indicated strong support for the DREAM Act, though Council alluded to a need to negotiate with Senate Republicans to get it passed.

Asked about public safety, Council said she recently had her car broken into; neighbors called the police, who nabbed a suspect. Calling for more after-school spending and community centers, she said, “We’ve got o find something to do with those young people who have idle time on their hands.” She also suggested police need to be more mobile and active in rooting out crime: “Walk around more. People in the community can let you know who the bad kids are.” Dilan stressed his crucial vote to support stop-and-frisk reform and to create an NYPD inspector general in 2013 in the City Council as well as his support for gun buy-backs and increased security around public housing.

Both candidates supported raising the age in New York State for a person to be tried in adult court, current 16, though Dilan qualified that he was “conceptually supportive of it.” Both took issue with Cuomo’s shut-down of the Moreland Commission. Asked about the potential closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant, Dilan said clean power alternatives had to be developed first, and Council expressed concern over the loss of jobs at the facility.

Council and Dilan both took issue with how Mayor de Blasio had handled the Eric Garner controversy.

The candidates on de Blasio and Eric Garner
B-Civil Primary Debates 2014: 54th Assembly District – Eric Garner from Brooklyn Independent Media on Vimeo.

Brooklyn Independent Media earlier conducted a debate for candidates in the 20th state Senatorial district and on September 3 will televise a face-off among people seeking the 52nd Assembly district seat being vacated by Joan Millman.