In the City Council’s 43rd district (Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach), eight candidates are jockeying to replace term-limited Vincent Gentile.
The district is unusual in that it is the only City Council race featuring not just a Democratic race but also a Republican primary, with candidates Lucretia Regina-Potter, Robert Capano, Liam McCabe, John Quaglione on the GOP ballot.
Regina-Potter is a Republican district leader who backs tax credits for small businesses, wants to crack down on home conversions and end the 5 cent deposit on bottles and cans to discourage people from collecting them out of recycling bags left on the street. She emphasizes her position as the only woman in the GOP race.
“After 100 years, women have ‘earned’ the right and privilege to create refreshing and innovative opportunities for change, versus more of the same dysfunctional and opportunistic ‘machine politics.,'” she wrote on her website. “This is a time to pay tribute to and build up the daughters, wives and mothers of our community with pride and gratitude for women’s contributions to America’s achievements.”*
Capano manages a supermarket and is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In an interview with King’s County Politics, he discussed the importance of tackling illegal home conversions, loosening regulations on small businesses, and devoting resources to drug counseling and treatment programs instead of proposed supervised injection sites. Capano also supported vouchers for parents who don’t want to send their children to public schools in a recent debate. In 2009, he ran against Gentile, winning 8,615 votes to Gentile’s 13,879.
McCabe is the founder and CEO of a consulting firm. Select stances on his website include making MTA board membership elected rather than appointed, and coordinated action between multiple agencies in order to crack down on illegal home conversions, which have been the cause of more than 300 complaints to the Department of Buildings from Bay Ridge, Bath Beach, and Dyker Heights since January. He also advocates for more community policing, increased efforts to prevent drug abuse among young people, fewer regulations and fines for local businesses, and added resources for area parks.
Quaglione is the deputy chief of staff and press secretary for State Senator Marty Golden. Priorities on his website include more police officers at the 62nd and 68th precincts, the development of a crime prevention database, increased express bus and train service, and a fare freeze. He also plans to fight illegal conversions, rehabilitate New York City Housing Authority buildings, devote efforts to end premature births and increase access to breast milk, and expand garbage collection. In 2013, Quaglione ran for City Council; he won 7,561 votes to Gentile’s 13,365.
The district has swung from Republican (Angelo Arculeo, 1962-1982) to Democrat (current mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, 1982-1997) to Republican (Marty Golden 1998-2002) to Democrat again (Gentile, 2003-present). Each candidate has local roots and a significant war chest (all are taking part in New York City Campaign Finance Board’s Matching Funds Program).
Nonetheless, Democrats are favored, at least on paper: In 2017, there were 19,562 Republicans and 47,470 Democrats among 94,186 registered voters in the district, according to the New York City Board of Elections. In the 2016 general election, Hillary Clinton won Bay Ridge, Bath Beach, and Bensonhurst with 49-59 percent of the vote; in Dyker Heights, Donald Trump won with 49 percent of the vote, according to DNAinfo. With that in mind…
About the Democrats
Justin Brannan, Kevin Peter Carroll, Vince Chirico, Rev. Khader El-Yateem, and Nancy Tong are all long-time residents who’ve received endorsements. As of September 6, each has raised between $133,775 (Chirico) and $215,883 (Brannan), thanks in part to the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s Matching Funds Program.
Justin Brannan was previously chief of staff to Gentile, who endorsed him. He is deputy executive director for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Education.
Kevin Peter Carroll works for City Council member Stephen Levin. He serves on Community Board 10 and is a state committee member for the 64th Assembly District.
Vince Chirico is a member of Community Board 11, and a lawyer in Bay Ridge.
The Reverend Khader El-Yateem is a member of Community Board 10 and the founder of Bay Ridge’s Salam Arabic Lutheran Church.
Nancy Tong is a state committee member for the 47th Assembly District and Brooklyn’s first Asian American elected official. She is Assemblyman William Colton’s Community Relations Director.
In interviews and emails, the candidates discussed several issues: transportation, schools, and seniors.
“Our subway system is an absolute disgrace,” Brannan says. “People who live in different states can get to Manhattan more easily,” than district 43 residents, he quips.
Several candidates expressed frustration with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which oversees New York City’s mass transit systems. In particular, they pointed to the Bay Ridge Avenue R station, currently closed for an expensive renovation. It will reopen with Wi-Fi, but no elevator service.
Unfortunately, the city has limited ability to address mass transit problems, since the MTA is under state authority. Brannan says many people don’t realize this, and “Awareness and education about this issue is half the battle.”
“I’m calling for city control of subways and buses,” he says, and would support Councilmember Daniel Dromm’s resolution to start the process of putting City Hall at the system’s helm. “But any additional accountability or oversight [of the state] would be a victory at this point.” Brannan would also pursue an express R train from Bay Ridge Avenue directly to downtown Manhattan as well as express ferry service from south Brooklyn to Pier 11 Wall Street, and a shuttle bus to the ferry. Brannan lists his bona fides as a commuter activist: “I’ve organized rallies to protest service cuts, I’ve testified in front of the MTA, I’ve circulated petitions, and I’m endorsed by Transit Workers Union” Local 100.
Chirico likes the idea of a shuttle bus from residential areas or subways stations to the ferry, and he’d investigate the construction of a ferry terminal in Bensonhurst, along the current route. To fund subway repairs, Chirico proposes “to set aside 25 percent” of the money currently earmarked for the Second Avenue subway extension.
“As a City Councilmember, I will advocate in Albany to bring funding [here],” says El-Yateem. “I will fight and lobby and make sure that the money is spent effectively to improve subway stations,” rather than on cosmetic changes.
Carroll has called for the abolition of the MTA, an unelected body. Instead, “I’d like to have mass transit come under state and city Department of Transportation.” He’d put money towards expanding the “overcrowded and unsafe” x27/37 (Bay Ridge) and x28/38 (Seagate, Bensonhurst) express bus service to downtown and midtown Manhattan. He’d also like expanded ferry service to Coney Island, and a free shuttle bus to and from the ferry and 101st Street. Carroll fought to prevent the removal of the B37 bus, then campaigned successfully to get it back.
Like Carroll, Tong has organized local efforts to fight for the preservation and expansion of a local bus (the B64), and “will continue to advocate for increased bus services in Dyker Heights and Bath Beach, which lack access to public transportation, and in the Bay Ridge areas serviced by the unreliable R line.”
The candidates agree: local schools (which are in school districts 20 and 21) are great—and overcrowded.
Several candidates observed that some of the overcrowding is driven by illegal home conversions. In June, the mayor signed the Gentile-sponsored Int 1218-2016, which will increase penalties for illegal conversions. Still, “We have one or two-family homes [that have been] subdivided into six or eight–we’ve got 30 people living in two-family homes,” El-Yateem says.
But lack of space on which to build is a problem, too, says Carroll, who supported the building of what’s now P.S./I.S. 30 Mary White Ovington and approved the expansion of several public schools as a Community Board member. To find sites, Carroll would enlist local PTAs, while El-Yateem favors “a comprehensive review to find land.”
Local downzoning (laws limiting or reducing development) also plays a role in the overcrowding, Brannan explains. (Zoning regulations in the Special Bay Ridge District, which covers a significant portion of the Council district, limit the development of large apartment buildings.) Since low-density housing predominates, “We don’t have a lot of the real estate stock that other neighborhoods have. It’s only on the main avenues that sometimes large lots become available.” Still, he promises to add “at least one new public school” to the district if elected.
Tong proposes to “usher in a program to build more extensions for overcrowded schools, as they are quick and effective solutions.” She notes that “Along with Assemblyman Colton, I led parents to successfully protest the rezoning of P.S. 97 and 101, which would have inconvenienced families as they [would have been] forced to travel farther to bring their children to school. We were able to halt the rezoning, and subsequently these schools are in the process of building extensions to accommodate increased enrollment.”
Chirico doesn’t believe there is currently land available for new schools, and “Even if we were to start breaking ground now, it wouldn’t be open for a few years.” Instead, he proposes “negotiations with the Diocese of Brooklyn; they’ve closed a number of schools in the 43rd District.” If local charter schools were to move into some of those now-closed buildings, “there’d be a lot more space for public school classrooms.”
In the meantime, Chirico would coordinate with local non-profits to place trained college graduates (and those with teaching degrees who are not yet certified) in classrooms as volunteer teachers’ aides.
Seniors make up about 16.5 percent of the population of Bay Ridge, and almost 15 percent in Bensonhurst, according to CoreData. In Brooklyn, only Sheepshead Bay, /Gravesend and Coney Island have more older residents. Close to 15 percent of seniors in Bay Ridge, and more than 24 percent in Bensonhurst, live in poverty.
Tong plans to “obtain more funding from the state and city budgets for senior centers and affordable senior housing like the Shore Hill Apartments and the Regina Pacis residence. … Additionally, I will propose to itemize funding for multi-language staff and counselors at senior centers and apartments in the city budget. My community office will facilitate communication between seniors and their building management to overcome quality of living issues.”
Carroll would encourage the building of more senior housing, and proposes to reserve a certain percentage of new units for members of local community districts. In reference to a local church’s recent sale of property to a luxury condo developer, he says, “The city should have come in, bought the property, and developed affordable housing… If I learn that a piece of land in the district is available, I will do what I can to acquire it for the public good.”
Chirico would like to address gaps in healthcare by building partnerships between local non-profit healthcare organizations that treat patients regardless of ability to pay, hospitals, and senior centers. He would also build more assisted living and affordable housing in the district, and, he says, “I’m a huge proponent of SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption), DRIE (Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE), and SCHE (Senior Citizens Homeowners’ Exemption), and I would lobby for expanding the income eligibility for these programs.”
Additionally, “I would support an investigation into for-profit adult day-care centers,” which “bill Medicaid, and do it for a profit. A lot of our seniors get hoodwinked into signing up for these programs, and signing away their Medicaid benefits. … We should cut down on, or render illegal, these for-profit centers.”
El Yateem too, will “fight to protect and expand rent freezes so seniors won’t be forced out of their homes” and advocate for senior homeowners on fixed incomes struggling to pay property taxes and water rates. He adds that he plans to open a neighborhood community center that will cater to all ages but provide many activities and socialization opportunities for seniors.
Brannan’s senior efforts would be focused on “Making sure our local senior centers stay fully funded, protecting SCRIE and DRIE, cracking down on people who prey on seniors, and supporting the expansion of legal protections for seniors facing evictions.”
All the candidates are experienced and articulate about their plans to improve the lives of district residents. Asked what sets them apart, several—including some who’ve recently worked in government–claim they are outsiders.
“I’m an outsider,” Carroll says. “I’m the one candidate that ran in an election and won.” (Tong ran unopposed). “I listen to my constituents. My independence is also key.” His history of bipartisanship exemplifies “southern Brooklyn values. We’re proud of the fact that we work with Republicans.”
“I am the only candidate outside the establishment,” El-Yateem says. “I have never been an
elected official, and never been on an elected politician’s payroll.”
“I’m an outsider with the benefit of an insider’s knowledge,” says Brannan. While he plans to “build on the legacy” of his former boss, Gentile, “I’m my own man. l always put the people of the district first.”
“I’m the only attorney in this race,” says Chirico, who did not claim to be an outsider. “I have built coalitions, mediated disputes and settlements, navigated agencies, and worked on multi-claim cases. I’m an appellate specialist—I advocate on behalf of people.” And while “Some candidates are beholden to their political godparents, I’m accountable to no one except the community and my own conscience.”
“Nancy is the only female Democratic candidate and the only woman of color in the whole race,” comments Angeles Yeung, Tong’s press representative. “She is a mother, wife, and daughter. Her unique perspective on community issues and their solutions allow her to fight for those who are disenfranchised. She will advocate for people from all walks of life and, in particular, for women’s equality and rights.”
* CORRECTION: The original version of this story omitted mention of Regina-Potter. We regret the error.