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Two candidates traded jabs and visions for the district’s future in the last and so far, only, public forum for candidates running for City Council in the 34th District.
In the marquee matchup of the night, incumbent Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick, Williamsburg) and her challenger, Community Board 1 District Manager Gerry Esposito, answered questions from forum moderator Brooklyn Rail editor Theodore Hamm covering a range of development and government reform-related questions.
The forum, co-sponsored by The Brooklyn Rail and the Williamsburg Greenpoint News and Arts, featured a twin bill of Democratic mayoral and 34th District candidates.Maritza Davila, the third candidate in the 34th District race, declined to attend.
At the forum, Reyna explained the role of a City Council office and how she has sought to fill the job over the past eight years, while Esposito presented his reasons for challenging an incumbent councilmember.
“I come to this candidacy with over 32 years of experience,” said Esposito.“I believe I’m the candidate who has been there and done that. I believe we need to return government to the people.”
Though both candidates shared similar governing philosophies and emphasized the importance of bringing essential services to their district, they held stark policy differences on government reform, zoning and development, and public education.
The Broadway Triangle remains one of the most contentious issues among voters in the 34th District, and Reyna gave one of her most forceful arguments of the night against the advancement of the plan, while Esposito called an alternative plan presented to the Community Board a “smoke screen” and criticized opposition groups for not making their case to city officials sooner.
“The city did not bring about this plan as if it were an endorsement of a community or a city agency,” said Reyna.“This is a contractual development.Many individuals from our community have been left out of the process.Some businesses have been affected by this area.For that reason alone, we should not endorse this plan.”
When a question regarding what the Council should do about discretionary funding in the wake of several investigations, it was Esposito who gave a strong response, while Reyna defended the practice of distributing funds to community-based organizations.
During the course of the discussion, Reyna spent much time defending her decision to extend term limits in a City Council vote last October while Esposito was asked to specify his role during the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning and in other development votes.
“I voted my conscience and how I believed the district would have voted,” said Reyna.“Our community did not view term limits as their democratic right to vote.I wanted to be the voice of the voiceless and give people the opportunity to make a choiceamong which candidate to vote for.”
Both tackled the difficult question of what to do with the city’s public school system, on the night before the 2009-2010 school year was about to begin.Esposito called the Department of Education’s management “disappointing” and said that the DOE must do a better job matching schools with their needs, while Reyna chastised the Board for not applying successful practices in more well-off communities to those in her district.
“We’re at a crossroads right now.We do not have a clear understanding of what their budget is and it is not in sync with other city agencies,” said Reyna.“That’s problem number one.”
Neither Reyna nor Esposito has been backed by the Kings County Democratic Party leader, Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg), who chose to back Davila instead.Both candidates addressed what their relationship with Lopez might look like if they won.Reyna brushed off the question, saying, “You go along and you don’t get along,” and that she would continue with her agenda, while Esposito was more conciliatory.
“I’m going to do what’s best in my heart for people of this district.If they cross paths, that’s fine, if they don’t cross, that’s fine too,” said Esposito.“Certainly I would like to work together, but I’m going to do what’s best for this constituency.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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