Nine Candidates For City Council Seat Verbally Joust At Forum


The nine candidates seeking the open District 43 City Council seat covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst met in a verbal joust before a packed auditorium at Xaverian High School, 7200 Shore Road on Tuesday.

The Brooklyn Reporter hosted forum featured Democrats Justin Brannan, Kevin Peter Carroll, the Rev. Khader El-Yateem, Vincent Chirico and Nancy Tong seated stage left at an eight-inch table skirted in blue plastic, while the Republican cast Bob Capano, Liam McCabe, John Quaglione and Lucretia Regina-Potter settled behind a red-draped table at stage right.

Local electeds State Sen. Marty Golden, and Assemblymembers Bill Colton and Peter Abbate also made appearances at the event.

Early on, the panel was given a few minutes to introduce themselves. As expected, each candidate touted their experiences, contributions and endorsements, from El-Yateem’s non-political roots to Capano’s declaration of private and public-sector work experience.

Lucretia Regina-Potter addresses the audience at the forum.

The only woman Republican candidate Regina-Potter honed in on the struggling small businesses in the area. “The city is constantly raising revenues through these small business through fines,” said Regina-Potter.

McCabe took the opportunity to use his opening comments to criticize Mayor de Blasio and also keyed in on illegal home conversions as the reason for all the problems within the district.

“Every issue, whether it’s education, overcrowded schools, infrastructure, transportation or crime, it can be traced to one particular issue in South Brooklyn and that is illegal home conversions,” said McCabe to an audience that welcomed the comment to applause and screams of affirmation.

After Quaglione orchestrated a moment of silence for the Americans who lost their lives during this weekend’s Charlottesville incident, the moderator posed the first topic to the panel – school overcrowding.

District 43 encompasses two of the top rated school districts in the city -– school districts 20 and 21. Schools in both districts suffer from overcrowding and all nine candidates recognized the need to address the issue.  

“We need to make sure our tax money goes directly to support our public schools and our public schools only,” said El-Yateem to a cheering crowd.

Historically split on charter schools, Democrats argued for more money and building of public schools while Republican candidates argued charter school support and school choice, mimicking the partisan stance over mayoral control in Albany earlier this summer.

Capano rebutted the Dems’ suggestion to put more money into public schools and instead opted to make a plea for the more conservative stance of tax breaks and vouchers.

“I happen to think there is a problem with our public schools and maybe the problem is making it easier for parents to send their kids to chartered parochial schools,” said Capano. The candidate was met with jeers at the suggestion to support charter schools, but encountered a mix response when he blamed sanctuary city funding as one of the culprits exhausting education capital.

Next on the chopping block of problems were transportation issues. The often-criticized MTA has been a media juggernaut, but the district has suffered its own setbacks, namely the closure of the busy Bay Ridge R train station that is undergoing a face-lift.

Brannan and Carroll continued their long-standing battle over who called for city control of the MTA first, but most Dem candidates were in agreement, with some suggesting they would fight to allocate money to emergency repairs rather than cosmetic enhancements.  

“Take some of that the $3 billion dollars set aside and pay for immediate repairs now,” said Chirico.

The Republicans took a different approach with Capano calling to stop the de-criminalization of fair beating as a way to gain more revenue, while McCabe stressed auditing to make the MTA accountable. Quaglione opted for a more nostalgic route singling out his boss, Sen. Marty Golden as a person responsible for bringing the ferry to the Ridge after 9-11.

Quaglione also said he knows current MTA Chairman Joe Lhota and looks forward to working with him while Regina-Potter had more specific strategies in place for the system — more trash receptacles and emergency escape plans so people are never trapped in cars, calling attending to the F train incident that occurred earlier this year.

The final series of answers would offer solutions to illegal home conversions, but not before a disruptive audience member yelled out, “Get the Asians out of here!”

None of the candidates called Digennaro out for his blatantly racist comment.

KCP spoke to Chris Digennaro, 52, who refers to himself as a conservative patriot. The longtime resident of Bensonhurst said his comments were not racially motivated.

“It’s not about being a racist, you got to call it as it is,” said Digennaro “They bully you. They knock on your doors. They want to buy your house cash. It’s all about the money.”

Tong, the only Asian-American candidate and only Democratic woman running for the seat called for more affordable housing as the solution for illegal home conversions. Tong pointed out that when homeowners are fined they have no choice to evict people leaving residents homeless.

“If they had a choice, they would never live in illegal home conversions.  I guarantee you,” said Tong. “These are lives we are talking about.”

On the final topic of racism within the community, Brannan was the first bring up President Trump’s hesitation to denounce certain groups this past weekend.

“We have a president who is afraid to call white supremacy what it is,” said Brannan. “It’s up to the local elected officials to stand up now more than ever to stare racism in the face, to stare xenophobia in the face, to say not here, not now, not ever.”

In a grand show of patriotism, Tong included the pledge of allegiance in her response. “We should all work together as one, just like the U.S. – its one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” proclaimed Tong.

Candidates used their closing statements to ask for votes and align themselves with the still-energized audience.  

“As a woman, I want everyone to know this is the 100th year anniversary of the suffragettes,” said Regina-Potter.  The candidate said she is not part of the machine and therefore feels passionate about the plight of the women that have come before her.

“I have no political aspirations, all I have is a commitment and love for this community,” concluded El-Yateem.

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