Editor’s Note: This is the first of two profiles/interviews of the two candidates running for the 48th City Council District.
Councilmember Chaim Deutsch (D-Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay) has served residents of southern Brooklyn’s 48th Council District for the past three-and-a-half years and has his eye on re-election for another term. However, he must face off this coming November 7 against newcomer Steven Saperstein, who is running on the Republican ticket.
We spoke with Deutsch on the election, the past three years, what’s next if he’s elected, and why residents should vote for him. Do his goals match yours? Let us know in the comments! (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Kings County Politics: Why do you want to continue to serve as councilmember of the 48th District?
Deutsch: When I first ran for office, my commitment was not to run for one term. I still have many projects still in the process of being implemented, so I want to continue to advocate for the people of this district.
KCP: What do you believe are the most important issues in this district to address? Why?
Deutsch: One of the most important projects still going on is waterfront protection and determining how to better protect it with a long-term plan. I brought in the Army Corps of Engineers and partnered with Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries on this.
I also am working on downzoning the waterfront area because it is so congested. As we see around the world now, we can’t just keep building large buildings on the waterfronts. It serves as a reminder to be prepared for whatever storms come our way. We suffered greatly during and after Hurricane Sandy and are still currently raising homes in the area.
Senior housing, I would love to see, and addressing sewer backups in torrential rain. I’m working with the city Department of Environmental Protection to do a study to improve sewer infrastructure.
I would also like to see, over the next four years, improvements and funding for renovation in every single of the 14 parks in the district.
KCP: What are you most proud of during your current term?
Deutsch: I’m proud that I was rated as having the second busiest office in the City Council. Over 30 percent of my district is made of seniors, who come to my office and have come to rely on us to help with local issues.
I’m proud of making sure seniors are taken care of with funding to senior centers, trips, shops, legal services, entitlement information, and other things. I also offered and passed a bill — the Senior Citizen Homeowners’ Exemption (SCHE) and Disabled Homeowners’ Exemption (DHE)— that raises the maximum income level for seniors, as well as for people with disabilities, to get tax breaks. The income threshold went from $39,000 a year to approximately $59,000. Also, the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) income level rose from $30,000 to $50,000.
In addition to that, I’ve allocated more resources to keep our streets clean, and for education outreach. We’ve increased parking by approximately 40 percent by changing from parallel to angled parking and I want to continue doing that, finding more places for it. This gives people peace of mind so they don’t have to drive around 15 times looking for a parking spot.
KCP: What issues do you feel need more work and attention?
Deutsch: There’s always room for improvement; the work is never done. There are more services to fund, streets to clean, homeless people to place in shelters. I’ve never shied away from a problem. You can accomplish so much with the right attitude and experience.
KCP: What are your thoughts on property taxes?
Deutsch: They’re definitely high. That’s why the SCHE and DHE tax benefit is good, particularly for seniors and those with disabilities, who are on a fixed income.
KCP: What are your thoughts on party boats in Sheepshead Bay?
Deutsch: Sheepshead Bay is a very welcoming community, but the safety of the party boat guests and residents are a top priority. That can only be accomplished with a new plan that we just unveiled. No one’s safety should be compromised by people going out and having a good time.
KCP: How about Sandy recovery funding?
Deutsch: Like I mentioned before, we had a town hall meeting with ACE and at the end of the day, we need a real commitment with real results from federal, state and local representatives. i’ve been sounding the alarm since before I was a councilman. Once we have some type of commitment, the city needs to pitch in to do their part.
KCP: How will you address school funding and maintenance?
Deutsch: We have allocated millions of dollars for upgrades, cultural programming and many other essentials. I have never turned down a school that asked for help. We have several projects ongoing. Our children are our future. It is important they’re given best environment to grow — schools need tools, like library expansion technology, wiring for new air conditioners, and more. I will continue to work with the School Construction Authority and principals.
KCP: What do you think about police coverage in the district?
Deutsch: We have three phenomenal police precincts; crime has dropped significantly and cops are working to address quality of life issues. They’re great to work with and I am proud to have the endorsement of all five police unions.
I’m also proud to have the Neighborhood Community Officer (NCO) program at all three precincts. They basically help tackle quality of life issues that may look small but are important, like driveways being blocked and people smoking marijuana. I hope they can tackle things on a more personal basis, continuing our crime drop.
KCP: How will you bring senior and affordable housing to the district?
Deutsch: The city usually says 30% of affordable units will be for local residents. To me, that’s not enough. I would love to see 100% to go to people who live within the district, because at the end of the day, when a person cannot afford their rent, they are forced to move into a different area. I think that people should age in place, stay in the neighborhood and community they grew up in and have family and friends and place of work.
KCP: What is your stance on immigration issues in both the 48CD and the city?
Deutsch: I have a very diverse district. My parents were immigrants, too. My office offers free legal help to constituents working towards citizenship. That said, I don’t support NYC being a sanctuary city; I voted against that in the City Council. We’re not a city to harbor someone who committed a violent crime, shielding them. Living in America, the freest country in the world, is a privilege, not a right.
KCP: Will you institute participatory budgeting?
Deutsch: I have an informal PBNYC system: I listen to residents about what’s most important to them and secure funding for them. I visit parks, speak to school communities and residents. I always call back my constituents when they visit or leave a Facebook message. When people have concerns, I look into it. This allows me to fund an entire playground area, for example, because sometimes what people want might not have enough money or the city says can’t fund. Lastly, when you have PBNYC, it takes away a lot of resources from the office. At the end of the day, we need to do everything we can to help residents, so contact me. I attend 95% of community and civic meetings in my district. I love listening to people and their ideas and I will continue to do so over the next four years.
KCP: How would you go about getting more funding and services for the community?
Deutsch: By working together with colleagues in city government, working to ensure issues are heard.
KCP: How do you approach work-life balance?
Deutsch: My wife and family are very supportive and know how committed I am to them and constituents. I have five children and two grandchildren. My parents were Holocaust survivors, we grew up with nothing, and they worked very hard. My father was a chef, made the cheapest food taste good; knowing what it is to struggle and growing up in a two-bedroom apartment with three siblings, I know how it is to work to make ends meet. I take it personally to always think outside of the box. For example, we had a woman ask for help applying for SNAP and the agency said she could get in 10 days; that’s great, but what happens during those 10 days? So I made sure to call them back and ask, but they had no clue, so I went out with staff and dropped off $500 worth of food for the next 10 days.
KCP: Why should residents vote for you/not vote for your opponent?
Deutsch: My constituents know me and what I have accomplished. My office is rated among most responsive. My phone is with me 24 hours a day. I’m always available, whether it’s 7 a.m. or 2 a.m.; if there’s a crisis, I’m always there.
KCP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Deutsch: I have experience, have been working in this district for more than 18 years. If there’s a crisis, God forbid, I’m the guy who knows what to do. My background is in emergency management and helped manage [the] area’s post-Sandy recovery effort. When we have storms, mass power outages, floods or any type of crisis, we all know it’s not a game and need someone in the office who knows how to handle it and is available, taking care of the issues.