Vie for BP Eric Adams' former Senate seat
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With primaries on Sept. 9, residents of Prospect Heights heard from candidates vying for state Senate District 20 Wednesday night at a forum hosted by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.
Moderated by WNYC economic development journalist Janet Babin, candidates Rubain Dorancy and Jesse Hamilton answered questions submitted by the community and debated topics ranging from education to public schools to affordable housing. Candidate Guillermo Philpotts was a no-show.
District 20 encompasses sections of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Brownsville, Gowanus and Sunset Park. The seat in District 20 was vacated by Eric Adams, and has been empty since his election as Brooklyn borough president.
Dorancy, a former teacher and member of the local school board, serves as a senior administrator in the city’s Department of Education. He attended Brooklyn Law School, and as an attorney, he said that he has dedicated himself to “fight on behalf of communities that are marginalized, disenfranchised and considered voiceless.” He has received personal endorsements from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, U.S. Representatives Yvette Clarke and Nydia Velazquez, and Councilmembers Jumaane Williams and Antonio Reynoso, among others.
Hamilton has served as a community board president and was involved in raising math and reading scores. He said he is a strong proponent for education in the community, and is endorsed by the UFT, CSA and NYS Teachers Association. He is an attorney with the NYC Department of Finance, and runs the Senate Office in the 20th Senatorial District. He has been endorsed by BP Eric Adams, state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, former Congress member Ed Towns, former BP Marty Markowitz and a number of City Councilmembers including Brad Lander and Steve Levin.
Hamilton said he opposed increasing the number of charter schools and is against co-locations. He urged more parental control of the school system: “I am not for mayoral control, but more parental control.”
Under the Bloomberg administration, Hamilton said, the local school got fewer resources. He looks at charter schools as “separate but unequal.” He said that Prospect Heights needs more elementary schools.
Dorancy said he is not against charter schools, “because we currently have over 70,000 children in charter schools. I have a daughter in public school, but I’ve exercised the option and do not want to begrudge anyone the same opportunity.”
Dorancy does oppose “lifting the cap on charter schools. I am not going to prevent any parent who currently has their child in public school the opportunity to have their child remain in public school until the terminal grade. I was against what Gov. Cuomo did in terms of forcing the agreement to get universal pre-K funded by requiring that charter schools get funded, co-located, or the city would have to find the revenue to pay for space.”
Both said they would caucus with Democrats in the Senate, rather than with “renegade senators that work with Republicans,” as Babin put it.
“My caucus reflects my principles,” Dorancy said, adding he would identify “mutually beneficial interests” with other members.
Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, corruption
Hamilton said corruption in Albany is affecting the district. “The 55th Assembly District is closed, and many constituents come from Brownsville to our office” for services. He added that an independent party should investigate corruption in New York State.
Dorancy called for “full transparency, and not even a shadow of any arbitrary targeting” as in the Moreland Commission.
“I want to reduce the influence of big money on elections,” he added. He called for a statewide small donor matching fund, such as the current system in New York City.
Hamilton said the rent is too high in the district, and that landlords harass tenants. “Landlords are getting aggressive with seniors, displacing them in order to pay the rent roll for the overprice they paid for the building. We have to have stronger guidelines at the state level with the banks,” he said.
Hamilton complained that NYCHA “targeted seniors” in Tivoli Towers and in other NYCHA housing, with a new policy of requiring tenants to downgrade to smaller apartments.
Hamilton also said the 421-a incentive program program was supposed to stimulate construction in the outer boroughs. “Then it just took on a life of its own, where you had all this luxury housing in Bushwick, Greenpoint. The 421-a exemption is going to be revisited next year, I will look at it to modify it, and to eliminate luxury housing,” he said.
He added, “It is offensive under the 80-20 rule that the 80 percent is for luxury and the 20 percent is being used for housing with a poor door policy. I want to look at 50-20-30 model, and have more subsidies for moderate and low income.”
About Atlantic Yards, Hamilton said the carrot dangled before the community was that there would be a large affordable component, “and many people bought into that concept. Right now we haven’t seen any affordable housing being built.” He called for “more transparency, more accountability. I want to make sure we have claw back provisions.”
Dorancy agreed that there has been “no real honoring of the professed commitments in terms of job creation.” He urged mechanisms to enforce the agreements.
Dorancy also called for strengthening rent laws at the state level, and hiring more inspectors. “It’s really about enforcement. We need to recruit and hire more inspectors and make sure people are following the laws,” he said.
He added, “I believe that we have to reform our housing code. When we have people harassed, summarily evicted, we have to leverage the power of the state senate to reform housing court, for it to become a place of fairness and justice and not simply an assembly line for eviction.”
About tax incentives for developers, Dorancy said, “These programs were established at a time when we had a housing crisis. We no longer have a housing crisis, we have an affordable housing crisis.” He said he would do away with the 421-a program and create an affordable housing trust fund instead.
Dorancy said the city should be “more creative about how we enable public hospitals to be solvent and generate more revenue but still provide first-class medical services for the community.”
Hamilton said when the property values stared to rise in Central and Downtown Brooklyn, “all of a sudden” hospital real estate – like that at Long Island College Hospital (LICH) -- became desirable. “I don’t think it’s an issue of them not being profitable, I think it’s an issue of someone wanted to get the real estate.”
'Broken windows' policy
Hamilton said he works closely with the Police Department and has young people of color meet judges and visit holding cells. “I believe in community policing.”
Dorancy said there is some logic in the broken windows policy, but the problem is its implementation. “They have had a devastatingly disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially black and Latino men.”
Hamilton told Babin that his campaign has raised roughly $170,000, and said he took “no money from charter schools,” adding, “We have extensive small donor list.”
Dorancy said he has raised from $175,000 to $180,000. “Given the enormity of the campaign, I’m not going to handcuff myself” in terms of accepting contributions, he said.
The debates took place at the Duryea Presbyterian Church on Sterling Place.