By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In the first major political event to take place since the scandal erupted involving the arrest of a state senator and a councilman allegedly looking to bribe their way into the race for mayor, the five Democratic mayoral candidates are taking part in a forum tonight in Brooklyn Heights, where they are sure to be asked some tough questions.
The mayoral forum, sponsored by the Brooklyn Reform Coalition, a group of reform clubs from around the borough, will take place tonight, April 3, at Saint Francis College, 180 Remsen St., starting at 6:30 p.m. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, former comptroller William Thompson, and former Bay Ridge councilman Sal Albanese all accepted the invitation to appear at the forum.
The forum comes one day after the mayor’s race was turned upside down by the scandal surrounding state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and Councilman Daniel Halloran (D-Queens), who were arrested by the FBI on April 2. Politicker reported that Smith, a Democrat, allegedly sought to bribe Republican Party chairmen in order to secure a spot on the mayoral ballot on the GOP line. Halloran, a Republican, is charged with serving as a middle man between Smith and the GOP party leaders. The Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino and the vice chairman of the Queens Republican party, Vince Tabone, were also arrested in the still unfolding scandal. In order to secure the GOP spot on the ballot, Smith would have had to get waivers from at least three of the five Republican county leaders in the city.
Also taken into custody were Noramie Jasmin, the mayor of Smith Valley, and Joseph Desmaret, the deputy mayor, who are charged with mail fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to sell public property in the city for personal financial gain.
Since the scandal centered on the race for mayor, the candidates at the forum are sure to be asked about it.
“I do imagine that that will come up,” said Matt Cowherd, one of the organizers of the forum. “I do think it will come up in some way. After all, we are reform clubs. Changing the way city government works is of great interest to our members,” Cowherd told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The candidates will be questioned by a panel composed of leaders of reform clubs from around Brooklyn. But audience members will also be given an opportunity to submit questions in writing, Cowherd, the former president of the New Kings Democrats, said.
But other topics are expected to be covered too. "Whether it’s how they'll seek to improve mass transit in south Brooklyn, how they plan to stop the over-regulation of small businesses or how the city should better prepare for the next Hurricane Sandy, this forum will provide the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates on the issues that matter most here in Brooklyn," Justin Brannan, president of the Bay Ridge Democrats, said.
Formed in 2012, the Brooklyn Reform Coalition unites many of the borough's reform-minded political clubs, including Bay Ridge Democrats, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Lambda Independent Democrats, New Kings Democrats, and Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform, and Southern Brooklyn Democrats.
Organizers said the goal of the coalition is to clean up Brooklyn politics and promote transparency, democracy, and accountability in the local Democratic Party. Specific goals include: boosting grassroots participation in governance and operations of the local party, educating voters and mobilizing them to become engaged with political process and promoting open access to information about local party and local government operations.
The coalition also helped to organize the campaign to oust former Democratic Party Boss, Vito Lopez, who resigned in disgrace after multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct came to light.