Vincent Gentile (Best Qualified)
Stephen Harrison (Neighborhood First)
Daniel Maio (Verrazano Coalition)
Rosemarie O'Keefe (No New Taxes)
Carlo Scissura (Community First)
Joanne Seminara (Neighbor First)
ACCORDING TO THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE BOARD
PRESERVING NEIGHBORHOODS -- AND PARKING PLACES
When residents of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst go to the polls to choose a new City Council member on February 25, they are likely to select someone who will fight cuts in local services, regardless of the fiscal crisis. Residents of this area of Brooklyn are proud of their clean, safe streets and want to preserve the quality of life in their relatively quiet neighborhoods.
Six candidates are seeking the council seat left vacant when Martin Golden, one of only four Republicans on the council, was elected to the State Senate last November. The Brooklyn contest is one of two special elections to be held February 25. (See related story on District 18 in the Bronx.)
The issues dominating the campaign in district 43 are transportation, construction in the district and other quality-of-life issues, much as they did in the 2001 election. (Read a transcript of a forum with five of the candidates).
Several of the candidates are veterans of local politics. They include Vincent Gentile, who, after six years in the State Senate, lost his re-election bid to Golden in November. Joanna Seminara who lost the 2001 election to Golden is making another try, as is Carlos Scissura, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in the 2001 Democratic primary.
That leaves Rosemarie O'Keefe, a former official in the Giuliani administration, as the only registered Republican.
In council special elections, however, candidates are not identified with established parties. Instead, they run under the banner of a party created especially for this contest.
Whoever is elected will have to confront the city's budget problems. Most of the candidates think the city should begin plugging its massive deficits by providing services more efficiently and economically, freeing up funds for parks and schools. "I think we have to be a little more streamlined," O'Keefe said. "There probably is still more waste to trim off of some government agencies by consolidating and reorganizing."
Gentile believes administrative restructuring will allow the city to avoid police lay-offs and other service cuts. He said, "I think we can civilian-ize a lot of the positions in the police and fire departments. Instead of having a cadre of police filling positions at 1 Police Plaza replace them with people from the service unions and put the maximum force you can out on the street."
With a Home Depot having recently opened in the area, residents are worried about the possibility of more development, particularly "big box" stores surrounded by giant parking lots. They also fear apartment buildings could permanently alter the character of their mostly low-rise neighborhoods.
To address this, Stephen Harrison, another candidate, advocates a change in zoning to encourage preservation. "That means revamping our codes to stop the destruction of beautiful one-family homes," Harrison said at a forum at St. Patrick's Auditorium.
The valet parking services offered by many of the community's restaurant irk the many car owners in the district. By reserving parking places and by double parking, the valets clog streets and take parking spaces away from neighborhood residents.
Scissurra suggests that local businesses, churches and schools offer their lots to the restaurants at night. "We could probably find upward of 1,000 spots just by using the existing lots," he said.
Seminara believes regulation offers the most promising remedy. "The same way that the Department of Consumer Affairs licenses outdoor cafés, we're looking into the licensing of the use of streets for valet parking," she said.
But parking is not the only transportation gripe. Express buses, charging $3 each way, offer the one quick way to get into Manhattan, and the mayor is considering eliminating weekend service on these routes. Scissura said, "The 58th Street ferry [to Manhattan] is great, but it's not enough. As I see it, ferries are the way to go for the future." Other candidates and residents would like to see express subway service on the R or W lines.
Over the past decade, the traditionally Italian and Irish neighborhood has seen an influx of Russian, Arab and especially Asian immigrants. Recently, the district's Lafayette High School was the scene of a rash of anti-Asian violence.
Daniel Maio, a Manhattan mapmaker who hasn't lived in Brooklyn since the 1980's, has also been campaigning, but was knocked off the ballot. Maio, who is Chinese-American, hopes to provide a voice for the area's growing Asian community that he fears does not always speak out for itself. "A lot of Asian issues haven't been addressed very well," he said. Gentile thinks "conflict resolution courses in schools would be a good idea."
On most issues, the candidates tend to express nearly identical opinions. Their views on gay rights emerge as one notable exception.
Joanne Seminara has courted the support of local gay groups, which some observers believe could be risky in this conservative district. Gentile voted against the Sexual Orientation non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), or gay rights bills, in the State Senate last year. He said he opposed the measure, which became law, because it would require faith-based groups to hire gays in violation of their religious beliefs. His move angered the Lambda Independent Democrats, which had previously endorsed him; the group is now backing Seminara.
Whichever candidate wins the election will not have much time for a victory party. All City Council seats, including those filled in the special election, are up for re-election in the fall.
Vincent Gentile served three terms as District 23's State Senator after spending ten years as a prosecutor. He is a former president of the Bay Ridge Community Council and a member of the Neighborhood Improvement Association of St. Rosalia-Regina Pacis. He graduated from Cornell University and Fordham Law School.
Stephen Harrison is a practicing attorney and current Chair of Community Board 10. He is a founding member of CERT1 (Community Emergency Response Team) and a former president of 79th Street 300 Block Association.
Daniel Maio is a self-employed cartographer who ran for State Senate District 29 in 2002 and Manhattan Borough President in 2001. He graduated from The American University.
Rosemarie O'Keefe served as a member of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration as the Deputy Commissioner for Recreation and Commissioner of the Community Assistance Unit (CAU). O'Keefe is a co-founder and former president of the Alliance of Bay Ridge Block Association.
Joanne Seminara is a practicing attorney, a member of community board 10, State Committeewoman for the 60th Assembly District and co-president of the Alliance of Bay Ridge Block Association. Seminara is a founding member of Bay Ridge Against Garbage Sites and has been a director of the Guild for Exceptional Children, a charity that serves developmentally disabled children. She graduated from Brooklyn Law School.
Carlo Scissura is a practicing attorney and Second Vice President of Community School Board 20 where he serves as chairman of the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention committee and the Legislative Affairs committee. He worked as director of community affairs under State Senator Vincent Gentile and is a member of community board 11. Scissura attended Pace University School of Law and studied international law at the University of London.
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