On July 24, 2001 the candidates in district 35 gathered at
the Brooklyn Museum of Art in a "Community Conversation" forum
sponsored by Citizens Union Foundation, Coro, and the Center
for Excellence in New York City Governance. The candidates who
participated were Sidique Wai, Imogene Baldwin-Ferguson, James
Davis, Robert Hunter, Letitia-Tish James, Bill Saunders, Avrohom
Wasserman, Peter Williams. Bill Saunders left after the opening
Sidique Wai: My name is Sidique Wai and I'm running
for City Council in the 35th council district, County of Kings.
My vision is very simple. Democracy means people who must have
the right to participate in the governance that affects their
lives. For too long this community has been two communities,
those people on the hill, and those people out of the hill.
My goal is to be able to bring the communities together, so
that we can work together in improving economic development,
investment and trade, and most importantly, to be able to connect
government directly to the lives of people. There should be
no secrecy about what happens. My goal is very simple, I will
hold public hearings, not in rooms like this, but on the street,
because it's through participation that you are going to shape
Imogene Baldwin-Ferguson: My name is Imogene Baldwin-Ferguson
and I am a thirty-five year resident of this community, and
I welcome you to my neighborhood. I hope to address issues such
as re-gentrification and I want you to understand that I don't
believe re-gentrification necessarily has to be re-location.
I want to talk about immigration issues. This is a great country
founded by immigrants, and I believe we can all work together
and we can stay right here, and make this the great country
it once was, and help it take its place again amongst the world
leaders. I want to talk about education, but not just education
in the public school system, but education around issues like
AIDS and HIV, because this is the epicenter of the AIDS crisis
in New York City, and I plan to do something about that. Thank
you so much.
James Davis: I am a proven winner. James E. Davis. People
say "James, you have name recognition." I have name recognition
because I am a police officer, but I stood up against police
brutality. I spoke out, and I was fired for speaking out. I've
had to go to court now for two years, I've had no job, I won.
I stood up against the Democratic machine and ran for Democratic
District Leader and I beat the machine, I won. I stood against
Toys R Us when they were selling look-alike toy guns, they stopped
selling look-alike toy guns, I won. I've marched in the community
against violence every year. I will stop the violence in our
community, when no one else will march up and down Nostrand
Avenue. I will stop the violence. I stand up for people. If
you want somebody to represent the community, if you want somebody
in the forefront , then you vote James Davis.
Robert Hunter: Hard act to follow, but I don't like
to follow any acts, I like to follow promises, and I will promise
you two things: I will keep the promise to my ancestors, I will
make sure that our ancestors, that our senior citizens, are
well taken care of and not forgotten about. I will keep a promise
that the future is not forgotten about. I will make sure that
our education system has reformed. We need to look at new formulas
for running our schools and as a teacher, as en educator myself,
and a former school board member for seven years, I will fight
the problems we have with the education system. I will close
with this, I'm a Vietnam veteran and I've served my country
and my community very well. Last but not least, anything is
possible in this country. I am a high school dropout with a
GED, associates, bachelors, and a masters in science. Anything
Letitia James: Good evening, my name is Letitia (Tish)
James and I am running for City Council in the 25th councilmanic
district. I have worked on every single issue brought up this
evening. From housing, to economic development, to the police
issues concerning the family courts, to issues concerning immigration
and race. What I bring to this race is experience, what I bring
to this race is a vision, what I bring to this race is a record
of accomplishment. I am a former Assistant Attorney General,
a former attorney that represented a countless number of children
in the criminal justice and the foster care system. What I bring
with my candidacy is experience, I don't require training, I've
been there, I've done it. Thank you.
Bill Saunders: My name is Bill Saunders and I am running
for representative of the 35th councilmanic district. I know
all the candidates up here may have visions, we all have visions
of what we want our communities to look like. We'd like to know,
what have you done for our community? Have you built any houses?
Have you walked the picket lines making sure that the subway
shuttles stay open? Where were you? I can tell you all the things
that I have done. I can tell you the things I have done in the
school government, but I got paid for those things. Tell me
what you have done on your own for the people of this community.
This is a community that needs experience and the leadership
that I can bring. So I ask you to vote for me on September the
Avrohom Wasserman: My name is Avrohom Wasserman and
I am a candidate for the 35th council district and I would like
to thank the Citizens Union, the co-sponsors, and the community
members who came here. My run for City Council is a result of
twenty years of work and experience in the community. I started
off in the Area Policy Court, the organizations that we funded
are now active and bringing positive results to our community.
I am on the community board 9 and I chair the environmental
committee. With the asthma rates, this is a very important committee.
I would like you to vote for me on September 11th because I
come with twenty years of experience and I believe that I am
the most experienced candidate for the 35th City Council district.
Peter Williams: I'd like to thank the Citizens Union
and also, I'd like to thank the Brooklyn Museum for putting
on this event tonight. My name is Peter Williams, I'm running
to represent the 35th councilmanic district. I grew up in that
district and in public housing developments. As I've grown up,
I've watched neighborhoods like the Upper-east Side, Bay Ridge,
Bensonhurst receive better services, better police protection,
they have better schools, and better health services. I am going
to represent the people of this community because I believe
they deserve new leadership. In the 35th councilmanic district,
51 percent of the children read below the national average.
In the 35th councilmanic district, 64 percent of the children
score before the national average in math. I believe, that we
need to make sure our children receive the proper services.
We only spend $ 8 thousand dollars in education, we spend $
100 thousand to put kids in jails. As a council member, I will
fight to make sure we develop schools for kids. The best crime
prevention strategy is a good education.
Q: Will you support the expansion of the school-based health
clinic programs in the schools where children suffer from asthma?
James Davis: Of course we will support anything that
is going to make our children healthier . More importantly than
just support financially, we will support with visible, vocal
leadership. We'll make sure to reach out to institutions-- we'll
provide the money, and we'll also reach out to corporate America
to find funding, to expand those monies so that our children
can have the best possible health care.
It's all about our children being healthy. You can't learn
in an environment where you're sick. We need to address the
asbestos in the schools, we need to address and make sure that
our children go to school and are able to pay attention to the
teacher and not worry about being sick.
Imogene Baldwin-Ferguson: Absolutely. I can speak from
personal experience because both myself and my children suffer
from asthma. One of the big problems we are working with here
are the coal burning furnaces, once we get the coal burning
furnaces out of the schools, we may be able to alleviate some
of the problems.
The other thing is that we need to get the nurses back into
the schools. The way it works now, is that there is no one there
to administer asthma medication to the children, and often times
parents either have to leave what they are doing to come to
school to take care of the children, or the child has to stay
home when he is in a crisis. I think we need to do something
about that. We need to put funding in the schools for the nurses.
Q: With schools in Central Brooklyn highly over-crowded,
the average classroom is filled with over twenty-five students.
What do you propose to do to reduce class size?
Letitia James: One, we need to look at the School Construction
Authority . The School Construction Authority, which is a quasi-authority
created by the state, is basically responsible for school construction.
As all of you know, there were reports in the media with regards
to the cost overruns by the school construction authority .
The Board of Education has the responsibility to hold the School
Construction Authority accountable, as well as the local school
district 13. I recently had a sit-down conversation with Dr.
Young, who is the superintendent of school district 13. We talked
about classroom sizes and we talked about the recent decision
in the school equity case, which was decided by Leland De Bras,
which was based on Brown v. Board of Education. It was brilliant
in it's simplicity because it talked about several initiatives.
One, smaller class size, two, we need to focus on funding. The
state funding in Albany is unfortunately inequitable, we need
to increase teacher's salaries so that they are equal with teachers
in Long Island. We need to invest more in a public education
Avrohom Wasserman.: This is strictly an economic question.
With more funding, we can have smaller class sizes and I feel
this is very important. At this time the school class size of
twenty-five is way too big and it should be definitely cut.
And this is funding, we have to develop a master plan on this.
We also have to get private funding as we have done in other
areas. I also want to say one other thing while we are on education,
I feel that one of the most important things besides money is
the initiation of a moment of silence to start the school day.
Sidique Wai: I think one of the key things that we really
have to be concerned about, other than just talking about small
class sizes, is the process by which we have several periods,
not only from eight to three, but we need to consider shifting
the responsibility so that we might have classes after three.
Then secondly, we need to increase the parity in education.
Schoolteachers in the suburbs should not make more money than
teachers who teach in the City of New York. And thirdly, we
need to also have an after-school program. Those after school
programs will also be for students who are not able to come
to school during the day. Parents also need to be a part of
this process. If you can give tax credits to corporations, we
need to give tax credits to parents as an incentive for parents
to work for their children.
Peter Williams: One of the powers of the City Council
is the power of the capital budget. I will utilize the powers
through the capital budget to advocate. The council has not
utilized its power through the capital budget to construct and
renovate schools and as council member I will fight to make
sure that we use the capital budget allocations to bring more
schools on board. But more importantly, we need to look at some
of the inefficiencies with the School Construction Authorities.
Q: How would you try to shape public policy and economic
development plans to serve the interest of your community?
James Davis: Let me say this, I believe that economic
development is very, very important in our community-- providing
jobs, having economic development for persons who have been
left out of the system, making small business loans available,
instructing people on how to make a business and make money.
I am going to identify leaders in our community who are economic
development masters. I am going to support those individuals
and take those person's ideas, and fund it, and stand closely
with them. I am going to identify people who have a vision for
our community and support those individuals. I am a master of
policing, that's my specialty. I am going to find others who
are specialists in economic development and provide the leadership
and the funding. That's what I'll do as councilman.
Imogene Baldwin-Ferguson: First of all, we need to talk
about spurring business growth, growth of small businesses in
our community. We also need to talk about a larger economic
plan for the whole of Brooklyn. We are getting ready to close
out welfare, welfare is a very big business, and lots of people
benefit from it. When you close that revenue stream down, we're
going to face a very serious economic squeeze. What we are going
to have to do is find a way to replace the revenue that we are
loosing in our communities with something else. So therefore
I have to go out and try to find ways to bring in other kinds
of businesses. I have a plan, but this is not the time to talk
about it because you only gave me a minute.
Letitia James: One of the first things Mayor Giuliani
did when he got into office was repeal affirmative action. One
of the fist things that I will do when I become a City Council
member for the 35th district is restore affirmative action.
I will provide opportunities for women and minority business
enterprises. I will also provide them access to capital. In
addition, we need to look at targeted tax cuts for businesses
to create a climate in which businesses can grow. We also need
to talk about re-zoning the light manufacturing and also create
more opportunities for local businesses in the district. We
need to provide them with opportunities in government. The three
biggest problems with businesses are one, taxes; two, work-force
development and three, access to capital. We also need to create
an EAP, an Entrepreneur Assistance Program for businesses.
Avrohom Wasserman: What we have to understand is that
the mainstay of economic development in a neighborhood in the
35th council district is small businesses. If we have avenues
with viable small businesses, the neighborhood grows and flourishes
and it creates other types of development and that's closely
linked to the safety of the neighborhood. For example, you have
Flatbush Avenue, the small businesses there are not open at
nights. So one of the important things about economic development
is that it's linked to safety. One other thing, you have to
bring in bigger developments, for example, the Marriot Hotel
that came here served us very well. It created many jobs on
an on-going basis, it created construction jobs. In these two
ways, I feel that the district will benefit very much.
Sidique Wai: The first thing I would do, is I would
create a public-private community partnership. What do I mean
by that? I would develop an economic development enterprise
zone to force anybody that receives city contracts to making
sure that community businesses in that area participate in that
contract. I would create internships for young people who, when
they perform well in school, they could be able to get jobs.
Finally, our CBOs are under-funded. They are the one's that
do all of the work. We need to be able to support them by funding
those organizations so they can continue to provide technical
advice and support to people who do not know how to keep proper
books or accounting.
Peter Williams: There are a couple of ways I would look
at this. One, let's look at downtown Brooklyn, near the Atlantic
terminal , Metro-Tech, the Marriot Hotel. In many cities where
you have development like that, they basically want to make
sure that people in that community have an opportunity to work
there. Two, for every square foot that we tax, we should develop
a trust fund to develop affordable housing. The other issue,
in public housing there is a law called Section 3 that allows
any HUD dollars to make sure that people in public housing have
jobs in the construction industry. Finally, Development of an
equity fund to make sure that we can assist small entrepreneurs
and make sure that small entrepreneurs have an opportunity to
develop skills and have access to the capital so they can be
prosperous in the community.
Q: Crime is down and juvenile crime is down, yet the city
just allocated 64.6 million to build twenty more jail beds for
juveniles. If elected would you work to re-allocate this money
for alternatives to detention and alternatives too incarceration?
James Davis: Of course I would. I am a youth officer.
I've been a cop for twelve years and I am also a former corrections
officer. I understand about practicing prevention. When I was
police officer in the 69th precinct, crime was high. We started
practicing prevention, addressing the Crypts and addressing
the Bloods. We were able to reduce crime with prevention. I
believe in prevention. In addition to that, I believe that we
have to take our prison system ands stop practicing so much
apprehension. Right now, jail is used as a form of punishment,
jail should also be used as a form of rehabilitation. Right
now we have something called the recidivism rate, repeat offenders
going into the prison system, constantly coming back. As your
city councilman, I will stop the recidivism rate, I will stop
repeat offenders, I will practice rehabilitation, I will retake
that money and put that money in the areas of prevention as
opposed to apprehension.
Peter Williams: We have the lowest youth employment
rate in the country. What I would like to do is spend some of
those dollars and make sure that we have full time employment
for our youth so that we can work with some of the CBOs to make
sure that they can employ our youth in the development skills
so that they can move on. Second, I want to make sure that our
after school programs are funded. As I said earlier, we spend
$100,000 to put a kid in jail, only $ 8 thousand to educate
them. We can make sure that money is put for innovative initiatives
for the youth, rather than using it to lock them up.
Letitia James: As you all know there is a mandatory
law in the State of New York that basically says if you are
currently a felon and you commit another felony, you automatically
have to go to jail, no matter what your circumstances are. We
have to repeal the Rockefeller Law. We need to stop the expansion
of the prison industrial complexes. And I disagree with Mr.
Davis, the criminal justice system is not punishing anyone.
It is unfortunately a perverse housing program, that's what
it is. They get no skills , they get no education, they get
no GED, it is nothing more than housing for individuals. What
we need are more youth programs in the district. Again, I am
working with Assemblyman Green so that we can build a Youth
Opportunity Center on Fulton Street, in the 35th council district,
and I will continue to do that as your councilperson.
Sidique Wai: One of the greatest problems in this community
has been people using jailhouses to punish. We should be able
to use monies we have to rehabilitate and to remodel the thinking
of people so that our young people will choose an education
and upward mobility, as opposed to crime and punishment. The
monies that are being allocated to building jails should be
used to give opportunities to our youth. But when they have
nothing to do and there is nothing there for them, there are
no role models and so forth, then they are going to choose going
to gangs and things like that. We need to refocus our priorities,
to invest in human beings as opposed to investing in jails.
I will re-allocate those funds into more youth programs, more
mentoring programs, and more quality education.
Avrohom Wasserman: When one reflects on what is the
most cruel and unusual punishment you can give a person, I think
with proper reflection the conclusion is, you take away his
freedom. When you put someone in jail, you take away his freedom,
when you take away his freedom, he stops being a human being.
What I say, is before we do that, we have to exhaust all alternatives.
We have to try different programs and different ways in terms
of approaches. Also, on the other token, if someone is a danger
to society, then we have no choice, but with youth, there are
many ways to approach this. I will make this one of my priorities
as councilman--to look for alternatives for jail, to look for
alternatives for taking away people's freedom.
Imogene Baldwin-Ferguson: I believe that first of all,
it is kind of unrealistic that they are going to allow you take
the money that has already been allocated and do what you want.
We have to take a realistic look at the fact that we have a
lot of juvenile crime and our facilities are overcrowded and
a lot of the reason things happen within the system is because
of the overcrowding. So if you take money to build the new facilities
so that you can relieve crowding, fine, but along with building
the new facilities, we now have to find money to do rehabilitation
projects, education projects, and to make sure that the family,
not just the prisoner, is worked with, so that when a person
steps out of the system, they move into society with their family,
with the understanding that there is going to be a job and there
is going to be housing.