Gotham Gazette

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Heart of the Lead Belt

City Council District 37, which includes the neighborhoods of Cypress Hills, Wyckoff Heights, and Bushwick, has the highest incidence of childhood lead poisoning in the city. Between 1995 and 2000, over 3,000 children under the age of six were diagnosed with lead poisoning, which can cause brain damage and learning disabilities.

"We're in the heart of the lead belt," said Nellie Santiago, a former State Senator, who is trying to unseat the incumbent City Councilmember Erik Dilan and hopes to make the issue of lead poisoning a focus of the campaign. Santiago and Dilan also have a political rivalry from the past.

Erik Dilan, who was elected to City Council in 2001 after his father Martin Dilan was forced out of office because of term limits, is one of a few council members - 18 out of 51 - who has not sponsored a bill to create more stringent lead regulations in the city.

The bill, Intro 101-A, aims to replace the current lead paint law, which was recently rejected by the New York Court of Appeals. The new bill diverges from the current law, local law 38, by requiring landlords to remove lead dust in addition to lead paint and cuts in half the time a landlord has to clean up an apartment. The council is expected to vote on new lead legislation this fall.

"Clearly I'm not a sponsor of the bill, but that doesn't mean I'm against the bill," said Councilmember Dilan. "I thought local law 38 was effective, by the numbers."

Dilan said that he has worked on the issue of lead poisoning while in office. He fought to maintain lead-safe houses slated to be cut in this year's city budget, he said, and obtained $150,000 for a lead paint abatement program to clean up lead in potentially hazardous buildings.

However, Nellie Santiago said Dilan is ignoring the threat of lead dust by not signing on to Intro 101. "If you have children crawling around, putting toys in their mouths, they could easily ingest lead dust," said Santiago.

She also asserted that Erik Dilan's opposition to the bill stems from his allegiance to real estate lobbyists. Dilan said the charge is unfounded. "Has the real estate community donated to my campaign? Yes. So have the trial lawyers, and those are the two parties most interested in keeping [the bill] out. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with my position on the bill."

And apart from the disagreement over the lead paint legislation, the platforms of the two Democratic candidates are remarkably similar.

When asked which issues deserve immediate attention, Dilan said "safety, education and employment, in that order." Santiago also named the same issues.

In places, district 37 looks somewhat less urban than much of Brooklyn. There are few tall buildings. The side streets are comprised of one- and two-family homes, set back from the street, allowing for small yards, fences, and, in some cases, driveways. Families sit together on their porches while groups of boys throw around footballs in the street between cars.

Even though crime has decreased drastically in the area in the last few years, the 75th police precinct still has a disproportionate number of murders; 18 murders occurred in the first six months of 2003.

Both candidates also questioned the effectiveness of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education reforms and stressed the need for bilingual education in the area.

They also share a concern over the unemployment. "We need to focus on trying to keep a lot of businesses that are fleeing into New Jersey," said Dilan.

While they may agree on many issues, the candidates have a personal rivalry.

When Erik Dilan's father left the City Council in 2001, he ran against Santiago in the State Senate and ended her five consecutive terms in office. Santiago now wants to unseat the younger Dilan, who she says is overly influenced by more powerful Brooklyn politicians. "My votes have been influenced by the people in the district," Dilan replied.

Posted July 28, 2003

Campaign Update:

The lead paint issue continues to generate the most debate in the district 37 primary. On July 29th, protestors demonstrated outside of Councilmember Dilan's district office, demanding that he sign onto the proposed lead paint bill, Intro 101A.

Dilan has thus far raised $90,275 in contributions and matching funds; Santiago has $77,456 in contributions and matching funds.

Another candidate, Belinda Lindros, has entered the race, on the Republican and Conservative tickets. She has not filed with the campaign finance board and could not be reached for an interview.

Updated August 29, 2003


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