September 18, 2009

Council-Manic Followup

Well there you go. Our candidate Evan Thies came in fourth of the seven contenders for the city council seat from Brooklyn’s 33rd District. The winner was Stephen Levin, who won by a landslide with 5199 votes, or 33.71 percent of the return. Levin ran with the endorsement of US Senator Chuck Schumer, and was generally considered the candidate to run against.

This was an energetic and very competitive race. But at the same time, voter turnout was abysmally low in this district. Joe Anne Simon came in second (3109 votes), followed by Isaac Abraham (1937 votes), Evan Thies (1915 votes), Ken Diamondstone (1324 votes), and two others with about a thousand votes each.

These numbers are no larger than popular facebook pages. If you could commit 20 friends, that was big. If you could lock in a housing project or a senior center, that was a landslide. And canvassing outside the Park Slope Food Coop, for example, was quite a different thing from canvassing the subway rush hour at Grand Army Plaza. At the Plaza, I was amazed by how many hipsters I encountered who clearly had no intention of even remembering that it were an election day.

I was also surprised by how many Republicans there are in Park Slope, streaming out of the subway in seersucker suits and Tilly hats, into the brownstone neighborhood. And they were politically more alive than most others in the crowd. This is from the street, not statistics, but time and again it was, “Nope, not voting, I’m a Republican.” (Remember, this was technically just the Democratic Primary, but in a heavily Democratic district where the GOP will probably not waste money running a candidate in a final election.)

In theory, had Diamondstone and Thies thrown their support behind Simon, the seat would have gone to Simon. But then the race would not have been nearly as interesting or as revealing of the political dynamics in this part of Brooklyn. The 33rd includes, as I remarked last time, those parts of Brooklyn that you see in the movies: most of the famous waterfront and bridges, all of downtown Brooklyn, and most of the Brooklyn neighborhoods that have gentrified fastest over the past twenty years. It is no wonder this district is heating up politically. Only two of the city’s 51 council districts ran more than six candidates in this election. Most ran three to five. A district in northern Manhattan ran eight candidates, and the 33rd in Brooklyn ran seven.

Evan Thies probably did best in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, where he lives and has a strong base among young veterans of the Obama campaign. He was also the only candidate in the race who lives in the northern reach of the district.

The 33rd is a gerrymandered district whose northern provinces of Williamsburg and Greenpoint have been long subsumed by the political clout of downtown Brooklyn. This is a situation that will probably change as Brooklyn’s industrial north steadily fills up with artists and yuppies, and the area begins to get political traction in the form of people like Evan Thies.

The 33rd district should be reorganized. Its two parts are culturally and geographically quite different. It should be severed at the narrow strip of waterfront that presently connects its northern and southern reaches. Williamsburg and Greenpoint should be joined with their neighbors East Williamsburg and Bushwick (which presently reside in the 34th district) to form a contiguous northwest council district for Brooklyn.

There may be a political archeology to be uncovered in the present configuration, which may point to an attempt to divide and conquer the ancient “City of Williamsburgh.” That city had its own town hall and opera house up until 1855, when it was merged with the City of Brooklyn.