Good afternoon, and thanks so much to all of you for coming. My name is Stephen Pierson and I am running for City Council in New York's 33rd district. I am not a politician, as my wife keeps reminding me, and I have never especially wanted to be one. But I am here today because I feel compelled to challenge the incumbent Council member, Steve Levin, and because I know I can do a better job representing everyone in this 33rd Council District. Steve Levin does not represent the values of this district. The 33rd is one of the most progressive districts in this progressive city. How, then, did we end up with Steve Levin – a politician who is completely, brazenly, and embarrassingly deferential to the most vile man in Brooklyn politics, Vito Lopez? How did we end up with a Councilman who has wasted millions of our tax dollars, sending them out of our district to Vito's corrupt so-called charity? How did we end up with a Councilman who stood silent when his mentor, Vito Lopez, repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted his young interns? I am not generally an angry person or a cynical person. I have run a non-profit for the last seven years. I work with incredibly inspiring artists and writers and middle school students. I have an amazing wife and I have an awesomely active two year-old daughter. These things fill my life with joy and optimism. But I cannot stand idly by while Steve Levin demeans this district with his 19th century politics, continually putting his own political aspirations ahead of the needs of this community. Let’s be more specific: Steve Levin was Vito Lopez's chief of staff. Vito got him elected to the City Council. That is indisputable. Since then, Levin has made it his life's mission to pay back his debts to Vito. Vito runs a thoroughly corrupt charity, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. Ridgewood Bushwick has been the target of multiple federal investigations. Vito has stacked its executive leadership with his friends who all make massive salaries. The Executive Director made $782,000 in one recent year. Even Vito's girlfriend serves as one of its directors. She made $343,000 in the same year that she simultaneously earned a full-time salary as a City Planning Commissioner—appointed, of course, by Vito. Steve Levin has made it his personal mission to direct as many Council funds as possible to this sham of a non-profit. During Levin's first three years in office, his efforts directly resulted in more than 2 million taxpayer dollars being sent to Ridgewood Bushwick. This so-called non-profit doesn't even serve residents of our district. To add insult to injury, Steve Levin has also wasted his discretionary spending money on this sham. Each year, every Council member has a small amount of money they can give out to their district's non-profit community. I run a non-profit -- I know exactly how vital this money is for the non-profit community of this district. So I find it especially despicable that Steve Levin has repeatedly chosen to send our district's discretionary money -- an average of $50,000 per year -- to Ridgewood Bushwick. During one year, $12,000 of that discretionary money was used to pay for a single lunch. Now lunch happens to be my favorite meal, so I can empathize up to a point. But not entirely.


Steve Levin needs to be reminded that this is not his money—it is our money. Oddly enough, the recent downfall of Vito Lopez was not due to Ridgewood Bushwick shenanigans, but because he repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted multiple young female interns -- one as young as 14 years-old. It seems completely implausible that none of this occurred under Steve Levin’s watch, when Levin was Vito’s chief of staff. So was Steve Levin simply completely oblivious to this behavior? If so, it seems unwise to elect a Councilman whose most redeeming feature in this sordid story is obliviousness. The other option, of course, is much worse: that Steve Levin was indeed aware of the situation and chose to remain silent for his own political gain. In either case, when these years of sexual harassment and assault finally came to light, Steve Levin was our only local official who did not speak out against Vito. He did not say a single public word. As the father of a two year-old daughter, I find this especially revolting. Cold, crass, political self-interest once again trumps ethical behavior for Mr. Levin. Steve Levin is not dumb. Trying to cover up his cronyism, he has recently tacked hard to the left. Steve Levin has joined the Progressive Caucus in the Council; he has cast some genuinely good votes, and even started showing up to lots of community meetings – particularly during this last year before the election. I’m a basketball fan, so please forgive a quick basketball analogy. This is like if former New York Knicks player Eddy Curry—famously talented and famously lazy—suddenly got into tremendous shape and played great defense during a contract negotiation year. Probably not wise to reward him with a long-term deal based on that. Having an elected representative who votes the right ways for the wrong reasons will always come back to hurt us in the end. Sadly, this sort of behavior is all too common in Brooklyn politics. So how do we solve this problem? I mean, beyond simply giving Steve Levin the boot, how do we create a different structure that proactively prevents behavior like Levin’s? Part of the reason why Steve Levin has been able to get away with this behavior is that he does not involve the community in his decision making. He is communicative, but in the wrong ways. He sends out tweets and mailings and a whole lot of press releases, all describing how very great he is. I propose a different way of doing things. I have been living in this great borough of Brooklyn for 14 years, and I am continually amazed by how much I learn, every day, just by listening to people. My nonprofit is built around the idea that everyone has a compelling story to tell—that we can all learn something by listening. So let’s listen. Let us listen to artists, to writers, to middle to school students, and seniors. Let’s listen to our teachers and plumbers and even to our bankers. Let’s listen to our district’s entire Hasidic community, which Mr. Levin might be surprised to learn, includes thousands of Aaronites, whose many needs Levin has ignored at every turn -- refusing to meet with them or return their phone calls -- because they didn’t support him in the last election. Let’s listen. Occasionally, even my two year-old daughter has an odd burst of insight. So I propose that we should have a City Councilman who prioritizes listening over hyping himself.


When I first started my non-profit, 7 years ago, I had just turned 30 and therefore thought myself very wise. I was a self-assured control freak, and, consequently, I was really bad at managing a non-profit. But over the last 7 years I’ve realized that the community of writers and artists that I work with, collectively, are far, far wiser than me. Every day they teach me something new about the community, and about how to better run my organization. So, as your Council member, I will listen. I know that the Brooklyn community, collectively, has a far greater, more nuanced understanding of the issues facing us than I, or anyone else, every could on my own. So I will hold weekly open community meetings. On the more contentious issues, I will organize townhall-style forums and debates. I will have long, regularly scheduled open office hours. I will have an email address and a telephone number from which messages from the community are actually responded to. (From what I've heard, responding to messages is not exactly a strength of Mr. Levin and his office, to put it mildly.) I propose using the full spectrum of social media—including Facebook and Twitter -- to actively solicit ideas from the community, and to keep the community continuously informed of Council votes well before they happen. And when I am your Councilman, if the people of this community choose to give their discretionary funds to Ridgewood Bushwick, then I will humbly cede to their wishes. But somehow I doubt that will happen. For years, Vito Lopez ruled Brooklyn politics through fear and intimidation and revenge. If you spoke out against him or defied him in the slightest way, you would be crushed. Steve Levin has repeatedly called Vito his mentor. This should frighten us. This is no way to conduct oneself in contemporary Brooklyn. We can do better. Thank you!

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