The leading candidates in the 48th District City Council race to replace term-limited Michael Nelson battled it out at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center during a candidate’s forum held by the Jewish Press last week, expounding on their qualifications for the job and their proposals for improving the district.

Mixed in the melee, which included a handful of attacks on their fellow candidates, the four leading Democrats and one Republican expressed mixed support for participatory budgeting, an innovative plan implemented by some City Council members to provide a more democratic and transparent way of distributing millions of dollars of discretionary funding throughout the district.

Three of the five Democrats – Theresa Scavo, Igor Oberman and Chaim Deutsch – expressed explicit support for participatory budgeting when asked about the need for reform to the process, while the fourth Democrat, Ari Kagan, and the lone Republican, David Storobin, suggested that they would continue to oversee distribution of discretionary funds without holding public meetings, the core characteristic of participatory budgeting.

“I can tell you right now, any discretionary funds I have will be brought out to the public. I will hold meetings, town hall-style meetings. If you want funding, come before your peers and tell me what you need that money for,” Scavo said.

Currently, eight City Council districts across the five boroughs distribute funds via participatory budgeting, including David Greenfield (Midwood, Borough Park) and Jumaane Williams (Midwood, Flatbush). The process was initiated to battle the misuse of  funding allocations. Participatory budgeting allows residents to determine the fate of millions of dollars destined to their district, shining a light on the process. Through a series of town halls and community forums, residents gather to propose ideas for the money and ultimately vote on the proposal.

Oberman echoed Scavo’s sentiments, saying that participatory budgeting adds transparency to a system that is largely left to closed-door negotiations by Council leadership.

“You clear through all the smoke and you get to the issue: what does the community need? And the best way of doing it is by the involvement of the community,” Oberman said. “I hope that one day ‘participatory budgeting’ will replace the word ‘pork’.”  Oberman was the only candidate to use the term participatory budgeting.

Deutsch, the founder of the Flatbush Shomrim, which has benefited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in discretionary funds from multiple council members, also spoke in support of the services discretionary funds allow for the community, and said he’d similarly ensure transparency.

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

The City Council has approximately $50 million in discretionary funds, allocating an average of about $1 million to each district. Some candidates receive more depending on their favorability with Council leadership, while others receive less, leading to criticism of the process as an exercise in political favoritism. From 2009 to 2013, Michael Nelson doled out some some $3,093,471, putting him somewhere in the middle of the pack when compared to the amounts his colleagues have received.

The process has also come under attack for being politically motivated or “pork funding,” at the district level, with some council members steering funds to reward organizations that have proved to be loyal supporters. High profile cases like those of now-incarcerated Councilman Larry Seabrook, who sent millions to a phony non-profit he controlled and used to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to his girlfriend and family, have tarnished the process further, with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara calling for reform of the system. Some have called for the funding to be terminated altogether.

Republican Storobin slammed such abuses, saying that the funding is useful because “sometimes you need to provide help for people,” but that it can often be abused. He pointed to the recent allegations against Councilman Domenic Recchia.

“Instead of helping his own district, a district that got beat up by Hurricane Sandy … the money went to Staten Island, where he’s campaigning for Congress. He’s using our money to campaign for Congress. That needs to stop,” he said. He promised to spend the funding on community needs, but did not propose any reforms to the distribution process.

The partisan rebuke was met with an equally partisan response from Kagan, who has received Recchia’s endorsement in the race.

“Definitely if someone abuses the system, if someone takes advantage of it like Republican Councilman Dan Halloran of Queens, of course we have to prevent all kinds of abuse like that. But I’m very proud to have the support of Councilman Domenic Recchia who provides millions and millions and millions of dollars for Southern Brooklyn communities,” Kagan said. He similarly did not propose instituting any reforms, but expressed support for continuing the system as a way to steer money to vital community services.

Aside from the participatory budgeting question, the candidates spent most of their time at the forum discussing their qualifications for the Council while offering little in the way of proposals. When asked if forced to make a choice between slashing funds for senior services or funds for education, for example, all of the candidates spoke of increasing funds for both.

To bring city spending under control, all said they would eliminate waste and increase efficiency – again without offering any specifics. Several of the candidates had somewhat dubious responses, including Storobin who said he would ensure the city “spends the money we have, not more, not less,” apparently unaware that the city is required by its own charter to have a balanced budget and is unable to spend more than it takes in in revenue. Another questionable proposal came from Kagan, who said he would create revenue for the city by contracting beachside kiosks that would rent chairs and umbrellas. But parks concessions would only add hundreds of thousands of dollars, at most, to a budget of $70 billion (not to mention much of that money would likely be earmarked to maintaining the park in question).

The forum did, however, give each candidate an opportunity to frame their own narratives for victory, with Scavo and Deutsch focusing on their years of constituent services and records within the community (Scavo as chair of the Community Board, and Deutsch as an aide to Councilman Nelson). Kagan rattled off the support he has earned from other local politicians, as well as the work he does with Russian seniors and Holocaust survivors, and for Comptroller John Liu, for whom he was a community liaison. Oberman portrayed himself as the most balanced candidate, with experience in both legal and budgetary issues. As a lawyer and administrative law judge, he said he has the experience to craft legislation, and through serving as the president of Trump Village 4, he has budgetary experience by maintaining its $22 million budget. Storobin, meanwhile, portrayed himself as the outsider candidate that will end the rule of the Democratic machine.

Related posts

  • Anon.

    The bias in this synopsis is unbelievable. You should explicitly state who you support because this is misleading. My favorite lines:

    Several of the candidates had somewhat “dubious” responses….including Storobin….another questionable proposal came from Kagan.

    What about Scavo and Deutsch? Oberman? Did they propose anything “dubious”? If they did write about it, and if they didn’t why don’t you say that they had no ideas of their own?

    The forum did, however, give each candidate an “opportunity to frame their own narratives for victory”, (NOTE WHO YOU MENTION FIRST AND IN A BETTER LIGHT) with Scavo and Deutsch focusing on their years of constituent services and records within the community (Scavo as chair of the Community Board, and Deutsch as an aide to Councilman Nelson).

    Kagan “rattled off” the support….

    Storobin “meanwhile” portrayed himself as the outsider candidate ….

    It is evident that you are heavily biased against Storobin and Kagan and most likely support Scavo and Deutsch (probably Scavo first). The one that is really the most biased is where you mention how Kagan “rattled off” his list of support.

    You can do better.

    • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

      I don’t support anyone in the race, actually. So there’s your disclosure. Those responses were dubious, and as I note in the article, the candidates offered “little in the way of proposals. ” — So you can judge whether dubious proposals is better than no proposals. I, for one, can’t decide which is worse.

      “Rattled off” has no connotation to it, other than that he listed them. Watch the video. He lists them.

      “Meanwhile” also has no connotation. I don’t even know what sort of flight of the imagination one would have to take to see a connotation in this.

      Quite frankly, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing all of these individuals for some time. I think they all care about their community – truly. As for who is the best? I have no idea. They all have major flaws and major strengths. It’s my job to point out when someone says something silly though, and in this case you had two candidates say something silly while the others said nothing. Case closed.

  • BayResident

    I can’t type fast enough to comment on all the BS in this video, but wasn’t
    Storobin in the Senate for one whole week? Does that mean that every day, for a
    whole seven days, he “rocked Albany”? Or am I missing something here? And if he
    does take action on every promise he makes during the election (a huge if),
    then we certainly should pay attention to the things he promises, because
    everyone knows that what we poor Sheepshead Bay folk really need is a Walmart
    to save us.

    Is it just me or does Chaim Deutsch seem like the only real candidate here? I
    mean that as a serious question that other’s should answer. If you plan on
    voting for any of the other candidates can you help me understand why? I
    understand that our babushki are going to vote for Kagan based purely on his
    radio show, and that all of Storobin’s business-owning friends are going to
    vote for him as “their guy”, but what about everyone else? Who is your
    candidate and why?

    I ask not to stir up controversy or spark a debate, but purely because I feel
    like I must be missing something. To me it seems like Chaim is the only one
    that’s ever done anything worth mentioning for the community and the only one
    who seems to actually be trying to do good. I’ve long been a fan of Scavo, but
    she seems better fit for the CB and I feel is just too abrasive to get anything
    done for our district. Kagan and Storobin don’t have a clue what’s going on
    outside of Brighton Beach (and I say that as a Sheepshead Bay Russian) and
    couldn’t care less about the community, much less its residents. Finally,
    Oberman just doesn’t seem like he wants to work. It’s almost like he doesn’t
    want to be there.

    So tell me Sheepshead Bay, what am I missing in all this?

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      Oh, Storobin rocked Albany all right, they rocked with laughter at his absurd postulations. They rolled in the aisles when he tried to get the gay marriage bill repealed.

      Kagan I can’t figure out. Not a good thing, so I have to pass on voting for him. Oberman, well, yes, he wanted to be at home, and should have stayed there.

      That out of the way, I do agree that Deutsch is an acceptable choice. But I also think that Scavo’s abrasiveness is an asset in the City Council, rather than a liability. We’re miles away from Manhattan, and we need someone who has the energy and passion to speak forcefully on our behalf. And her passion is for our community as a whole.

      • BayResident

        I certainly don’t disagree. In all honesty, I’m torn on
        Scavo, and therefor tend to fall back on Deutsch. But I definitely agree that she is passionate for our community and that is a very good thing.

        It’s a relief to see that I’m not the only one who feels this way about the others running.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          Those two are the only ones that impress me, both of us are doers and fighters. They also know about the community because they’re not distancing themselves from it, I do not sense that the other three feel like they are part of us. Storobin revels in being the outsider, such a mindset means that he will do exactly as he sees fit to, with any consideration for the needs and desires of the people he represents. Kagan is well liked by a number of other politicians, but can he relate to you or I? I am not sure that he can. Oberman is just generally detached, I suspect he will have the poorest showing in the primary.

  • Elizabeth Bacharach

    Just want to thank Sheepshead Bites for the video. I did not know about the forum (even though I live in Manhattan Beach), and I was happy to see something of these candidates.

  • Citizen

    Thanks G-d, I passed that one. Wanted to attend but changed my mind. The only two sounded professional are Deutsch and Scavo. Rest-just a joke. To me when a candidate talks about endorsements from elected officials for more than 30 second, this person is a lost case. It means he/she has no record to run on.. Kagan keeps talking about his community work but I have never seen him anywhere except gathering of Russian seniors. Storobin is a clown, but my feeling tells that there are too many lovers of the circus. Will see. My choice is Deutsch!

  • sadeyes

    Just an odd occurrence. Oberman came knocking at my door looking for my signature that would ensure his name on the primary ballot. I signed. Over this past weekend a hand written envelope with no return address arrived in the mail. I’m not pleased receiving such mail. Inside was a pen with Oberman’s name on it & a note thanking me for my signature. My signature, btw, should not imply that I support him. I don’t. I read Sheepshead Bites so I know of his troubles at his co-op. I do, however, support his right to run. Anyway, the pen broke in 2 days. First, the ink piece flew out. I put it back in. Next, the pen cracked in two, making it useless. Tells me a lot.

  • joe-blow

    I will be voting for chaim. I also wanted to say while all these opinions (including mine) are all well & good, I still want to hear what @tuth has to say!!!

  • Pingback: Sheepshead Bites » Blog Archive Editorial: Deutsch's "Participatory Governing" Concept No Replacement For Participatory Budgeting » Sheepshead Bay News Blog