Race to Succeed Al Vann Gets Ugly

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Mailing by controversial well-moneyed organization attacks three candidates

By Stephen Witt

The race to succeed term-limited Al Vann from the 36th District of the City Council took a nasty turn this week when a glossy pro-Kirsten John Foy mailer was sent to residents labeling his opponents as  “Three bad options”.

And Rev. Conrad Tillard, one of the three, wasted no time in replying that Foy has little community involvement and is a puppet of Rev. Al Sharpton, who wants to extend his political base from Harlem to Central Brooklyn.

The attack mailer accuses Tillard as the “divisive option” because he was once a black Muslim, Rev. Robert Waterman as the “irresponsible option” because he owed creditors money more than 20 years ago, and District Leader Robert Cornegy as the “Negligent Option” because he owed back taxes dating back a decade.

“As a follower of Reverend Al Sharpton and a member of the National Action Network, he (Foy) certainly wouldn’t want to attack people for saying incendiary things. The National Action Network[ itself] has had legendary tax improprieties that have been well-documented,” said Tillard. “This is a salacious and desperate attack to get a seat and Foy has not done the groundwork to deserve the seat.”

The mailer was the latest that the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) sent out on behalf of Foy under its moniker Jobs For New York. Thus far, REBNY has spent about $80,000 in mailings on behalf of Foy – or roughly the maximum the city gives in public matching funds to City Council candidates.

The group is able to skirt the city’s campaign finance laws as it’s a political action committee(PAC) and therefore can spend money on any candidate they wish as an independent expenditure.  Although they include some construction unions, the bulk of REBNY’s funding comes from high-end developers. They have poured money into mailings in several City Council races throughout the city including for both Foy and Laurie Cumbo in the neighboring 35th District representing Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

While Foy and Cumbo point out that by law they don’t associate with REBNY and never solicited help from the organization, they also maintain a nuanced approach towards it.

“No one really understands how Jobs For New York is functioning and what impact it has on campaigns,” said Cumbo. “They are an independent body doing what they want to do and their support has no bearing on how I will function as a City Council member in January, but also at the same time I look forward to working with REBNY members for organic development that’s in the best interest of the community.”

Foy said he appreciated that Jobs For New York saw something of value in his campaign.

“I never expected their support to come but it came and everyone wants to paint it with a broad brush,” said Foy. “Jobs For New York is labor and business coming together around candidates and no other candidate around the city is more progressive than me.”

But Tillard called the organization a proverbial fox in the henhouse, hell-bent on further pricing out longtime residents.

“These are the people that pushed the epicenter of unaffordability from the Silk Stocking districts of Manhattan to Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Red Hook and Greenpoint. These are the people engaged in the hostile takeover of neighborhoods, and these are the people that want to take NYCHA properties and develop them to the detriment of the poor families that have no other option,” said Tillard.

“And yet Kirsten Foy sits there saying he is fighting for the underclass while the plutocrats are financing his outreach to the district. This is really a scandal and any candidate in this race that will not speak out against this is not showing leadership,” he added.

Waterman could not be reached at press time for comment and Cornegy refused comment on the issue.

When confronted with the recent negative mailing, Foy distanced himself from both the mailing and REBNY.

“Going negative is not my style. I don’t believe the way to move forward is tearing people down,” said Foy. “I would not support or embrace such a mailing whether or not it was on my behalf, and if that’s the case, I’m disturbed by it.”

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