Candidates spar in final debate before polls open
By Stephen Witt
As Bedford-Stuyvesant voters readied to elect their new City Councilman next week, three of the four major candidates sparred off in a final debate at the Billie Holiday Theater in Restoration Plaza.
The major candidates on hand included Rev. Conrad Tillard, senior pastor at the Nazarene Congregational Church, District Leader Robert Cornegy and community activist Kirsten John Foy. The fourth candidate, Rev. Robert Waterman, pastor at Antioch Baptist Church, was unable to attend as he had church business.
When asked what the candidates would do to stem the high rates of foreclosures in the district, Tillard responded that he has already held forums on the subject at his church in partnership with the Bridge Street Development Corporation and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Real Estate Board and other nonprofits on such issues as how to transfer real estate assets from one generation to another.
Many residents bought these brownstones on transit salaries and other working-class jobs and now people are coming in who come from a lot more money, and the longtime homeowners need to learn more how to protect their assets, said Tillard.
“As a City Councilman who knows the pitfalls of the community, I will marry homeowners with the resources available and before them,” he said.
Cornegy said he would make sure local banks are held accountable to the Community Reinvestment Act and adhere to policies against predatory lending. Cornegy also praised the local nonprofits such as Bridge Street and the Brownstoners, and said he joined them to do outreach to senior homeowners concerning if they are in default through water and property tax liens.
“Bed-Stuy has good infrastructure in helping and assisting homeowners and as City Councilman I will make sure to continue funding these important organizations,” he said.
Foy identified two problems related to foreclosures – protect homeowners from the aftermath of the housing meltdown and work for more affordable units for renters.
For homeowners, Foy supports property tax rebates based on longevity of the homeownership which will stabilize longtime homeowners on fixed incomes. For making rentals more affordable, Foy said the median income levels for affordable housing has to be pegged to only local incomes. It is currently being set in a larger region including Long Island and Westchester County, he said.
When asked about how to bring down the high rate of unemployment in the community, Tillard noted that there are many young men with felony convictions that find it hard to find gainful employment. “I tell these young men to survey the community to see what services and goods can be provided and I trumpet the gospel of entrepreneurship,” he said.
Tillard said as City Councilman, he would put funds into small businesses, technical training and to attract as much investment in the community as possible.
Cornegy said he would also champion local small business and he has already worked on a small business incubator to provide both technical assistance and access to capital. Both Food Town in Restoration Plaza and the Peaches franchise are also part of a program where 80 percent of their employees are hired locally, he said.
Foy said the Bloomberg Administration has attacked the local economy with overregulation and fining of small business to close budget gaps. Thus, he would remove these regulations and fines, and remove corporate subsidies from corporations that are not investing in or employing locally.
Any money taken from the local community in fines and fees should go back into the local community for microloans and technical training, he said.
Foy said the unemployment rate for men of color hovers around 50 percent, and both job training and education is needed to stem this crisis.