Sandy’s Lessons Shape Council Race in Brooklyn

Candidates for the 48th City Council District, from left to right: Ari Kagan, Theresa Scavo, Chaim Deutsch, Igor Oberman, Natraj Bhushan, David Storobin. (Photos courtetsy of the campaigns via Gotham Gazette).

Candidates for the 48th City Council District, clockwise from top left: Ari Kagan, Theresa Scavo, Chaim Deutsch, David Storobin, Natraj Bhushan and Igor Oberman. (Photos courtesy of the campaigns via Gotham Gazette)

The debate about how best to prepare for the next major storm that could hit New York City’s shores is dominating the fiercely contested 48th City Council District in southern Brooklyn, an area hard hit by last year’s Hurricane Sandy, reports Latima Stephens in Gotham Gazette.

The coastal neighborhoods of the district were in the path of Sandy, which left a trail of destruction last October. The district includes Brighton Beach, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach, and has large Russian, Arabic and Orthodox Jewish enclaves.

Five Democrats and a Republican are in the race to replace Democratic Councilman Michael Nelson, who is precluded from running again because of term limits. They include Community Board 15 Chairwoman Theresa Scavo; Nelson’s aide Chaim Deutsch; district leader and journalist Ari Kagan; attorney Igor Oberman; attorney Natraj Bhushan; and former state Senator and the lone Republican in the race David Storobin.

None of the five Democrats have presented plans to deal with extreme weather emergencies in the future. They agree, however, that such a plan is a priority. The Republican candidate did not respond to interview requests from Latima.

A citywide report on the effects of Sandy released by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration in June detailed how most of southern Brooklyn was prone to flooding because of the area’s bays, creeks and inlets. Homes and buildings in Manhattan Beach and Sea Gate were battered because there was no coastal protection. The beaches lost 272,000 cubic yards of sand.

As part of its plan for building a more resilient city, the Bloomberg administration has proposed replacing about one million cubic yards of sand around the coastal areas and raising barriers in low-lying areas at risk of flooding.

Scavo is promising, if elected to the Council, to propose legislation that would call for giving tax credits to homeowners willing to install backwater valves. The valves, costing $1,500 to $2,000 each, prevent flooding from the sewer system.

“A lot of the problems that occurred here was sewer back up because the sewers are so small they couldn’t handle the heavy downpour of rain plus water from the bay and the ocean,” said Scavo, 61, who besides her work for community board 15 volunteers her time to numerous local organizations. She has been endorsed by the Southern Brooklyn Democrats.

Oberman, one of three Russian-born candidates in the race, has seen proposals for the protection of beaches but is not willing to pass judgment on them.

“I have to say I have been trying [to] wrap my head around them,” said the 40-year-old candidate, who records show made a $250 donation to Storobin’s 2012 state Senate campaign but as a Democrat has earned the support of progressive groups including the Working Families Party and 32BJ SEIU. “Several months have gone by where they have talked about should we do it like New Orleans [did] it with levees. I’m not sure … But we need to start having a much more serious discussion.”

Kagan, who is expecting the support of influential Russian American media mogul Gregory Davidzon, is proposing beachside kiosks whose profits would be used to improve infrastructure in the district. Ari says each neighborhood will have its own store selling items like sunscreen, goggles and water, and rent equipment like umbrellas, chairs and surf boards.

“Sandy affected our district big time, especially the south part of the district. We are still recovering. We have very old outdated sewer system and surge systems,” said Kagan, 46, who has been endorsed by a handful of liberal organizations, including the United Federation of Teachers.

Kagan and Storobin are seen as archenemies in the race, each fighting to sway the Orthodox Jewish vote.

Bhushan, 27, the youngest of the candidates, says he is in the race mainly because he is concerned about how money for storm recovery would be distributed.

“Do I have a particular plan in place? No, I don’t, but a particular plan is something I would like to craft,” said the long-shot candidate who has little in the way of financial or political backing from the establishment.

Deutsch is more concerned about availability of funding and safety of residents in the implementation of any proposal.

“There are a lot of answers we still have to look forward to, and how it is going to be paid for,” said Deutsch, 44, who has been endorsed by Nelson. “We have to plan, and not just a plan that is good on paper but a plan that makes sense.”

He said more talks are necessary before he can back any plans.

The candidates have been running fundraising campaigns for the September 10 primary. Except Bhushan, all have received contributions from developers, attorneys and construction companies based in the district. They will receive six dollars for every dollar raised in matching funds through the public campaign finance system.

Of the candidates, Oberman is leading in fundraising with over $100,000. Scavo is the only candidate who comes close with over $95,000 in her war chest. Deutsch has $77,000, and Kagan has almost $76,000. Storobin, who was endorsed by Republican mayoral frontrunner Joe Lhota, filed his first round of fundraising with $45,000. Bhushan, who has said he is not focused on fundraising, trails with almost $4,000.

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