Brannan Beats Kagan in Brooklyn’s District 47 Election

By Oona Milliken and Matthew Fischetti |

While the race for City Council District 47 was largely projected to be a close one, Democrat Justin Brannan easily sailed to re-election against Republican challenger Ari Kagan with a healthy 17 point lead, according to unofficial election night tallies.

The two incumbent councilmen faced off in the race after City Council District 47 was redrawn to cover both Coney Island and Bay Ridge, the former being Kagan’s home turf and the latter being Brannan’s home nabe. While Kagan had been involved in local Democratic politics for around a decade, he switched to the Republican party to vie for the council seat.

Shortly after the race was called, Brannan strutted into Brooklyn Firefly in Bay Ridge with the Beastie Boys classic No Sleep Till Brooklyn blaring over the sound system with a large cadre of democratic supporters, city politicians ranging from Comptroller Brad Lander to Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and campaign staff filling the tiny bar and restaurant.

In his victory speech, Brannan emphasized the importance of the win, noting how Bay Ridge used to be considered a solidly Republican area.

“People thought that Bay Ridge and Democrat was an oxymoron. It wasn’t that long ago. We’ve made great strides,” he said. And I think this race reminds us that all the gains we have made, could be taken away like that. We’ve got to fight harder than ever to keep that progress moving forward.”

While Brannan emphasized the electoral significance of retaining a Democrat seat in the nabe, he also shared a message against “political tribalism” and working for constituents regardless of affiliation.

Brannan celebrating his win on election night. Photo credit: Matthew Fischetti.

“So, tonight, the campaign ends. Tomorrow, the work really continues. And I am a proud Democrat, but we’re public servants first and foremost,” said Brannan.

Later on in the night, Brannan told press that the Kings County Democratic Party Chairwoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn has “gotta go.” Shortly before the election, the Brooklyn Democratic Party released a statement criticizing Brannan by using an old allegation of harassment and bullying against a former coworker in the city council, when Brannan worked in former Councilman Vincent Gentile’s office. Michael Bistreich attempted to sue the city and Gentile for $10 million though a judge dismissed Gentile from the suit and the city settled for $850,000 in 2021. Brannan was not implicated by name in the settlement and has pushed back against the allegations by calling them cynical.

While the energy was high at Brooklyn Firefly, the atmosphere was subdued inside Bay Ridge Manor at Ari Kagan’s City Council election party on Tuesday Nov. 7 after the incumbent Republican lost to contestant Justin Brannan. The two were pitted against each other after a redistricting that changed the landscape of all City Council districts across the city. Kagan lost the vote by 17 percent, according to unofficial election night tallies. Kagan conceded on election night, and sent out a post on X around midnight, formerly known as Twitter, acknowledging his defeat.

“Though we didn’t achieve the result we wanted, I am proud of our campaign. We sent a powerful message that Southern Brooklyn strongly supports law enforcement, lower taxes & merit based education. Lucky to have wonderful family & so many supporters. TY very much!” Kagan wrote in an X post.

Kagan at his election night event. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Christopher Leon Johnson, a politically active community member who identifies as a Democrat, said he supported Kagan due to his support for the NYPD and his critique of the migrant crisis in New York. Until 2022, Kagan was a registered Democrat, but switched before the election that landed him his City Council post.

“I support his campaign, I love him as a person, he does great stuff with his district, that’s why I’m here to support him,” Leon Johnson said. “He’s a moderate Republican, he has common sense values. He’s pro-cop, he’s pro-quality of life, he’s against the migrant crisis, a lot of things. So I’m sticking by him.”

Kathie and Barry Bistreich said they were out to support Kagan, partly because of his views on street safety and the NYPD, but also because their son, Michael Bistreich, claimed to be tormented by Brannan, and other staffers, during his time working in City Councilmember Vincent Gentile’s office.

“We’re here to support Ari because my son is working for him right now. He’s working on the campaign,” Kathie Bistreich said. “He was abused by Ari’s opponent, Justin Brannan.”

“Stronger police, safer streets, any number of things that he’s said that I can’t remember because I’m 75,” Barry Bistreich added.

Paul Rodriguez, another Republican candidate for city council in Brooklyn, said he was hopeful about the future of the Republican party in New York City, despite Kagan’s loss. Rodriguez also lost his race for District 38. Rodriguez pointed to the race in the Bronx where conservative Republican Kristy Marmorato beat Marjorie Velázquez, the first Bronx Republican to do so in 40 years.

“So, it’s maybe not the desired outcome but necessarily nothing that changes the narratives or changes the enthusiasm that we feel that things are moving,” Rodriguez said on the Kagan loss. “I’m optimistic and there’s another race in two years.”

DOT Wraps Up First Phase of Community Outreach for BQE Redesign

By Oona Milliken |

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, also known as the BQE, is long past its lifespan. Now, the highway is due for an overhaul, led by the Department of Transportation.

The DOT has launched a three-part series of community meetings for the Central, North and South parts of the BQE. The third and final workshop series for BQE North and South ran from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 and allowed for DOT officials, community members as well as designers, engineers and architects of the redesign gathered to discuss the future of the BQE. Julie Bero, Chief Strategy Officer for the DOT, said in an interview that the new administration was focused on bringing unheard voices to the forefront of the conversation.

“This administration is really focused on equity, which I think has been really inspiring to me. In the past, a lot of focus has been on the city or portion, which is in one of the wealthier neighborhoods in the city. And so we’re saying, ‘No, we’re gonna look at the full corridor here,’” Bero said. “I think we’ve gotten good feedback, that was really welcome. There are a lot of communities that haven’t been listened to or engaged for a long time.”

During a Oct. 30 meeting in Williamsburg, Bero said that the DOT has three timelines in which the department is organizing the redesign.

One, a short term project timeline for ideas that might be implemented in the next few years, such as bike lanes along the highway, street improvement initiatives, repaving, and building pedestrian plazas. These projects are all covered by DOT funding and would not require additional state funds.

DOT’s Chief Strategy Officer Julie Bero speaking at a BQE North meeting. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Two, a medium timeline with projects like moving the curb line, adding rain gardens or street trees or constructing new larger plazas with lighting, benches and other amenities.

Lastly, the DOT’s third timeline is of long-term projects that will require city, state and federal coordination to complete. According to Bero, these might include building “caps” across the BQE on which parks, housing or pedestrian bridges might be built.

Solveig Entwistle, a Williamsburg resident who attended the workshop, said she appreciated the community feedback sessions and is excited to get some of the smaller changes to the BQE started as soon as possible. Entwistle said she wanted to see short-term changes implemented as the BQE redesign begins, rather than waiting decades to see an impact.

“My biggest hesitation is the fact that it might take decades to deck over. I would rather see something this year, or in 2024,” Entwistle said. “Much of the things that they were talking about, they are long term goals, which are absolutely important to have, but I would like to see paint on the street on a small portion where the city actually controls rather than having to engage with state conversations and work with the federal government.”

Kevin LaCherra, a transportation and road safety activist based in Greenpoint, said he was also most concerned with the shorter term projects, particularly those that minimize street accidents. LaCherra also said he was interested in decreasing parking and contributing LaCherra similarly.

“With DOT and WXY they’ve been listening to a lot of folks in the community through the process,” LaCherra said. “We want policies implemented as soon as possible, around things like daylighting, safe intersections, the reimagining of the parking fields to be public amenities, public spaces, the narrowing of the roadway to knit the community back together.”

DOT has hosted another previous two rounds of workshops hosted in both North and South Brooklyn prior to this most recent series. As this one concluded on Nov. 8, a community input report will be drawn up and released by spring 2024. According to the DOT’s website, the department is investing $500,000 into garnering community input into the redevelopment ahead of any construction. Bero said the local organizations, funded by the DOT, have conducted over 100 community engagement events.

North Brooklyn Angels to Host Third Annual Thanksgiving Drive

By Oona Milliken |

The North Brooklyn Angels, a non-profit dedicated to providing free meals to the North Brooklyn community, are hosting their third annual Neighbors Giving Thanks event for Thanksgiving. Kendra Chiu, the Executive Director for North Brooklyn Angels, said the event is one of their biggest volunteer-driven events of the year.

This year, there will be three Thanksgiving day meals provided in Greenpoint, Williamsburg and East Williamsburg on Nov. 23 and one on Tuesday, Nov. 21 in Bushwick. Chiu said the drive began in 2020 and has grown from there.

“We’ve expanded this opportunity, which began during the pandemic because of how much the pandemic highlighted food insecurity, especially in North Brooklyn, and we’ve just kept the tradition up since,” Chiu said. “We decided ‘How can we provide a dignified Thanksgiving experience for our neighbors in need?’”

Neighbors Giving Thanks will provide 1,000 frozen turkeys for people to take home in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and 630 warm meals on Tuesday and Thursday during Thanksgiving week. Chiu said there will be around 100 volunteers helping package and distribute the meals, which are catered by local restaurants.

Chiu said that the program is catered to those without a place to go during the holiday and that many senior citizens and homeless people from nearby shelters end up eating with the North Brooklyn Angels on Thanksgiving. This year, the North Brooklyn Angels are expecting an influx of migrants.

“The ideal audience would be the ones who don’t really have a place to go during Thanksgiving, and we can provide them a dignified experience. They may or may not have family to go to,” Chiu said. “I think we’re going to see an uptick in participation of families joining our meals, especially with the rise in migrants.”

During the first two years of operation, the North Brooklyn Angels hosted the Thanksgiving Day meal at the Brooklyn Exposition Center in Greenpoint, but have since partnered with various churches and community groups to geographically spread out the meals and make them more accessible to those in need. Chiu said that the volunteers are what make the whole event possible.

“Unsurprisingly, we continue to be wonderfully mobbed by people who want to volunteer,” Chiu said. “So what happens is the volunteers volunteer from the morning, and then we’re wrapped up and cleaned up by like 1:30-2 pm. This way they can go home and enjoy Thanksgiving with their families.”

The North Brooklyn Angels mission is for neighbors working with neighbors to “want to work together to fight hunger, food insecurity, and poverty,” according to their website. Chiu said the organization is focused on bridging the inequality gap between Brooklyn residents, which she said was particularly widened by the pandemic and the continuing effects of gentrification in the area. However, Chiu said the organization wanted to do so in a positive way.

“North Brooklyn Angels is around to highlight this great income disparity that does exist in our area without applying shame to it because it’s a macro-issue. What can a family do, what can volunteers do, what can young professionals do to build a community? By volunteering they have the ability to humanize and not live in a bubble,” Chiu said. “I think that’s part of our mission, to kind of remind and engage folks to understand and humanize what can easily be a very easily forgotten or neglected population.”


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