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Political Ties Color Williamsburg Democratic State Senate Race

By Serena Dai | August 28, 2014 1:43pm
 Debbie Milan (l.) is challenging incumbent Martin Dilan (r.) for the 18th state senate district's democratic nomination.
Debbie Milan (l.) is challenging incumbent Martin Dilan (r.) for the 18th state senate district's democratic nomination.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai/Angelic Photography

WILLIAMSBURG — Another Democratic challenger to longtime state Sen. Martin Dilan has stepped up to the plate — and she has the support of North Brooklyn progressives.

Debbie Medina, 51, has been an organizer with tenants' rights non-profit Los Sures for nearly 30 years.

The South Williamsburg native has the support of Councilman Antonio Reynoso, the Working Families Party and the New Kings Democrats — all part of a coalition that has been rallying to fill offices against disgraced former politician Vito Lopez and his allies.

Medina called Dilan, 63, an absent official who hasn't done anything for the 18th district, which encompasses parts of Williamsburg, Bushwick, Greenpoint, Bed-Stuy and Cypress Hills.

But Dilan, a former city councilman who aggressively defends the work that Lopez did, said locals will ultimately recognize his work when voting in the primary race on Sept. 9, pointing to state funds for affordable housing and support for women's rights.

Beyond the political alliances, both candidates said that they have big plans if they win.

Medina and Dilan sat down with DNAinfo New York to talk about their plans, from affordable housing and education to transit and local jobs.


Money Raised: $18,779

Notable donors: Lincoln Restler, senior policy adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio; Marty Needelman of tenants rights firm Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A; Lacey Tauber, staffer for Councilman Antonio Reynoso; Committee to Re-Elect Nydia Velazquez, for congresswoman Velazquez; New Kings Democrats' Andrew Sloat.

Background: Medina was born in South Williamsburg and has lived her whole life there, raising all her children on Roebling Street near South First Street.

She points to her time organizing tenants with Los Sures as proof that she's "a fighter" for the community. Much of her work involved speaking with tenants and writing letters to landlords to advocate for tenants, she said in an interview outside her campaign office in South Williamsburg.

"It’s a process," she said. "Some landlords don’t like you telling them what to do."

When Dilan first ran for state senate, Medina supported him. But by his second term, Medina said she felt he wasn't performing well enough.

Local progressives asked her to run for this position last year, and with the excitement of newcomer Reynoso getting elected over Lopez, Medina thought it was time to try and see if she could create change, too.

"Maybe I can do more for my community," she said. "I'm always fighting down here, but I can go up there, I can write some rules myself."

Major Goals and Issues for the Future:

Affordable Housing — Medina's biggest goal is to address affordable housing needs in the community, she said. Mainly, she opposed the Rent Act of 2011 which Dilan voted for. She thinks the senator should have voted against any vacancy decontrol — and one of the first things she wants to do in office is try to make sure rent stabilized units can stay that way permanently, she said.

"I know it's going to be a struggle," she said. "I know it's not going to be easy. I'm not going to give up."

Education — Tax money from the wealthy should be going to the schools, Medina said. Teachers need more resources, she said, and area schools need more after-school programs to keep students off the streets. Like Dilan, Medina supports charter schools, but believes they should not be taking public school space.

Environment — Neighborhoods in the district have some of the highest asthma rates in the borough, according to a study by the SUNY Downstate Medical Center. It found that adults in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and East New York had higher rates of emergency room visits for asthma than other neighborhoods.

Medina wants to look at how to lower emissions from local thoroughfares like the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Williamsburg Bridge in hopes of cutting down the asthma rate. "Maybe we can try to move it away and try to lower it so we can have some clean air," she said, "and we can breathe a little better."


Money Raised: $51,865

Notable donors: Voice of Teachers for Education Committee, a group associated with education union NYSUT; Coalition for Public Charter Schools, a pro-charter school political action committee; Neighborhood Preservation PAC, a fund representing building owners around the state; New York State ALF-CIO, a state trade union; Angela Battaglia, Vito Lopez's longtime girlfriend; Councilman Stephen Levin.

Background: Dilan has been in office since 2002. Before becoming state senator, he served as a councilman for 10 years.

The senator prides himself on his advocacy for affordable housing, transit, education and women's rights, he said.

He supports the Women's Equality Act and agrees with new casino money going toward education, he said.

He pointed to his support of adding more affordable housing to the controversial Rheingold Brewery site and a state tax break for Knickerbocker Commons, 217 Wyckoff Ave., a new affordable building with 24 units.

Medina slammed him for not doing enough, but Dilan countered that he voted for rent regulations just as the most liberal people in the state voted.

The most Medina could do, Dilan said, is vote the same way he did.

"I have opened the doors for many," he said in an interview at 983 Bushwick's Living Room. "The thing we’re trying to preserve is people who have lived here their entire lives, so that it's more affordable to them."

He plans on continuing such advocacy, he said.

Major Goals and Issues for the Future:

Transportation and Infrastructure — Dilan is a ranking member of the transportation committee, and he believes that a senate Democratic majority will put him in the chair position. His hope is to focus on another five-year plan to make sure the state sends enough funds to state infrastructure, such as bridges.

He also wants to make sure more state funds are sent to the MTA for subway and bus riders in the area. Not only will it improve safety for transit, it will create jobs, Dilan said.

Jobs  — Besides jobs from infrastructure, the state should be more friendly to industries by creating incentive tax breaks, Dilan said. There's also more room in empty lots in the district, including on the waterfront, for companies to take hold, he said.

In addition, money coming in from the state's new casinos should partially be going toward economic development, he said.

Tax Reduction — With more jobs and more revenue coming in, theoretically, the government will need less money and can send some back to residents, Dilan said.

The government — though lean from the economic downturn — still has areas where it could reduce so that more tax money can return to the taxpayer, he said.

"With the upturn in the economy, I think we’re in the position to do that," he said.