Will Levin's colleagues fall like Domino?
Mar 23, 2010 | 4216 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sure, when we first start a new job we all want to hit the ground running, but let's face it, there is also that first two weeks or so when you just want to ease into your new responsibilities and bask in some of that "new guy" immunity that forces your bosses and co-workers to overlook your minor mistakes.

We're sure that's what newly elected Councilman Steve Levin was hoping for when he was voted into office as David Yassky's replacement in North Brooklyn. Unfortunately for him, there was a big hulking sugar refinery looming on the horizon.

We're talking about the redevelopment of the Domino Sugar Refinery, a massive - and massively contentious - project to turn an industrial-era factory into a new mixed-use development, complete with homes and retail and open space.

The project promises to preserve the structure of the main refinery as a legacy to the waterfront's working past, as well as set aside 30 percent of the proposed housing units as affordable, ten percent more than is usually asked of new developments in the city.

Despite all that, Community Board 1 in its advisory capacity recently voted against the project, arguing that it was too large and didn't adequately address infrastructure needs.

And now freshman council member Steve Levin has done the same.

The Daily News this week reported that the Domino project was dealt a serious blow because the district's City Council representative is against the project, and the other members of the City Council - who ultimately decide the project's fate - generally fall in lock-step with the home member's position. That opinion is naive at best.

Sure, if you are a member with a lot of political capital, say Jimmy Oddo from Staten Island or Peter Vallone, Jr. from Astoria, you might be able to influence a vote. At this point, Levin has about $.23 in political capital. (Although his relationship with Assemblyman and head of the Kings County Democratic Party Vito Lopez might be worth a little something if he felt like cashing it in.) That's not being dismissive of Levin, that's just the way city politics works.

The truth is, the other members fall in line with Speaker Christine Quinn, and Levin has really put himself out on a limb by denouncing Domino, which has the support of the Bloomberg administration. City Hall is sure to exert considerable pressure if it looks like the project might fail.

One doesn't have to look too far back in the past to find a perfect example. When Councilwoman Liz Crowley was first elected to the City Council, she had to deal with a contentious issue in her district. The city proposed building a new school, but the local community board came out hard against the project, and so did Crowley.

She stomped and screamed and held press conferences, but in the end the project passed anyway, primarily because the Bloomberg administration wanted it and Speaker Quinn wasn't about to risk her relationship with the mayor to honor the objections of a council member who had only been in office for a few months.

However, Crowley was able to get the city to make a few concessions that the community was looking for, so in the end she was able to claim a minor victory.

So it will be interesting to see what tact Levin takes going forward. Is he going to take a hard line on the project and make a lot of noise, or is he going to softly object and try to tow a fine line between being on the side of the community and not ruffling too many feathers at City Hall?

Either way, he should have a pretty good idea going in how the vote will play out, and we would have to say that this project is likely a go, despite what The Daily News would have you believe. This administration loves big projects, and Domino is a big project. We don't think it is going to let it go down because a council member with less than a year under his belt has raised some objections. The only question is, will Levin go down guns a-blazin'? However he plays it, it will likely set the tone for his next four years in office.

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