Wed, Sep 5, 2012
By Mary Wojcik
One April night in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, Steve and Ellen Hindy co-hosted what was supposed to be a small get-together for friends and colleagues at their home. After a spread of sliders, salad, beer, and wine, Steve Hindy, the co-founder and president of the Brooklyn Brewery, introduced the guest of honor, City Council member Brad Lander.
Though Lander wasn’t running for re-election until 2013, he had asked Hindy and Andrew Kimball, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to host a fundraiser on his behalf. Knowing Lander’s standing as an ex-officio member of the Prospect Park Alliance, his support for manufacturing, and his advocacy of policies that promote safety for cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians, Hindy invited his own colleagues and friends from the Prospect Park Alliance and Transportation Alternatives. Ellen Hindy also invited some of her coworkers from the city’s public-school system, and Kimball invited many of his associates.
“I didn’t expect more than 30 people,” said Steve Hindy. “To my surprise, it turned out to be 80 people.” The gathering lasted only a few hours, yet it raised almost $20,000, making it the second-largest house party fundraiser of Lander’s re-election campaign. A house party in Cobble Hill raised nearly $30,000.
“House parties are a really good way to get people together to do a mix of things,” Lander said. “It’s a good place for people to ask questions who don’t know you. There are always some new people you haven’t met.”
Since his election in 2009, Lander, 43, has mostly depended on 10 to 12 house parties and word-of-mouth to generate individual donations for his re-election campaign. By law, he cannot accept donations from corporations, but he can accept up to $2,750 from individuals. In speaking with Hindy and Kimball, Lander recalled referring to several neighborhood issues: “I said, ‘You guys love those three things; I love those three things. I think a lot of people care about them, and it’d be great if you would be willing to do a house party and invite supporters who share those goals and interests, to come and hear more about my work on those issues and contribute.’”
Out of the approximately $85,500 in donations already received for Lander’s re-election campaign, a total of $3,100 has been donated by Leslie Beller, Albert Garner, Eric Landau, and Emily Lloyd – individuals of the Prospect Park Alliance. While $3,100 isn’t as much as some larger donations from individual supporters or groups, such as the New York State Political Action Fund which gave $2,750, three out of four members of the Prospect Park Alliance each gave $1,000.
Individual members of the board of directors of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, a non-profit group helping to develop the 14-mile Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, have also donated a combined $1,300 thus far to Lander. Brian McCormick, co-founder and director of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, said that Lander has given council funding for several consecutive years to the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative.
Lander represents the 39th District in Brooklyn, which covers the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, and Kensington.
With his first term more than half over, Lander has already raised $85,520 for the 2013 election. Out of 435 donations thus far, only five totaling $1,525 are from outside the New York City area. Lander wasn’t sure if he would receive the same out-of-town financial support this time around. “Last time it was an open seat of five candidates, and I wasn’t the incumbent,” he said. “This time around, I’m the incumbent. It’s not yet clear what other candidates will be in the race so I have not been as aggressive yet in fundraising and asking everyone I’ve ever known for contributions.”
In 2009, when Bill de Blasio vacated his City Council seat by running for Public Advocate, Lander beat Joe Nardiello in the general election for Blasio’s position. Lander garnered 70 percent of the votes while on the Democratic Party and Working Families Party lines. Lander will run for a second term next year, and based on a 2010 referendum, which grandfathered him into the system, he could run for a third term in 2017.
Before running for City Council in 2009, Lander said his career over the past 20 years “has been helping try to make neighborhoods stronger, better, more livable places and also places that do better at sharing opportunity broadly.” He partially credits his passion for community involvement to personally experiencing the challenges of Chicago’s South Side while attending the University of Chicago.
During his first council term, Lander has served on multiple city committees including Land Use, Economic Development, and Environmental Protection. He has also been a strong advocate for his district’s transportation initiatives such as helping to make the G train extension to Church Street permanent.
“Not only is he brilliant about public policy,” said Kimball, who has known Lander for a decade, “but he knows how to get things done and you don’t always have both of those combined in a public leader.”
Over the past two years, Lander has been an advocate of Prospect Park and has been able to
make some headway in the park’s need for renovations. In 2011, Lander was able to secure and allocate the first $750,000 from capital funding from the city’s budget for Prospect Park’s restoration project of the Long Meadow Ballfields, and another $15,000 for park programs and operations through the Brooklyn delegation of City Council’s capital and expense funding. Over the next two fiscal years, the park will receive just over $1.2 million for the ball fields and pedestrian pathway improvements, and another $30,000 for the Park Programs and Operations, also all secured by Lander’s office.
In addition, Lander supported the Prospect Park Alliance’s annual capital and expense funding request to the Brooklyn delegation, which granted the alliance another $2 million per year from 20011 to 2013, for the park’s Lakeside land and facility renovations, which includes a year-round ice rink. The Prospect Park Alliance stated in an email the organization is “appreciative of the support and leadership Council Member Lander has provided. He recognizes the importance of Prospect Park as Brooklyn’s backyard not just for his constituents but for all Brooklynites.”
“He really does put his money where his mouth is,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman, a friend of Lander’s for 20 years. “He just doesn’t talk in rhetoric. He is very action-oriented and likes to see good things happen and likes to be a part of making them happen.”
In April, Lander was one of only four City Council members to try “participatory budgeting,” a new program giving residents the choice of which projects they wanted to be funded with their council member’s share of the discretionary budget. Within eight months, Lander‘s community voted to spread $1 million among seven different neighborhood projects, from lavatory renovations for the children of P.S. 124 to improvements for the Prospect Park pedestrian paths.
Lander’s commitment to Brooklyn cyclists was illustrated when he supported the Prospect Park West bike lanes. In June of 2010, the City Department of Transportation installed a two-way bike lane on Prospect Park West. As the project progressed, Lander said he “did a lot of listening of supporters and did a lot of listening to opponents.” In response to neighborhood concerns, Lander’s office took the lead, partnered with council member Stephen Levin and Community Board 6, and conducted a neighborhood survey released in December of 2010. More than 3,000 people responded with ideas and concerns about the new bike path.
However, in March 2011, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety, two groups of neighborhood residents, filed a lawsuit to have the lanes removed. Lander and Richard Bashner, the former chair of Brooklyn’s Community Board 6, submitted an amicus brief to State Supreme Court in Brooklyn partially stating, “In sum, the DOT’s actions were supported by a level of community involvement more than sufficient to satisfy the judicial test for rational agency decision-making. The remarkable level of community participation in the process and support for the result demonstrate that the DOT acted rationally in installing the PPW Bike Path.” Justice Bert Bunyan dismissed the lawsuit in August of 2011.
Even though not all Brooklyn residents share the same views as Lander, Lander still believes “it’s valuable for elective officials to be good listeners and work with people across the spectrum.” However, because opponents of the bike lanes have come out to support Lander at his fundraising house parties, Steve Hindy said, “Brad has an appeal that goes beyond any single sort of interest or interest group.”