In 1987, when freshly-minted law school graduate Marc Fliedner was working as an assistant in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, Bushwick was a criminal hotspot. Out in the field, Fliedner would record witness testimony associated with violent crimes, and inevitably, no matter how fast the DA team moved, crime in Bushwick moved faster.
Since then, crime has gone down significantly in Bushwick. But there’s a new set of issues the neighborhood is facing today. Rent prices are soaring through the roof, the local born-and-raised Bushwick community can’t afford to live here anymore and there’s a constant battle of how to move forward while creating a neighborhood that’s sustainable for all.
“Just the word Bushwick has a lot of negative connotations, something that has become associated with thoughtless gentrification,” Fliedner told Bushwick Daily over the phone on Sunday. “And that’s a shame.”
the Long fight for what’s right
Since the 80s, Fliedner has worked in the DA’s offices prosecuting sexual assault, civil rights and police brutality. As the Civil Rights Bureau chief in Brooklyn, he prosecuted and charged an NYPD officer for the murder of a civilian in 2014 in East New York, and he convicted a man for a hate-crime over the beating of a transgender woman in Bushwick the same year.
As a Democratic primary candidate for Brooklyn DA this year, Fliedner amassed the endorsement of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders coalition to support progressive candidates, and he finished third in the primary with almost 15,000 votes, behind incumbent and eventual winner Eric Gonzalez and longtime Brooklyn prosecutor Anne Swern.
Though Fliedner didn’t know it, the Brooklyn DA race was just his first of 2017. In October, The New York Times reported that Manhattan DA incumbent Cy Vance failed to prosecute Harvey Weinstein after his office obtained an uncomfortable voice recording of Weinstein. To make matters worse, David Boies, a lawyer of Weinstein’s, donated $10,000 to Vance’s campaign after he decided not to prosecute.
As a result of the report, Fliedner became the focus of a write-in campaign. Birthed on Twitter, supporters began advocating Fliedner as an alternative to Vance in Manhattan, who was running unopposed. Fliedner rolled with the attention, changed his website to “Marc for Manhattan DA,” and temporarily moved from Bay Ridge to Manhattan with his 87-year-old father. He dressed up like a pencil on Halloween, much to The New Yorker’s enjoyment. On election day, he received thousands of write-in votes, but ultimately lost to Vance.
The Bushwick Connection
We asked Fliedner, who’s been talking about these issues a lot this year, how sociopolitical change has been happening in Bushwick.
“The electeds, the City Council, didn’t think, ‘How can we preserve the community that is here and not displace them?’” Fliedner said. “I’ve talked to folks who have said, ‘Wait a minute, if this fabulous, renovated, high-priced rent building is going in, where is my church going to go?’ They were told by elected officials not to worry about it.”
Admittedly, Bushwick City Councilman Antonio Reynoso is actively fighting development. And while he was the incumbent in the 34th district this year, when the seat was vacant in 2013, he beat established New York State Assemblyman and Kings County Democratic Party Chair Vito Lopez, who was accused of sexual assault by two female employees in 2012. During that campaign, Reynoso also accused Lopez of doling out tax breaks to developers of a large-scale condo in Manhattan.
Still, in Bushwick and Williamsburg, only 16 percent of registered Democrats voted in this year’s primary. And in every New York City primary with an incumbent running, the incumbent won. This isn’t surprising. It’s extremely rare for an incumbent to be ousted in the primaries. Due to their name recognition and already established list of contributors, incumbents generally have an advantage in all levels of primaries nationwide.
Going into the future
Extremely low voter turnout resulting in successful incumbent campaigns could be problematic for Bushwick’s future, Fliedner said. Generally across the city, in this election cycle “there was a lot of good, energetic resistance, but it did not result in election wins for those who weren’t the incumbents,” Fliedner said. Fliedner, considered an “insurgent” candidate despite decades of prosecuting in Brooklyn, was outspent by Gonzalez in Brooklyn’s DA primary by over $1.7 million. In the Manhattan race, Vance had at least $1 million in the bank the month before the election, in contrast to Fliedner’s $200.
“Politics is completely money-driven,” Fliedner says, and in rapidly changing neighborhoods like Bushwick, it’s important to know where your elected officials are getting their money from. With a quick search on the New York City Campaign Finance Board website, anybody can find the donors of every candidate running for city office. For candidates at the county and state level, you can search their donors on the New York Board of Elections website.
On top of who you’re voting for, know what you’re voting for, Fliedner said. This involves Googling what’s on the ballot, attending community boards, community police meetings and political clubs.
For those of us who are new to Bushwick, Fliedner says listen to the people who were here before us. “People need to be telling their stories from the 80s and 90s and 2000s, not only about what was lost, but how the change resulted in loss. That’s what should inform us in our quote unquote gentrification plans going forward.
“If we spend the next decade listening to each other about why Bushwick’s perceived by some as a dirty word, we could end up with something that’s positive a decade from now. I’m not hopeless.”
Images courtesy of Dylan Hansen-Fliedner