Assemblywoman Adele Cohen’s path to the Democratic nomination for a fourth term as representative of a south Brooklyn district that includes the heart of the Russian-Jewish community has become a little more difficult.
The candidacy of Inna Kaminsky, a 27-year-old healthcare worker and political unknown originally from Ukraine, was affirmed Monday when the state Supreme Court upheld a Board of Elections ruling on Kaminsky’s petitions challenging Cohen in the Sept. 14 primary in the 46th District.
Kaminsky had surprised the local political world last month by submitting petitions containing some 1,900 names just weeks after Russian community political leaders said they had failed to find a Democratic challenger to the 63-year-old Cohen, who has had a rocky relationship with the community.
Cohen contested the petitions, as she had done successfully to opponents in the past, and the Board of Elections disqualified more than two-thirds of the signatures following weeks of legal wrangling between attorneys for the candidates.
But the board certified that 512 of the signatories are registered voters living in the district; 500 are needed to qualify for a place on the ballot.
Kaminsky, of Coney Island, had brought her petitions to the Board of Elections on July 15, the deadline for primary candidates to register.
A young Russian-American attorney, Alex Kaplan, is running as a Republican for Cohen’s seat, but given that Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans in the district — which consists of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Seagate and parts of Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge — Kaplan’s chances are seen as slim.
While the odds against Kaminsky also appear long, an upset is not out of the question.
Russian Americans are believed to comprise 50 to 60 percent of the registered voters in the district, and many dislike Cohen for knocking challenger Alec Brook-Krasny off the ballot in 2000, as well as for her actions during the 2002 primary in which she narrowly turned back challenger Susan Lasher, a favorite of the Russian community.
In that election, Cohen allegedly sought to intimidate Russian poll watchers and shut down voting sites in the heart of the Russian community.
Cohen, who has served six years, said she is taking Kaminsky’s challenge “very seriously” and expressed the hope that the candidates may one debate or more before the primary.
She termed her court challenge of the petitions “routine” and said that since the Board of Elections has certified the requisite signatures, she would drop any further court challenges.
As to possibly alienating the Russian community with her challenge, Cohen said, “This is about following the law. If we didn’t examine someone’s petition — as others do to me as well — there is a possibility that person might not be following the law but still manage to get on the ballot.”
In a telephone interview, Kaminsky sought to present her youth and lack of political experience as an asset.
“People should remember that Chuck Schumer had no political experience either before he first ran for the state Assembly from this area at the age of 23 and got elected,” said Kaminsky, who came to this country from her native Odessa at the age of 9. “I am young and energetic and determined to make a positive difference — not only for the Russian population but everyone in the district.”
Will experienced Russian-American political activists campaign hard for Kaminsky?
Ari Kagan, vice chairman of the New American chapter of the Highway Democratic Club, noted that Kaminsky has yet to meet with key community activists, including him.
“Kaminsky jumped into the race very late in the game and gives the impression of being somewhat naive,” he said.
Kaminsky acknowledged that she has not yet met with the Russian community’s political leadership, but did promise to meet with and seek its support “in the days immediately ahead.”
“Until now we have had our hands full with Adele Cohen’s court challenges,” she said.
Stressing that Kaminsky has her work cut out, Kagan said, “Look, the deficiencies of Adele Cohen do not guarantee that the community will support someone solely because she is running against Adele.”
Kaminsky said she was galvanized to enter the Assembly race by an unexpected street encounter in June with Cole Ettman, a classmate from John Dewey High School and a Democratic candidate for the state Senate district that overlaps the 46th Assembly District.
“Cole informed me that all the candidates who had planned to run against Adele Cohen had dropped out,” she said. “I felt angry that the person most responsible for the roadblock against the Russian-American community gaining power was getting away without a challenge in the primary. That night I discussed my frustrations with my grandfather, who said to me, ‘If you care so much about this, why you don’t run?’ ”
Kaminsky, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology who holds an administrative position at a health clinic in the area, hit the Brighton Beach Boardwalk at the beginning of July with Ettman, and in less than two weeks they managed to collect the 1,900 signatures on petitions supporting both of their candidacies.
Noting that in her job she helps seniors to fill out government forms, Kaminsky said a frequent complaint is that the seniors don’t know whom to call to ensure they receive the government services to which they are entitled.
“People have told me they went to Cohen’s office but received no help,” she said. “It is obvious that my opponent does not service our community properly.”
Asserting that she will do more than Cohen to fight crime and prevent overcrowding in area public schools, Kaminsky contended that the paramount issue facing south Brooklyn voters is, “We have not been having fair elections around here. It should be up to the voters, and no one else, to decide who will represent the 46th District.”
A spokesman for Kaminsky, Gary Tilzer, said Kaminsky’s campaign has written to the U.S. Justice Department, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki asking the Justice Department to provide oversight of the upcoming primary. Cohen welcomed the proposition.