Brooklyn Primary Tests Voting Power Of Russians, Orthodox

Brooklyn Primary Tests Voting Power Of Russians, Orthodox

Safety net for needy seen as key issue in new Council district spanning from Coney Island to Flatbush.

A redrawing of City Council districts last year is pitting two candidates with émigré roots against each other in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

The move by the City Council’s Redistricting Commission, which potentially reduces the clout of Orthodox Jews in the new 48th District, had brought predictions that the then-Flatbush-centered District would change from so-called Super Jewish, with a high concentration of Orthodox voters, to a “Super Russian” district encompassing most of Brooklyn’s emigres from the former Soviet Union.

The Soviet-born candidates in the race to succeed term-limited Democrat Mike Nelson are Igor Oberman, from Russia, and Ari Kagan, from Belarus. Another Jewish candidate in the race is Brooklyn-born Chaim Deutsch, chief of operations for 48th District incumbent Mike Nelson; and there are two non-Jewish candidates, attorney Natraj Bhushan, and Theresa Scavo, chair of Community Board 15. In addition, the Republican candidate for the seat, who has no opponent in his party’s primary, is former State Sen. David Storobin, from the Dagestan region of Russia.

The new 48th District has in its borders neighborhoods such as Flatbush, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, the latter two of which have high concentrations of émigré Jews.

The prominence of Kagan and Storobin in their respective parties “are emblematic of the emerging political clout of Russian-Americans in Brooklyn,” the Politicker website wrote recently.

“The district split was an intentional misuse of power to attempt to divide our strength at the polls,” said Josh Mehlman, a founder of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition. The neighborhood contains many upper middle class or wealthy homes but also a large concentration of Russians and senior citizens who require assistance. Thirty-nine percent of the Jewish households in the Coney Island/Brighton Beach/Sheepshead Bay area have incomes at the federally defined poor or near-poor levels, according to the Special Report on Poverty of UJA-Federation’s 2011 Jewish Community Study; the figure for the Flatbush/Midwood/Kensington area is 30 percent.

Mehlman said Republican Storobin has a realistic chance to win the “historically … Democratic seat” in the November general election. “There are many issues at stake … The Jewish community cares deeply about funding our social service organizations [that] are the safety net for the poor, sick and needy.”

The primary race, which has featured typical campaign-style personal criticisms of candidates’ characters and political views, also has included some unique attacks of special interest to voters who come from the former Soviet Union: Deutsch charged that Kagan, whose original name was Arkady, started calling himself Ari in Hebrew-language campaign literature in the Jewish community to represent himself as Orthodox; Kagan said he his changed his name “over a decade ago.” And robocalls to Russian-speaking voters in the district accused Kagan, who had served as a journalist in the Soviet Army, of having been a KGB officer; and Kagan noted that he resigned from the Communist Party and left the army after the KGB coordinated an assault on a Lithuanian television station in 1991.

Deutsch, who is Orthodox, has stressed his community organizing experience as founder of the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol. Kagan’s campaign has stressed such bread-and–butter issues as traffic safety and resumption of discontinued express service from Brighton Beach to Manhattan.

Oberman, an attorney, has focused on such issues as education and employment.

read more: