Conservative Democrat Ben Akselrod announced his campaign for State Assembly yesterday, setting the stage for a primary battle against incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz, who has occupied the seat since January 2001.

Akselrod took to a podium in front of Baku Palace (2001 Emmons Avenue), flanked by two dozen or so supporters on Sunday, touting his Russian immigrant roots and commitment to conservative Jewish values. Among those who stood with Akselrod were Russian leaders including radio host Gregory Davidzon and Ari Kagan, as well as local rabbis and Akselrod’s former boss, ex-State Senator Seymour Lachman.

(Akselrod begins speaking in the above video at the 20:00 mark.)

The campaign appears poised to seize upon the growing political clout of Southern Brooklyn’s Russian and Jewish voting blocks, which recently helped deliver wins to Republicans Bob Turner in Congress and David Storobin in the State Senate (Storobin’s win, notably, is still in court as the campaigns squabble over a handful of votes in the neck-and-neck race; regardless, the strong showing for a political neophyte in what was once believed to be a Democratic bastion can be considered a victory nonetheless).

To find a prelude to those successes one must only look back two years, to the last time Cymbrowitz faced a challenger: Republican opponent Joseph Hayon in 2010.

Spending only $615, Hayon reaped 43 percent of the vote – a narrow victory for an incumbent with a sizable warchest.

Akselrod appears to be cribbing from the GOP campaigns of his upstart predecessors – especially Hayon.

For example, Akselrod spoke of curriculum requirements in New York schools that challenge conservative Jewish customs.

“[Students are] being taught alternative lifestyles,” Akselrod stated. “I strongly object to the subjects being taught in school. We deserve to raise our children with the values that we cherish. We should be able to do what is right for us.”

That echoes the crux of Hayon’s campaign, in which he railed against a bill Cymbrowitz voted for that supposedly requires schools to “teach Kindergarten children to ‘tolerate’ or sanctify same-gender relationships.”

In reality, the bill Hayon and, presumably, Akselrod refer to is the “Dignity For All Students Act,” passed in 2010, to protect students from harassment and discrimination. The bill establishes mechanisms for schools to report and address discrimination and harassment based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, gender and – the one that Hayon and now Akselrod have focused on – sexual orientation. The legislation also issued a broad mandate to school regents to develop instruction in “civility, citizenship and character education.”

Private and religious schools are exempted in the bi-partisan bill, which passed the Assembly 138-to-four, and has not yet been implemented.

Though Cymbrowitz’s name was never uttered during the announcement, other elements of Akselrod’s platform were thinly-veiled attacks on the sitting assemblymember.

“Nobody should be defending illegal construction in your backyard because of political correctness,” Akselrod declared, as he rattled off his stances on issues as varied as education (above), small business regulations and integrity.

The quote appeared to be in reference to the Sheepshead Bay mosque being built at 2812 Voorhies Avenue, which has been an ongoing struggle. Opponents of the mosque frequently mix arguably legitimate complaints about building violations and zoning with racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric – and the main opposition group, Bay People, along with the Brooklyn Tea Party, has slammed Cymbrowitz in the past for not speaking out against the mosque’s development.

Notably, at least two members of Bay People were at the announcement to support Akselrod.

Also notably, the mosque is not in Cymbrowitz’s district.

As the campaign gears up, it will be an interesting battle for political observers. If, as in the Fidler-Storobin campaign, the 11-year incumbent seeks to snap up the Jewish and Russian voting blocs by trying to appear more aligned with their interests, he’ll likely lose the battle of public perception to the candidate who is actually Russian and a devout Jew – despite the fact that Cymbrowitz has directed a bevy of funds to Jewish causes over the years and supported the community’s social agenda (such as his vote against legalizing same sex marriage).

However, an Akselrod win would blunt the campaign of David Storobin, who many believe may attempt a general election challenge for the seat as well. Party labels aside, Akselrod and Storobin appear to have almost identical stances on most issues.

However, if Cymbrowitz takes a different tack – a rather unlikely one – and mobilizes new voters from other portions of the community to pull a win, he could redefine the evolving political narrative of the area and create a new power base. But once he gets past those primaries, if Storobin jumps in the race, he’ll be pressed to make the same case twice.

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  • EndofDaze

    “I strongly object to the subjects being taught in school.” How much do you want to bet, aside from the fact that this guy was probably never educated in one of our local schools, that he has never stood in front of, or let alone observed a class in one of our schools, aside from what he has heard about them, from our essentially clueless media?! Our schools continue to educate many of our best and brightest, in what have always been accepted and shared American values. That’s why many people have come to our shores, including Sheepshead Bay, and its’ environs. As an educator (who is between classes at the moment) it amazes me how the demonization of our schools continues, and how the unions, and many others are not at the forefront fighting to change these perceptions. What is even sadder is that many folks out there, actually believe this rubbish!

    • BayResident

      You see, this is EXACTLY the reason I am having a hard time putting my support behind Akselrod. Granted, I have yet to look into Cymbrowitz and his views, but that one line about the “alternative lifestyle being taught in schools” made me want to pull my vote away from Mr. Akselrod.

      I am a Russian Jewish immigrant and want very much to side with the community (and I often times do), but having been educated here in the United States, hearing someone try to use a position of power to instill old values on a new generation just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe this is just a bad first impression (it is too early to tell) but from this video alone I would be afraid of putting him into office solely for the fact that he seems too rooted in tradition to make any sort of progress for the community. I can understand, and even stand behind, many old-school values and traditions but I don’t believe there is a place for this in government. If you are worried about your children’s exposure to the very real 21st century world that we live in, spend the time to educate them on your views at home and when the time comes they will make the right decisions on their own.
      I am a Russian Jewish immigrant and want very much to side with the community (and I often times do), but having been educated here in the United States, hearing someone try to use a position of power to instill old values on a new generation just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe this is just a bad first impression (it is too early to tell) but from this video alone I would be afraid of putting him into office solely for the fact that he seems too rooted in tradition to make any sort of progress for the community. I can understand, and even stand behind, many old-school values and traditions but I don’t believe there is a place for this in government. If you are worried about your children’s exposure to the very real 21st century world that we live in, spend the time to educate them on your views at home and when the time comes they will make the right decisions on their own.

  • Kon

    Woohoo! Another campaign where candidates will tout their religions as a way of getting voters. Oh, and to comment on the “he always tells the truth…”

    EVERYBODY LIES

  • Old Sheepshead Hand

    “[Students are] being taught alternative lifestyles,” Akselrod stated. “I strongly object to the subjects being taught in school. We deserve to raise our children with the values that we cherish. We should be able to do what is right for us.”
    —so move to a West Bank Settlement. Or Mississippi.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      And everyone else has to follow the same values.

      They won’t be happy until they start jailing people for homosexuality.

      Needless to say this is a very dangerous trend. If it is allowed to continue it would very difficult to reverse.

  • a good neighbor

    I read that Cymbrowitz originally wanted to get the support from small business owners to clean up Sheepshead Bay and its surrounding areas, but not many participated. He then teamed up with 61st precinct and sanitation department to do the clean up and issued several tickets to these business owners. Not sure how true that was. 

  • Awewe

    Just what we need a socially conservative asshole to push this district into middle age bigotry –  this clown is just saying the “right” things to appeal to voters.   

    Cymbrowitz has actually made a difference for us over the past 10 years.  

  • DmitriyM

    “I strongly object to the subjects being taught in school. We deserve to raise our children with the values that we cherish. We should be able to do what is right for us.”Oh of course “the values you cherish” as in “reject gays as human beings” and encourage them to enter into sham marriages with heterosexuals, to the strengthen the “institution.”

  • DmitriyM

    once again conservatives pretend as though it’s all about “homosexual behavior” as though kids get bullied not because they’re perceived to be gay…it’s because they’re dating

  • Ari Kagan

    I was there at the announcement by my good friend Ben Akselrod. There were about 80 people – not two dozen supporters. Also, besides Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews, there were about 20 Chinese immigrants, as well as non-Orthodox American Jews and some American Christians. So, it was a very diverse group of supporters.

    Ben talked about many quality of life issues. He worked at the city Department of Transportation, he was an Assistant to City Councilman and to State Senator,  District Manager at community board and executive director at non-for-profit Jewish organization. I think he is uniquely qualified to be an Assemblyman from 45 AD in Brooklyn.

    • Guest1

      freedom of religion —-0
      public speaking ——–0
      Albany Experience—–0
      Russian supporters—–1
      Jewish supporters——Only Orthodox

      His Chance —-0
      Don’t waste your time

    • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

      I can confirm that there was a large contingent of Asian supporters, led by Sam Tsang. They made up about half the crowd. However, I still disagree with your count of 80. I’m only estimating from memory – I didn’t count, but I don’t think that area that they were standing could have held 80. 

      As for what he talked about, it’s all in the video, unedited.

      • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

        I just reviewed an unpublished video clip in which I panned over the crowd. It was about 30 people behind him. Two dozen wasn’t so far off.

    • Italian King

      Let’s get Cymbrowitz voted out and get new energy into office.

  • outsider

    He has no chance, he couldn’t even get anyone to MC as Davidzon lost his voice the “fake kingmaker” and no one except some GUY FROM QUEENS was willing to do it.. so yes there were about 25 people there… another disgrace for the Davidzon… and this guy can’t even speak.. he read the entire thing and even messed up the neighborhoods he hopes to represent.. Gravesneck? how about Gravesend? and show some humiliaty and humbleness I will be your next assemblyman? how about I hope to be…  he left community long time ago and his friends are setting him up for this.. he doesn’t even have a stomach for it..   

  • Pat Singer

    I hope voters will become more discerning.  We should vote a candidate’s experience not his ethnicity.  We are in America.  Obviously, I support Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.  I go back thirty years with this man.  He backed me on tenant’s rights,
    he backed me on fighting crime in Brighton  Beach and it was Steve who helped BNA secure millions of dollars for the revitalization of Brighton Beach Avenue back in the 80s. With these funds new sewers, pipelines, electrical lines etc were installed along Brighton Beach Avenue.  Admittedly, my daughter is his legislative aid, but I have been a friend as well as a supporter for over three decades. His parents survived the holocaust and Steve is committed to human equality and enhanced tolerance in our culturally diverse communities.  `

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WRSYXONYCQXPFWB32FV6N33KZA Alex Capricorn

    Guys! Why did you pin this new candidate? Why do you state that Cymbrowitz is appropriate? For his decade representing our district, Cymbrowitz has never done anything for working people. Not even a single bill, or rally of protest, etc. His the only concern is to keep social programs and to make food stamps recipients happy. This is the United States of America — country of capitalism not food stamps. I do not know this new candidate. However, nothing could be worse than Cymbrowitz who just succeeded his Assembly seat from his wife. This is and has been his the only political achievement.

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  • Innocent

    Hope Cymbrowitz get voted out.
    His wife and girlfriend have city jobs paid by tax payers to do nothing.

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  • Allanfeinblum

    As a life long Democrate the candidates in november for the position of NYS Assemblyman from the 45th AD I find the positions of Mr.Gallo of the GOP, Mr. Axlerod of the Indepance Party and the current Assemblyman contrary to my progressive views.Especiaaly  their views on same sex marriage which was passed by Albany and signed into law by the Governor. I have been married 50 years and have two grown children and four grandchildren. Marriage is a life long committment between two people in love irregardless of sexual orientation. I feel residents of the 45th will not be represented  after the election and i have launched a write in campaign for Assemblyman . The criminal justice system will be my focus. 95 percent of all inmates eventually are released back into their communitites. 30 percent return to prison after 1 year and 66 percent after 5 years. The system does not work and is badly broken and must be replaced with a rehabilitative approach to crime and not punishment which does not prepare an inmate for a retuen to a functioning life after release. I am also for Community Crisis Intervention Teams highluy trained to respond to 911 calls for emotionally disturbed family members thereby avoiding unn ecessary confrontations with poorly trained precinct police officers. Assembly Cymbrimoitz has to widen his appeal in our community , otherwise his opponents will defeat him . Allan Feinblum Midwood