A press release issued this morning by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz claims Brighton Beach business owners are demanding an investigation of the executive director of the neighborhood’s business improvement district (BID), but the director said the attacks are because she remains friends with the assemblyman’s opponent in tomorrow’s primary.
According to the release, three area business owners and a real estate broker met with the commissioner of New York City’s Small Business Services, which oversees BIDs across the city, and told him that Brighton BID Executive Director Yelena Makhnin has allowed the organization to become stagnant, and demanded an investigation of her activities. The meeting was organized by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.
Cymbrowitz’s office said that the businesses say Makhnin repeatedly rejected proposals to improve the district, including rejoining the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, increasing garbage pickups and the number of receptacles, removing illegal vendors from storefronts and producing brochures and other materials about Brighton Beach.
“Store owners on Brighton Beach Avenue look at similar shopping areas in other neighborhoods, see joint efforts being undertaken to attract shoppers and diners, and ask, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we do these things?’” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said in the release. “The merchants complain the avenue has stagnated with no new district-wide marketing initiatives in more than five years.”
Business leaders at the meeting included Natalia Orlova, owner of St. Petersburg Book Store, Tatiana Varzar, owner of Tatiana Restaurant, real estate broker Felix Filler, and Alex Fraiman, owner of Glavs Travel Agency.
The release also noted, “Merchants believe Makhnin may be working on political campaigns on city time and want [Small Business Services Commissioner Robert] Walsh and the inspector general to investigate.”
However, Makhnin said she’s been doing her job well, and that attacks are politically motivated due to her longtime friendship with Cymbrowitz’s opponent in tomorrow’s Democratic primary, Ben Akselrod.
“It’s only political,” Makhnin told Sheepshead Bites. “He’s using the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services as the ax against Yelena Makhnin.”
Makhnin said she has not helped the Akselrod campaign, though Sheepshead Bites noted she was present at his campaign announcement. She also said that when Akselrod revealed his intentions, she met with Cymbrowitz and assured him that, although she and Akselrod are friends, she would not participate in either’s campaign.
Of the three merchants and one real estate broker at the meeting with SBS Commissioner Walsh, only two are actually members of the BID, Makhnin told Sheepshead Bites. She added that there are more than 300 business on Brighton Beach Avenue, and in the more than a decade she has served as executive director, she hasn’t received any complaints of this nature.
None of the business owners at the meeting were available to speak with Sheepshead Bites by telephone. Other businesses in the BID were contacted for this story, but they, too, were not available.
Councilman Michael Nelson’s chief of staff noted that their office has never received any complaints about the BID from constituents and business owners in Brighton Beach.
“On the contrary, they praise her,” said Nelson’s chief of staff Deborah Miller-Weiss. “I attend every BID meeting and we’re in touch with many of the merchants on a regular basis and there have never been any complaints about the BID.”
It should be noted that Nelson endorsed Akselrod against Cymbrowitz.
Cymbrowitz told Sheepshead Bites that there is no political implications of this morning’s press release, and that it was the merchants requesting the investigation and not him. However, he said he did feel the BID could be doing more.
“I think the Brighton Beach Avenue area is a very difficult one. There have been many stores that have gone out of business and I think eveyrone is concerned about that,” he told Sheepshead Bites. “The fact that stores are closing is certainly not the BID’s fault, but I think that the BID can do more than just holiday lights and cleaning of the street.”
The assemblyman added that he hopes the BID and these business owners can work together to resolve these issues.
Makhnin, however, she said she’s been doing her part all along. She said that the claims are spurious and the BID is already involved on those fronts.
On garbage, she noted that there is a can on every corner, and Brighton Beach Avenue remains one of the few commercial corridors with daily pickups.
“If you call the Sanitation garage’s superintendent, he’ll tell you that he’s sick and tired of my Russian accent,” she said.
She added that the BID has a private company that employs street sweepers and garbage collectors to keep the avenue tidy seven hours a day, every day.
She also said she works closely with the police department to keep illegal vendors out of the neighborhood, and, in the past, her insistence spurred on a Sheepshead Bites article about the effort (which noted that city regulations on vendors are poorly enforced in the area).
Makhnin added that she hopes to work closely with the new head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, after her attempts to work with the previous director fell through when they showed a lack of interest in the neighborhood’s businesses and the organization’s proposals.
Finally, she noted that the group does publish promotional materials for its members’ businesses, including a handheld directory of all BID members published every 18 months. The next one is due out before May 2013.
“You can check every newspaper, every TV show, every radio program. You’d never find my name and you’d never find my vote,” she said. “I’m a United States citizen and I have the right to vote for who I want. But this assemblymember is now trying to take my bread and butter.”
Sheepshead Bites contacted Commissioner Walsh for comment and is awaiting a reply.
UPDATE (2:49 p.m.): Small Business Services Press Secretay Merideth Weber just returned our call and gave the following statement:
[The commissioner] went out to Brighton Beach to hear concerns of some of the local business owners and what could be done to address whatever concerns there were. It wasn’t an investigation and we’re actually surprised the meeting would be branded in that way.
There’s always room for everyone to improve and do better. The commissioner has already followed up with Yelena and discussed some ideas on how to make the BID better … The commissioner is also asking for local businesses owners to make additional suggestions for improvements.