Fierce campaigning and bitterness is quickly becoming the hallmark in the battle to win the departing Michael Nelson’s City Council seat. Politicker is reporting that Democratic candidate Ari Kagan and Republican David Storobin are running tough campaigns to win over the predominantly Russian voting block in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.
Both Kagan and Storobin played host to mayoral hopefuls touring Brighton Beach over the weekend. Storobin enjoyed an endorsement by Republican front runner Joe Lhota while Kagan took Comptroller John Liu to the Tatiana Restaurant. Kagan was quick to downplay Lhota’s endorsement of Storobin as a transparent ploy.
“[Mr. Storobin] will play the Giuliani angle,” Kagan told Politicker, “He will say, ‘This is the guy who worked for Giuliani, he is endorsing me.’ People are very sophisticated, especially in Russian-speaking communities and in Orthodox Jewish communities, American and Chinese communities … people are not stupid.”
Storobin responded by attempting to discredit Kagan’s credibility, lack of experience and ability to drive a car.
“The guy has never had a full-time job in his life. That gentleman has been campaigning for about 15 years. And like I said, he’s never had a full-time job in his life. He doesn’t even own a driver’s license. For a 46-year-old, I don’t know if that’s too much work experience,” Storobin said.
Politicker described the history of the two men’s rise to the political scene and why they dislike each other so much:
Mr. Kagan and Mr. Storobin are emblematic of the emerging political clout of Russian-Americans in Brooklyn. Running in a district represented by the term-limited Councilman Michael Nelson–who replaced current mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner when Mr. Weiner was elected to Congress in 1999–the two candidates saw their electoral fortunes rise when the district’s lines were redrawn this year to rope in larger numbers of Russian-speaking voters in Sheepshead Bay and Coney Island. (Advocates from the Orthodox Jewish enclave in Midwood despaired, fearing a new “super Russian” district would dilute their power base and ensure that the district’s next representative would be less responsive to their needs.)
The hatred between the two men, who both profess close ties to Orthodox Jews, can at least partially be traced to a Russian media mogul. Gregory Davidzon, the owner of an oft-listened to Russian language radio station, is an unabashed political enthusiast, offering endorsements, mailings and robo-calls on behalf of favored candidates. Mr. Kagan, the near victor of a 2006 Assembly race, is one of those candidates; Mr. Storobin is not. When the young attorney upset the Davidzon-backed Councilman Lew Fidler in a drawn-out special election last year, he shocked Mr. Davidzon and much of the political establishment.
The battle over credibility and relevance in the community seems to be an especially sore focal point for both candidates to the point where their remarks exude an almost stubborn childishness. For example, Storobin went on to paint Kagan as an out-of-touch candidate whose supporters are all elderly non-English-speaking Russians.
“Again, he is known almost strictly to the elderly Russian people who listen to one radio station because they don’t speak English.” Storobin told Politicker. “Everyone who knows English knows me better … Even with the younger Russian people–and by younger I mean anyone under 65–they all know who I am. Nobody outside of the Russian retirees knows who he is. Literally has next to zero name ID.”
In response, Kagan noted that he became involved in community matters as soon as he arrived to America in 1997.
“I think I know local issues significantly more than him,” Kagan said. “I was at the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Park [in Sheepshead Bay]for example, in 1997 … Ask anybody in 1997, if they ever heard his name anywhere. He said, ‘I was young,’ but I came to America when I was 26 years old and I became involved the very next day.”