Archive for the tag 'yelena makhnin'

Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo asks Mayor Michael Bloomberg a question about road repair.

The Brighton Beach Business Improvement District hosted an unprecedented visit by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and top brass from nearly two dozen city agencies on Thursday, marking a stride forward in the relationship between the government and New York City’s Russian-American business owners.

Approximately 200 business owners, activists and local politicians packed into National Restaurant (273 Brighton Beach Avenue) during the evening powwow, as Mayor Bloomberg addressed the gathering and – along with commissioners from city agencies including the NYPD, Small Business Services, Department of Education and Department of Traffic – answered a broad range of questions and concerns.

“Small business owners have to jump from one hoop to another to get everything they need from city agencies,” said Brighton Beach BID’s executive director, Yelena Makhnin, who organized the event. “I believe this visit is part of the initiative to reach out to Russian-speaking business owners.”

Keep reading to find out what people thought of the event, and why Bloomberg may have chosen now to reach out to Brighton Beach’s business community.

Ari KaganNow that we’ve got our first real glimpse of Russian Dolls, the new Brighton Beach-based reality show to air on Lifetime, it was just a matter of time until the reviews came in from Russian leaders. After we published the video on Friday, Ari Kagan – whose credentials in the Russian-speaking community include a journalism career, a one-time candidacy for the State Assembly, being the current liaison to the Russian-speaking community for Comptroller Liu, and a rumored contender for Michael Nelson’s City Council seat – sent us the following note condemning the show:

There is no question in my mind that the Russian Dolls series will depict the Russian-speaking community in a distorted way, as a caricature, as a joke. Lifetime does not care about the thousands of great, beautiful, funny, smart and hard-working young Russian speaking women who attend colleges and universities, make money as paralegals, librarians, nurses, journalists and computer specialists. They are great daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. They don’t spend most of their time in nightclubs, bars or lounges. They don’t speak this dirty language and they hate vodka.

Of course, we do have our own bad apples, low lives and criminals, but they constitute a minority in the Russian speaking community. Lifetime wants to create a lot of fun and entertainment by throwing the reputation of Russian-speaking New Yorkers under the bus.

It looks like Kagan is throwing his lot in with John Lisyanskiy, who condemned the show’s title as synonymous with prostitution, and who authored a letter to Lifetime expressing concerns that the channel will be “reducing would-be contestants to vodka-drinking ethnic caricatures who ‘love attention’ and do little more than ‘eat, drink and party.’” Lisyanskiy is the founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus, and the letter was co-signed by 42 elected politicians and Russian-speaking activists.

We have a feeling, as the show gets closer to its August 11 premiere, Kagan won’t be the last voice we hear from.

Sheepshead Bites has snagged the first publicly-available look at Russian Dolls, the new Brighton Beach-based reality show that will air on Lifetime on August 11 at 10:30 p.m.

Lifetime says the show, which had the working title Brighton Beach, provides a “rare and entertaining look at Brighton Beach’s colorful multi-generational families whose dramas and dreams contend with their Russian heritage while living in this famous, alluring, vibrant and highly protective community.”

The series, originally pitched as the Russian response to the MTV hit Jersey Shore, continues to fuel chatter throughout the neighborhood, with some Russian-American leaders excited for the spotlight, and others worried about a poor depiction of the Russian community based on stereotypes. Everything from the name - a term for prostitutes – to some of the people it revolves around, has been criticized. Sheepshead Bites was the first news outlet to reveal a Brighton Beach reality show was in the works, breaking the story in February 2010.

We’ve been asked not to give too many details about the show away – and, yes, we’ve seen full character bios and episode synopses – but we will tell you that it focuses on eight local Russian-Americans.

And we’ve got the character rundown after the jump.

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis, two of Russian Dolls' stars (Source: James Edstrom)

Lifetime’s newest show, the Brighton Beach-themed reality series Russian Dolls, is taking another round of flack as Russian leaders zero in on the new title, saying it’s synonymous with one of their community’s bugaboos: escort services.

You might be more familiar with the show’s working title, Brighton Beach, which was originally conceived as a Russian-American response to MTV’s Jersey Shore. The concept was eventually rejected by MTV and picked up by Lifetime. First, some Russian leaders expressed concern the show might depict the community as a bunch of opulent, vodka-swilling party animals. Others defended Lifetime, taking at face value the A&E-owned network’s assertion that it would be a “multigenerational cast … [chronicling] several colorful families, with the show’s action centered on a popular local nightclub.” And their faith stayed firm after Sheepshead Bites revealed that the show would focus on the family of Rasputin owner Michael Levitis, who was recently caught up in an FBI probe allegedly acting as a middleman in a bribery scheme involving State Senator Carl Kruger.

But the name may be beyond the pale. “Russian Dolls” is a term frequently used to advertise Russian escort services and prostitution fronts, a detail not overlooked by the community’s leaders.

“It’s the most ugly name I’ve ever heard,” said Raisa Chernina, director of the Be Proud Foundation, a non-profit with roots in the Russian-American community. “The name speaks for itself. Russian Dolls is a very polite way of saying escorts.”

“They told me it was Russian Dolls and I said ‘My God.’ It’s like those Danielle Steel books,” Chernina added.

Russian Dolls: How are other Russian-American leaders reacting? Pretty much the same way. Keep reading.

Yelena Makhnin

The following Op-Ed is written by Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, representing businesses on and around Brighton Beach. Makhnin wrote this piece after the fatal shooting on the boardwalk on Thursday, June 9. She believes that the NYPD leadership should have been more responsive to local safety concerns about beach overcrowding on hot holidays, providing the 60th Precinct with appropriate personnel. She also said that the reverberations around sensational shooting like this can create a false perception of the neighborhood, devastating local businesses long-term.

Each headline screams about the shooting on Brighton Beach. Big stories like this are reported by everyone and everywhere. Big stories like this, especially a criminal one, is the best way to sell newspapers. Reporters walk around interviewing locals, trying to get as many quotes as possible depicting screaming and fear. I have read all of them looking for a small story behind a big one. A story, perhaps, about the responsibilities of city officials and the safety of ordinary taxpayers in Brighton Beach. A story with a silver lining.

Continue Reading »

Michael Levitis Marina Levitis Rasputin Brighton Beach Show

Michael and Marina Levitis at Rasputin's Women's Day Soirée (Source: James Edstrom)

Lifetime’s Brighton Beach reality show will star a confessed criminal and local nightclub owner facing disbarment and six months in jail after a political scandal, but the Russian community isn’t worried about negative stereotyping because they “trust” the A&E-owned network.

Michael Levitis, lawyer and owner of Rasputin Nightclub (2670 Coney Island Avenue) confirmed to Sheepshead Bites that the show is focused, in part, on his family, a casting decision that comes as Levitis is caught up in an alleged corruption scheme with State Senator Carl Kruger.

Levitis pleaded guilty of lying to federal investigators earlier this month in relation to an FBI probe dating back to 2007. The investigation explored an alleged influence peddling scheme in which Levitis was recorded telling another restaurateur that the state senator would help him with state matters if he held a fundraiser and turned over thousands of dollars for the politician’s campaign. Federal prosecutors charged Kruger last Thursday with accepting at least $1 million in bribes in a separate investigation.

Though local Russian-American leaders previously squabbled over potentially harmful depictions of their community in the Brighton Beach show, it seems all is quiet in Little Odessa despite the casting revelation.

Find out more about Brighton Beach reality show, the Levitis family and what the Russian-American leaders are saying.

« Prev