The race between veteran Councilman Lew Fidler and Republican upstart David Storobin was a vicious campaign that included charges of pedophilia, Nazism and election day allegations “a Storobin thug” ran over a Fidler volunteer with a van. A police spokesperson subsequently told The New York Times the claim about the van proved to be untrue. In the end, Mr. Storobin was up by 120 votes in the final pre-paper ballot tally, but both candidates declared victory and the campaign is headed to a close count and court fight. However, as Mr. Storobin pointed out in a speech at his election night party, no one expected him to come close.
“We counted 100 percent of the votes but there are still some votes, some paper votes that are left, but based on all the info that we have, I’m proud to say that we, all of us, won this race. There may be recounts and we may have to wait for official results for a few days, or maybe even a couple of weeks, but like I said, the good won, we won,” Mr. Storobin said. “Tonight, we’ll go to bed as winners when nobody outside believed that we had a shot to even compete, when every story about this campaign began with Lew Fidler, the heavy favorite.”
According to Craig Eaton, chairman of the Brooklyn GOP, Mr. Storobin’s campaign began almost exactly a year ago. Mr. Eaton said Mr. Storobin, who emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child and eventually opened his own law practice, came to him and expressed interest in running for office four years ago. Last year, Mr. Eaton said they decided it was time for Mr. Storobin to challenge Democrat Carl Kruger, who had represented the 27th District in South Brooklyn since 1994.
“We did the dynamics of it and said a Russian lawyer in this district could work,” Mr. Eaton said at the party last night.
On March 8th, 2011, Mr. Eaton brought Mr. Storobin up to Albany to introduce him to the Republican Senate Conference and the State GOP leadership. That night, they went to dinner at Angelo’s 677 Prime, a steakhouse near the State Capitol, with New York Republican State Committee Chairman Ed Cox and several GOP county chairs. During the meal, the television sets lining the walls of the restaurant came alive with the news Mr. Kruger was going to be indicted on federal corruption charges that would eventually send him to prison last December.
“The news broke that night. Now, if that isn’t fortuitous, that I’m up there bringing David to meet and talk about running against Carl Kruger and, at that minute, Carl Kruger gets eliminated from the race,” Mr. Eaton said. “From that day, we started campaigning and David just kept going forward.”
Mr. Storobin’s campaign was seen as a longshot, but he had heavy support from the local and state Republican Party, which was betting a campaign focused on Mr. Fidler’s liberal positions on social issues, specifically gay marriage, could be a success among the large numbers of Russians and Orthodox Jews in the district. About half and hour after the polls closed last night, the early returns looked promising for the Storobin supporters and several attendees at Mr. Storobin’s party were ready to claim victory and take credit for helping their man win. One of those people was Rabbi Isaac Levi, Chairman of the Board of a group called “Jews For Morality.”
Mr. Levi a slight, elderly man with a long gray beard and black fedora identifying him as an Orthodox Jews, was handing out a Xeroxed press release that said, “Orthodox Jews play a major role in Storobin’s success. … Othodox Jews, a major voting bloc in the 27th Senate District, in a special election, elected Republican/Conservative David Storobin.” Mr. Levi explained to The Politicker how Mr. Fidler’s support for gay rights turned off many members of the Orthodox community.
“Fidler’s voting for a proposal to teach same gender marriage in our schools to six-year-old children and his support for other anti-family bills played a major role in his defeat,” Mr. Levi said. “He overstepped the bounds. Mr. Fidler overstepped the bounds of what we consider almost normal living, normal family life.”
Mr. Levi was accompanied by a man with a short beard and a yarmulke named Bernard Fishman. Mr. Fishman initially said he couldn’t comment because it might get him into hot water at his job, but he chimed in as Mr. Levi spoke.
“The main problem is that they are looking to interject themselves into our lives. There was a time when they said, ‘Keep government out of the bedroom,’ well, I supported that. Now, the question is, now that they have the tools of government, they can now force themselves into our areas,” Mr. Fishman said. “I mean, they now, the state can now insist that every child learn about gay marriage. Why should that be? That’s the danger. Two men can walk into a synagogue or a church and say, ‘We want full membership, we’re homosexuals.’ Now who can stop that? Now that’s where the danger is.”
Same-sex marriage was legalized in Albany last June, but Mr. Levi said the Orthodox community still hopes to fight the issue by voting out politicians who support gay marriage and forcing a referendum.
“The truth is, the representatives in Albany let us down, they let us down. They were bought off on this issue by a very strong lobby,” Mr. Levi said. “We’re going to take corrective action, we’re going to go out against all these State Assemblymen in our area of Brooklyn that voted for gay marriage. They’re going to face primaries or elections and they’re going to rue the day that they ever voted for gay marriage.”
Mr. Storobin’s party took place at an “Asian bistro” in Sheepshead Bay called O.P.M., short for “opium.” Guests mingled under neon pink lights and ornate chandeliers while sampling from a buffet of Chinese food. Joseph Hayon, a former Assembly candidate and strong supporter of Mr. Storobin complimented the cuisine.
“This is 100 percent kosher food,” Mr. Hayon said. “Tell me the last time a non-religious candidate had 100 percent Kosher food at a victory rally.”
Both Mr. Fidler and Mr. Storobin are Jewish, though not Orthodox. Their religion came up at several points during the campaign. In January, Mr. Fidler accused Mr. Storobin of having “ties to skinheads, and neo-Nazi groups and white supremacist groups” because the Republican wrote a blog that was linked to by extremist groups. Last week, an ad ran in two local Jewish publications questioning Mr. Fidler’s religious convictions because of a 2008 interview he gave to this publication in which he described himself as a “bacon and eggs kind of Jew.” A special advertising supplement in the most recent issue of the Flatbush Jewish Journal noted Mr. Fidler’s support for teaching children about gay marriage and described voting for him as a violation of religious law.
At Mr. Storobin’s party, the crowd was still sparse about an hour after polls closed. We spotted several members of the Kings County G.O.P. and Brooklyn Young Republicans, a pair of staffers from the office of Republican Congressman and Senate candidate Bob Turner and Republican Councilman Dan Halloran.
“Lew Fidler, I love him to death, we have a great time in Council together, working together, but I think we need to start sending messages,” Mr. Halloran said.
According to Mr. Halloran the key message that needs to be sent is that government should not get involved with religion with legislation like the same-sex marriage law, President Obama’s contraception coverage rule and New York City’s ban on churches using public school space.
“Respect for God is part of the American tradition, however you choose to see God,” Mr. Halloran said. “I think a lot of pople feel that we’ve moved so far towards a secular state that we’ve forgotten that this is one nation founded under God.”
With about 85 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Storobin had a slight lead. Jacob Kornbluh, a self-described “political junkie” and writer for Jewish Voice NY, said he didn’t think Mr. Fidler would concede unless he was winning by more than 300 votes. Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Kornbluh said the night was a success for Mr. Storobin and the Kings County GOP.
“I’m happy because it shows that the Brooklyn Republicans are alive and kicking,” Mr. Kornbluh said. “This shouldn’t have even been close.”
Mr. Kornbluh was right about Mr. Fidler being unwilling to concede. In fact, a little before 11:20 p.m., Mr. Fidler gave a victory speech at his election night party.
“Even if it doesn’t always happen that way, this time, today, tonight, the good guys win,” Mr. Fidler said.
When word of Mr. Fidler’s speech reached the crowd at the Storobin party, Gene Berardelli, vice chairman of the Kings County Republicans’ Law Committee turned to Russ Gallo, president of the Brooklyn Young Republicans and laughed.
“I guess the Brooklyn GOP are the good guys now,” Mr. Berardelli said.
The final count coming in from the Board of Elections showed Mr. Storobin was up by 120 with 100 percent of the vote reported. It would be coming down to about 800 absentee and affidavit ballots, which are scheduled to start being counted March 27. That technicality didn’t stop Mr. Storobin from stepping onto the raised dancefloor and giving a victory speech of his own shortly after Mr. Fidler. Mr. Storobin was introduced by State Senator Marty Golden, who listed gains Republicans have made in New York City in recent years.
“Remember? There was Senator Marty Golden, then we had Nicole Malliotakis, our Assemblywoman, and then we had a guy named Congressman Bob Turner. Right? Right? Right? And we have another guy, what’s that guy? Congressman Michael Grimm,” Mr. Golden said. “They said it couldn’t happen right? And now, we’ve got New York State Senator David Storobin, yes, yes.”
As crowds chanted his name, Mr. Storobin, who noted “it’s been 18 hours since I woke up” touted his underdog status.
“It’s been a long night and an even longer campaign, we started this campaign with nobody giving us a chance,” Mr. Storobin said.
Mr. Storobin also referenced the attacks and allegations that flew back and forth during the race.
“Early in the race, my opponent … called me a Jewish Nazi,” Mr. Storobin said. “They called me a lot of names. Today, they claimed that we were running over their volunteers with our cars. No joke, multiple volunters. Now, nobody knows their names, where it happened, multiple of their volunteers apparently were run over by our cars. I mean maybe that’s why they’re going to claim that they lost, because their volunteers, their voters got run over by cars.”
“I got two of them,” Mr. Gallo shouted from the crowd.
“I knew it was Russell, I knew it,” Mr. Storobin laughed.
Mr. Storobin said, unlike his opponent, he ran a “good campaign.”
“We discussed real issues and our opponents decided to engage in character assasiation. And guess what? The good side won,” Mr. Storobin said. “I will be going to Albany, and I will represent all of you and I will fight for you.”
A heavyset Russian man shouted at Mr. Storobin from the audience.
“David, think about your mother,” he said. “Tomorrow, she will wake up as a mother of United States Senator!”
Mr. Storobin corrected him.
“State senator, New York State Senator.”
“Give it some time!” another audience member shouted.
Mr. Storobin’s mother, Anna Storobin, was by his side on stage. Ms. Storobin made the maximum donation of $10,000 to her son’s campaign, a fact which was derisively noted by the Fidler campaign during the race. At his party, Mr. Storobin thanked his mother for her support.
“I was interviewed by someone … they were asking me about my campaign and how it’s going, and then they said, ‘Don’t you feel that you will owe to your biggest fundraiser?’” Mr. Storobin said. “Let me point out, my biggest fundraiser and my biggest volunteer was my mom. So, yes, I will owe to my biggest fundraiser and my biggest volunteer. … Our opponents really have no shame, they’ve attacked my mom repeatedly and that’s one thing I’ve really taken offense to.”
After taking a congratulatory phone call from Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on stage, Mr. Storobin descended into the crowd where he made a beeline for Brooklyn Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar, who worked on his campaign. Mr. Storobin asked Mr. Kassar how the situation with the paper ballots was shaping up. Mr. Kassar was optimistic.
“We worked them. Remember in the beginning when I was screaming and yelling about sending that stuff out? I was always thinking you’d be close, we were always on it,” Mr. Kassar said.
Mr. Storobin’s campaign is taking the ballot count to court. This morning, his lawyers filed a motion to have any questions about recanvassing decided before a judge rather than allowing the Board of Elections to make a final determination that cannot be appealed. We asked Mr. Storobin what he expected to happen on the morning after his party.
“It’s going to be fun, you know, we’re going to finally make it official, hopefully in the next couple of days,” Mr. Storobin said. “We are very confident that we are going to win.”
Mr. Storobin was among the last people to leave his party. As mist rolled in off the bay, he stood outside the restaurant with a small group of supporters. Mr. Storobin reacted with disbelief when one of his backers informed him Mr. Fidler had also made a victory speech.
“He announced he won?” Mr. Storobin asked incredulously.
“He announced he won because, he said he has five-to-one handwritten ballots on us,” the man said.
“That crackhead,” another Storobin supporter said.
“I think he is on crack,” Mr. Storobin laughed.