The chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party was left scratching his head when Democratic officials endorsed a Russian media mogul write-in candidate over the party’s nominee in a City Council race yesterday.
While the vast majority of the city’s political figures have flocked to leading mayoral candidates Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson, John Liu has quietly assembled a seemingly unlikely coalition in southern Brooklyn.
Even though he’s placing a distant fifth in the polls and has been battered by a serious fund-raising scandal, a pair of assemblymen and two top City Council candidates are soldiering onward on Mr. Liu’s behalf.
The real estate industry-backed PAC Jobs for New York has been grabbing headlines for their hefty independent expenditures on behalf of City Council candidates, but another pro-business PAC is quietly wading into several key contests, too.
The Small Business Coalition, a PAC dedicated to propping up more moderate candidates interested in lowering business fines and minimizing regulations, announced their latest round of endorsements today, backing incumbent Councilwoman Annabel Palma and open-seat contenders Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Robert Cornegy, Ari Kagan and Ken Biberaj.
One candidate meowed. Another, taking a page from the Anthony Weiner playbook, rose up to denounce most of his rivals. And a third claimed his Russian opponent, a fellow Soviet émigré, was engaging in Communist class warfare.
The Democratic candidates for the open 48th Council District seat squared off in Flatbush last night, and made it clear, early and often, that they do not like each other.
Uttering Russian phrases and offering paeans to Soviet military sacrifices, the Democratic candidates for mayor battled for the affections of elderly Russians at a forum in Brooklyn earlier tonight.
All of the mayoral candidates, except absent Council Speaker Christine Quinn, strained to relate to the relatively conservative, Russian-speaking crowd packed into the first floor of a gaudy Brighton Beach catering hall in the heart of the immigrant enclave known as “Little Odessa.”
“Since my great grandfather was from Russia, you will have someone in the very highest levels of government who is Russian-American,” offered Anthony Weiner, parrying a question about whether he would include a Russian community representative in his administration. He drew light applause.
Unlike most of the forums the candidates have attended, a translator was present to interpret all questions and answers at the event, which was also broadcast over media mogul and Russian powerbroker Gregory Davidzon’s radio station. And unlike their televised debate a night ago, few sparks flew.
What flew, instead, was da–Russian for “yes.”
“Are you willing to include Russian-speaking people in the [mayoral] transition team?” a moderator asked.
“Uh, yes,” Mr. Weiner replied.
“Da,” the moderator translated.
“Ah, da,” the former congressman reiterated.
The rest of the contenders joined in the simple Russian word-fest. Long-shot Erick Salgado, a socially conservative reverend who is backed by Mr. Davidzon and has funneled thousands of advertising dollars to Mr. Davidzon’s station, was asked the same question and blurted out, “da, da!”
Mr. Salgado stressed again and again that it was the Russian community, not his own Latino community, that first encouraged him to launch his mayoral bid.
“I am the one who raised the most money among the Russians,” he declared. “If I don’t do what’s fair for all my friends, I think Gregory is going to be calling me every day at three o’clock in the morning.”
Comptroller John Liu further name-checked Ari Kagan, a local district leader and City Council candidate who has endorsed him, and managed to utter a few prepared sentences sentences in Russian. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio arrived late but he was more than willing to show he had a soft spot for Mother Russia. When an audience member asked if he would support the creation of a memorial to commemorate the sacrifices of Russian and American soldiers in World War II, Mr. de Blasio was quite enthusiastic.
“I’m reading an extraordinary book right now, my son actually gave it to me, about one of the truths of World War II that needs more recognition. That in terms of the sacrifices made, it was the army of the then-Soviet Union that overwhelmingly put forward the sacrifices that won World War II in terms of number of men and women lost and injured,” he said. “This is a fully underrepresented page of history, in terms of the memory of Americans and many people in western Europe as well, forgetting the extraordinary sacrifices of the Soviet soldiers.”
The candidates also discussed Hurricane Sandy recovery, potential tolls on the East River bridges and the community’s desire to increase the number of cops on patrol.
But Mr. Davidzon, chatting with Politicker after the forum, said uttering canned Russian phrases was not likely to win many voters.
“You know,” he said, “people like that somebody spent some time to learn the words, but it doesn’t work.”
Over the past weekend, two Russian-American pols, embittered rivals running for the same City Council district this year, escorted their preferred mayoral hopefuls along the Brighton Beach boardwalk.
First, on a sultry Friday afternoon, Democrat Ari Kagan led Comptroller John Liu through the elegant Tatiana Restaurant on the boardwalk, greeting voters in the middle of a late lunch. Two days later, Republican David Storobin brought Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor in the Giuliani Administration, to do the same exact thing
And, although mayoral politics may have been the theme of the day, the political animosity from their respective Council campaigns was very present as well.
In a scathing letter to labor unions and progressive political clubs, Democratic Councilman Lew Fidler accused fellow Democrat Igor Oberman, who is seeking to represent a neighboring district, of leaking information to his one-time Republican opponent.
Mr. Fidler entered a hotly-contested special election for the State Senate last year, losing by only 13 votes. One of the contributing factors to the loss, Mr. Fidler said, was Mr. Oberman passing along campaign secrets to his GOP rival, David Storobin. Mr. Fidler argued that these actions should disqualify Mr. Oberman, who has positioned himself as the most left-wing candidate in his southern Brooklyn City Council race.