And they’re off!
The race for the 48th District of the City Council, currently occupied by term-limited Councilman Michael Nelson, officially kicked off yesterday as 45th Assembly District Leader Ari Kagan became the first candidate to officially throw his hat in the ring.
But it wasn’t without drama. The event was delayed as a protester heckled the candidate for approximately 10 minutes at the start of the event, calling him a “foot soldier for the KGB.”
Local activist Zev Yourman, frequently seen handing out leaflets in front of local civic group meetings, emerged from the crowd just as the campaign announcement was set to kick off. Standing beside the elected officials supporting Kagan, Yourman attempted to seize the microphone, and began shouting that the candidate was a journalist trained at Lvov military academy in the Soviet Union, a school, Yourman said, that served as a training ground for the Soviet secret police, the KGB.
“The purpose of a journalist in the Soviet Union was to disturb the people and to harass them. They were the foot soldiers of the KGB,” Yourman shouted. “Journalists conducted surveillance on the population to harass Jews and spread propaganda.”
At first, neither Kagan nor his supporters attempted to stop Yourman, except gently attempting to take back the microphone and asking him to leave, which elicited cries of “Don’t try your KGB tactics on me” from Yourman. Eventually, Assemblyman Alan Maisel took out his phone to call police, which sent Yourman to the back of the crowd, where he clashed with supporters.
While Kagan didn’t address the claims himself, several of his supporters from the former Soviet Union noted that taking a job within the Communist Party was a means of survival for most in the old country. A website operated by Kagan touches on his history in the USSR, noting:
I graduated from an elite military college with a degree in journalism and served in the Soviet Army for 3 1/2 years as a lieutenant. I resigned from the Soviet Communist Party and left the Army in 1991, right after the KGB engineered the military assault on the Lithuanian TV Station.
Once the event kicked off, Kagan was ringed by a number of high-profile supporters, including Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, a former political opponent of Kagan’s who beat him out to become the first Russian-American state legislator in 2006. State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman William Colton also spoke in support of Kagan, as did Maisel, who spoke on behalf of himself and Kings County Democratic Club Chair Frank Seddio – showing Kagan has obtained the county club’s support in the race, which will give him a boost in fundraising and ground operations. (See video below)
Kagan took the microphone last, laying out a campaign platform that blended liberal and conservative ideology. (See video below)
On the liberal side, Kagan expressed support for expanding mass transit, ending school closures, and supporting senior welfare programs. On conservative issues, he said he supports tuition relief for students at private and religious schools, tax relief for property and co-op owners, and easing fines on small businesses.
Kagan also pushed more recovery measures for Superstorm Sandy, including increased funding for mold removal programs and suggested the city pursue revenue opportunities like advertising on park benches.
“I’m running for City Council to serve, and because in a city that has become increasingly unaffordable for working families and young people and seniors – we need a voice in City Hall,” said Kagan. “Government is a force for good, but it can do a better job.”
So far, Kagan is the only candidate to officially announce his candidacy. He is expected to face off against Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, Igor Oberman, a Democratic lawyer and former administrative law judge who worked as community liaison to Marty Markowitz, and attorney Michael Treybich. Chaim Deutsch, an aide to Councilman Michael Nelson, is widely believed to be running, but has not yet confirmed he will, and – on the Republican ticket – former State Senator David Storobin has expressed interest in the seat.