The staff of expelled Council Member Chaim Deutsch will be removed from their posts in July, raising concerns that southern Brooklyn constituents may lose needed access to city services.
Deutsch, who represented Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach and portions of Midwood, was expelled from the City Council last week after pleading guilty to federal tax fraud charges. Now, his staff have been told that their last day in their roles will be July 23rd, a bit over five months before a newly elected Council Member and their staff takes over the office on January 1st.
Constituent services are an important part of the work at most Council Members’ offices, where staff serve as a conduit to city services and help residents with everything from housing and food access to complaints about pothole repair and pedestrian safety.
The Council, led by Speaker Corey Johnson, plans to transfer the district team’s caseload to central Council staff. But some southern Brooklyn staffers and candidates say the replacement workers won’t offer the same level of community support.
“The Speaker will replace the district staff with central staff who don’t have any connections to this district, don’t speak the languages of this district, and haven’t established the level of trust with the residents that makes constituent services most effective,” said Mariya Markh, a former staffer for Deutsch who is now running to replace him in the Council, in a statement.
“Laying off a staff that has always been there for the district is unfair, pointless and damaging,” she asserted, “and I urge the Speaker to reconsider.”
Deutsch’s team is made up of eleven staffers, five of whom do constituent casework, according to one current staffer, who asked not to be identified because they were concerned about repercussions. Some of those employees are part-time.
The staffer said the office handles over 3,000 constituent cases annually, and collectively speaks 6 different languages.
“We were all informed that we are being let go in July,” the staffer wrote. “We are extremely concerned that our constituents are left without representation.”
“We’ve been deeply involved in this community for many years, and we understand the needs of our district better than anyone. It’s a real travesty that people will have no one to turn to when they are in need.”
The locks on the Council Member’s district office at 2401 Avenue U have been changed, and Deutsch staffers are no longer permitted into the space “unless we are escorted by a staff member from the Speaker’s office,” the staffer said.
But a spokesperson for the Speaker’s office said the transition process was par for the course, and insisted services would not be interrupted.
“The Council is in the process of making sure there is a smooth transition in services in District 48 now that the seat is vacant. Typically, when a district has no member, the Council’s Community Engagement Division manages constituent cases and operates the office until a replacement is elected. There will be no interruption of services to constituents and constituents will continue to get the help they need,” Jennifer Fermino, the Council’s Communications Director, told Bklyner.
The Community Engagement Division (CED) has also managed the constituent affairs of other Council Members who left office ahead of schedule in recent years, including northeast Brooklyn Council Member Rafael Espinal, Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides, and Bronx Council Member Andrew Cohen.
The timing of the staff turnover has been different in each instance, depending on the circumstances of the elected official’s departure, according to the Speaker’s office. In this instance, Deutsch staffers have been given approximately 90 days notice.
The Speaker’s office also indicated that several members of the Deutsch’s staff would have opportunities to apply for job’s elsewhere on the Council, either with another member or with the central office, though that did not constitute a guarantee of a new job.
The Speaker’s office said existing constituent services cases would continue to be addressed. The Council district’s constituent services phone number remains the same (718-368-9176), while a new email address and “get assistance form” has been added to the Council website.
The Deutsch staffer who spoke with Bklyner expressed frustration that they did not have direct access to the email account. The Speaker’s office said existing staffers would continue to have access to constituent service files as necessary.
Several candidates are seeking to fill the Council seat left vacant by Deutsch. Markh is competing against Shorefront Coalition founder and special education teacher Steven Saperstein; litigation attorney Binyomin Bendet; nonprofit CEO Amber Adler; and radio host Heshy Tischler in the June 22nd Democratic primary. Inna Vernikov, an attorney and former aide to Assembly Member Dov Hikind, is running on the Republican line. The winner (and their staff) will take office January 1st, 2022.