A bitter political rivalry between two Coney Island elected officials is making waves in the neighborhood’s City Council contest.
On Friday, Council Member Mark Treyger accused Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus’ political club of having repeatedly “smeared” him and a staffer running to replace him. Frontus’ club, meanwhile, says Treyger’s comments are “intellectually dishonest and grossly misleading.”
The back and forth was the most public display of a longstanding political feud that has been an open secret in southern Brooklyn’s political scene since Frontus narrowly beat former Treyger staffer Ethan Lustig-Elgrably in the 2018 race for her seat. The continuing acrimony has split civically-engaged residents into opposing camps that have backed competing candidates in the race to represent Council District 47.
Last week’s conflict began when candidate Ari Kagan, who works for Treyger and has the term-limited Council Member’s endorsement, declined to participate in a debate organized by the Seaside Independent Democrats, a political club created by Frontus in 2019.
Debate organizers did not initially provide a reason for Kagan’s absence, and Kagan had previously participated in a candidate forum organized by the group. But when asked on a private Facebook post why his staffer wasn’t there, Treyger wrote that Kagan turned down the invitation because he didn’t want to participate “in a sham.”
“[Kagan] participated in many forums,” Treyger wrote in a comment that was later shared to a public Facebook group. “The one tonight was organized by a group that smeared his name, his identity as a Russian speaking Jew, they smeared my office, me personally, they smeared his campaign manager Zunera calling her an intruder while she’s lived here her whole life and contributed greatly to this community, and others in our community.”
Asked for more detail, Treyger told Bklyner that a member of the club “made a verbal comment to a community leader that Ari doesn’t write his own Facebook posts because he doesn’t know how to speak.” Kagan immigrated to New York from Belarus in 1993.
Treyger also pointed to a social media kerfuffle in which a man affiliated with Seaside members referred to Kagan’s Pakistani-American campaign manager as an “intruder” in the district, and to a recently-created Facebook profile called “Wheres [sic] Ethan” with a picture of Lustig-Elgrably, which Treyger called “social media bullying.”
He also criticized Seaside vice president Mario Caggiano for co-organizing a pro-police “Rally to Back the Blue” in Dyker Heights last summer, in which some participants spewed racist language and clashed with Black Lives Matter counterprotestors.
“It’ts been a pattern and practice of divisive and disgusting xenophobic language that’s beneath public discourse from a group that calls themselves Democratic,” Treyger asserted to Bklyner.
Kagan’s campaign said Frontus’ group, which has not made a formal endorsement, was aligned with a competing candidate, Steven Patzer, and said the event was not “a good faith attempt at a debate.”
“Assembly Member Frontus is on the vacancy committee for candidate Steven Patzer’s petitions to appear on the ballot,” Kagan’s campaign manager, Zunera Ahmed, said. “Board members collected signatures, donated contributions, endorsed Patzer on social media and continued to promote Patzer’s candidacy.”
She said Kagan’s supporters had been subject to “bullying and attacks” from members of the Seaside Independent Democrats, and she criticized Patzer for attending the Back the Blue rally alongside Caggiano.
In response, the Seaside Democrats issued a lengthy statement in which they called Treyger’s comments “preposterous, offensive, slanderous and beneath the dignity of a sitting elected official.”
“As immigrants and children of immigrants, we ourselves have accents and grew up in homes where our parents had accents and did not speak English,” the group said. “We have more than one club member who is Jewish including an executive officer who grew up in a home where Hebrew and Yiddish were spoken.”
They said the individual who made the “intruder” comment, Ramon Guadalupe, was not a club member, “although he attended meetings when we first began two years ago.”
“It is intellectually dishonest and grossly misleading to hold the club responsible for the actions of someone who is not a member and doesn’t speak on our behalf,” the group said.
For his part, Patzer, who is Jewish, pointed out that he had participated in an endorsement interview with the Southern Brooklyn Democrats, a club affiliated with Treyger, and said he did not think “there was an anti-Jewish lean” to the Seaside event.
“Candidates have to make themselves available to answer questions to the public in different environments,” said Patzer.
Meanwhile, a third candidate who participated in the debate, Alec Brook-Krasny, who is himself a Moscow-born, Russian-speaking Jew, told Bklyner simply “I have no idea what these people’s conversation is about.”
Kagan, Patzer and Brook-Krasny are all top contenders in the Democratic primary, and all have courted controversy in one way or another. Brook-Krasny, a former Assembly member, was prosecuted for alleged connection to a $6.3 million narcotics scheme, though he was eventually acquitted on conspiracy and fraud charges. Patzer has been caught making misleading statements about his resume and endorsements. Kagan, a Democratic District Leader, initially cast more than double the proxy votes allocated to him during the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s highly contentious virtual meeting in December, though the party’s deputy director later said the mistake was his fault, not Kagan’s.
Also running are former affordable housing manager Joseph Packer and activist Winston Tran, though neither have significant money or endorsements. Mark Szuszkiewicz, who has flirted with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory and who nearly defeated Frontus in an Assembly race in November, is running on the Republican line.