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.
“I’m here telling you … straight,” charged candidate Igor Oberman, an attorney and judge. “I fear for everybody in this room who is able to listen to these bubbameisters and not understand what is really happening.”
The battle for the seat comes following a contentious redrawing of the district, which now ropes in neighborhoods like Flatbush, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. As a result, political clout was transferred from the Orthodox Jewish community to an emerging Russian-American bloc. And the race is representative of that inherent tension: two candidates, including Mr. Oberman, are Russian-American. One is an Orthodox Jew. And another, a proud Catholic, is a viable contender as well.
Further complicating matters, the district is one of the few in the city where a Republican, ex-State Senator David Storobin, stands a real chance of winning the general election. At last night’s forum, hosted by the newly-formed Flatbush Jewish Community Council, the rightward tilt of the district was clear. Unlike in other parts of the city, endorsements from groups like the teachers’ union were treated almost as liabilities. And openly admiring George Bush–either father or son–was not.
“When I went down to the [United Federation of Teachers], I walked into the office and I said to them, ‘I don’t want your endorsement, but I’m here out of respect. I’m gonna come answer the questions and what my issues are,’” said Chaim Deutsch, an Orthodox Jewish City Council aide, to applause.
Ari Kagan, a Russian-American district leader backed by the UFT, fended off attacks from rivals and even prodding from a moderator about whether he would be committed to defending private school education, particularly tax credits for families with kids attending Yeshivas, while running with the support of a public school teachers union.
“Maybe you want to look at Ari, who has accepted the endorsement of UFT but in the same breath says he supports vouchers,” Mr. Oberman remarked.
All of the candidates further reveled in panning more liberal-leaning Bloomberg administration policies like the proposed regulations on large sugary beverages–Mr. Oberman called the proposal “retarded”–as well as the tax burden on small businesses. Mr. Oberman, the Working Families Party-backed candidate, blasted Mr. Kagan for not denouncing independent expenditures being paid on his behalf by a real estate-backed group, portraying him as a future puppet of wealthy real estate developers.
Tacking right, Mr. Kagan hit right back.
“I never knew that I would come from the former Soviet Union to listen about class warfare in the United States of America from a person who also came from the former Soviet Union. I’m shocked, a little bit,” Mr. Kagan said.
As Mr. Kagan and Mr. Oberman traded blows, another candidate, Theresa Scavo, a professed admirer of both President Bushes, periodically cried “meow,” implying the two men were engaging in frivolous cat fights.
“I’m not getting down in the mud with any one of these three,” she declared. “I am finding this so disgusting sitting here, the three of them clawing at each other … the three of you are behaving like children!”
Later, Mr. Deutsch accused Ms. Scavo of trumpeting her endorsement from the National Organization for Woman, a group he claimed, “had an agenda with gays and lesbians.” Brushing off the endorsement, Ms. Scavo simply pointed to her status as the only woman in the race.
Mr. Deutsch finally lashed out at Mr. Kagan for writing his first name in Hebrew print on mailers, allegedly misrepresenting himself as an Orthodox Jew.
“I will not be like my opponent … Mr. Ari Kagan, advertising as the name ‘Ari’ in Hebrew, making people think he is the Orthodox candidate,” Mr. Deutsch boomed as he stood. “I will not fool anyone. I will not lie to you.”
The Democratic primary, one of the most wide-open City Council contests across the five boroughs, will be decided on September 10.