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.”