Non-Russian Triumphs in ‘Super-Russian’ Council District

In a Brooklyn council district that many had trumpeted as a “super-Russian” seat, the Russian-American candidate with a trace of

Chaim Deutsch. (Photo: Deutsch Campaign)
Chaim Deutsch. (Photo: Deutsch Campaign)

In a Brooklyn council district that many had trumpeted as a “super-Russian” seat, the Russian-American candidate with a trace of star power was ultimately routed by 16 points Tuesday night.

Chaim Deutsch, a longtime staffer to Councilman Michael Nelson, seized the open seat, proving the clout of the district’s Orthodox Jewish community is real and growing. Mr. Deutsch will join Councilman David Greenfield as the second Orthodox Jewish member of the City Council.

“The district lines were drawn to limit their ability to elect an Orthodox council member and instead they banded together and coalesced behind a candidate with broad appeal who did well in every corner of the district,” said Joshua Melman, an organizer of the newly-formed Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, an umbrella group of local civic organizations that boosted Mr. Deutsch.

The southern Brooklyn district, roping in heavily-Russian neighborhoods like Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, was reconfigured in the most recent round of redistricting. More Russian enclaves were added and the Orthodox Jewish section of the district, based in Midwood, was reduced drastically. At hearings, leaders from both communities vigorously clashed and Orthodox Jewish advocates fretted that their clout would be diminished with the new lines.

As the race heated up, several well-financed Russian candidates threw their hats into the ring. After Mr. Deutsch won a divisive Democratic primary–some observers claimed he simply won because Russian candidates like Ari Kagan and Igor Oberman split the vote–he entered the general election against Republican David Storobin, a former state senator who once won a special election in the area on the strength of Russian and conservative votes. (Mr. Oberman stayed in the general election on the Working Families Party line and Russian language media mogul Gregory Davidzon also campaigned as a write-in candidate, perhaps further siphoning votes from Mr. Storobin.)

Sources close to the race said Mr. Storobin was initially salivating at facing Mr. Deutsch, assuming the Russian vote would vault him to the City Council. But Mr. Deutsch’s campaign saw a very different race.

“The notion that the 48th Council District was a Russian district was completely overblown,” said Austin Finan, a consultant for Mr. Deutsch. “At a quick glance, it looks like a heavily Russian district. But the enrollment is stronger among Orthodox than Russian. There’s also sizable Chinese, Pakistani, Irish and Italian communities. All came out to vote for Chaim.”

Mr. Finan noted that Comptroller John Liu, the city’s highest-ranking Asian-America pol, also stood with Mr. Deutsch on Election Day to galvanize voters in the district’s Asian-American enclaves. And according to the campaign, Mr. Deutsch had a significant edge among high-turnout voters, especially Orthodox Jews, who were motivated to elect one of their own.

Mr. Storobin, meanwhile, was relying on many first-generation voters who tend to be less likely to participate in the electoral process. “Both candidates relied on their bases,” Mr. Finan added. “Our base turned out in greater numbers than did David Storobin’s. It was like night and day.

In a conversation with Politicker, Mr. Storobin blamed turnout for the letdown.

“It’s disappointing the Russian community tends not to come out in high numbers. It’s something community leaders need to work on,” he said, reflecting on his bid. “Now, you just move on. At least I have stories to tell my grandchildren, if I get those.”

Non-Russian Triumphs in ‘Super-Russian’ Council District