With Deutsch gone and staff on way out, southern Brooklynites fear lack of city services

Former Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, seen here pointing at various objects.
File photos

After southern Brooklyn Councilmember Chaim Deutsch was dismissed for tax fraud, a Council staffer began managing his office full time — but the staffer doesn’t even live in Brooklyn, making some locals worry that it’s negatively impacting constituent services. 

Walter Algarin, an employee of the Council’s Community Engagement Division, who was appointed to the post of the District Manager of Council District 48, is a resident of the Bronx, according to his Twitter profile. Sources in the office, who requested anonymity, told Brooklyn Paper that he is not a resident of the district or the borough.

Making matters worse, Algarin is not managing the 48th District office full-time, instead balancing the job with his duties at the CED.

Algarin could not be reached for comment, instead referring inquiries to the Council’s central office. A spokesperson for Council Speaker Corey Johnson declined to comment on Algarin’s borough of residence, but said that the Council’s policy is that staffers must live in the five boroughs.

Deutsch was expelled from the Council last month after pleading guilty to tax fraud. The CED assumes responsibility for council district offices when a member vacates their seat for any reason. That also includes staffers — meaning Deutsch’s entire staff will be laid off on July 23 and replaced with employees from the Council’s central office until a new Council member is elected in November.

Deutsch had been a conservative Democrat who often found himself at odds with the larger Democratic caucus, but was known locally for his office’s strong constituent services.

“Constituent services have absolutely diminished since his expulsion,” one staffer, who requested anonymity, told Brooklyn Paper. “One thing everyone could agree about Chaim Deutsch is that nobody did constituent services like him. He was on call 24/7 and had the relationships within agencies to produce genuine results for people.”

Some residents now fear a brain drain will result in the district when Deutsch’s staff leaves.

“I think they made a very big mistake,” said Judy Baron, president of the Manhattan Beach Community Group, a neighborhood civic association. “They did not have to fire Deutsch. Or if they did have to fire him, why in the world did they fire his staff?”

Baron says that Algarin hasn’t responded to her calls or emails, despite giving her and other civic association presidents his personal phone number. In turn, Baron says she finds herself attempting to resolve residents’ concerns herself, but that this is no replacement for the involvement of a Council member.

“The part that’s disturbing to me is that I can’t help people in my community who need help,” Baron said. “I could pick up a phone and call the Sanitation Department, but it’s much better if they get a call from the Council member’s office.”

Deutsch staffers told Brooklyn Paper that constituent services have significantly diminished since his expulsion.

“The Speaker’s office can report a pothole, sure. They can’t negotiate major matters, they can’t be proactive about certain things,” a staffer told Brooklyn Paper. “For example, last week was a major Muslim holiday. Every year, Chaim arranges police protection, community events for the kids, and food pantries. Without him, there was a dearth of services — and a hate crime in the district at a mosque.”

The staffer said that constituent emails that formerly went directly to the district office are now being routed through the central office, and sometimes are not relayed back to the district office for days, even in urgent cases like downed electrical wires or flooding.

“To be honest, I don’t know who’s doing what over there when people are emailing them,” said one staffer.

Employees maintain that the layoffs will cause the loss of institutional knowledge and relationships within the district, which spans Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest, and Midwood. The district will also not have a member representing the community in upcoming city budget negotiations as a result of Deutsch’s expulsion.

Staffers’ salaries are budgeted until the end of the year, but they will nonetheless not be paid after July 23, though they’ll get to keep their health insurance until September under a rule included in the federal stimulus bill. One pregnant staffer will lose her maternity leave, despite being due just two weeks before termination day. Part-time staff have also had issues with their pay schedules, a staffer told Brooklyn Paper.

A spokesperson for Johnson said that having the central office take over for a Council member that vacates their seat is standard operating procedure, and has been done frequently in recent years as members like Rafael Espinal, Ritchie Torres, and Costa Constantinides have resigned at a rapid clip for various reasons.

“The Council has worked to ensure there is a smooth transition in services in District 48 now that the seat is vacant,” said Jennifer Fermino, the Council’s communications director. “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.”

The Council spokesperson said that Algarin is not managing the district as a lone wolf, but rather as a point person of sorts, fielding calls and directing them to others within the Council to answer questions and solve problems. The CED also has staff speaking multiple languages, they said, which has been a point of contention in the multilingual district.

The Council said that staffers will be allowed to apply for jobs with other members or with central staff.

As for allegations that Algarin has been hard to reach, Fermino says they’re unfounded. “We are confident that all of the needs of Council District 48 are being met,” she said.

Deutsch could not be reached for comment.

Five candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination to succeed Deutsch in the district: Amber Adler, Binyomin Zev Bendet, Steve Saperstein, Heshy Tischler, and Mariya Markh. Markh released a statement on May 3 calling on the Speaker to retain Deutsch’s staff.

“Laying off a staff that has always been there for the district is unfair, pointless and damaging and I urge the Speaker to reconsider,” Markh said. “Ultimately, it’s the vulnerable people of the district who will suffer the consequences.”

Republican and conservative candidate Inna Vernikov will face off in November against the winner of the Democratic primary election for Deutsch’s seat.