One of the most closely watched City Council races is shaping up in south Brooklyn’s 48th District, where two fresh members of their respective parties are duking it out to replace disgraced former Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, who was booted from the Council earlier this year after being convicted of tax fraud.
The race in the district, which includes Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest, and Midwood, is between special education teacher Steven Saperstein, the Democratic nominee, and attorney Inna Vernikov, the Republican nominee. While the southern Kings County district historically elects Democrats to its local legislative offices, it is an area of strong showing for Republicans in mayoral, gubernatorial, and presidential races (the area was one of Donald Trump’s strongest regions in the five boroughs in 2016 and 2020), and Deutsch was known as a conservative firebrand despite being a Democrat.
Both candidates are also new to their parties: Saperstein is a former Republican, and in fact ran for the same seat in 2017 as a Republican, as well as for the 46th Assembly District in 2018. He lost both times to Deutsch and to Mathylde Frontus, respectively, but won a crowded primary this year for this year’s Democratic nomination for the Council seat.
Vernikov, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, considered running in the Democratic primary but ultimately sought, and received, the Republican nomination. She is a supporter of former President Donald Trump, according to the New York Post.
Brooklyn Paper caught up with both candidates to talk about their backgrounds and their priorities should they be elected. The candidates’s answers, lightly edited for clarity, are listed alphabetically by their last name.
Brooklyn Paper: Tell us a little about yourself.
Steven Saperstein, Democrat: I grew in Sheepshead Bay/Madison and now reside in Brighton Beach. I live with my wife Elina and we are raising our two daughters there with our dog Sasha. I work as a Special Education Teacher with those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Inna Vernikov, Republian: I am an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and I have only love for this country and our beautiful city. My family came here with nothing and my parents had to work multiple jobs to make a living. My dream was always to become an attorney. I have been managing my own matrimonial and immigration practice for the past eight years and have been actively involved in my community and numerous non-profit organizations.
BP: Why are you running for City Council? What do you hope to accomplish as a Councilmember?
SS: We’ve been through so much this year, and our neighbors need someone to fight for us. I am running to bring our district back stronger. My goal is to be hands-on, accessible and responsive to the issues you care about. I will work with the next mayor to deliver the necessary resources and funding to our district.
IV: I am running for City Council because I feel that our politicians have failed us. Our city has become unlivable for the average individual. The uptick in crime and the movement to defund our police, the garbage, the high taxes, and the attack on our individual freedoms, are some of the things that propelled me to stand up and be a voice for our community and our district. As an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who appreciates the comfort and freedoms America provides for us, I feel that it is incumbent on me to give back and I feel that the time to do that is now.
BP: The previous occupant of this office, Chaim Deutsch, was booted from the Council earlier this year after being convicted of tax fraud. What are some ways you think Deutsch fell short as a Councilmember, and what are some things you think he did right?
SS: Right now our district is without a representative and that is the only thing on my mind. When I am elected we will have an office centrally located within the 48th to provide the high quality constituent services that have been sorely missed in my district. Our staff will be diverse and well versed to the many needs of our community.
IV: I have been walking around the district for over a year and speaking to the people. Whether it be on Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Midwood or other areas of the district, all I hear is praise for former Councilman Deutsch and the work he has done for this community. I know that the office and staff of Chaim Deutsch provided exceptional constituent services to the people of this district. When I am in the City Council, I look to do the same in that regard.
BP: This race is unique in that both nominees are recent converts to their party. Why did you switch parties?
SS: My goal is to represent the entirety of my district. People aren’t defined by their party but rather what they can actually get done for their community. I have the necessary relationships with my future colleagues in city hall and in city management to actually get things done and not just preach about partisan platitudes.
IV: This is somewhat of a misrepresentation. When I first registered to vote, I registered as a Republican. My views have always been a Conservative/Republican. I remained a Republican for many years, until I became inaccurately convinced that in order to have an impact in the primary elections I need to be a registered Democrat. This past summer, after seeing the anarchy and the destruction that Black Lives Matter riots and the attack on our police, I could not any longer remain a Democrat even on paper.
BP: Are you in favor of or opposed to the city and state coronavirus vaccine mandates?
SS: I believe in science and common sense and am personally vaccinated. But we also live in a free society. I think that people need to make the decision that is best for themselves, their family, and their community.
IV: I am not against the vaccines. I think that the vaccine was a great invention of science that we are privileged to have access to. I encourage those who want to take the vaccine to take it. However, I am against government overreach and our politicians mandating to us how to live our lives and what to put into our bodies. I am therefore against any government mandates.
BP: Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and the rest of CD48 are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. What are some things you think the Council should do in the next term to address climate change and the threat it poses to Brooklyn?
SS: We must be prepared for crisis before it happens. Protecting our coast must be a priority. The devastation to our community after Hurricane Sandy showed that our city was woefully underprepared for a superstorm. Even now, billions of dollars in federal funds allocated to our city still have not been spent by the administration. I will work with our federal elected officials and community leaders to ensure that Southern Brooklyn is made a priority by the Army Corps of Engineers in any study to protect New York from storm surge and rising seas.
IV: We all want clean water and clean air, but we also want a strong economy and we need to balance the two.
BP: New York has long been dealing with an affordable housing crisis. Do you think denser housing should be built in low-rise areas like CD48? Would you support a rezoning in the area if the next administration proposed it?
SS: Everything comes down to infrastructure. Affordable housing allows for our communities to thrive by not sweating the rent check every month, however my job as a representative is to make sure that any new development fits the culture and feeling of our historic neighborhoods.
IV: The main issue we have is a shortage of housing for the elderly. When there’s a shortage of affordable housing, the elderly should get priority.
BP: South Brooklyn has had fewer street redesigns for things like bike lanes, bus lanes, etc than north Brooklyn. Do you think the district should have more bike and bus lanes, fewer, or should it stay the same?
SS:: Everything comes down to safety. My biggest priority on the City Council will be to go after reckless driving, dirt bikes, drag racing etc. As a father, my transportation priority is always safety first.
IV: I am a biker and I am also in favor of expanding bike lanes. But I do not support expanding bus lanes, Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs that reduce driving and parking spaces.
BP: If you had to pick one issue area you want to focus on as a member of the Council, what would it be? Any committee assignments you’re hoping for?
SS: My biggest issue has always been Quality of Life. I’m striving to provide safe and clean streets to the members of our district and to reinvigorate our communities after COVID. In terms of committee assignments, I’d hope to be on Public Safety, Aging, Sanitation, or Education. When I’m elected to serve my district, whatever I can do to increase my constituents’ quality of life, I’ll do to the best of my ability.
IV: There are too many issues in the district to only focus on one. When I am in the City Council, I will propose a bill to refund the police, I will oppose for homeless shelters to be built next to schools, I will fight to restore merit based education (the gifted and talented programs), and fight discrimination on college campuses.
New York City’s general election, where voters will make their choices for City Council, mayor, public advocate, and more, is Nov. 2. Early voting begins this Saturday, Oct. 23. Find out more about where and how to cast your vote here, and enter your address to view a sample ballot here.