The race to become the next representative of the 47th Council District remains one of the few competitive races in the borough. Republican Mark Szuszkiewicz faces off against Democrat Ari Kagan to replace the term-limited Mark Treyger, who has held the seat since 2014.
District 47 comprises Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Sea Gate, and Gravesend. Treyger, a Democrat, easily won two reelection campaigns during his tenure as councilman, and has endorsed Kagan, his director of operations since April 2020. But Szuszkiewicz, who has promoted conspiracy theories and recently posted about dodging the vaccine mandate on his social media accounts — nearly won the race for Assembly District 46 last year, losing to Democrat Mathylde Frontus by a margin of only a few thousand votes.
Large parts of the coastal district sit in a floodplain and are at higher risk of flooding during storms like Hurricane Ida and as sea levels continue to rise, and small businesses – particularly those driven by tourists and visitors on Coney Island — are still struggling to recover from long-term closures during the pandemic.
Brooklyn is lagging behind other boroughs in COVID-19 vaccination rates — and while Gravesend and Bensonhurst are leading the pack of Brooklyn neighborhoods, with 54 and 57 percent of residents vaccinated, respectively, the rate of transmission in the district is still fairly high.
Brooklyn Paper spoke with Kagan and Szuskiewicz about the most pressing issues in the district and their plans if they win the election.
Brooklyn Paper: What’s your professional and political background? What made you decide to run for council?
Ari Kagan: I’ve worked here for many years as a journalist for Russian language ethnic weekly newspapers, and later on I started to host my TV show. I still have a weekly TV show on the Russian Television Network of America. I have my morning news program on a Russian language radio station. In 2012 I ran for Democratic district leader in the 45th Assembly district, which includes some of the neighborhoods of my current council district. But of course, the biggest call of my political and personal life started in January 2020 when I started to work as the district director of operations for councilman Mark Treyger.
Mark Szuszkiewicz: I’ve worked several blue collar and white collar professions including becoming a stockbroker at the age of 19, a financial adviser for several fortune 500 firms, a real estate salesperson, a truck driver so that I can get paid to travel, a local cable tv show host, and other professions. I ran for State Assembly last year and it was my first time running for office. I ran for office the first time after covid because I don’t trust politicians to do the right thing, but I know that I will fight to do the right thing and fight to make the changes that need to be made. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and the city keeps getting worse. I ran again for city council this year because I still feel that I can make a positive impact if I’m elected.
BP: Small businesses across the city and in District 47 are struggling to recover from the pandemic. What do you think is the best way to help them?
AK: Small Business Services should be reformed, should be reorganized, should be more responsive to small business owners. I have a very good relationship with Randy Peers, the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. That should be the example for SBS, in my opinion, the chamber of commerce should be an example in terms of visiting small businesses, trying to accommodate all languages possible. Many small business owners are immigrants who have not the slightest idea about some of the services, some of the programs, and they are only learning about city agencies when they are getting another fine, another mandate, nothing else.
MS: There are grants and loans through the SBA and I would like to have a specialist on my staff to help with the application process for small businesses and nonprofits to help them apply for the various programs available. Aside from that, the mandates have been destroying small businesses and I will continue to speak out against them and help with legal actions against the city for their part in destroying small businesses.
BP: South Brooklyn is particularly vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise due to climate change — with intense storms like Hurricane Ida becoming more frequent, how would you work with the city government to prepare and protect the community?
AK: Of course, the waterfront community needs to refrain from building many more condominiums on the waterfront. Places should consider how they are building, any new construction should take into consideration that this area suffered from Superstorm Sandy, and climate change is not going anywhere, it’s worse and worse. Of course, we need to invest in our aging infrastructure, we need to make sure that, like, [catch] basins are working, and improve resiliency in Coney Island and elsewhere in Brooklyn. We are far, far from being resilient, especially our waterfront.
MS: I would consult with flood control engineers about strategic placements of flood walls, berms, flood gates, embankments, pumping stations, and other measures that would help to protect the community from a potential flood threat.
BP: Talk about your views on public safety and criminal justice.
AK: Public safety now is a priority. I’ve always had a good relationship with police officers. At the same time, I’m supporting local community organizations that work with police or work against gun violence. Every community organization that has something to offer to fight gun violence, to bring police and community together, to give something to our young people. We need to give hope and jobs and programs to our young people — arts, sports, cultural programs, jobs, of course, apprenticeships, vocational training. That’s the way out of gangs and gun violence and drugs and everything else.
MS: The bail reform bill that passed on the state level has been a disaster. I mentioned the bail reform bill when I was running for State Office and I left it on my current website because it is still a major issue as it has resulted in a large increase in crime. Criminals are put back on the street after committing a crime to commit crimes again. Which they often do. Judges should have more control over whether or not someone is released without bail based on their potential threat to commit another crime. Unfortunately at the city level, I would not be able to have a vote to repeal or replace the bail reform bill. Defunding the police on the city level has resulted in an increase in crime as well. I think that we need better police community relations and that includes having more community events involving the local police departments. Police that commit crimes should be prosecuted but the entire department doesn’t need to take the blame. Making budget cuts only hurts the people of the community that need the protection from the police who risk their lives every day to protect ours.
BP: What else should voters know?
AK: Come to southern Brooklyn please, if you want to meet me. Come visit our local cafés, local restaurants, local pizzerias, local stores. You have to see us. I invite everybody to see the beauty of southern Brooklyn. I am taking nothing for granted, I am talking to every voter, every small business owner, every NYCHA resident, every neighborhood, everything. Learn more about Ari Kagan at ariforcouncil.com.
MS: I would like to implement a life skills class that teaches various life skills. Different topics for each class. Similar to how they used to have shop class but also add basics of financial literacy, website design, and other skills. I would also like to implement an after school video game program as not every kid plays sports. It wouldn’t take place immediately after school as kids would have time to do their homework, get tutoring, or finish practice if they are on a sports team so they wouldn’t have to choose between the two.
I would also like to fund affordable housing with property backed municipal bonds instead of giving developers 15 year tax abatements for only a few units of affordable housing. Current and future affordable housing residents (including NYCHA) should have the opportunity to lease to own. Also when they own it can not be sold at market value, but only sold to another low income resident. I would also like to help the homeless with job training and rehabilitation programs instead of putting them in a shelter where they don’t feel safe and forgetting about them. I would like to look into utilizing Brothers Island as a potential location for housing and rehabilitation centers for the homeless. I would like to bring farmers markets to South Brooklyn as well. I go into some of these ideas and more on my website Mark4NY.com.
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 Oct. 23. Find out more about where and how to cast your vote here, and enter your address to view a sample ballot here.