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Hot-button hits in Sheepshead Bay Assembly primary race

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The primary battle for Sheepshead Bay’s Assembly seat is descending into an exchange of hot-button insults with the dueling Democrats accusing each other of disrespecting the sabbath and trivializing the Holocaust.

The mud started flying over the weekend, after challenger Ben Akselrod asked a judge to invalidate signatures on Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz’s nominating petition, triggering a flurry of subpoenas to the incumbent’s supporters late in the day on Aug. 8.

Seizing on the fact that the subpoenas went out just hours before the sundown start of Shabbat, Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) accused Akselrod of insensitivity to observant Jews, who make up a large portion of the district encompassing Sheepshead Bay, Midwood, Manhattan Beach, Gravesend, and Brighton Beach.

“To threaten and intimidate the good people of this district is disgraceful enough,” said Cymbrowitz, who has represented the district since 2000, “but for an observant Jew like Ben Akselrod to harass and worry other observant Jews on Shabbat shows how insensitive Ben is to the people of this district and his own community.”

Akselrod said he was in court all day Aug. 7, so the next day was the soonest he could send the subpoenas out. Furthermore, he said that one of the process servers who delivered the documents was an Orthodox Jew he knew would be careful to finish the work before sundown.

“One of the people happened to be an Orthodox Jew,” he said. “Forget about helping me, they would not violate Shabbat.”

Akselrod also played the religion card in the spat, referencing a New York Observer article in which Cymbrowitz invoked the Holocaust to defend his spending of campaign funds at a souvenir shop in Munich.

“As someone who uses the Holocaust to justify his spending at a Munich gift shop, my opponent showed he will stop at nothing to desperately hang on to his position,” said Akselrod.

Akselrod claims that nearly three-quarters of Cymbrowitz’s petition signatures are fake or otherwise unacceptable, and defended his decision to challenge them in court.

“My campaign was forced to seek the assistance of the courts because my opponent’s lack of support in the community necessitated his campaign to resort to submitting predominately fraudulent and invalid signatures,” said Akselrod.

But Cymbrowitz campaign spokesman Austin Finan said the signatures are valid, and accused Akselrod of filing a “frivolous lawsuit” as a last resort to boost his campaign before the Sept. 9 primary.

Tensions between the two have been high before — in the 2012 primary race, Akselrod accused Cymbrowitz of calling his Jewish Council colleagues immoral when the incumbent described himself as, “the only secular Jew in New York City who votes in favor of yeshivas and against immorality.”

Cymbrowitz beat Akselrod in that primary by a scant 244 votes.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at vogle@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow her attwitter.com/oglevanessa.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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