Russian journalist Ari Kagan defeated Sheepshead Bay Democratic district leader Michael Geller at the polls on Sept. 13, snagging the unpaid party position out from under the 24-year incumbent after receiving more than 60 percent of the vote. We checked in with the new party official this week to find out what he plans to do to unify Southern Brooklyn Democrats:
Courier Life: Your victory over Michael Geller has shaken up Democrats throughout Southern Brooklyn. Everyone’s waiting to find out what you are going to do next. So, what are you doing next?
Ari Kagan: I’m planning to open a new democratic club in Sheepshead Bay. Turnout for the Democratic primary was very light. Maybe 3,200 people voted in a district with many registered Democrats, so my first priority is to create a club and make people excited to turn up and vote. We need a strong club.
CL: You beat Michael Geller, a long-time incumbent, by a significant margin. What happened?
Kagan: It was a great campaign. I got the support of many communities. In the last month the Chinese newspapers published my picture six times. But I won this election because people wanted a change, and they didn’t see the previous district leader as being very active.
CL: How are you different than Michael Geller? Aren’t both of you Democrats?
Kagan: Geller was famous for endorsing many Republican candidates, but you should only endorse a Republican candidate if the Democratic candidate has no connection to the neighborhood and no knowledge of the important issues. I do not plan on endorsing Republican candidates. I am a Democratic district leader, and I take those three words very seriously.
CL: That’s great, but then why did you go after Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz? Geller claimed you made several comments about Steve Cymbrowitz’s wife, claiming that Jews shouldn’t vote for Cymbrowitz because he married a non-Jew. That’s hitting a little below the belt for a fellow Democrat, isn’t it?
Kagan: That’s absolute nonsense. I never said a single word about Steve Cymbrowitz’s wife. People not associated with my campaign said that and some people in Midwood were told that, but I never said anything about his wife. I don’t know what Geller is talking about. Probably he’s still upset about losing.
My only criticism against Cymbrowitz is that he refused to debate his opponent Ben Akselrod. As a journalist, I’m a big fan of debates and I’m a big supporter of hashing out the issues in a debate.
CL: Gotcha. You mentioned that you’re going to form a new club. Do you have a name yet?
Kagan: I’d like to have something with Unity, or United in the title. I still have a few days to think about it, though.
— Colin MixsonReach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cn