Could Ari Kagan finally win an election?

Democratic district leader for Assembly District 45 and City Council candidate Ari Kagan.
Democratic district leader for Assembly District 45 and City Council candidate Ari Kagan.
a katz/Shutterstock
Democratic district leader for Assembly District 45 and City Council candidate Ari Kagan.

Could Ari Kagan finally win an election?

The council staffer has run before, but this time he faces scandal-plagued candidates in the New York City Council District 47 field.
April 27, 2021

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Southern Brooklyn has been home to many controversial elected officials, like the famously confrontational former Republican state Sen. Marty Golden. Now, several such candidates are running for a City Council seat in the area. 

Council Member Mark Treyger, who is known for bringing attention to the local waterfront’s need for greater storm resilience and rehabilitation since Superstorm Sandy, is term-limited, creating an open seat. 

The 47th Council District, which includes Gravesend, Coney Island, Sea Gate and Bensonhurst, is known for having a diverse population: Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Urdu, Hebrew and Yiddish are among the top languages spoken there. 

While the area is currently represented by Democrats such as Treyger, it tends to lean more conservative than most of Brooklyn. Several Assembly districts that overlap with the council district voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 and 2016. During last year’s race for the Assembly District 46 race, Republican Mark Szuszkiewicz, a known who has promoted the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, nearly won the race in one such district against the incumbent Democratic Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus. Now Szuszkiewicz is running on the Republican line to replace Treyger. 

Candidates vying for the Democratic nomination include Alec Brook-Krasny, a former Assembly member who was prosecuted for his alleged involvement in a $6.3 million opioid scheme although he was eventually acquitted on charges of conspiracy and fraud; Steven Patzer, an activist who has been caught lying about his resume as well as his endorsements; Ari Kagan, a Democratic district leader for Assembly District 45 and Treyger’s director of district operations; Joseph Packer, a Coney Island native who has worked as a housing assistant manager at Mitchell Lama after a stint on Wall Street, and Winton Tran, who is running on a platform aimed at fighting injustices toward Asian Americans.

Szuszkiewicz, a Bay Ridge native who was unknown until his first foray into local politics last year, has the Republican nomination locked up, since there aren’t any other members of the GOP currently in the running. 

Treyger’s protégé, Kagan, has raised the most funds thus far, with Patzer and Brook-Krasny in second and third place, respectively, according to campaign finance reports. Kagan is well-connected in the local Democratic Party, having been a district leader for the past nine years. (He was one of the party regulars who initially cast more than double the proxy votes than were allocated to him during the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s inaugural full member Zoom call in December, but Jonathan Harkavy, who counted the votes for the party at the remote meeting, said the mistake was his fault rather than Kagan’s.)

In addition to Treyger, Kagan also has received endorsements from a slew of Assembly members, state senators and council members, as well as powerful unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, which represents janitors, the Hotel Trades Council and the New York State Nurses Association. “Ari’s neighbors know he is a real problem-solver and mensch, who has always stepped up for Southern Brooklyn in crisis,” wrote City Council Member Alan Maisel, in an op-ed for Bklyner, endorsing Kagan. 

“I think the vast majority of the members of the Brooklyn Democratic Party are backing Ari Kagan,” Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the current chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee told City & State. “He's been a long standing district leader, he worked in government. He's been around for a long time and is really interested in the community.”

While Patzer and Brook-Krasny are also considered top contenders for the position, their campaigns have been plagued by scandals.

Patzer pretended to have the support of the state’s Democratic Party, by sharing what appeared to be an endorsement from “New York Democrats.”

“The New York Democrats facebook group proudly endorses Steven D. Patzer for candidate for city council District 47,” read a post from Dec. 27 that has since been deleted from the Facebook page – which actually had no connection to any official New York Democrats group. The confusion over the post then led the New York state Democratic Committee to issue a press release announcing that it has not endorsed Patzer. “Social media posts from Steven Patzer and any others indicating that they have our endorsement are inaccurate,” read the committee’s statement. “No endorsements have been requested by any candidate and none have been granted by the NYS Democratic Committee.” 

“The Facebook group that has identified themselves as ‘New York Democrats’ is illegitimate,” the statement continued. “It is not an authorized committee of the Party nor has it received permission to use our likeness and/or branding. We have contacted Facebook to have this group removed.”

Patzer later said he did not intend to mislead anyone and that the New York Democrats group reached out to him about an endorsement. “I’ve always played it clean,” Patzer told Bklyner. “I’ve always been upfront and honest. I have a track record of honesty, and I’m sticking to it.”

However, Patzer was caught lying about his past jobs on his resume, saying on his campaign’s LinkedIn page that he was “Chief of Staff to the East Coast director at the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” a well-known Jewish human rights organization, although he only worked there as a “development associate” for a few months in 2019. “I was oftentimes referred to as the east coast directors [sic] chief of staff,” a spokesperson for Patzer told the Daily News.

Nonetheless, he has managed to gain some traction in the race – and some attention from “Sopranos” star Steve Schirripa – although it’s unclear how he’s been able to hoist himself into the position of top contender.

“We don't know who's actually supporting him behind closed doors,” Bichotte Hermelyn said, regarding Patzer’s campaign success thus far. “We don't know what his motives are. We don't know. In many cases, people come in (to different City Council districts) and they just want to run, so they'll do whatever it takes – like misstating things on their resume.”

Brook-Krasny represented Brighton Beach and Coney Island in the state Assembly between 2006 and 2015, before stepping down from his post for a lucrative position as chief operating officer of Quality Laboratory Services in Sheepshead Bay. It was while he was working in the lab that he met Dr. Lazar Feygin who prosecutors alleged pulled Brook-Krasny into his scheme of overprescribing opioids to patients. Feygin ended up pleading guilty to 16 felonies last year and is expected to serve five years in prison, while Brook-Krasny’s trial resulted in acquittal on some charges and a hung jury on others. 

Now Brook-Krasny is hoping to return to the public sector because it gives him “personal satisfaction” he told City & State. “Working for the community and dealing with the people, that was always something that I wanted to do and I was able to do good. And humbly speaking, I think I was representing people well all those nine years (in the Assembly) and many people were telling me that they would love to see me in another position again.”

Brook-Krasny also said that few people in his community have asked him about the past charges levied against him which have since been dismissed and that those who know him really well thought that his involvement in the case was “nonsense.”

“I’m not running because I need to set the record straight about being wrongfully accused — I’m running to fight to make sure that no one else gets wrongfully accused,” Brook-Krasny told the New York Post last year.

So far Brook-Krasny has received endorsements from the Police Benevolent Association and the New York State Court Officers union.

With the exception of Szuszkiewicz, nearly all of the candidates in the running are focused on employment, housing, transportation and education. The area has suffered significant blows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down Coney Island amusements for a full season last year, which makes jobs particularly important in this race.

While all the other candidates in the race are white, Packer, a Coney Island native and self-described “devout Christian,” who is a member of Brooklyn Community Board 13 is African American. He has said that he helped elect former Mayor David Dinkins. However, he has yet to receive any notable endorsements in the race.

According to census data from 2010, the council district is 56% white, 19% Asian American, 14% Hispanic and 8.6% Black, although those numbers have most likely shifted within the past 10 years.

Although Kagan is the party favorite, he has run for office unsuccessfully before. In 2013, he lost the race against Chaim Deutsch for the neighboring Council District 48and he also lost an Assembly race for Assembly District 46 against Brook-Krasny in 2006. However, this time around he appears to have more politicos in his corner and more cash in his campaign fund to help him secure a victory – and the last time he ran against Brook-Krasny, his opponent hadn’t been indicted yet. 

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Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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