New York City Council Member Ari Kagan is one of four members leaving the City Council this year, after being knocked out of office in one of the nastier matchups of the year.
On his way out of the City Council, the Coney Island Republican spoke to City & State about the highs and lows of his time in office, noting that he was particularly proud of his support for police and law enforcement – a quality he accused his opponent Justin Brannan of lacking during the campaign. Kagan, who was elected as a Democrat and switched to the Republican Party in late 2022, said he doesn’t bear responsibility for how vitriolic that campaign got.
While the three other members departing the council this year – Marjorie Velázquez, Charles Barron and Kristin Richardson Jordan – attended the last stated meeting of the year, Kagan was on vacation in the Dominican Republic, a trip he said he booked in January. “I’m exhausted,” he said. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you see as your biggest accomplishment during your two years as a council member?
In terms of legislation, I was not so successful because unfortunately the speaker did not bring some of my bills to a vote. The only legislation out of all of my proposed bills that was actually passed – and I like it very much, though it is a resolution – is called the NYCHA Accountability Act, for the New York City Housing Authority. It asks the state Legislature and the federal government to start auditing NYCHA property managers’ responsiveness to tenants’ complaints. In terms of money allocations in the district, I believe the biggest – I would say, crown jewel – was $8 million last year to the modernization, renovation and restoration of the very outdated Marlboro Houses community center.
What do you see as unfinished business?
(It was) never brought to a vote, but it was legislation regarding student debt. It’s a nationwide issue, you know, student debt problems. And a lot of companies in New York City are charging an exorbitant amount of money from unsuspecting students and their families and parents for advice, for information, for helping them to lower this debt, to repay this student debt, but they never tell students, they never tell their parents or their families, that most of the information they are providing is available free of charge on the website of the U.S. Department of Education. My legislation required these companies to give to every client, in writing, a piece of paper saying that this information is free (and) available on the website of the U.S. Department of Education. If you wanted to precede and still use the services, no problem. But they need to be informed about it.
What’s been the most rewarding part of working as a council member?
The ability to help people change their lives. My office resolved thousands and thousands of constituent issues over two years, and we’re getting tons of thank-you cards. Like someone was thrown out of the line for housing by a bureaucratic mistake. That was restored and they received housing. When I worked with (the Department of Transportation) to install stop signs on Surf Avenue in Coney Island and West 37th Street. The community was asking for it for years. Surf Avenue is very large, and people and seniors couldn’t cross Surf Avenue, and now they’re able to do so. It may seem like a small thing, but it made it safe and saved so many lives – and improved the quality of life for my constituents. Just a few examples. I believe thousands and thousands of lives were changed because of the work of my office, and it’s very satisfactory for me and I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
You changed your party registration from Democratic to Republican in late 2022. Do you have any regrets about that, and do you plan to remain in the Republican Party?
I’m planning to stay in the Republican Party. I’m very grateful for them welcoming me. So I have zero regrets. No regrets whatsoever. I did not know when I switched that the speaker would be so political, to the point of absurdity. They moved me from one office to another, and my new office (was) a windowless office with very sporadic internet service, practically nonexistent cellphone service. It was a punishment for me becoming Republican. And this year, (there) was a despicable political move by Brannan and the speaker. Last year, it was almost $17 million (included in the budget for district funding). This year, outside of my capital funding and outside of my discretionary funding for my district, everything else was zero, zero, zero, just zeros. (Editor’s note: The speaker’s office declined to comment on Kagan’s accusations.)
What kind of work do you want to do next?
Listen, I have several degrees. I worked for two city comptrollers. I worked for a congressman and a councilman, and then was a councilman for two years. I have extensive government, public service, community service experience, plus I am a journalist by trade. I have experience in public affairs and marketing – extensive experience. So probably will do both – something with government and something with private companies. I’m getting a lot of offers, actually.
You came up as a Democratic district leader. Do you plan to stay involved in politics at the local level – and if so, as a Republican?
I’m Republican, I’m staying in the Republican Party. People (said) that I switched because of the redistricting. And by the way, redistricting did play a role, no question about it. But that was not the only reason. It was my complete dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, and with the process. Redistricting was absolutely horrible.