In the latest political controversy involving Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking community, a councilman who represents part of Brighton Beach has succeeded in knocking an immigrant candidate off September’s Democratic primary ballot, charging that he fraudulently changed his name.
The Board of Elections took Tony Eisenberg out of the running because he was born Anatoly Eyzenberg in the former Soviet Union. Lawyers for Councilman Dominic Recchia, backed by Brooklynís Democratic political machine, charged that Eisenberg was trying to mislead voters about his national origin.
Eisenberg, a supermarket owner, showed up in court this week with correspondence dating back 10 years to show that he was calling himself Tony long before running for office. He even brought in a linguistic expert to show that the change in his last name was consistent with the Russian pronunciation.
Eisenberg’s campaign is now suing in state Supreme Court to get back on the ballot, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
"We’re saying, let the voters decide this issue," said Gary Tilzer, Eisenberg’s campaign manager. Eisenberg declined to comment directly before Thursday’s hearing.
But Recchia political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Eisenberg had been disqualified because "the Democratic Party has rules and state election law has rules and there is no Tony Eisenberg."
Sheinkopf also said Eisenberg "lives in a mansion in Mill Basin on the other side of Brooklyn," and called him a "hypocrite" for trying to knock another candidate, Joseph Hochhauser off the ballot, even as he protested his own exclusion.
"He doesn’t live in the district and doesn’t believe in ballot access," said Sheinkopf.
Candidates are not required to live in the district in which they run during a reapportionment election, but must move there if they are elected. Hochhauser was removed from the ballot because he did not have enough signatures, according to the Board of Elections.
State Sen. Carl Kruger and City Councilman Mike Nelson, who represents the adjoining district, have opposed the effort to bar Eisenberg.
Earlier this year, the city’s Redistricting Commission split into two zones the City Council district that once contained all of Brighton Beach, arguably weakening the voting power of the immigrant community there.
Although some argued that the change gave emigres a voice in two districts, the immediate impact was to bolster the re-election prospects of Recchia by including more non-Russians in his district.
"This is the old political machine trying to keep new people from coming to the plate," said Dr. Oleg Gutnik, a Republican who was defeated by Recchia in 2001.
If elected to succeed slain Brooklyn Councilman James Davis, Geoffrey Davis says he will emulate his brother’s strong Jewish ties.
"I have reached out to the Jewish community, and I’m going to have a sit-down with them to listen to their concerns and needs and tell them how much I’m willing to continue the work my brother did with them," said Davis, a lifelong resident of Crown Heights. "I’m going to work hand in hand in partnership with the Jewish community."
Hanina Sperlin, chairman of the Crown Heights Jewish community’s Political Action Committee (the only organized Jewish political group in the district) said he had yet to have a substantive discussion with Davis, who was selected by a vacancy committee to run in his brother’s place.
Whereas James was always accessible by cell phone, Geoffrey has been difficult to reach, Sperlin added.
Sources said the PAC is leaning toward Letitia James, who will face Davis in the November general election on the Working Families Party ballot.
Davis has the support of many of his brotherís colleagues, including Speaker Gifford Miller. But some have rejected his candidacy because he has a criminal record.
"I have had some negative obstacles in life, but the key is to let it lead to positive accomplishments," said Davis.
James Davis was a staunch supporter of Israel who traveled there with a delegation last year. Geoffrey Davis said he would also welcome such an opportunity.
"The only thing he talked about was going to that wall and touching that wall, and I would like to go there and see that wall, too," Davis said, referring to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Politicians put the spotlight on public housing Tuesday at the annual Builderís Luncheon sponsored by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
"There is no greater unmet need that we face in this country and city today," said William Rapfogel, Met Council’s director. "There are 5,000 applicants whenever we build 120 units."
Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens noted that "there are more than 200,000 seniors awaiting a slot in [Section] 202 housing, and only 17,000 units available in the city. You need to get on a waiting list when you’re about 35 to expect to have [a unit] available when you retire."
Rep. Charles Rangel blasted the White House for cutting taxes at a time when social service funds are being slashed.
"The relationship between cutbacks in spending and the cutback in federal taxes is almost well-balanced," said the Manhattan Democrat. "If the president thinks he can continue cutting taxes and spend a million dollars a week in Iraq, we can all have good wishes for the poor to receive decent housing, but it just ainít gonna happen."
Met Council builds and operates numerous facilities for the formerly homeless or for low-income seniors. The luncheon at Tavern on the Green honored James Muscianesi of HRH Construction, which has built many of Met Council’s projects.