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Red vs. Blue in Brooklyn

POLITICO's must-read briefing informing the daily conversation among knowledgeable New Yorkers
Oct 20, 2023 View in browser

By Emily Ngo, Jeff Coltin and Nick Reisman

With help from Jason Beeferman

City Councilman Ari Kagan is in a heated race versus fellow Council Member Justin Brannan. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Will the real moderate please stand up?

In next month’s mudsling-iest City Council election, Justin Brannan and Ari Kagan are each slamming the other for rolling with progressives.

Kagan notes Brannan, a Democrat, was a Progressive Caucus member until February.

Brannan points out that Kagan voted with progressives against the budget last June, the only Republican to do so.

And now, Kagan’s long-ago affiliation with Soviet-era communism is the subject of a new attack ad.

He’s described as “a communist who became a Democrat turned Republican who votes with socialists” in a mailer from the big real-estate-funded super PAC Future NYC, shared first with Playbook.

“Ari Kagan bait-and-switched us,” said Jeff Leb, the political consultant who’s led a series of independent expenditure committees, mostly backing moderate Democrats, including Kagan when he ran as a Democrat in 2021. Since then, Kagan “has been a consistent disappointment,” Leb said. “Ari Kagan stands for nothing but himself.”

Kagan’s been dogged by smears that he was a KGB agent in previous races. But he was, actually, a member of the Communist Party in Belarus before emigrating to New York in 1993.

The membership was crucial to his former career as a military journalist, Kagan said by way of explanation.

“You definitely could not be a journalist in the Soviet Union without being a member of the Communist Party,” he told Playbook.

The attack mailer was the latest of the nastiness in the incumbent-on-incumbent race in the 47th District in southern Brooklyn, one of the more politically conservative sections of the city.

Kagan’s evolution has given Brannan flip-flopping fodder.

There’s Kagan’s newly disclosed support for banning elective abortions, even though he previously voted for council bills shoring up abortion access.

Brannan and his allies have sought to additionally highlight that Kagan’s vote against the budget was a vote against a funding increase for the NYPD.

But Kagan is the candidate with law enforcement union endorsements in a “Back the Blue” district.

“They know exactly who he is, and they know exactly who I am,” Kagan said. “If I’m anti-police, why did I allocate money for security cameras in my district for last year and this year — for new patrol cars for PSA 1, for the 60th Precinct?”

Kagan defended, at length, his no vote on the budget. He said it gave too much to migrant support but didn’t do enough for first responders or municipal retiree healthcare.

Brannan again said Kagan stood apart from his caucus.

“When he calls out all the horrible things he thinks were in the budget, it’s like OK, but Vickie ... Paladino and Joe Borelli voted for it,” Brannan noted. “It doesn’t make sense.” — Emily Ngo and Jeff Coltin

IT’S FRIDAY, the weekend awaits. Got news? Send it our way: Jeff Coltin, Emily Ngo and Nick Reisman.

WHERE’S KATHY? Returning to New York after traveling to Israel.

WHERE’S ERIC? Appearing live on a slate of morning news shows, including NY1’s “Mornings on 1,” FOX5’s “Good Day NY,” 1010 WINS’ “Morning Drive” and CBS News’ streaming network, celebrating New York’s City’s job numbers, speaking at Movement.Org’s “Movement Day New York City” and delivering remarks at the Ruff Ryders to the Rescue’s 2nd Annual Gala.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m proud of you, Dolly, but keep your goddamn head down” — Gov. Kathy Hochul recalling her father’s last words to her as she was leaving for Israel on Tuesday. He passed away soon after.


GO INSIDE THE CAPITOL DOME: From the outset, POLITICO has been your eyes and ears on Capitol Hill, providing the most thorough Congress coverage — from political characters and emerging leaders to leadership squabbles and policy nuggets during committee markups and hearings. We're stepping up our game to ensure you’re fully informed on every key detail inside the Capitol Dome, all day, every day. Start your day with Playbook AM, refuel at midday with our Playbook PM halftime report and enrich your evening discussions with Huddle. Plus, stay updated with real-time buzz all day through our brand new Inside Congress Live feature. Learn more and subscribe here.


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed the need for strong U.S.-Israel relations on Thursday during a Times Square rally for the release of Israeli hostages. | Jason Beeferman/POLITICO

SCHUMER SHOWS UP FOR ISRAEL: Speaking to thousands gathered in Times Square, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday evening called for the release of the more than 200 Israeli hostages held in Gaza as part of the Israel-Hamas war.

“Israel, America has your back,” Schumer said. “We will not abandon you. We will fight with you side by side until the threat of Hamas is totally eliminated.”

The senator's speech comes after he laid out an aggressive plan to deliver military, intelligence, diplomatic and humanitarian aid to Israel on the Senate floor on Monday.

The senator, who reminded attendees he is the highest-ranking Jewish official in U.S. history, offered the plan after returning from Israel, where, at one point, he and a bipartisan delegation of four other senators hurriedly sheltered from rocket fire.

The Times Square rally included former Israeli Defense Forces spokespeople, Jewish organizations and thousands of New Yorkers waving Israeli flags and the posters with the faces of hostages held in Gaza. Mayor Eric Adams was also scheduled to appear, but canceled half an hour before the event’s start.

“By taking the hostages, it has made us stand stronger and closer to Eretz Yisrael,” Schumer said, speaking strongly about his Jewish heritage throughout the address.

“We know, no matter what they try to do to us, in America and in Eretz Yisrael — Am Yisrael Chai (the people of Israel live),” the senator said. — Jason Beeferman


Why the long face? | Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

HOUNDING THE PRESS: Sally Long Dog, the city’s dog mayor, came to City Hall on Thursday for two separate photo ops — with the mayor and the City Council Women’s Caucus. (Pics and video)

Sally, a basset hound, was elected by a social media vote last November. Councilmember Amanda Farías said Long Dog has a rally with the Animal Care Center of NYC next week, encouraging prospective dog owners to adopt, don’t shop.

Asked by The City if he’d get a dog, Adams joked he wanted a pit bull, something that was “mean,” for “whenever a reporter comes around.” — Jeff Coltin

GUN SHY: The City Council is going to wait to take action on Council Member Inna Vernikov’s gun case until it’s resolved in court, Speaker Adrienne Adams said Thursday.

After Vernikov’s arrest for wearing a gun while counterprotesting a pro-Palestine rally, Adams put out a statement saying she’d refer the issue to the Standards and Ethics Committee. That’s still the plan … eventually. She’s reportedly due in court Nov. 2.

Still, not a single member mentioned her arrest at the Council meeting Thursday, even after the Progressive Caucus pushed for her expulsion last week. — Jeff Coltin

More from the city:

— Adams’ administration is not proceeding with a formal request to suspend the right to a shelter bed for single adults in the city — at least for now. (City Limits)

— Speaker Adams is rebooting the Lippman Commission, charging it with making sure Rikers Island gets closed on time. (The New York Times)

— Pick our casino bid, get 500 units of affordable housing, say the developers trying to get a permit near the United Nations. (The New York Times)


Most New York voters say the Empire State is on the wrong track, according to a new poll. | Aidin Bharti/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

NOT GREAT, NEW YORK: The Empire State’s residents aren’t feeling too hot about New York these days.

A poll set to be released Monday by Unite NY found 57 percent of voters think the state is on the wrong track, including 67 percent of independent voters.

Crime is the top issue for 42 percent of voters, with taxes and spending at 30 percent. A quarter of voters ranked immigration as an issue of top concern.

The poll conducted by Citizen Data included 800 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. A grain of salt: The poll was conducted using online and text message respondents.

Unite NY, a group that has advocated for expanding the influence of independent voters, has pushed for measures like term limits and non-partisan primaries.

“New Yorkers want a government that embraces solutions and not politics and this latest research demonstrates growing voter dissatisfaction with elected officials who do not act on these measures,” Executive Director Tim Dunn said. — Nick Reisman

GOO-GOOS PACIFIED: The good-government group Reinvent Albany has something to cheer after the state’s government watchdog published updated lobbyist disclosure filings dating back four years ago.

The data was uploaded by the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government to Open NY, an open data portal used by the state. The move is in line with a decade-old executive order that requires lobbying and financial disclosure reports be on the site.

The public will be able to view data that includes lobbyist registration statements, bimonthly disclosure reports and how lobbying money is being spent. — Nick Reisman

More from Albany:

— New York added more than 7,500 private sector jobs in September, but the unemployment rate ticked upward. (Spectrum News)

— Former CNN boss Jeff Zucker and Allison Gollust pressured Andrew Cuomo to appear on his brother Chris Cuomo’s TV show. (New York Post)

— A judge from upstate New York was ousted by the state’s top court eight years after he pointed a gun at a Black man. (The New York Times)


New York City Council Member Chris Marte, left, speaks with his brother, Coss, at the Thursday opening of Coss' marijuana dispensary on the Lower East Side. | Mona Zhang/POLITICO

LOWER EAST SIDE GETS REGULATED WEED: New York City Councilmember Chris Marte struggled to hold back tears during a press conference for the launch of his brother Coss’s new Lower East Side dispensary CONBUD on Thursday.

He recounted being an 8-year-old kid in a D.A.R.E. shirt, watching Coss getting pushed to the ground and arrested just blocks away.

“I told the officers, ‘My brother was a good guy, he does the right thing,’” Chris said. “I kept on telling the officer, ‘I’m part of the D.A.R.E. program!’”

Chris recounted how there were moments during his life that he didn’t even tell people that he had a brother, not wanting to explain that Coss was locked up. Assemblymember Grace Lee wiped a tear from her eye.

A poster child: Coss’ story makes him emblematic of New York’s cannabis licensing program that prioritizes those with past cannabis convictions. A state court blocked dispensary openings since August, but attorney Jorge Vasquez, a fellow Lower East Side native, secured the first exemptions from the injunction for Coss and Jeremy Rivera.

“At 13, I was incarcerated for two nickel bags,” Coss said. “Today, we’re going to sell more than that.”

The opening was a who’s who of local politics and New York City cannabis: Former Assemblymember Michael Blake MC-ed the event. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, New York Sens. Brian Kavanagh, Luis Sepulveda, Natalia Fernandez, and New York Assemblymembers Lee, Amanda Septimo, Yudelka Tapia, Chantel Jackson, Kenny Burgos, Manny De Los Santos and Harvey Epstein were all in attendance.

Office of Cannabis Management Executive Director Chris Alexander, Chief Equity Officer Damian Fagon and Director of Economic Development Tabitha Robinson all took the mic. Former OCM chief of staff Axel Bernabe made an appearance. NYC Department of Small Business’ Cannabis NYC initiative’s new policy analyst Tosin Ajayi was also there.

More context: Despite a string of dispensary openings this week, there are more than 400 dispensary licensees held up by the injunction. Meanwhile, unlicensed dispensaries are rampant.

“We have a lot of other people that are behind me … trying to get [to] the start line,” Coss said. “We gotta continue fighting.”

Other dispensary licensees under a program that prioritizes entrepreneurs impacted by marijuana enforcement are uncertain about how to proceed given the litigation and injunction. Several entrepreneurs said at a Cannabis Control Board meeting on Tuesday that they were advised by their lawyers to submit another application during the general licensing period. — Mona Zhang


Gov. Kathy Hochul's visit to Israel included a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday. | Micah Lasher/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

HOCHUL MEETS BIBI: Hochul met privately Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog as she wrapped up her solidarity visit.

Both meetings were private. But in public, Hochul spoke with victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack as well as family members of those who were taken hostage.

“This is more akin to the Holocaust — the slaughter of innocent people,” Hochul told reporters in a video conference call. “There was an intentionality that is so cruel and depraved.”

She also visited holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Hochul told reporters additional efforts are also being made to further bolster security at houses of worship in New York after the attacks heightened tensions around the globe.

That includes both synagogues and mosques, she said.

“We want to make sure that all individuals feel safe to practice their religion freely,” Hochul said. “I want to make sure people feel safe and protected in the state of New York.” — Nick Reisman

More on Israel:

— A group of Black preachers are paying a digital billboard truck to drive around Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani’s office today, expanding their campaign against the Queens socialist for his criticism of Israel and of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

— President Joe Biden said during a televised address that terrorists must pay a price for their terror campaigns (POLITICO)


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— The "Used Car King of New York,” Octavian Ocasio, was sentenced to five years in prison in Texas for running a temporary tag scheme. (Houston Chronicle)

— The luscious mullet of an Albany-area man won first place in the 2023 USA Mullet Championship. (Times-Union)

— Pandemic-era federal aid could be used for a 21-mile path along the Hudson River in Rockland County. (LoHud)


MAKING MOVES: The former chief of communications for New York City Schools, Mike Vaughn has joined the Citizens Budget Commission as vice president of strategy and communications.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: NYT’s Matt Apuzzo … Eliza Relman … Greg Lowman of Fidelity … Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani … Whitney (PakPour) Zeta

Real Estate

— New Yorkers work from the office on Tuesday more than any other weekday. (Crain’s New York Business)

— Adams has a plan to make the sight of sidewalk scaffolding less common and more pleasant. (The Real Deal)


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