In Brooklyn, Robocalls Charge Candidate Was a KGB Spy. But Who Made the Claim?
With a chance to finally elect one of their own to New York’s City Council, Russian politicos let their suspicions run wild
In Belarus, Kagan worked as a military journalist for three years then left the Communist Party and joined the Independent Belarus press. It is this fact, he says, that led his opponents to allege that he is a former KGB officer—the worst possible insult for a former Soviet. The allegation was first raised in a State Senate election in 2006 when Kagan was running against Alec Brook-Krasny, who is now State Assemblyman for District 46 and has endorsed Kagan for City Council, Kagan said.
So, was Ari Kagan—formerly known as Arkady, until he legally changed his name in 2002—a member of the KGB? Kagan burst out laughing when I asked him. “Yeah, and I’m also in charge of Japanese Intelligence, and the Neo-Nazis,” he quipped. “I will not lie to you,” he said. “I was not a dissident. But I was honest with myself, with my family, with my readers.”
He seemed unworried, even jubilant, about the robocalls. Rather than hurting him, he said, the calls have outraged Democrats to such a degree that they will come out in record numbers on his behalf. Who does he think is behind the calls? “It’s very hard to say,” he replied. “It’s obvious to me that I am the only Democrat who can beat David Storobin. But I do not want to diminish my opponents. I will not attack Storobin’s character. I respect his achievements.” When I mentioned Storobin’s jibes about his employment, Kagan responded incredulously. “I work part-time?” he replied. “It’s an insult to all journalists, especially those working in ethnic media.” He proudly showed me his plaques, honoring him for his work on the radio and as Democratic district leader, the volunteer position he won last year with 62 percent of the votes, he repeated more than once.
If Kagan is wrong about his voter base, no one stands to gain more in the Democratic primary than Igor Oberman, Kagan’s Russian Jewish challenger in the Democratic primary. “As far as I know, Kagan doesn’t deny the allegations,” Oberman replied, somewhat elliptically, when I asked him about the robocall. I met him at El Greco Café on Emmons Avenue, a symbol of Sandy-recovery efforts on the canal that overflowed during the storm. Oberman, who immigrated from Belarus as a child, wore a striped shirt and a red tie. The president of the co-op board at Trump Village in Coney Island, Oberman has the build and demeanor of a person who has made it comfortably into the upper-upper middle class. He is relaxed, he has time for a cup of coffee and a joke or two. He told me the Jackie Mason joke about the difference between a Jewish mother and a pitbull: The pitbull eventually lets go. I mentioned that some people thought he was a stalking horse for Storobin. “That was Gregory Davidzon’s theory. I like David. I love my wife and kid. But yesterday, I was knocking on doors for five hours straight. You don’t do that for anyone else.”
Davidzon, for his part, said he had no idea where the calls were coming from. He has endorsed Ari Kagan. “He’s a good guy. A smart guy,” Davidzon told me, when we spoke on the phone. “His view is like my view. He has a lot of community involvement.” Like Kagan, he said the call about the KGB has, in fact, only helped Kagan’s campaign. “This call energized people to vote for Ari. It will be big backfire,” Davidzon told me. “People don’t like this. Russian people are smart enough to understand.”
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