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Russian Immigrants in Brooklyn Run for Office

Brooklyn, in the eastern U.S. state of New York is home to the largest Russian speaking community in the United States. Soon, this vibrant neighborhood could have one of its own elected to the New York State Assembly. For VOA producers Michael Gutkin and Alona Cherkassky, Jim Bertel reports two immigrants from the former Soviet Union will face off Tuesday in a primary to choose the Democratic Party's candidate to face the Republican Party's candidate in the November general election.

Brooklyn, New York has long been a magnet for immigrants arriving in the United States, including many from the former Soviet Union. Two of these Russian-speaking immigrants, with very different campaign strategies, are vying to be the Democratic Party's candidate for New York State's 46th Assembly District.

Alec Brook-Krasny, a well-known community leader, has been endorsed by many of the elected officials representing the Russian area of Brooklyn.

"They are supporting me,” says Mr. Brook-Krasny, “because over the years they had a chance to work with me."

In many ways Brook-Krasny is a typical immigrant with a remarkable story. He started out in the U.S. as a delivery boy, and worked his way up to the post of Executive Director of the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations (COJECO). He failed at two earlier runs for public office. Nevertheless, in his years of community activism he has earned respect and many accolades.

Fira Sukelman is a Brook-Krasny supporter. "He knows all about lobbying. As Executive Director of COJECO he has achieved such a high level that the community would be proud to have him elected to public office."

Despite Brook-Kraney's support from local Democratic leaders, he is not the only one predicting victory in Tuesday's vote.

Ari Kagan, a political activist and journalist working in the Russian language media, is also running as a Democrat for the same seat.

"This is a campaign for a seat representing a district comprised of Russian-speaking immigrants, African Americans, Hispanic immigrants, Orthodox Jews, Italians, Greeks, Pakistanis, Chinese. It is not for nothing we call this a country of immigrants," Mr. Kagan says.

While Alec Brook-Kraney is counting on the Russian community for much of his support, Ari Kagan is seeking support elsewhere including from those who say they feel neglected by politicians.

Supporter Pam Harris says, "From the moment I met Ari I felt an aura about him and I knew he is going to make a difference. You can feel it just by speaking with him."

"I don't have the support of the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine; they support my opponent," says Kagan.

Alec Brook-Krasny has a ready answer to this argument: "The people who support me were, in turn, elected by the voters. They were not appointed to their respective offices. I think their support would be decisive in this race."

No matter which of the two candidates wins Tuesday's Democratic primary, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitiz believes their support sends a clear message to future New York polticians.

"I would advise anyone in their 30s who wants to become a politician in New York City to better start learning Russian."