Things are getting surprisingly heated in Sheepshead Bay, a sleepy, elderly, primarily Russian and Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in South Brooklyn, where two Democrats facing off in tomorrow’s primary are accusing each other of fun things like racism, anti-Israel sentiment and “trivializing the Holocaust.”
The enmity runs deep between District 45 Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and Ben Akselrod, the Assembly hopeful who is challenging him in tomorrow’s Democratic primary. Akselrod nearly unseated Cymbrowitz, a long-time incumbent whose wife held the seat before him, in 2012. Both men are Jewish; Akselrod is Orthodox. And here’s where it gets messy.
Last week, as Jacob Kornbluh at JUpdates first reported, a mysterious mailer went out to Sheepshead Bay voters, accusing Akeselrod — who, as you will remember from our last paragraph, is Orthodox — of being a “traitor” and “supporting the Palestinian State.” The photo depicted him hand-in-hand with Reverend Erick Salgado, a fundamentalist Christian pastor and former mayoral candidate who is not Palestinian. Kornbluh tweeted an image of the flyer:
#ad45 Odd mailer against @Ben4Assembly, attacking him for “supporting a Palestinian state” w/ pic of @ErickSalgadoNYC pic.twitter.com/Uv9NgKmckb
— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) September 4, 2014
It certainly seems like the intention was to imply that Salgado is Palestinian. In fact, he’s the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, born and raised in the Bronx. He ran for mayor last year on an anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, pro-prayer in schools stance and garnered about two percent of the vote. The photo of him and Akselrod comes from an announcement Akselrod posted to Facebook on August 20, saying Salgado had endorsed him.
Salgado seems deeply steamed by the flyer:
Who ever is using a picture of me & Ben Akselrod & refering to me as a Palestine is not only trying to mislead voters but is also an idiot
— Erick Salgado (@ErickSalgadoNYC) September 4, 2014
This isn’t the first weirdly contentious moment in the campaign. In early August, as the Brooklyn Daily reported, Akselrod filed a lawsuit alleging that the signatures on a petition nominating Cymbrowitz for reelection were invalid. A number of Cymbrowitz supporters and campaign workers were subpoenaed. But the assemblyman, noting that the subpoenas went out on on a Friday afternoon, just before the Sabbath began, accused his opponent of disrespecting Judaism itself, saying, “For an observant Jew like Ben Akselrod to harass and worry other observant Jews on Shabbat shows how insensitive Ben is to the people of this district and his own community.”
Akselrod fired back, pointing out that Cymbrowitz was recently accused of spending $1,300 in campaign money on a trip to Germany and Spain, including dinners out in Barcelona and nearly $200 at a gift shop in Munich. He told the New York Observer, who discovered the inappropriate spending, that he was in Germany to advocate for his Russian-speaking constituents who are awaiting restitution money from the German government.
Akselrod called BS on that, telling the Brooklyn Daily, “As someone who uses the Holocaust to justify his spending at a Munich gift shop, my opponent showed he will stop at nothing to desperately hang on to his position.”
Cymbrowitz’s camp has denied sending out the flyer, but declined to condemn its sentiment. It’s not clear whether it came from his reelection campaign or an independent group. Salgado remains furious: yesterday, as Kornbluh reports, he arrived at Cymbrowitz’s campaign office with a group of supporters and heckled him with chants of “racist” and “liar, liar pants on fire.” JUpdates has this video:
Cymbrowitz can be seen in the background under a tent, shaking hands with his supporters and studiously ignoring the people across the street shouting about racism.
It’s a fitting sequel to the 2012 Akselrod/Cymbrowitz match-up, which got equally weird. Akeselrod stumbled after his campaign sent out a flyer promising to make the community safer. But in what was probably just a deeply unfortunate typo, the mailer referred not to the “neighborhood” of Sheepshead Bay, but to the “negrohood.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2014