The Jewish Week:
Russians Riled Up Over State Senate Race
Turnout high in Senate election with Belarus-born candidate, but some cry foul over ballot challenges, district lines and stereotyping.Tuesday, April 3, 2012Adam DickterAssistant Managing Editor
Russian-speaking immigrants turned out in high numbers to cast their votes in a special election for state Senate last month, but evidently did not overwhelmingly support the man who would be the second member of their community to serve the state legislature.
Republican David Storobin and Democrat Lew Fidler are locked in one of the tightest vote-count battles in recent memory, with the margin estimated to be as low as one or two votes as absentee ballots are counted — and challenged.
Things got testy, with some claiming that Fidler’s campaign was deliberately challenging paper ballots from the district’s Russian-speaking population.
“Unfortunately, my opponent’s campaign has unfairly blocked well more than 100 Russian absentee votes from being counted, for no reason other than the fact that they are Russian,” Storobin said in a statement on March 29. “This blatant disenfranchisement cannot and will not stand.”
Some even showed up at Fidler’s City Council district office to protest.
Fidler’s campaign insists it challenged only those ballots, about 120 in all, collected by an individual, Alla Pometko, identified in campaign disclosures as a paid consultant to Storobin. According to Fidler’s court papers challenging the ballots, 16 of those whose ballot was collected by Pometko also voted in person. The court petition suggests those who filled out the ballots were unaware that doing so constituted a vote.
Absentee ballots are largely used by those who can’t vote in person because of disability.
“The Fidler campaign has challenged the fraudulent votes from people either not entitled to vote by absentee ballot or who had voted but showed up at the polling place after having made a miraculous recovery,” said Kalman Yeger, Fidler’s campaign manager.
Pometko could not be located for comment. Storobin’s campaign spokesman, David Simpson, did not return calls for comment in time for publication.
Russian community leaders were further riled up by an unrelated incident, holding a press conference this weekend to condemn the New York Times for its coverage of a massive medical insurance fraud scheme. The Times’ William K. Rashbaum quoted an anonymous “law enforcement official who has investigated organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union” saying “This is the Russian mind-set, and this is why it’s endemic in the system … If you’re not scamming the system, if you’re not scamming the government, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing — you’re looked upon as a patsy.”
Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, a Democrat who is the first and currently only Russian-born legislator in New York state, believes that the vote among Russian-speaking citizens was about evenly split between the parties.
A Fidler supporter, Brook-Krasny said he had no indication that the campaign was challenging voters based on their background.
“If something was done wrong it’s up to the court to find out, but I wouldn’t be blaming the Fidler campaign for challenging Russian names,” he said. “I hope the process will reveal the truth. It could be a case where people didn’t know how to vote properly and broke the law not knowing how to do it. They may be elderly and may not remember signing the absentee ballot.”
Brook-Krasny said turnout in the apartment complexes of Warbasse and Trump, which have high concentrations of Russian-speaking immigrants, numbered about 3,800 — not bad for a special election.
“I’m proud to say the community is voting in big numbers now,” he said. [link]