Cymbrowitz, Siegelman, Kagan, Evelyn LaPorte

District leader battle brews in Sheepshead, controversial judge files to run again

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Lots of pols hand out turkeys to their constituents — but Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz gives Turkey to himself.

Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay) charged three pricey trips to Asia Minor to his campaign account — raising eyebrows at watchdog groups.

The seven-term state legislator dropped $604 of his donors’ dough on a trip to Turkey in 2009, another $800 on a second trip in 2011, and $1,273 on a third jaunt in 2012.

State law bars the use of campaign money for personal purposes, and requires that politicians only spend money from their election accounts on goods and services directly related to the race or the office they hold — so good-government advocates called Cymbrowitz’s travel expenditures strange in the extreme.

“Spending campaign funds on trips to Turkey is certainly very questionable activity for a state lawmaker,” said Alex Camarda, a director at watchdog group Citizens Union. “It is incumbent upon Assemblymember Cymbrowitz to therefore justify this trip as consistent with the holding of his office.”

But the state Board of Elections said it gives pols a great deal of leeway when it comes to spending campaign cash.

“The law on this is pretty broad, and it’s been interpreted pretty broadly,” said spokesman John Conklin. “He would have to explain how a trip to Turkey assists him in his work as a member of the Assembly.”

Cymbrowitz argued that paying $2,677 for his Anatolian travels out of his campaign warchest was justified because of the Turkish enclaves in his Midwood-to-Brighton Beach-spanning district. He also said he took the trips along with other lawmakers — but he would not say who.

“Representing the largest constituency of Turkish-Americans in New York State, I participated on these trips with other Jewish and Christian state legislators along with Turkish Muslims as a vehicle toward understanding all of our cultures and faith traditions through education and dialogue,” said Cymbrowitz.

State Board of Elections records show just one other politician who expensed such a journey to his campaign — Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of upstate Ulster County — but Cahill’s August 2013 Turkish trip did not coincide with any of Cymbrowitz’s, and he charged just $391 to his election coffers for it. Cahill’s district includes New Paltz campus of the State University of New York, which hosts one of the largest Turkish exchange programs in the nation.

There are 2,072 Turkish-Americans in all of Brooklyn, according to census data. This columnist was unable to determine how many of them are among Cymbrowitz’s approximately 129,000 constituents. His district does include the largest concentration of Russians in the city, but he has never expensed a trip to their motherland.

Cymbrowitz faces a primary challenge this fall from Ben Akselrod, a local activist and former aide to state Sen. Seymour Lachman. Akselrod came within 250 votes of unseating the incumbent in 2012.

• • •

One of Cymbrowitz’s allies also faces a challenge — longtime district leader Pearl Siegelman.

Lara Vugman, a Russian-speaking occupational therapist from Manhattan Beach, will take on the 14-year incumbent for her unpaid position representing Cymbrowitz’s district in the Democratic Party. Vugman, like Akselrod, comes out of the insurgent Bay Democrats club — as does Ari Kagan, who in 2012 crushed Siegelman’s co-district leader Michael Geller, even though Geller had held the job for nearly 25 years. There is a male and a female district leader for every Assembly district in Kings County.

Siegelman vowed to retaliate against Vugman’s challenge by fielding a candidate against Kagan, though she said she has yet to decide who that contender will be.

District leaders elect the county party’s operations chairman and select its candidates for the Supreme Court. A hot contest for district leader could also impact the Cymbrowitz-Akselrod race. One observer argued that Akselrod received a major boost from Kagan’s candidacy in 2012, and stands to benefit again.

• • •

A controversial Brooklyn judge has filed to run for re-election — despite a spate of criticism from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, several councilmembers, and our own Shavana Abruzzo after she released an ex-con who went on to shoot a police officer in 2011.

Judge Evelyn LaPorte, whose first term on the bench expires at the end of this year, has registered to run again. LaPorte drew fire from pols and columnists alike for releasing Lamont Pride without bail after cops busted him for pot and crack in Coney Island — even though Pride had an outstanding warrant in North Carolina for aggravated assault.

Weeks later, Pride fatally shot Officer Peter Figoski in East New York. Pride is now serving a term of 45 years to life for the crime.

LaPorte could not be reached for comment by our deadline.

Posted 12:00 am, May 29, 2014
Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
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Reader feedback

guest says:
“Cymbrowitz argued that paying $2,677 for his Anatolian travels out of his campaign warchest was justified because of the Turkish enclaves in his Midwood-to-Brighton Beach-spanning district. He also said he took the trips along with other lawmakers — but he would not say who.”
Let me refresh your memory Assemblyman you were in Turkey with convicted Assemblyman Boyland (and of course your wife)
Did anybody check Cymbrowitz's attendance in Albany? Who paid for his wife's trip?
May 29, 2014, 8:46 am
Inga from Sheepshead Bay says:
Hey, let me remind everyone that trips to Turkey was sponsored by Gulen movement, a very controversial figure. Cymbrowitz gave proclamation to him and helped in opening charter school http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-ny-regents-approve-fourth-gulen.html
May 29, 2014, 9:05 am
guest from Sheepshead Bay says:
Assemblyman Cymbrowitz junketing in Turkey with convicted felon, negotiating to turn part of Brighton Beach into private beach and spending time in Puerto Rico just two weeks after Sandy devastated his district must take up a good deal of time explaining why in almost 14 years in office he could not find the time to introduce any significant legislation.
May 29, 2014, 9:37 am
Walter from Brighton says:
Attacking assemblyman who brings people together is not a noble cause. But shameful action by Ari Kagan, Ben Akselrod and pocket mogul Greg Davidzon; joining with Pamela Geller they are all filled with HATE. Let's never forget : Ben Akselrod: 'Negrohood' Mailer

Anyone still thinks it was an error? there is no Auto correct for NEGROHOOD -- BUMS!

These people HATE and discriminate and they have no place in public service.



May 29, 2014, 10:18 am
Walter from Brighton says:
it is now in the dictionary:



A word inadvertently coined by Ben Akselrod, candidate for New York State assembly, in a campaign flyer. There was absolutely zero media outrage over this typographical error because Mr. Akselrod had the good fortune to be a Democrat. However, use of the word "Chicago" has been deemed racist by media pundits because it is associated with President Obama, who is partially African-American. Therefore, when examining the phrase "Chicago negrohood", the only offensive word is "Chicago".
"My opponent has allowed crime to go up over 50% in our negrohood."- Ben Akselrod
May 29, 2014, 10:19 am
Walter from Brighton says:
One more point of information. The NEGROHOOD was not actually coined by lame-no-gut Ben Akselrod but his consultant at the time GARY TILZER it was widely known and they had someone else take the hit because way too many people read and approved the mailer. YES THEY READ IT MANY MANY TIMES OVER AND WENT WITH IT.

Now one should let all the Black politicians coming to Akselrod's shady democratic club know, what it is he is famous for.....
May 29, 2014, 10:27 am
Concerned Community Member from Homecrest says:
Reading your article and some of the comments I can now understand why I never see my assemblyman at any of the community meetings I go to.
May 29, 2014, 3:53 pm
INGA from Sheepshead Bay says:

WOW, how pathetic. Walter, you are well informed of the Cymbrowitz operations. BTW, how is he trying to bring people together? You probably mean that he brought together residents if Oceana against elderly residents of JASA building and visitors of Shorefront Y? Or he brought together residents of Midwood by approving drug treatment facilities in their backyard? Anything else? Or you just trying to change a subject? What mistake from two years ago has to do with the article? What Akselrod and Kagan have to do with Pamela Geller? Or your linguistic exercise? What is the reason of your comments? If are so smart and intelligent, try to explain what numerous trips to Turkey sponsored by a a very controversial movement have to do with dozens of problems Cymbrowitz district is facing.
May 29, 2014, 3:59 pm
Michael says:
Reading Walter’s comments on Will Bredderman’s revealing article I must question why he felt he had to resort to introducing a typo that occurred in a campaign almost two years ago, having nothing to do with the issue at hand, as a defense of Assemblyman Cymbrowitz’ questionable actions. Providing a fallacious argument only serves to validate the article’s contentions.
May 29, 2014, 11:36 pm
jerry from brighton beach says:
The former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz akso made a few trips to Turkey also with his wife Jaime'
In fact he was fined for those trips.

I wonder why they keep going to Turkey ? What does this have to do with governing ?
May 30, 2014, 12:26 pm
Bella from Brighton Beach says:
Who is asking why? Maybe hardworking people who pay for everything: food, vacations. We, who work but still struggle to pay our bills, cannot understand the sick culture of some elected officials trying to grab everything for free. They are being paid by us to make our lives better, but politicians like Cymbrowitz use their offices to benefit themselves and their friends. Time to show them an "exit" sign
May 30, 2014, 2:14 pm
too obvious from sheepshead says:
Lol. Looks like Gary Tilzner is running Akselrods campaign again from the looks of the comments. Funny how they're never there until Ben 'negrohood' is running.
May 30, 2014, 7:13 pm
Ben R. from Brighton beach says:
Yesterday people of our neighborhood spoken through their votes – Congratulation Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, well deserved.
Sept. 10, 2014, 12:36 pm

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