By MELANIE GOLDBERG
Twelve-year Democratic incumbent Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz defeated two challengers who divided the opposition vote in a storm-struck district in southern Brooklyn.
With all the precincts reporting by early Wednesday, Cymbrowitz had 54.7 percent of the votes to 26.6 percent for Republican Russell Gallo and 19.6 percent for Independence Party challenger Ben Akselrod. in the Manhattan Beach-Brighton Beach district.
Because of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, many voters in the district had been evacuated because their homes were flooded and lack power.
Cymbrowitz had faced Akselrod in the Democratic primary race in September, defeating him by 7 percentage points. To Gallo’s discontent, Akselrod won the Independence Party line, turning the election into a three-man race.
The divided field helped Cymbrowitz, who has retained his seat even as Democrats have begun to fade in southern Brooklyn with the 2010 victory of Republican businessman Bob Turner for Congress.
During the campaign, Cymbrowitz refused to debate Gallo and Akselrod on Oct. 24 before the Manhattan Beach Community Group.
Political consultant Bob Liff said he saw it as a strategy to give less press to his opponents. “You want to give your opponents less oxygen,” he said.
Nevertheless, the debate was held between Gallo and Akselrod along with an empty chair for Cymbrowitz.
Gallo serves as a sergeant in the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority police. He bluntly opposed same-sex marriage and sent a letter inviting the eatery Chick-Fil-A, which faced protests for funding organizations opposed to changing marriage laws, to come to Brooklyn. On Oct. 15, Gallo received the support of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The district runs from Manhattan Beach north to Midwood. Gene Barardelli, Gallo’s campaign co-manager, said that when an area’s demographics change – there is now a large population of Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews – sometimes the party representing it has to change as well.
However, voters are familiar with Cymbrowitz as the long-time incumbent. His has pointed to his work to improve housing and protect the district’s shorefront communities from natural disasters. His website claims this is what prompted New York City to greatly improve the area’s disaster evacuation plan. He has also held hearings on ensuring that Sheepshead Bay can be protected as a natural resource.
Cymbrowitz has also been a member of the Assembly Health Committee and has worked to ensure regular free health screenings, seminars and fairs for his district. He says he was the catalyst for Maimonides Medical Center’s opening Brooklyn’s first and only cancer center. He also serves as the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
Akselrod is a Russian Jewish immigrant. His campaigned to be the voice of the immigrants and of the middle class. He served as the first and only Russian-born community board district manager in New York City in 2004 and now heads a non-profit organization under the umbrella of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. He holds a master’s degree in urban policy and administration from Brooklyn College.