A freshman Democratic councilman in New York City announced Monday that he is switching his political affiliation to the Republican Party — saying he’s disenchanted with the far-left, soft-on-crime bent of his own party these days — and will take on a former ally for a redrawn Brooklyn district.
The decision gives Bensonhurst Councilman Ari Kagan an opportunity to challenge incumbent Councilman Justin Brannan, the chairman of the powerful budget committee, during a general election where terms are likely to be more favorable than in a party primary.
“The Democratic Party in New York was moving to [the] left at such a speed I couldn’t keep up,” said Kagan.
“It’s not me leaving the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party very quickly started to leave me.”
Brannan and Kagan are battling to represent the new new 47th District, which is anchored by Bay Ridge, the neighborhood Brannan currently represents in the 43rd District and which provides his political base.
The new 47th District is then connected by a slender blockwide stretch of Dyker Heights to portions of Coney Island, Gravesend and Sea Gate, which Kagan currently represents.
Kagan pointed to Democratic positions on criminal justice reform as one of the major reasons for his move, even though the controversial measures were passed and implemented and under fire before he ran and won on the party’s line in 2021.
“I believe right now, the Democratic Party is doing everything possible in New York City to make everybody less safe,” he said.
“Every month I found myself, like, ‘What am I doing in the Democratic Party?’” he said. “In my own district, in southern Brooklyn, everywhere I knocked [on] the doors people saying ‘When are you switching to the Republican Party?’”
He declined to answer when pressed over why he’d decided against staying in the party and mounting a sure-to-be difficult challenge against Brannan in the Democratic primary.
The move comes as the Democrats have faced mounting woes in southern Brooklyn amid anger of crime and quality of life issues locally and inflation and other economic woes nationally.
Gov. Kathy Hochul narrowly edged Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in Bay Ridge, but lost many other parts of the district, electoral results maps show.
And an analysis by the City University of New York shows that Republican Curtis Sliwa narrowly edged Mayor Eric Adams in the new 47th District during the 2021 election.
Brannan, too, faced strong headwinds during his 2021 re-election, only narrowly turning away an unexpectedly strong challenge from Republican Brian Fox.
Word of the switch ignited a back-and-forth between Brannan — who dominates Democratic politics in the neighborhood and nearby — and Kagan on Twitter.43
What do you think? Post a comment.
“Just going through some old photos,” Brannan wrote, posting a photo of Kagan holding one of his campaign signs.
Kagan retorted: “I also keep some old pictures and more” and posted a photo from Brannan’s endorsement of him in 2021.
At the press conference announcing his switch, Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) said he was glad to have Kagan joing the council Republicans.
“We’re happy to have him as part of our conference,” Borelli said. “And I think he’ll do a great job serving the people of this district.”