When voters in Brooklyn’s City Council District 44 cast ballots in November, they’ll likely see three candidates on their ballots: a Democrat, a Republican and a Conservative.
Each political party will be represented by the same lawmaker: Kalman Yeger.
The Democratic incumbent is running unopposed on all three party lines for the June 22 primary for his Council seat — all but certainly sealing his re-election. Meanwhile, with hundreds of candidates running for City Council across the five boroughs, many of the other 51 districts have a half dozen or more hopefuls vying in the Democratic primary alone.
District 44 — covering parts of Bensonhurst, Borough Park and Midwood — is home to a large number of Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews. Since 2017, Yeger, an Orthodox Jew, has represented the Council district, which has a history of electing politicians who support Jewish organizations and concerns.
“Councilman Yeger is a lifelong Democrat, a member of his local Democratic club and serves on the Democratic County Committee,” Yeger’s campaign told THE CITY in a statement. “The support from the scores of neighborhood residents who signed petitions to place his name on the ballot reflects a desire by his constituents for common-sense and non-partisan solutions, and an affirmation of his record of fiscal responsibility.”
While he is a registered Democrat, Yeger is allowed to run as a Democrat, Republican and Conservative, thanks to an obscure state law called the Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947. With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support, legislators have attempted to repeal the law — to no avail.
Voters in the district turned out heavily for Donald Trump in 2020, with some precincts giving him a margin as high as 75% over Joe Biden.
In recent days, THE CITY attempted to interview voters on the streets of District 44 about Yeger’s tenure and unchallenged reelection bid. Approximately 40 New Yorkers declined to comment.
Alex Rapaport, who founded the Masbia soup kitchen with two locations in the district, told THE CITY the community as a whole dislikes when incumbents face political opponents.
“Traditionally, people appreciate giving the incumbents a second chance,” Rapaport said. “It has a lot to do with the community not having an appetite for local rivalries.”
He said locals would view any challenger as a troublemaker.
“I’m not talking about the people who are inside-baseball politicians,” he added. “I’m talking regular people on the street would say, ‘Why is the guy challenging him?’”
Rapaport, who called Yeger “the most visible Orthodox Jew in the Council,” said when he heard that the lawmaker was running on all party lines, it sent the message that all the political camps need to work on accepting Orthodox Jews and their needs.
“They all have work to do to make the community feel that they belong there,” he said.
Rapaport said he believes Yeger — who has provided financial support to Masbia using his City Council spending powers — is doing the best he can to represent the community.
“Based on the obstacles he has, which is being very far away from leadership in the current Council, I would give him an A+,” Rapaport told THE CITY.
Kicked Off Committee
Outside District 44, Yeger’s reputation isn’t as stellar.
In 2019, Yeger held a seat on the Council’s Committee on Immigration until he wrote on Twitter that “Palestine doesn’t exist” — a statement viewed by many as bigoted and hurtful.
In the same tweet, he claimed that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) is anti-Semitic.
Those comments cost Yeger his seat on the committee.
At the time, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), the committee’s chair, called Yeger’s remarks a “profoundly dehumanizing statement that attempts to erase the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination.”
Menchaca declined to comment for this story.
No on Ranked Choice
After voters approved ranked choice voting for primary and special elections in 2019, several members of the Council opposed the move — Yeger included.
Late last year, multiple Black Council members joined forces with community groups to sue the city to delay the ranked choice launch, arguing that it would strip limited-English proficient New Yorkers “of the right to vote for and elect candidates of their choice.”
Yeger wasn’t a party to the lawsuit, but he did call ranked choice voting a “racist” system.
“It is designed to be racist,” Yeger told Gothamist last year. “Its intent is to be racist and its result in New York City will be racist. It is designed to prevent minorities from electing their own.”
His campaign says he is the best candidate — albeit the only one — for the job.
“Yeger has consistently voted against bills that hurt New Yorkers, and has proudly recorded more NO votes than any other Council member, Democrat or Republican,” the campaign’s statement said. “He also practices what he preaches, and has returned more money to the taxpayers from the operation of his offices than any other Council member in the last three years.”
“If New York is going to recover from this deep recession, the Council needs more members who show this kind of non-partisan leadership,” the statement continued.