Republican Councilmember Inna Vernikov stands before a Brooklyn Criminal Court judge during her arraignment on gun charges.
Republican Councilmember Inna Vernikov stands before a Brooklyn Criminal Court judge during her arraignment on gun charges, Nov. 2, 2023. Credit: Richard Harbus for the Daily Mail/Pool

Southern Brooklyn Councilmember Inna Vernikov appeared in Brooklyn Criminal Court Thursday morning, where she was arraigned on an illegal gun charge after allegedly bringing a firearm to a pro-Palestinian student rally she was counter-protesting.

Vernikov, who has an NYPD permit to carry a gun, is charged with violating a state law passed last year that bans firearms at “sensitive locations,” including protests., the first time the new law has been deployed in Brooklyn, according to the District Attorney’s office. The class E felony can result in between one and four years in prison, though that’s unlikely for a first offense. 

In a video Vernikov posted to Twitter from that rally, where her gun can be seen in its holster, she assailed the students marching on the sidewalk just outside of Brooklyn College’s leafy Midwood campus, saying that “If you are here, standing today with these people, you’re nothing short of a terrorist without the bombs.” 

The arraignment in Brooklyn Criminal Court lasted less than five minutes. Vernikov has not responded to requests for comment about her arrest and she rebuffed reporters’ questions as she left the courthouse. 

Speaking to reporters after Vernikov left in a black sedan, her attorney, Arthur Aidala, said he’s waiting for prosecutors to show their evidence, since “as of today, there is no evidence that the gun works and there is no evidence that someone actually saw her with the gun.”

Vernikov, who did not submit a plea, is due back in court on Jan. 24. 

Outside of the courthouse a small crowd of Brooklyn College students gathered, calling for her resignation. 

A Brooklyn College student protested Republican Councilmember Inna Vernikov after her arraignment at Brooklyn Criminal Court.
A Brooklyn College student protested Republican Councilmember Inna Vernikov after her arraignment at Brooklyn Criminal Court, Nov. 2, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We did not feel safe when the Councilwoman came to our rally with a gun, with an exposed weapon,” said one Brooklyn College student who declined to give his name. “Many people immediately screamed out gun, gun, gun. She has a gun. The police ignored us, they didn’t do anything at all.”

Vernikov turned herself in at the 70th Precinct the morning after the protest, as photos and video of her with what appeared to be a gun holstered on her belt went viral on social media. 

‘I Don’t Think It’s a Problem

The unusual appearance of a sitting City Councilmember in a county criminal court comes as early voting has begun in next Tuesday’s election, where Vernikov faces two challengers, Democrat Amber Adler and Igor Kazatsker on the Team Trump party line. Voters, in an off-year election that’s expected to have extremely low turnout, will ultimately weigh whether or not the criminal charges matter to them and where political observers say Vernikov is the clear favorite in an increasingly conservative district. 

Casting her ballot at a sleepy early-voting site in Coney Island Wednesday afternoon, Dora, who declined to give her last name, said the gun charge hadn’t swayed her support for her local councilmember. 

“If she can have it, she can have it with her. I don’t think it’s a problem,” she said. “I think she’s going to help us. We dream she’s going to help us to change our life a little bit in these hard times.”

The 48th Council district — spanning parts of the neighborhoods of Homecrest, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, and Manhattan Beach — is one of the city’s few swing districts, with a majority white population and Russian, Chinese and Ukrainian enclaves. Vernikov flipped the seat from blue to red in her 2021 election. 

That year, Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, who was resoundingly defeated by Democrat Eric Adams citywide, won 62% of the vote in Vernikov’s southern Brooklyn district. A year later, losing Republican Lee Zeldin beat Gov. Kathy Hochul there by an even wider margin in the governor’s race. 

But with no national, statewide or citywide races driving voters this year, individual Council candidates have been left to their own devices to attract people to the polls. 

‘A City Councilor Here, Not in Israel’

Democrats in Vernikov’s district are hoping her legal woes might inspire voters to turn out against her. 

Angela Kravtchenko, the President of the Seaside Independent Democrats, a local political club, threw its support behind Vernikov’s Democratic challenger, Adler, and have been phone banking on her behalf, Kravtchenko said, while noting that she was speaking to THE CITY as a local voter rather than in her role as president. 

“She is from the party of law and order and now the law is broken, right?” Kravtchenko said of Vernikov. “Especially when it’s done by elected officials who are representing us and who are supposed to show what needs to be done. It’s a three-way race. Anything can happen.”

Saghir Khan, a local Pakistani leader with the Kashmiri American Alliance, said some community leaders had initially supported Vernikov. She’d courted them, talking about her respect for Muslim ideals and the hijab. She talked about pushing for tougher sentences for hate crimes. 

But many have soured on Vernikov and begun supporting Adler given Vernikov’s ardently pro-Israel stances, Khan said, noting that 1,400 Pakistani voters were registered to vote in the district and that he hoped to get several hundred of them to the polls. 

“With that gun situation, all her tweets and messages, nobody’s happy,” Khan said. “She’s an American politician. She should stick to local issues, not international issues. She’s a city councilor here, not in Israel.” 

Despite the Democrat running against Vernikov, the party’s citywide figures have mostly avoided weighing in on the race. Adams’ chief advisor met with Vernikov for tea on Oct. 16, three days after her arrest. The mayor defended that meeting, saying you have to be willing “to sit down with all groups across the aisle.” 

While Brooklyn’s Democratic Party has thrown its support behind the Democratic candidate Susan Zhuang in the nearby District 43, a newly-carved majority Asian district, and even announced its backing for Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez in The Bronx, the party had stayed silent on 48th Council District. Meanwhile, it’s openly feuding with Democrat Justin Brannan, running in one of the most closely watched Council races against Republican Ari Kagan in adjacent District 47, which includes parts of Bay Ridge and Coney Island. Brannan last week received an endorsement from Adams, who has mostly stayed out of local Council races. 

“The fact that the weekend before election day County is taking their show on the road to City Island instead of helping Brooklyn Democrats in their own backyard tells you all you need to know about Rodneyse’s leadership skills,” Brannan told THE CITY, referring to the embattled head of the Kings County Democratic Party, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.

Vernikov has raised about as much as both of her opponents, collecting $276,315 in public and private funds through Oct. 27 with $45,448 left in the bank.

Donations to Vernikov continued to roll in the two weeks since her arrest, with campaign finance records showing $6,800 in donations from 55 additional donors. 

Among those donors was Yan Gindin, 42, a business consultant living in Sheepshead Bay who said he did have concerns about Vernikov bringing a gun to a student protest, but that those wouldn’t deter him from supporting her.  

“I hope it wasn’t a publicity stunt. But, if it was an error on her part, you know, then the process has to work its way through and whatever penalties she has to suffer,” he said. 

Gindin said he voted for Vernikov’s Democratic challenger in 2021 as well as Democrat Eric Adams, but was wooed by Vernikov’s work in the district, namely her pressure on the Sanitation Department to clean up a trash-strewn corner near his house. 

“Why change course midstream as she has proven to be an effective member of the council?” he said. 

Another supporter, Thomas Hahn, a registered Democrat who said he was over the age of 70, said Vernikov could still count on his support despite her recent arrest.

“I like the fact that she is so active in pro-Jewish causes, particularly on the subject of anti-Semitistm, she’s been very outspoken,” he said. 

He thought the recent gun arrest may have been an unfortunate lapse of judgment. 

“People who carry guns often carry them anywhere. It’s like putting your wallet or our phone in your pocket,” he said. “It may have been just an inadvertent situation.”