City Council showdown: Kagan not deterred by early fundraising deficit in race against Brannan

Collage Maker-20-Jan-2023-04.54-PM
City Council Members Justin Brannan (left) and Ari Kagan.
Credit John McCarten NYC Council Media Unit

Brooklyn City Council Member Ari Kagan, who recently switched from the Democratic to Republican Party, has raised less than $10,000 in his reelection bid to date — a small fraction of the over $40,000 haul his Democratic colleague and competitor Justin Brannan has brought in, according to campaign finance filings reviewed by amNewYork Metro.

But Brannan, whom Kagan would ultimately face in a November general election were he to win the June GOP primary, has spent a sizable portion of his campaign funds, meaning he and Kagan have roughly the same amount of cash on hand.

Kagan has amassed just $8,774 since last October, a couple of months before he changed parties, in his campaign to represent the 47th Council District, which includes the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island and Bay Ridge. He currently has $8,682 on hand, after spending just $92 on expenses such as bank fees.

Meanwhile, Brannan  — who chairs the powerful Committee on Finance — has raked in $40,628 since last March, only three months after taking his seat for his current term. 

However, he’s already used up $30,897 of what he raised and currently has $9,731 on hand. Brannan has spent a considerable chunk of his funds on routine campaign expenses, like $9,915 for the combined expense of mailers and website development work from the Southampton-based political consulting firm Power Play Strategies.

Kagan, in an interview with amNewYork Metro, said his small fundraising numbers are the result of a busy holiday season and that he only recently started to campaign. He’s set to hold an official campaign kickoff event — and birthday party for himself — at the Lights of Baku restaurant in Gravesend next Thursday.

“There was Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years,” Kagan said. “I’m having my official kickoff of my campaign, next Thursday. So, I basically fundraised for about a week. Most of my donations came in about like [the last] seven, eight days. I have just started fundraising. I will definitely raise much more. That’s not even a discussion.”

“I didn’t hire anybody for my campaign yet, I didn’t print any literature. Campaign just started, that’s all,” he added. “But it looks good. People are very enthusiastic.”

Most of Kagan’s 121 donations have come in since the start of the new year, city Campaign Finance Board (CFB) filings show. Ninety of those contributions, Kagan said, came from donors living in the district.

The council member said that while he registered his campaign committee early last fall, he was delayed in beginning to fundraise because of the council redistricting process, which ultimately combined his district with Brannan’s and potentially pitted the two against one another for the seat. His fundraising operation was also held up by changing his party registration, he said.

Kagan’s decision to leave the Democratic Party came shortly after the new district maps were finalized. He says his decision to change parties was unrelated to the district changes but due to growing ideological differences between himself and the Democrats over issues such as crime.

When asked about Kagan’s fundraising by amNewYork Metro, Brannan said he’s confident every candidate will have enough money to run given the city’s generous matching funds program, but his record as a lawmaker will set him apart.

“With the city’s generous matching funds program, I’m sure all of my opponents will have the resources they need to run,” he said in a text message. “Unfortunately for them, they won’t have my record of responsiveness and results. That part can’t be bought.”

Michael Ragusa — one of Kagan’s competitors in the Republican primary and a former FDNY medical technician — has more than doubled Kagan’s haul, bringing in $19,375 in contributions to his campaign since last July. Ragusa, however, currently only has $1,044 in his coffers, having shelled out $18,331 of what he’s raised.

But Kagan said he’s already qualified for receiving matching funds, having met the program’s two-part threshold of raising $5,000 from 75 individual in-district donors; so he isn’t concerned about Ragusa’s fundraising lead. Plus, he believes he’ll qualify for a full match from the CFB.

When it comes down to it, Kagan said, his decades of work in the community will propel his campaign forward.

“I have been serving communities of southern Brooklyn for 30 years in different capacities,” Kagan said. “But I help people all the time, and people remember this. That’s the thing that will bring me to the finish line everywhere.”