Brooklyn Council Member Ari Kagan switching to GOP, challenging Justin Brannan in 2023 general election

Ari Kagan (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

Brooklyn City Council Member Ari Kagan is apparently pulling the old switcheroo on the borough’s Democrats.

Kagan announced Monday that he’s switching political parties, from Democratic to Republican — and launching a general election bid against fellow Brooklyn Council Member Justin Brannan.

Kagan made the change official during a press conference on the City Hall steps Monday afternoon following a report from the New York Daily News on Sunday night. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the council’s other five Republican members, Kagan said he’d been contemplating switching over to the Republican Party for months because the Democrats have moved too far to the left.

“Over the last several years in my personal humble opinion, [the] Democratic Party in New York became moving to the left at such a speed that they could not even keep up,” Kagan said. “And on issue after issue every year, every month, I started to feel that it’s not me leaving the Democratic Party, but [the] Democratic Party very quickly started to leave me.”

City Council Member Ari Kagan speaking at City Hall press conference where he announced he’s switching from the Democratic Party to the GOP. Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

“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?”

In particular, the council member said there’s increasing daylight between himself and his Democratic colleagues on issues like crime and education. He pointed to the council’s push to abolish solitary confinement and a bill that would eliminate landlords’ ability to run criminal background checks on prospective tenants as examples of their alleged failure to address public safety concerns.

“I believe right now, the Democratic Party is doing everything possible in New York City  to make everybody less safe,” he said.

During the news conference, Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) welcomed Kagan to the council’s Republican conference as he touted the GOP’s recent electoral victories in southern Brooklyn, where they flipped three Democratic Assembly seats.

“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.”

By switching to the Republican Party, Kagan – who has served in his seat for less than a year after first getting elected in November 2021 – would instead be facing Brannan in next year’s Nov. 7 general election, that is, if he wins the GOP primary in the same district first.

Kagan’s impending party change and challenge to Brannan follows his district – which includes Coney Island and other parts of southern Brooklyn – getting carved up in this year’s City Council redistricting process. The map-makers crafted a district that combined Coney Island with Bay Ridge via a thin stretch of Dyker Heights and Bath Beach, essentially lumping Kagan’s and Brannan’s districts together and potentially pitting the two against one another in next year’s November general election.

Kagan isn’t the only southern Brooklyn Democrat to switch parties in recent years. Incoming Assembly Member Alec Brook-Krasny served in the Assembly for several years as a Democrat, but last month unseated Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus as a Republican.

Brannan, who’s served in the council since 2017 and chairs its powerful Committee on Finance, had some strong words for Kagan’s decision to join the GOP Monday morning.

“I never thought he would sell his soul and become a Republican,” Brannan told amNewYork Metro. “Look, we all make our decisions in life, he thinks this is the best decision for him. But it’s perplexing because he could just run against me in a primary, he doesn’t have to become a Republican. I mean, that’s a real commitment.”

Council Member Justin Brannan says talk is cheap, delivery workers need aid now.Photo by Dean Moses

Brannan said while the switch was a surprise, Kagan has gone to great lengths to hold elected office in the past, like running in several different districts.

“He has a history of shopping for seats,” Brannan said. “I think he’s run in four different districts throughout his career. So, he doesn’t really seem to stand for or believe much of anything.”

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, in an emailed statement, said Kagan’s decision “will impact” his committee assignments and chairmanship of the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts “given the fact that he is joining a party that denies climate change.”

“New Yorkers have expectations for their representatives to carry the values that they were elected to prioritize over politics,” the speaker said. “Our Democratic Conference will continue to consistently place the public interest of our city over politics without Council Member Kagan.”

Additionally, it appears that the Brooklyn Democratic Party is looking to boot Kagan from his Democratic district leader post in the 46th Assembly District as a result of his apparent party switch, party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said in a statement Sunday night.

“County will take the appropriate steps to ensure there is no conflict with the party and Kagan’s decision along with others who may have violated County rules,” she said.

City Council Members Justin Brannan (left) and Ari Kagan.

Perhaps not all Republicans, however, will give Kagan a warm reception in the upcoming GOP primary. Lucretia Regina-Potter, a Republican strategist and Brook-Krasny’s incoming chief of staff, said that naturally the GOP welcomes anyone who wishes to join but people have told her it’s “opportunistic” of Kagan to switch parties now.

“A lot of people have said to me, this is very opportunistic of him because he just endorsed Mathylde Frontus against Alec Brook-Krasny in the most recent November election,” Regina-Potter said. “So a lot of people say that this may be opportunistic for him because he doesn’t have a district to run in at this point.”

Also, Regina-Potter questioned how Kagan would contribute to the Republican Party.

“Secondly, what is he going to do at this point?” she asked. “He has no district. He knows that there’s a lot of infighting between his own party. Is he copying in other people’s footsteps by jumping over? I mean, what could he bring to the Republican Party is the question that we want to know.”

This story was updated at 4:23 on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.