Many Russian Immigrants here aligning with Republicans
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Many Russian immigrants to the “red borough” of Staten Island are flocking to the Republican Party, saying that the national Democrats’ “socialistic” policies remind them too much of the top-down oligarchy they fled in their native land.
With many of the borough’s Russian arrives already owning businesses and active in civic organizations, their muscle could help the Island GOP solidify electoral gains made this year, when the party took back congressional and Assembly seats.
Businessman Arkadiy Fridman said that the newly formed Citizens Magazine Business Club, a confederation of more than 50 Russian-owned businesses here and in Brooklyn, has aligned itself with the Molinari Republican Club (MRC) in an effort to increase the Russian community’s political and economic clout.
CLOSE TO OWN VISION
“We decided we had to support this club,” said Fridman, a former Soviet Army officer who came to the United States in 1992. “They are very close to our political and business vision.”
In the wake of the national GOP’s big wins this year, when the party took back control of the House, Republicans everywhere are more confident that their bedrock message of smaller government and lower taxes will resonate with American voters.
Fridman said that the Democrats “are going in an absolutely different direction,” focusing on “income redistribution” and rich-versus-poor “class war.”
“It’s too socialistic,” said Fridman, head of the non-profit Staten Island Community Center and president of Citizens Magazine, a public affairs publication. “It’s very painful for us to see.”
The Democrats’ national losses were seen as a rejection of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law and other initiatives that opponents say went too far in pushing government control on Americans.
The Big Brother approach reminds Fridman too much of what he left behind in the former Soviet Union.
“It’s the same rule like it was there,” said Fridman, who estimates there are around 55,000 Russian immigrants here.
Michael Petrov of the Digital Edge data management firm in Bloomfield, said that he objects to the “micro-managing of the economy” he’s seen from city as well as federal officials.
“Government is affecting small business more and more,” said Petrov, who came to the United States in 1994. “It’s the same as what’s happening in Russia.”
The Citizens Club, formed earlier this month, looks to support and grow local businesses here; introduce Russian firms to the borough’s existing business and political communities, and promote Russian community representatives to serve in elected office.
MRC president Robert Scamardella has actively been courting members of the Russian community this year.
“One of the main initiatives I have pursued has been to expand the base of the party by reaching out to diverse potential constituencies and securing their support and involvement,” said Scamardella, an attorney.
“This decision by leaders of the local Russian community illustrates the effectiveness of this approach. We will continue to reach out to other communities and seek their association with the Republican Party.”
Former Borough President Guy Molinari, the MRC’s namesake, said he’d noticed over the years that Russian immigrants here tended to register Republican.
Molinari called the affiliation with MRC “a natural marriage.”
“They want to be involved, be part of the community,” Molinari said. “They come from a country where they weren’t able to express themselves, didn’t have the right to organize or vote. They appreciate it more than some of us who were born here.”
Brooklyn attorney David Storovin said that the fact that the MRC is made up of business professionals “who are successful in their own right,” also made the match an attractive one.
He said that he and other Russian immigrants are also drawn to the GOP’s traditional veneration of flag and country.
GRATEFUL FOR FREEDOMS
Reflecting the American Dream ideal that has drawn immigrants here since the county’s founding, Storovin said that many Russians are “grateful” for the religious, business and travel freedoms the United States provide, and want to show it.
“We do feel patriotic,” Storovin said.
Yevgeniy Lvovskiy, of the ZHL Group development firm, said that many Russians here also are looking to break ethnic stereotypes that paint Russia as being all about “Siberia, beer and vodka.”
“We are looking for an opportunity to prove ourselves,” said Lvovskiy, who came to the United States in 1999. “If you work hard, and do the right thing, you get rewarded. We want to show people we are normal.”
It’s that self-starting stance, he said, that makes Russians here more in line with GOP orthodoxy.
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) said she understands the Russian aversion to anything that looks like big government, but thinks the criticism of the Democratic Party is off-base.
“You can’t ignore the fact that the Russian population here came of age during the Soviet era,” said Ms. Savino, who counts many Russians among her Brooklyn constituents.
“They have different thoughts on what communism and socialism mean. They are a little more sensitive to it.
“But, that being said,” she added, “you can’t compare the policies of the Democratic Party with communism. It’s absurd.”
Well, Sen. Savino, you will face an uphill battle to win them over to your side. They know too well.