Izzy Weiss Challenging Assemblyman Michael Novakhov in GOP Primary

By Reuvain Borchardt

Izzy Weiss

BROOKLYN — Midwood political operative Izzy (Yisroel) Weiss is challenging Assemblyman Michael Novakhov in the Republican primary in the 45th District — alleging the incumbent does not represent the conservative district’s values — over the objections of Brooklyn’s Republican and Conservative party leadership.

“In times like these we need strong voices that truly represent the community’s conservative values,” Weiss, 38, said in an interview with Hamodia.

A lifelong Brooklyn resident and graduate of Yeshiva of Brooklyn and Mikdash Melech, Weiss is currently an aide to Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, and he previously served as an aide to long-time Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Weiss is squarely in the Hikind/Vernikov mold of assertive outspokenness against antisemitism and for Israel. At campaign and political events or protests, Weiss is typically — even in the presence of his vociferous current and former bosses — the loudest voice in the room or on the street, bellowing into a microphone in support of Israel or his preferred candidate. He proudly recalls “driving a coach bus through Manhattan so I could use the megaphone to shout about the U.S. government giving the Iranian regime hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Novakhov, 47, in 2022 defeated Steven Cymbrowitz, a conservative Democrat who had represented the district — which includes portions of Midwood, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay — for 11 terms. Novakhov’s 20-point victory over the long-time incumbent was just one of several seats Republicans picked up in a mini-red wave to hit New York that year, amid discontent over bail reform and high crime rates, and juiced by the unusually strong performance by Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin.

Novakhov never claimed to be the staunchest conservative; his platform included issues like “social equity,” animal rights and increased funding for mass transit.

But soon after the election, the New York Post reported that Novakhov had donated money in 2016 to democratic socialist candidate Bernie Sanders.

“There are people that support a candidate and then there are people that will actually throw money behind a candidate,” Weiss says of Novakhov’s donations. “That is a pretty heavy commitment.”

But Novakhov, a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union who owns a Russian-language radio station, told Hamodia that his donation to Sanders was solely for the purpose of getting to read the latter’s campaign emails.

“During the 2016 presidential election, in which I voted for Trump, I subscribed for $25 to the Bernie Sanders campaign, with the intention of seeing if the messaging of the campaign to donors differed from that of someone who solely subscribed to a newsletter,” Novakhov said. “I then spoke about these emails and the targeted messaging on my radio show over the course of the 6 months I was signed up for and during which I was receiving his campaign mailings. As I’ve stated time and again, I proudly supported Donald Trump and look forward to voting for him again this April.”

Assemblyman Michael Novakhov (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia/File)

Weiss points to Novakhov having the fifth-lowest conservative rating of the 48 Assembly Republicans according to scoring kept by the New York Conservative Party (whose line Novakhov also ran on in 2022), and in particular to his vote for New York to establish a commission on reparations for slavery.

“Novakhov does not represent conservative and Republican values in one of the reddest districts in the state,” says Weiss.

Novakhov responds that “the Conservative party was the first endorsement I received this election cycle and I could not be prouder to have their support. I received a rating higher than a number of my Conservative colleagues in the legislature and consistently put the needs of my community before voting on a piece of legislation solely for the sake of partisanship. I am proud of my score, and honored to have the support of the Conservative Party in my reelection campaign.”

Novakhov also says he does not support reparations.

“I unequivocally do not support reparations or any legislation that would seek to enact reparations or anything of the sort into law,” he says. “Specifically, what was voted on was the creation of a commission tasked with investigating whether reparations would be a viable option for our state. For years, Republicans have been purposely excluded from these committees organized and voted upon by the supermajority that controls the Legislature. The argument that me and my Republican colleagues who voted for this commission made was specifically that the inclusion of Republicans on this commission was vital to preventing the rollout of an unchecked piece of legislation that would call for reparations to be enacted across the state. My vote for this commission was wholly based on the prevention of ever seeing reparations enacted in our state.”

Izzy Weiss and friends at Ave. N and Ocean Avenue on July 9, 2023, for a street co-naming ceremony for Moshe Berkowitz, a friend killed by an intoxicated driver in 2010. Weiss successfully lobbied Community Board 14 to approve the street co-naming.

Weiss, a well-known figure in the Orthodox community for his years working at The Hat Box men’s clothing store as well as his political activism, lives a half-mile outside the district in Sheepshead Bay. If he wins election, he will have to move into the district.

Hikind and Vernikov are both supporting Weiss’ challenge.

“Izzy is the genuine article,” said Hikind. “He really truly cares, he’s passionate, he’s a proud Jew, he’s always willing to stand up and do the right thing. He’s not afraid, and he’s exactly what we need right now.”

“I am incredibly excited that the people of the 45th Assembly District will now have an opportunity to elect a real conservative Republican who will undoubtedly stand up for their principles and values,” said Vernikov. “Izzy has been a tremendous asset to my team, has believed in our mission from day one, and will always do what’s right despite political winds. I look forward to seeing him amplify his voice and talent.”

But not all Republican officials are happy to see Weiss challenge an incumbent. 

According to Weiss, at a meeting in December, Richard Barsamian and Fran Vella-Marone, chairs of Brooklyn’s Republican and Conservative parties, respectively, pleaded with him not to run, saying they feared splintering the conservative electorate. 

“Fran and Richie asked me many times to please not run,” Weiss says. “Richie said, ‘Is there any way that I can convince you to change your mind and not run?’”

And according to Weiss, at a meeting of Brooklyn Republican leadership earlier this month, party leaders voted to endorse Novakhov’s bid. While Weiss’s had not announced his candidacy at that time, he said party leaders were aware he intended to run. The Conservative Party has already endorsed Novakhov’s reelection bid.

Barsamian and Vella-Marone did not respond to Hamodia’s requests for comment.

But Weiss is unmoved by arguments that his challenge will be bad for the GOP.

“The person that’s currently their candidate is no less than a left wing Democrat hack,” he says. “His actions and his background and his history show that he is no Republican. He is no Conservative. He is not a legitimate candidate. He does not represent this district’s values on any level.”

Weiss, who worked for the state GOP during the Zeldin campaign, also alleges that Novakhov’s large victory was thanks to the strong performance by Zeldin in that district 

“Novakhov won because of the work that we actually did in the district regarding Zeldin,” Weiss says. “Lee Zeldin won the 45th district; Novakhov didn’t. People voted ‘R’ straight down the line.”

The district is largely comprised of Orthodox Jews and Russian Jews. 

With Novakhov being an incumbent and well-known figure in the community of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, Weiss has disadvantages to start. 

But Weiss he believes he has a path to victory, via the relationships he has forged from years of campaigning in the district for other candidates, and Vernikov’s own connections in the FSU community.

“I should be able to pick up some of the younger Russian votes,” he says, “but I absolutely, positively need the Orthodox community, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic, to come out and vote.”

Primary Day is June 25.


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