Fidler claims victory in a Brooklyn Senate race in which Storobin, for the moment, has more votes

Fidler with supporters. (Azi Paybarah via flickr)
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As Republican State Senate candidate David Storobin told a cheering crowd last night that he had won the special election for Carl Kruger's Senates by 120 votes, his Democratic opponent, Lew Fidler, stood on a stage at his own victory party, claiming he was winning the race by 207 votes.

"Well," Fidler said, pausing for humorous effect, "it was a little closer than we were hoping for."

For the record, the unofficial vote total from the New York City Board of Elections as of last night showed Storobin leading, 10,756 to 10,636. Both sides agreed the race would be settled by recounting votes cast yesterday at voting machines throughout the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of the 27th State Senate district, in addition to 757 absentee and overseas ballots.

"Among the valid ballots at the Board of Elections, we have a 5-to-1 Democratic-to-Republican advantage, so that's why we are so confident even with the 200-vote machine advantage," Fidler said.

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"We underwent and saw the largest barrage of negative mail this county has ever seen," he told the crowd. "Lies, mistruths, distortions" and "heckling."

There was also an accusation, which Fidler didn't mention, that a volunteer was hit with a van and had her campaign literature stolen. A police spokeswoman told the Times no evidence of a vehicular accident was detected but did note there was a complaint about a torn campaign poster near the alleged incident.

When told Storobin was claiming a 120-vote lead, Fidler told reporters, "It would be surprising to me. I guess everyone's going to spin."

(Democratic councilman Mike Nelson was so confident Fidler had prevailed that he started dancing before leaving the stage after the speeches.)

Councilman Domenic Recchia told the crowd at Fidler's party that of the two voting machines inside the building where Storobin lives, one was split evenly with Fidler and the other, mysteriously, was not working properly. The crowd cheered.

On paper, the race wasn't supposed to be this close. Fidler is a three-term Democratic councilman and Storobin is a 33-year-old attorney and first-time candidate for public office.

According to the state Board of Elections, the district has 89,670 registered Democrats, compared to 26,994 Republicans. (In fact, there are fewer registered Republicans than there are voters who are not registered in any party: 33,044.)

The district also has a large concentration of Orthodox Jewish voters, who tend to be more socially conservative and supportive of Republican candidates. Last year they proved to be a critical component of Republican Bob Turner's special election victory in a neighboring congressional district.

Both Storobin and Fidler heavily courted those voters, stressing their support for school vouchers. The National Organization for Marriage paid for ads in Jewish newspapers accusing Fidler of not only supporting "same-gender marriage" but of wanting to teach it to six-year-olds.

The accusations of impropriety flew both ways.

Fidler, who is Jewish, accused Storobin, who is also Jewish, of having "ties" to neo-Nazi hate groups. Fidler questioned why interviews Storobin conducted with white separatists disappeared from the Internet before the race started.

Storobin responded by showing pictures of his family who died in the Holocaust and relentlessly reminding voters of Fidler's slight. Fidler later apologized and said he should have used the word "links" instead of "ties."

This flap forced Fidler to adjust his initial strategy for dealing with Storobin. From the outset, Fidler's strategy was never to engage Storobin in a protracted tit-for-tat in the media, preferring appearances before small Orthodox audiences often without many reporters present. That changed after Fidler's "ties" remark, which he initially made at a bar to a crowd of young Democrats, and then in a press release. The backlash was unrelenting and Fidler reiterated his apology in subsequent public appearances an interviews, only serving to keep alive the issue, which worked to Storobin's advantage.

Then there was the issue of how to appeal to Russians.

Storobin, who immigrated to Brooklyn from Russia when he was 12 and speaks the language, concentrated his advertising in Russian-speaking neighborhoods. To blunt Storobin's obvious appeal among those voters, Fidler secured the endorsement of Greg Davidzon, a local Russian media mogul who urged his radio listeners not to vote for Storobin. 

Storobin got the endorsement of the Post editorial page. Neither the Daily News nor New York Times made endorsements.

Earlier yesterday, Fidler's campaign appeared confident they'd easily prevail easily, saying that the candidate would arrive at the election night party at 9:15 p.m., fifteen minutes after the polls closed. Instead, Fidler appeared some time around 11 p.m. When he finished his remarks, the crowd quickly dispersed, haveing barely made a dent in two giant chocolate "Lew Fidler for State Senate" cakes in the back of the room.