Rub Your Eyes: Praise for Ronald Reagan in NYT Local Story on GOP Voting by Soviet Immigrants

Now here's a surprise. The lead local section story of the Times on Wednesday was Joseph Berger's profile of the embrace by the city's Soviet immigrants of the Republican Party, in particular Ronald Reagan's anti-communism: "Among City's Soviet Immigrants, An Affinity for Republicans."

To many Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, the cornucopia in the shops along Brighton Beach Avenue -- pyramids of oranges, heaps of Kirby cucumbers, bushels of tomatoes with their vines still attached and a variety of fish, sausages and pastries -- seems like an exuberant rebuke of the meager produce that was available to them when they lived in the Soviet Union.

This contrast helps explain a striking political anomaly: immigrants from the former Soviet Union are far more apt to vote for Republicans than are most New Yorkers, who often drink in Democratic Party allegiance with their mothers’ milk and are four times as likely to register as Democrats than as Republicans.

Even as New York is expected to overwhelmingly support the re-election of President Obama this fall, his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, and other down-ticket Republicans can expect considerable support from enclaves of Russian speakers, like those in the Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay neighborhoods of southern Brooklyn.


One reason these voters tend to support Republicans is that they see them as more ardent warriors against the kind of big-government, business-stifling programs that soured their lives in the Soviet Union. Their conservative stances on issues like taxes and Israel seem to outweigh their more liberal views on social issues like abortion.

Tatiana Varzar came to the United States in 1979, at age 21, from the Ukrainian seaport of Odessa. She worked as a manicurist and then opened a small restaurant on the boardwalk that grew into Tatiana Restaurant, a spacious magnet for foodies who like a whiff of salt air and a sea view with their pirogen. Today it is a destination for high-powered Russians, like some of the executives who own the Brooklyn Nets.

“I am what I am because of capitalism,” Ms. Varzar said, “and Republicans are more capitalistic.”

Anatoly Alter immigrated from Kiev, Ukraine, in 1978, worked as a machine operator in Manhattan’s fur district and now owns one of the fur emporiums on Brighton Beach Avenue, a shop lush with mink, sable and ermine coats. In his view, Democrats like Mr. Obama have introduced “a socialist mentality,” which is why he prefers Republicans. “Too many people want to rely on free money and socialist institutions, and they want businessmen to pay for it,” Mr. Alter said.

The paper's "New York" section is certainly a shocking place to find kind words about President Ronald Reagan.

Another inspiration for their conservatism, scholars and political professionals say, is the legacy of President Ronald Reagan. Kalman Yeger, a campaign manager for Lewis A. Fidler, a city councilman and Mr. Storobin’s Democratic opponent in the State Senate race, said many Soviet immigrants never lost their gratitude to Reagan for his role in the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union. His 1987 exhortation to Mikhail Gorbachev that he tear down the Berlin Wall still flutters hearts in Brighton Beach.

“The Republican Party was the party that brought them out of despair,” Mr. Yeger said.