By Anna Gustafson
Less than a year after City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Albert Cohen ran against each other in a bid to represent the 29th Council District, the victor now relies on the defeated to gain insight into her large number of Bukharian Jewish constituents.
“Albert Cohen is an asset to our community and he’s someone I can look to if I need to know anything about the Bukharian community,” Koslowitz said at the Council’s Russian American Heritage and Culture celebration May 5.
Cohen was one of six honorees at the fifth-annual event, held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, which included songs and dance from Russia and countries that made up the former Soviet Union. He was the only individual from Queens to be honored.
A Kew Gardens resident originally from Tajikistan, Cohen was the first Bukharian Jew to run for citywide office and became known to some as the “Bukharian Barack Obama,” his former campaign manager, Lilianna Zulunova, has said. The 29th Council District includes Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and parts of Maspeth, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst.
The Bukharian community has become increasingly involved in area politics and Zulunova, a Bukharian from Uzbekistan, made a brief run for office. She had made a bid for state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi’s (D-Forest Hills) seat, but dropped out last week in order to spend more time with her new husband.
“My campaign was a first step for our community,” Cohen said. “We’ve accomplished a lot. The community is very politically active and we voted for people like Karen Koslowitz and [city Comptroller] John Liu. The Russian community can have a big impact on who’s elected.”
Cohen said he was honored to receive the award, which he said does not belong just to him, but to his family and the entire Bukharian community.
“The Bukharian community was instrumental in my success,” said Cohen, an attorney in Forest Hills. “I’m very thankful to Karen for this award, and I look forward to continuing to work with her. I think the Bukharian community has a very good friend in Karen.”
Bukharian Jews, who primarily come from Central Asia, faced economic decline and civil unrest following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and many of the world’s 250,000 Bukharian Jews left Central Asia for places like Israel and the United States, with some 40,000 now living in Forest Hills and Rego Park, according to the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York.
Cohen noted Koslowitz has helped to further Bukharians’ efforts to become more politically engaged, so she appointed Cohen to Community Board 9. She also has appointed Alex Yakubov and Naum Akaziev, both Bukharians, to Community Board 6.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.