2 Íîÿáðÿ, 2010, Interviewed by Gennady Katsov, translated by Mike Pokrovsky
Alec Brook-Krasny with his family. Ôîòî © RUNYweb.com
Alec Brook Krasny in Encyclopedia of Russian America > > > IN RUSSIAN / IN ENGLISH
Alec, please fill us in on your biography: date and year of birth, most important events in your life, which you'd like to leave on the pages of the Encyclopedia of Russian America.
I was born in 1958 in Moscow, in the city center, in a well-known hospital. Lived in Moscow for 29 years. Graduated from the Moscow Institute of Technology. At that time it was the Institute for Personal Services. It's a large academy now, like all such establishments in Russia nowadays. Don't remember what kind of academy.
An agricultural sciences academy?
Well, something of the sort. Some kind of hotel services, something that has nothing to do with what I used to study there.
Anyway, at 24 I became the head of a home appliances repair service in the Solnechnogorsk district of the Moscow region. The service employed 60 people, all of whom were 2 or 3 times as old as myself. And that was my first, and fascinating, school of managing such a large number of people. Of course, at that time I couldn't imagine I'd be working with a much larger number of people in America.
Later came various enterprises, cooperatives and such. In 1989 I finally managed to leave the country. "Finally" because I had always considered America the country I'd love to live in, but in the 70-s filing emigration papers was a scary proposition. Scary because my uncle was an important figure, and it was a bit unsettling. We filed the papers after Gorbachev had come to power, when it became easier to leave the country.
We left in 1989, at the beginning of the year. We spent about a year in Italy, that was a great year, very pleasant. I even worked as a fisherman there, pulling nets from the sea in the mornings. And in the evenings there was the round table - that was a small Italian village near Rome - a round table, good food and wonderful people. All that was great! That year was one of the best years of my life.
And how many millelires did you get paid?
Four or four and a half an hour. I was a rich man compared to my earnings in the USSR. And my landlord, who became a close friend of mine, he and his wife were crying when I was leaving for America. They said: "You've got work here, people who are almost your family, friends, where are you going?!" All in all, Italy was a very interesting place, and I like to return there from time to time, like all of us.
Then, at the end of 1989, I came to America, I worked, changed a lot of jobs, just like all of us. For example, at one time I worked as a flower shop delivery person in the Bay Ridge district. When in 2002 I appeared before the flower shop owner as an Assemblyman, she almost had a heart attack.
She asked: "Alex?!"
I replied: "Yes, that's me, things have happened".
"I'm so glad!", - she said.
She's a very interesting old Italian lady. That was my first job.
Anyway, I went on to become an accountant in some fuel delivery company, and then decided to open my own business. The reason was that once I had to organize my daughter Rebecca's birthday. That was in 1995. I was looking for a place to celebrate the birthday, and didn't want to do it in a Russian restaurant. It turned out that such a place was hard to find in New York. Having understood that something like this was in short supply in New York, I decided to make a business out of it. I managed to find investors, my childhood friends, as well as those who just happened to have some money available at the moment. Those were people who came to America 10 years earlier than me. We built the Funorama, an entertainment center for children, at Neptune Avenue and West 6th Street. Those who are a bit familiar with Brooklyn know that now it's occupied by the NetCostMarket supermarket. I'm glad it is, since great, good people work there, and I'm glad they took the initiative from us, but our business was very interesting. Very hard, but very interesting.
As a result, in 1997 I was awarded the "Entrepreneur of the Year" title by the national magazine Leisure and Entertainment, and selected from a number of people whom I know much better today as an Assemblyman, people who represent large entertainment companies. Today I can't understand how, among all those people, they chose me, I just can't imagine that. I think the editors of the magazine came to the Funorama and were surprised that someone who'd been living in the country for only 7 years could create something that isn't plentiful in America. Because there was a restaurant there, and various attractions for kids, and all that was put together in a single space, which wasn't very large. The first of its kind, so to speak.
It turned out that my business' performance was better than that of Dave & Busters, which, as you may know, today has subsidiaries in 56 countries. It's a huge company. But then, in 1997, it turned out I was the Entrepreneur of the Year and they were the runner-up. That was really so.
My becoming a politician hangs on the fact that I created Funorama with my partners, of course. That was an entertainment and community center in one. People from other communities, not only Russian, began to come there, and with time I made connections with what is called "local community", a community in a more general sense of the word...
Among the locals, simply speaking.
That's right, among the locals, the aborigines. It turned out the place was also popular among local politicians. You know, politicians often let the press take pictures of themselves with children. And that was a place that attracted local figures. Howard Lasher, a City Council member, Jules Polonetsky, who is the Chief Privacy Officer of America on Line now. Then he was an assemblyman for my district.
As a result, I became a Community Board member, later - the treasurer of the Board. There wasn't much money in the treasury chest of course, but still, they entrusted it to a Russian, which was a surprise for many. Remember, that was 1998, the time when a lot of natives, those who were born here, didn't imagine there were so many Russians in America and in New York in particular.
The job of helping people with big and small problems turned out to be very interesting. All in all, that turned out to be even more interesting than making money! It was a strange realization.
As a result, in 2000 I ran for office for the first time. At the advice of Howard Lasher, may he rest in peace, he's gone, a city council member at that time. Jules Polonetsky also helped me then, but he was in mayor Giuliani's administration at the time. I ran with the support of a large number of Americans, mostly natives and then Russian-speaking voters, who at that time didn't think that was a great idea, even my friends. Most only gave a screw-loose sign. That was in 2000, when Russian-Americans didn't have any idea what politics is about.
The interesting fact is that I gathered 4500 signatures, while the lady running against me could only get 2000. All in all, the chances were I would beat her. But at that time the Brooklyn democratic establishment decided it was too early for me to win anything, so they removed me for the ballot. That too was very interesting. And, for someone who'd come from the land of the Soviets, completely unexpected. After 3 days of court proceedings, the judge called me to his chamber and said: "I will remove you from the ballot, welcome to Brooklyn Politics."
That's the reality...
I replied: "Do you know where I came from?" Meaning I've seen a lot of this where I came from.
He said: "Well, you may be idealizing something."
And the moment I left his chamber, I knew that, due do some traits of character, I'll overcome the Brooklyn establishment. In 2001 I ran for office again, lost, but received endorsement from New York Times, which is a serious matter all by itself.
Endorsement from a newspaper?
Endorsement for the New York Times newspaper. But I lost. It was unpleasant, but I realized I would be back into politics. I decided I needed another approach for my comeback - no more fighting windmills. And in 2001 I was invited by Feliks Frenkel, Sam Kislin, Tamir Sapir, my friends and people who are well known in the community, to take the place of the CEO of COJECO, which didn't even exist at the time. Within several years, we created quite a large organization.
Alec, in 2006 you finally won the place in the New York state Assembly from the 46th District. So, you're an Assemblyman. How were you greeted by American politicians, you, the first Russian who won at such a high level?
I've mentioned COJECO not without reason - it was thanks to its creation and its activities, that I got to know - in my work - politicians from every level, such as congressman Jerry Nadler, congressman Antony Winner, and many other people... Gifford Milford, who at some time was the NYC city council speaker. So the people got to know me from my business side. And Jerry Nadler was the man who suggested I run in 2005. But I ran because I already knew those people with whom I'd have to work as a member of the Assembly.
What were the main difficulties you had to face in Albany, NY's capital?
I had to change my mentality, among other things. Politics differs from other trades. I've mentioned I used to be a businessman, a manager of a large non-profit organization, but politics is something else. Something entirely and radically different from anything else. And I had to change some things in my mentality. This is a position where I alone am responsible for 127,000 people of my district! There's something that leaves a print on the man's life, his work, his understanding of the environment and of other people. This is a completely, absolutely new mentality.
Looking back, do you think it was a right thing to do, to become a politician in America?
I think there's no normal, adequate human being who thinks all their choices at all times were right. I don't know. I hope my choice was right.
Are you happy with your current situation?
I'm interested in my work... For me, it's very important to be interested in my work. And what I do is very interesting!
This is a transcript of the video-interview available at the Encyclopedia of Russian America. Original speech is presented verbatim!