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Date Posted: 03:24:46 09/16/14 Tue
Kira Kazantsev, the newly crowned Miss America 2015, has always been an overachiever.
The 23-year-old speaks three languages (Russian, Spanish and English), was a triple major at Hofstra University (political science, global studies and geography), was accepted to Notre Dame Law School and even worked the princess circuit in high school, according to Kazantsev’s cheerleading adviser, Laurel Londahl.
“One year she came to my daughter’s third birthday party dressed up in her Miss Jr. Teen California pageant gown and crown and read them stories and gave them princess goodies,” says Londahl, who still works at Kazantsev’s alma mater, Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, Calif.
“It was totally adorable.”
And totally Kira.
Kazantsev, who moved to New York in 2009 for college, is the third consecutive New Yorker to snag the Miss America title. It’s a huge achievement for the Big Apple — and the Murray Hill resident. But friends and family say they expected no less from the personable pageant queen who begged her high school principal to let her captain the cheerleading team while simultaneously serving as student body president.
“I told her you can’t do both . . . it’s just too much work. You can’t do it,” recalls Kazantsev’s former principal Pat Lickiss. “She said, ‘Mr. Lickiss, I can do it.’ There’s nothing that girl couldn’t do.”
“She’s the hardest working girl I know,” agrees Londahl. “We marched in the local parade every year, and Kira was there as Miss Jr. Teen California, and she had to jump out of the car she was in, change into her cheerleading outfit and then march with the cheerleaders. She was incredibly dedicated to her team.”
So who is the aspiring attorney with the sparkly crown?
The daughter of Russian immigrants, Kazantsev — who has a 15-year-old brother, Boris — was raised by her surgical oncologist father, George, and real-estate broker mother, Julia, in Northern California. “They’ve always said, ‘If you can, do more.’ Pushing yourself isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s in moderation,” Kazantsev tells The Post.
When it came time to choose a college, Kazantsev says she always dreamed of going to school in New York, and settled on Long Island’s Hofstra because they gave her a scholarship that covered 50 percent of her tuition.
Her tenacious work ethic continued throughout her four years. She enrolled in the school’s honors college after her first semester (getting an invite to the prestigious program requires a 3.6 GPA or higher, according to the honors college dean, Warren Frisina) and studied abroad in Barcelona her junior year.
“I don’t think anyone knew she had ambitions in that [pageant] direction. She seemed pretty darn focused on her schoolwork and succeeding academically,” Frisina says.
She has deferred her acceptance to Notre Dame law school, but eventually hopes to earn a law degree and her MBA at the prestigious Indiana school.
The brainy beauty, who sang Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” in Hofstra’s 2010 talent show, was one of the 300 volunteers chosen from more than a thousand hopefuls to rub elbows with the political muckety-mucks during the 2012 presidential debate hosted by Hofstra.
For two summers, she interned at Solidarity Strategies, a political consulting firm in Washington, DC. According to the company’s founder, Chuck Rocha, Kazantsev says the tenure helped her nail the 2013 Miss New York pageant.
“She said that she wouldn’t have understood the question [about campaign finance reform] if she hadn’t worked for me,” says Rocha, who recently had lunch with Kazantsev in NYC. “It made my chest swell with pride.”
According to Rocha, the new Miss America has the perfect combination of drive and personal skills.
“And then you throw in the fact that she is drop-dead gorgeous and really smart,” laughs Rocha, who says Kazantsev looked up to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. She volunteered for Gillibrand’s reelection campaign in 2011.
Asked if she wants to run for political office, Kazantsev says she wants to pursue international business and influence policy for women’s issues across the globe.
“I love politics and the environment that goes with it . . . but for now, [elected office] is not necessarily my dream.”
After graduating from Hofstra, she moved to Murray Hill with her best friend and began waiting tables at Hillstone and, later, hosting at Harding’s in the Flatiron District while studying for the LSATs.
“You gotta do what you gotta do to make it. Miss New York is a full- time job, but you don’t make money. It’s a labor of love,” says Kazantsev, who is savoring all that the Big Apple has to offer, including dining at Mario Batali’s hot spots Eataly and Esca.
Kazantsev also dabbled with a food blog called “Confessions of a Fat Soul,” where the pizza- and bagel-loving city gal braved the Cronut line and explored NYC’s culinary terrain all in the name of hunger (the now-defunct blog’s tag line reads: “Bringing recipes and restaurant reviews to my fellow fat souls. Dedicated to making the fat souls out there even fatter”).
“Blue Water Grill is one of my favorite restaurants. I love going to the Brooklyn Flea and Chelsea Market. My friends and I go to Central Park and lay out and we try to live the New York life on a budget,” she says, adding that she likes to “window shop.”
“My personal style for New York isn’t edgy, but for the rest of the world, I think it is. Sometimes people in the pageant world question my choices.
“I love shoulder pads, prints and things that are a little out there. I like to color outside of the line and wear what I want to wear,” she says.
According to Kerime Ataker, president of John Paul Ataker, the designer who crafted Kazantsev’s stunning custom rose-colored gown she donned at Sunday’s event, “She’s definitely a risk-taker,” gravitating away from typical pageant garb.
When she isn’t eating (and staying remarkably thin thanks to her penchant for running, according to Rocha), Kazantsev is putting in countless hours advocating against domestic violence, a cause close to her heart after an ex-boyfriend stalked her in college. In August, she joined the junior leadership counsel of Safe Horizon, an NYC-based victim assistance agency she has volunteered with in the past.
“She identifies with the people who are impacted by it,” says Eddie Pelto, Safe Horizon’s chief development officer, who adds that Kazantsev’s “been a strong voice for domestic violence survivors through social media.”
“I want as many people as possible to understand what domestic violence is,” says Kazantsev. “To talk about it. To not be scared to talk about it. You can pass laws and make rules but you won’t affect real change until people’s minds are changed.”
the Ray Rice scandal, she thinks that maybe, one day, the football player will deserve a second chance.
“There’s an extraordinary moment for Ray Rice to step back and understand what happened and take this media attention and turn it into a way to raise awareness. This has been done and no one should be questioning his wife’s decision to stay, because every woman is an expert in her own life.”
Right now, Miss America has a good Mister by her side.
“He’s a very calm guy. He’s a Marine,” says Ataker, who says Kazantsev brought her beau to dress fittings.
“Such a nice guy. He didn’t talk much. All he did was smile and say, ‘Looks great,’ and that was it.”
When asked about her dating status, Kazantsev politely says she would rather not discuss it.
But if you were a potential suitor, she says she’s low-maintenance, preferring to stay in and binge watch “Orange Is the New Black” or “House of Cards.”
“I am so easy to please,” she says. “Just give me a slice of pizza and a bagel and I am a happy person. I am a simple person who happens to be involved in some crazy stuff.”
For now, Kazantsev says she is going to celebrate her shiny new tiara in her trademark low-key way.
“I am going to have a very nice sleep. I don’t know when I will have another opportunity to do that.”
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