UPPER WEST SIDE — The two City Council hopefuls vying for longtime Councilwoman Gale Brewer's Upper West Side seat — including the candidate aiming to be the city's first transgender elected official — have each raised more than $60,000 in donations a full year-and-a-half before the election.
Mel Wymore, 49, a longtime Community Board 7 member, who if elected, would be the first transgender member of city government, banked $64,381 as of this week's filing deadline.
His competition Helen Rosenthal, also a longtime member of Board 7, raised $61,841.
Both candidates will square off to fill Brewer's shoes after she leaves office in 2013.
Rosenthal and Wymore have each served as chair of the board, and both are well known in the neighborhood.
One of Rosenthal's notable donors is restaurateur Danny Meyer, of Shake Shack fame, who wrote her a $2,750 check in 2008. Rosenthal's and Meyer's children went to school together, and Meyer is hosting a fundraising event for Rosenthal in February, Rosenthal said.
"He's on the list because he's seen the work I've done," she said.
Meyer isn't the only restaurant-industry figure on Rosenthal's donor list. Rosa Mexicano owner Doug Griebel chipped in $2,500; while Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group, which owns Carmine's, contributed $1,000.
Many of Rosenthal's donations date back to 2008, when she first embarked on a City Council run. She didn't move forward with the campaign because term limits were extended, and she wanted to run for an empty seat, she told DNAinfo.
Rosenthal, who worked previously for the city's Office of Management and Budget, sent a letter to her supporters offering to return their donations. Two people took her up on the refund, she said, but she also received plenty of encouragement.
"I got a lot of, 'Go for it, Helen, don't stop,'" she said.
Rosenthal is currently chair of ParentJobNet, which helps parents of school-aged children find jobs.
Wymore, a systems engineer, noted that he registered to start fundraising around Thanksgiving. He collected his first donation in December and hit the $60,000 mark three weeks later.
"I did everything [Rosenthal] did, plus what she did this year, in three weeks," Wymore said. "What it shows is we have some real momentum and we're out to win this race. We're showing a lot of support from within the community."
As the Community Board 7 chair, Wymore advocated for environmentally friendly initiatives, such as banning cars in Central Park, and helped broker a deal between the board and the Extell Development Company to make Extell's Riverside Center mixed use project more palatable to locals.
Rosenthal said she, too, is proud of her "grassroots support," but downplayed the importance of money.
"At the end of the day, money is not the determinative thing in this race," Rosenthal said. "We're 18 months away from the election. Ultimately I think this is going to be issues-based. Upper West Siders want to know what [candidates] have done and want to do."
Wymore and Rosenthal will soon have company in what's traditionally a competitive race to represent the Upper West Side.
Several names have been mentioned as possible contenders for Brewer's seat, including State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, former District 3 Community Education Council President Noah Gotbaum, Democratic district leader Marc Landis, and Christine Annechino, current president of District 3's CEC.