NEW YORK CITY — Mark Levine has officially launched his campaign to represent Upper Manhattan's 7th City Council District, where racially charged barbs have been flying.
Levine, a Democratic district leader who has run repeatedly for office, is hoping to take over from term-limited City Councilman Robert Jackson in the district, which is expected to stretch from the Upper West Side through Morningside Heights, West Harlem and a small section of Washington Heights, under the latest proposed district lines.
“I have worked to bring people together across the lines that so often divide us,” Levine told supporters at the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan, where he formally announced his run Sunday night.
Levine has long been a player in the diverse neighborhoods, and he has already snagged endorsements from a host of elected officials, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.
But Levine is white — something one of his opponents, Thomas Lopez-Pierre, has been trying to use against him in emails that reportedly referred to Levine as a "white/Jewish candidate" who was trying to “sneak” into office “like a thief in the night."
The remarks sparked a “Say No To Hate” petition from Levine’s supporters, including Jackson, who denounced the “anti- Semitic and racially divisive campaign attacks” and called on “all candidates for public office in New York City to refrain from attacks on the religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation of our fellow New Yorkers."
By Monday, 149 people had signed the petition, according to its site.
"The fact that we have come to this point once again is frustrating, but the petition is how we’re reminding prospective candidates that we have to leave behind our differences and support one another, and not use our differences as the foundation of campaign attacks," Jackson said.
Lopez-Pierre told DNAinfo.com New York Monday that he believes Levine has every right to run for office, but he believes that the district must be represented by someone who is Hispanic or black.
“White people can live wherever they live, but if you look at his face, Mark Levine is not the face of our community,” Lopez-Pierre said, arguing that, if elected, Levine would put the interests of non-minority groups first.
“You cannot trust Mark Levine to allocate resources for black and Latino people," Lopez-Pierre said. "He will betray us. He will put the Upper West Side first. He is a political Trojan horse."
“Who's Mark Levine going to fight for?" Lopez-Pierre added. "Where are his loyalties going to lie?
“We cannot trust the likes of an outsider like Mark Levine to fight for us."
Under the latest version of the new City Council lines, the 7th Council District would be 24 percent white, 20 percent black and 48 percent Hispanic.
In testimony delivered to the Districting Commission, its general counsel, Thaddeus Hackworth, said the district was intended to be a "multi-ethnic district" in which a small white population would serve as a "swing vote” to help elect either "the candidate of the Hispanic group's choice or the candidate of the black group's choice."
"In either case, the candidate that is ultimately chosen will be a candidate of some minority group's choice," he said.
The race has attracted a crowded field of candidates, including community leader Cheryl Ann Pahaham, principal Mark Otto and Corey Ortega, an aide to Assemblyman Keith Wright.
Other names that have been discussed include Democratic District Leader Maria Luna; Socrates Solano, an aide to Rep. Charlie Rangel; Rakim Brooks, who works for City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito; former District Leader April Tyler; Luis Tejada; and Marisol Alcantara, according to state Board of Elections filings and reports.
Levine began his career as a bilingual teacher in the Bronx and founded Upper Manhattan's first community development credit union. He last ran for City Council in 2009.