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UWS City Council Candidates Try to Stand Out in Crowded Field

By Emily Frost | March 29, 2013 2:50pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — The candidates vying for City Councilwoman Gale Brewer's seat on the Upper West Side tried to distinguish themselves in a crowded field where many of their positions were strikingly similar.

The hopefuls — six declared Democrats and an independent who is just entering the race — made their case at a forum Thursday night hosted by the West Side Federation of Neighborhood & Block Associations.

As much as they tried to stand out, however, the candidates found themselves on the same page on issue after issue, including affordable housing, Hurricane Sandy recovery, bike lanes, education and development. They each called for easing overcrowding in classrooms in the neighborhood, the need for new school buildings and support for creating more permanent affordable housing.

Each candidate, however, tried to show how different they were by pointing out their personal characteristics and experience — including a career in engineering, parenthood and their work in the community.

"I passionately believe we need renewed energy," said Ken Biberaj, who added that he is expecting a child in May, citing it as part of the reason he is running.

The city council seat is becoming available because Brewer, who is running for Manhattan borough president, is term limited after 12 years.

The other declared candidates in the race are: Mel Wymore, Helen RosenthalMarc Landis, Debra Cooper and Noah Gotbaum

Tom Siracuse, a new Green party candidate, announced his candidacy Thursday.

He said he is unlike his competitors because of his his experience as a teacher in Inwood for 29 years and as an adjunct at community colleges in the Bronx to his candidacy, as well as involvement with the UFT and as chair of the Manhattan Green Party Local.

"I am the truly independent. I belong to a party that doesn't have a split personality," he said, referring to the Democratic Party.

Beyond their platforms, the candidates have tried to create separation with their fundraising and endorsements.

Rosenthal, a Community Board 7 member, said former City Councilwoman Ronnie Eldrige has endorsed her candidacy. She is also leading the pack in funds, with a war chest of $189,958.

Biberaj is just behind her with $134,020 in fundraising.

Landis, who has raised $121,477, says he's been endorsed by State Senator Adriano Espaillat and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.

Wymore, meanwhile, touted his work negotiating for a new school in the district as part of the Riverside Center deal, and working to reinstate the long-closed 59th Street Rec Center and on storefront zoning

And, he reminded the audience, he claimed to have the best problem-solving skills.

"I'm the only one who's an engineer here," he said.