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City Council Candidates Fight for Name Recognition in Redrawn UWS District

By Emily Frost | June 10, 2013 12:37pm
 City Council candidates are hoping to set the record straight on district lines and appeal to a diverse population. 
District 7 Candidates Try to Make Inroads on the Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The dramatically redrawn lines in District 7 have pulled a slew of uptown City Council candidates south to the Upper West Side — where they're battling to gain traction with a new, unfamiliar bloc of voters.

The shakeup in the fight to replace City Councilman Robert Jackson, whose seat will be vacated because of term limits, began in February when a district that used to include Inwood, Washington Heights and West Harlem shifted southward to include the northern stretch of the Upper West Side and reached only as far uptown as lower Washington Heights. 

Fourteen candidates are vying for the seat. But they are still relatively unknown to voters — many of whom believe they're still part of the 6th or 10th districts — who live along the new southern edge of newly redrawn District 7.  

 Joyce Johnson talking to supporters at a house party.
Joyce Johnson talking to supporters at a house party.
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Joyce Johnson Campaign

"[The 7th] district was probably one of the most radically redrawn. There’s a lot of confusion about the redrawing," said candidate Mark Levine, who said he has "a lot of work to do to help people understand these lines." 

The support of the southern part of the district, which includes Manhattan Valley and Morningside Heights, is vital in terms of viability, several candidates said.

While the redrawn lines pose a challenge for some candidates, the changes convinced Upper West Sider Joyce Johnson, who joined the race relatively late in March, that she could have a shot against some of the heavyweights uptown.

“I know the great command that Manhattan Valley has in terms of the votes,” she said, describing the area’s “commanding voter turnout” as among the highest in the country.

Johnson’s confidence stems from her Upper West Side address and also her experience in the neighborhood, including a term as chair of Community Board 7.

“My name recognition is significant,” she said. 

Washington Heights resident Levine, who served on Community Board 12, said the battle for the seat could be won in the Upper West Side.

"Our analysis shows that about half of the expected vote [in the district] will be south of 125th street," said Levine. "We need to do well on the West Side."

Meanwhile, Zead Ramadan, a candidate who grew up and now lives in northern Manhattan, said the district shift may serve to his advantage. Levine's support, Ramadan said, comes mainly from State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and the power he yields farther uptown.

“In southern Washington Heights and Harlem that machine doesn’t yield as much influence,” Ramadan said.

Levine and Ramadan have raised the most funds so far, with $103,781 and $102,113, respectively, according to the Campaign Finance Board.

Beyond the money, Levine believes he has made some headway in the neighborhood because of his failed bid state senate in 2010. The election helped him seed important relationships in the area, which extended down to West 79th Street.

"I’ve had a good history on the Upper West Side," he said.

Ramadan admits he has a lot of work to do, but believes voters value his experience on the Washington Heights and Inwood Chamber of Commerce and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

"Small business is considered the backbone of District 7," he said. "People know me as an economic development person."