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Uptown Council Race Gets Crowded as Two More Candidates Join Field

By Nigel Chiwaya | July 18, 2013 8:19am
  Former CB12 member Cheryl Pahaham and interpreter Franceca Castellanos join hunt for Ydanis' seat.
Uptown City Council Candidates
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NORTHERN MANHATTAN — Attention Washington Heights and Inwood: you officially have a race for the 10th District city council seat.

As of July 15 two more candidates have declared for the seat, currently held by incumbent Ydanis Rodriguez. The newcomers, Inwood sociologist Cheryl Pahaham and Washington Heights interpreter Francesa Castellanos, join community activist Miguel Estrella and bring the number of candidates running for the newly-united district to four.

Pahaham, a Ph.D from the New School for Social Research, previously declared for the 7th District seat, which is being vacated by term-limited Councilman Robert Jackson.

However, Pahaham, who lives on 214th Street, switched races after the City Council adopted new district lines, on the grounds that the move was tantamount to gerrymandering. The new districts combine most of Washington Heights and Inwood under one district while shifting the 7th District down to include Harlem and the Upper West Side.

"I told people that I would be campaigning to represent my community," Pahaham said, adding that the new lines do nothing to improve representation of upper Manhattan residents.

"That's one less vote on the council. That's less discretionary funding," said Palaham, who previously served on Community Board 12. "I don't see that as a benefit."

Pahaham said she views unemployment as the most important issue uptown.

"The number one question that I get on the street is: 'How do I get is job?'" Pahaham said. "Even though we are just local lawmakers we still have to be thinking about how we can use the resources that we do have to create jobs for people that live in the community."

Castellanos, who lives on 169th Street in Washington Heights, previously ran for the council seat in 2009, falling to Rodriguez in the Democratic primary.

A graduate of Lehman College in the Bronx, Castellanos said she views education as one of the most important issues in Northern Manhattan.

"Education should be standard," Castellanos said. "In our city you have some kids that are better prepared than others. Why is that? How come you have places like the Upper West Side, where the school kids are doing so much better? They're better prepared than in schools in Washington Heights."

Both challengers are at a significant disadvantage in terms of campaign funding. According to City Campaign Finance Board data, Rodriguez has raised $102,757 as of July 11, compared to $26,150 for Pahaham, $8,900 for Estrella and $3,182 for Castellanos.

Pahaham, however, is undaunted by the money disparity.

"You win by turning out the vote," Pahaham said. "You don't win with money."

Rodriguez's camp didn't express concern about the new challengers on Wednesday. His spokesman, Russell Murphy, said voters would trust Rodriguez's resume and experience.

"Council Member Rodriguez has worked tirelessly for the Northern Manhattan over the past three decades as a fighter for social justice and a founding teacher of Gregorio Luperon High School. And even more so over the past four years as a prominent council member," Murphy said. "From education to affordable housing to quality of life issues, Council Member Rodriguez has exhibited a proven track record and has a strong vision for the future of Northern Manhattan."

Still, Pahaham challenged Rodriguez's credentials, saying the one-term councilman has made a lot of noise without delivering results.

"Ydanis has cultivated an image," Pahaham said." And he is popular. But photo-ops are one thing. Doing real work is something else."