UPPER WEST SIDE — After years working in both the nonprofit and business sectors — and at home as a single dad and public school supporter — Noah Gotbaum believes he has the experience both professionally and personally to win a seat on the City Council this fall.
Initially, Gotbaum, 53, put forth a campaign to become the next Public Advocate — a post formerly held by his stepmother Betsy Gotbaum — but he quickly abandoned it and entered the District 6 City Council race in March.
Gotbaum counts 25 years of experience as businessman, from managing a recycling company to opening his own investment firm, and said that "no one in this race has an understanding of numbers."
But it was the high-profile death of his wife in 2007 while in police custody at a Phoenix airport that led him to a life of community advocacy, part of the reason he decided to run.
"In one stroke, I became a dad and a mom. My children were 3, 6 and 7," he said of his subsequent involvement in neighborhood issues, specifically his kids' education.
Gotbaum also brings a breadth of experience working with nonprofits, including the volunteer organization New York Cares, which he co-founded with his friends in the late '80s. The nonprofit helps connect people who want to volunteer with service organizations, and it eventually became a model that spread across the U.S. and internationally.
"Getting involved in social justice, in the community, in public service was not only in my bones, it was almost a requirement in my family," Gotbaum said.
In addition to his stepmother's work as public advocate, his father Victor Gotbaum was a labor leader in the city and his mother was a social worker and a teacher.
But, despite his professional background, Gotbaum said his decision to run for office was shaped in part by the way his life changed after his wife's death.
It was then that Gotbaum shut down his investment firm, New Spirit Capital, and "told my investors I need to focus on home," he said.
He then became involved in the neighborhood public schools where he sent his children, fighting for more school seats, battling the redevelopment of P.S. 191 and P.S. 199 and serving as president of the local Community Education Council.
"I'm the only candidate who sends his kids to public school," he noted. "It's very hard to represent the 30 to 40,000 public school parents in our district if you're not aware of the testing, the overcrowding, the PCBs in the schools."
Gotbaum said he also has personal experience with the special-education system through advocating for his youngest son, who has a variety of special needs.
Aside from education, Gotbaum said neighborhood "livability" is one of his main focuses, citing his work with Comptroller John Liu's office to ensure he rejected the contract for two new homeless shelters on West 95th Street.
His campaign has amassed a number of endorsements, including that of former Mayor David Dinkins and Harlem state Sen. Bill Perkins, as well as the New York City Principals' Union and District Council 37, which includes city parks workers, school workers and social service workers.
In the packed, seven-candidate field, Gotbaum has raised a total of $125,814 in the race — putting him on par with most of his opponents, save for Helen Rosenthal, who has brought in $193,646, and Aaron Braunstein, who entered the race this month and hasn't publicly filed any campaign contributions.
But money isn't of much concern to Gotbaum, who touts his independence as a factor that distinguishes him from his opponents.
"Some candidates are going to have to look to their political backers before they make a decision. Others are going to either waffle or not have a strong voice," he said.
And with just two weeks to go until the Democratic primary, Gotbaum said he's feeling very confident in his chances.
"The race is ours to lose," he said.