Four Africans contend closely watched New York City Council race in the Bronx

Naaimat Muhammed- New York City Council District 16 CandidateAfricans in the Diaspora specifically in New York are making big moves – politically speaking.  An unprecedented number of 4 Africans have declared their candidacy for New York City Council 16th District seat in the borough of Bronx.

The 4 candidates include Nigerian born Abiodun Bello, 53, President of the Community Education Council, PTA President and a tax auditor in the city’s Finance Department; Ahmadou Diallo, 49, Guinean businessman, former cab driver and founding president of the Futa Islamic Center, a large mosque on Third Avenue that serves Guineans and other Africans in the community; Naaimat Muhammed, MPA, Community Outreach Liaison at New York City Council, Campaign Aide at Bronx Democratic County Committee and former Legislative Assistant for NYC Councilmember Helen Diane Foster who is leaving because of term limits and Dr. Bola Omotola, a former Nigerian Navy prior to relocating to the US in the 1990s.  Current Chairperson/ Housing & Eco Dev Committee Chair 2012 – 2013 Bronx Community Board 5.

Mark Naison, a professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University in the Bronx said it is all new to have 4 African candidates contest a single city council seat, “this is the beginning of something that definitely, over the next 10 to 20 years, will reshape Bronx politics.”

Though a sizeable portion of Bronx residents support the idea of having multiple Africans contesting the election hoping it could create more political clout, some African leaders in the community have expressed their concerns that because of the weakness of the African voting bloc, fielding multiple African candidates will not only diminish the electoral odds, it is tantamount to political suicide.

Councilmember Helen Foster has been representing Bronx District 16 since 2001.  Foster was re-elected in 2005 with 98% of the vote and again in 2009.  She was the first African- American woman elected to a city office from Bronx County.  According to NYC Council website the district is one of the poorest council districts in the city serving approximately 176,956 residents.  With an approximately 2.2 sq. miles the District map comprises of Morris Heights, Highbridge, Morrisania, West Bronx and Melrose. Councilmember Foster is ineligible to run for re-election due to a Charter Revision vote of 2010 that limits New York City Council Members to serving two full consecutive four-year terms.

A recent New York Neighborhood News DNAinfo.com report says Bronx District 16 City Council seat is one of only two districts in the borough represented by a black council member – an African American has held the seat for more than 3 decades.

The report also say New York City Democratic party officials have made it clear that they intend to get behind an African American candidate to keep an African American in the seat, subsequently, they have convinced State Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson who has decided to run.

A New York City Elections Board employee who didn’t want to disclose his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media in a phone interview Monday says an official date for District16 election has not been schedule until Mayor Bloomberg issue a proclamation most probably in the coming month of March.

Out of the four candidates, I was able to track down Ms Muhammed through her contact information from past advisories and community Resources and Information she issued to reporters and media organizations while she was a Community Outreach Liaison in the office of outgoing Councilmember Foster.

In this interview, Ms Muhammed speaks about her leadership qualities, campaign outreach efforts and her vision for Bronx District 16.  This is what she said:

Why are you contending the upcoming NYC District 16 elections?

I am a contender because community development has been a passion since junior year of college.  By senior year, I began to seek avenues of helping people in need, which led to my MPA in government.  While it was a tough road, through hard work, relentlessness, humble beginnings, and perseverance, I continue to grow.  This path can serve as an example to empower the disadvantaged demographic of the district, growing African demographic and future generations.

You say you are a contender but yet New York City Campaign Finance Board webpage which was last updated on 02/08/2013 at 3:18 pm declared you in its classification as undetermined and undeclared in the office sought.  What does that mean?

It means there is no specification of the district I am running for on the application

It’s unprecedented and even unheard of for 4 African candidates to run for a single city council seat in America.  Do you agree with some African leaders in your community who say because of  the weakness of  the African voting bloc backing multiple African candidates will diminish the electoral odds – a political suicide?

Yes, four African candidates is unprecedented.  I am very proud of my community and the fact that a new height has been reached with this election.  Africans have endured a long road with a painful history but today, we show our longevity and capability.  While it is a proud moment that there are four individuals of African decent in the race, I do hope that it will not weaken the bond of Africans, divide our communities or families or as you stated, cause “political suicide.”

We must also realize that we cannot divide ourselves amongst one another and from the rest of the community by approaching politics as Africans and an African voting bloc.  Each candidate has its circle of supporters based on what they were able to show their immediate circle and motivate.  But, we have to show our ability to also understand the job at hand and nationality is simply one component of politics as our elected officials have invested in developing outreach methods in recent years.

As such, we should be mobilizing as a united community in self-representation of our needs.  One form of strength does lie in having a strong voting bloc but the other is having a strong united voice.  Again, this is a great achievement for Africans and African Americans in gaining services for our families and immigration needs across the City.  It is my hope that in time, we will realize what is needed for this election.  The requirements are three parts; Ability to be well rounded enough to serve the diversity of the district regardless of growing African immigrant population; proven record of ability to develop and implement programs and projects for community development; and the capability and knowledge of NYC Council structure and processes to serve in this particular role and function.

The bottom line is not making a statement as an African community, the bottom line is the candidate that can in fact deliver to the City of New York as a whole on behalf of this district and this vastly growing population in the City.  And yes, I am that candidate because my background and resume matches the qualification.

To win an electoral race in America requires a huge war chest.  According to news reports, three candidates have filed disclosures with Campaign Finance Board. How much funds or cash has your campaign raised as of today?

Community Campaign for Naaimat, the campaign finance committee for Naaimat 2013, will disclose all financial contributions on time for each required disclosure date by the CFB.  Information regarding financial disclosure is available through their directives.  The next disclosure date is in March.

Tell us more about your campaign outreach efforts.  Are you concerned that because African Americans outnumbered continental Africans, and they tend to vote more gives your opponent State Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson an edge over all candidates including you in the race?

The only advantage Assembly member Gibson has is that she is pre-endorsed by Bronx County with access to their resources and support.  Also, the community has previously given her an opportunity to lead by electing her to the New York State Assembly.

But, I am also African American since I was born in New York.  I grew up in the district and can’t be coined by only the African community.  I have the blessing of being comprised of both demographics.  The African community embraces me for never picking one side of my background and in fact embracing and connecting both.  That is my reputation.

Furthermore, I acquired my career through the help and support of Bronx County.  I interned/ volunteered for some time and they then helped me gain employment with Helen Diane Foster; as they help multiple people who work with them and have aspirations.  The only thing missing from my equation is the community giving me the opportunity to lead.  In addition, I equally deserve and qualify for votes of African Americans, Continental Africans, and on Election Day, ALL REGISTERED VOTERS OF THE CITY.  No one is pre-privileged to any vote or demographic.

Let me be clear, Community Campaign for Naaimat does not view itself as an African campaign.  It views itself as having the best product for the job at hand having the most, well rounded and qualified candidate to meet, stand and serve the needs of “her” district.  I do take ownership because I am a product.  Born, Bred and Raised!

As a candidate of clear and proud African decent, which is also the vastly growing demographic of the district, and relatable due to growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods and other community circumstance, I am capable of serving the culturally diversity of the City of New York.  I have been through the developmental stages of life in the Bronx, I grew up facing the dynamics and challenges of the district, plus I have the educational background, and I served the district over the past three years as the Community Outreach Liaison to the current Councilmember of the district.  CC4N has the best and the present day candidate for this seat.

There is no area CC4N candidate is lacking.  I possess the leadership requirements, with a steady record of ability to implement growth and development programs and tools to serve the district over the past three years.  I have already been serving the district and I want to continue. We see a need to now bridge the gaps that exist in our community; I am the candidate as a role model, and representation.

Leaders of the African community are talking about endorsing one candidate; do you think you deserve that endorsement? Why?

Yes, for all the reasons mentioned above.

What is your vision for the 16th District and how different is your platform from your opponents?

American government is a representative form of government.  The elected official should represent the face of the district, its issues and its future.  My vision is setting a precedent.  Historically, we had pioneers such as Reverend Foster who championed change and opportunity for the Bronx.  I am here today in representation of the change and opportunity.  Today, we are on a different page whereby we cannot remain an impoverished district with little services and weakened family structures that cannot uplift ourselves.  We need help!  I know because I needed help.  So, I struggled.

A candidate who is a product of the district, born, raised and persevered from the disadvantaged area that is also from the vastly growing population of the Bronx, as well as qualified.  This is what we need to encourage our children, to improve our environment, and take the betterment of our lives into our own hands.  It is possible because one of our own did it; African community and District 16 … born and raised.  What is the excuse now?  If I can do it and then not abandon my community by returning to empower, support and encourage, we should find inner strength and ask ourselves why is achieving possible for Naaimat and if we all come from nothing?  But how did she do it?  Perseverance!

There are different ways to be represented.  Elected officials have done an excellent job thus far.  But, one cannot lead the people if one does not understand the people.  The district has been last in numbers historically and with this new dynamic of the African community, a qualified African does not need to remain in an advisory position or staff position any longer.  A qualified African is the leadership needed to take the district to the next level.

For the African community, given the large number in the Bronx, throughout NYC and in the nation, their development needs to be supported for the better of the community at large. Today, minorities have come a long way but we must go further by standing to say, we are best suited to address our needs and we are prepared to take our developmental needs a step further by being amongst decision makers, representatives in government, and most importantly, self empowered.  We don’t want others to speak for us.

Furthermore, we have Naaimat who came from what we came from and got as far as she has and we want to make that statement loud to motivate ourselves and set the best example in representation of who we are and what we can become.

We have to show that we have crawled; we have walked and next watch us soar.  This falls in line with my vision to uplift the district.  I ask the district to stand by my side as a product of our adverse circumstances and help me change the minds of our oppressed community who live by a daily hustle to survive.  Let’s rise from the bottom!

“Yes, we can Rise!  Please Rise with me!”

© 2013, Dennis Kabatto. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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