6 Are Seeking Council Seat One Man Held for a Decade
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For better or worse, Larry B. Seabrook was their city councilman for a decade, until he was removed from office after being convicted of fraud in July.
Now, like singles returning to the dating scene, residents of a middle-class swath of the northeast Bronx, which includes Co-op City, are being courted by six candidates vying to fill Mr. Seabrook’s seat in a special election.
The candidates include a union organizer, a criminal defense lawyer, a bus company owner, an economic-policy adviser, an Anglican minister and a community center director.
And though the specter of scandal hangs over the race for the seat, only one of the candidates has criticized Mr. Seabrook.
The Rev. Joseph Nwachukwu, 54, an Anglican minister and city social worker, recently moved to the district and has pledged to bring more transparency to how city money is spent. “After the Larry Seabrook debacle, people are looking at us as if we don’t have integrity,” he said. “I will set an example and lead by example.”
However, Andy King Jr., a former community organizer for 1199 SEIU, the health care workers’ union, who is seen by some as the front-runner, chose to note Mr. Seabrook’s contributions to the district in the past. “I pray for him and his family now,” Mr. King said.The relative silence on Mr. Seabrook’s missteps may be as much a reflection of his deep ties to the community as of the political realities in a state where scandal-plagued politicians not only live to run again but in some notable cases have also been returned to office by voters who continued to stand by them.
“I think we’re human, and we all make mistakes,” said Mary W. Taylor, 72, an Eastchester resident who has voted for Mr. Seabrook.
The voting will be on Nov. 6, Election Day. It is a special election because it will fill an unexpired term.
The campaign comes as the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough, struggles with crime, unemployment, failing schools and obesity-related illnesses. The district’s 171,000 residents — two-thirds of whom are black — earn a median household income of $46,229, compared with $34,264 for all of the Bronx, and $50,285 in New York City, according to an analysis by Queens College.
About 35 percent of the district’s residents are foreign born. About 30 percent have college or advanced degrees. The district is home to Co-op City, an apartment tower complex with a large concentration of elderly residents that is an important voting base.
JoAnn Best, 61, a mother of four, said residents needed a strong advocate more than ever to deliver jobs and money for education to their corner of the borough. “I’d like to see a better system for people in need,” she said.
Many of the Bronx’s Democratic leaders, including Assemblyman Carl E. Heastie and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., have backed Mr. King, giving him an organizational advantage in the race. Mr. King has also received endorsements from the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, and many labor unions.
Mr. King, 49, ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Seabrook in 2009 and had been planning to run for the seat again. “Our community needs a great deal of help and leadership,” said Mr. King, who spent his weekends for years volunteering with a community basketball league and started a mentoring program that seeks to empower local teenagers.
Another candidate, Neville O. Mitchell, an outspoken critic of the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics, recently moved back to the district, in which he grew up, to run for office. Mr. Mitchell, 48, a criminal defense lawyer and graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, said he preferred to talk about his record instead of Mr. Seabrook’s.“We should be mindful not to build our political careers by trampling on the demise of someone who did very good things for many people in District 12,” he said. There is also Cheryl S. Oliver, 62, a Co-op City resident, who advises Representative Jose E. Serrano on economic development and education and has spent years preparing for her run.
Another candidate, Garth Marchant, 58, owns a bus company and was an assistant commissioner of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development in the late 1990s and is a former trustee of the City University of New York. Pamela A. Johnson, 48, executive director of the Eastchester Heights Community Center, has brought free computer training to poor residents and immigrants and served on community and education boards.
Mr. Seabrook was a mainstay of Bronx politics for nearly three decades, serving in both houses of the State Legislature before he was elected to the City Council in 2001. A federal jury convicted him of a scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in city money to his girlfriend, relatives and friends through a network of nonprofit organizations that he controlled.
“Despite his legal problems, he was popular in the district,” said George Arzt, a political consultant. He said many voters would be “surprised that Seabrook’s name is not on the ballot, because they’re so used to seeing it.”