Saturday, November 04, 2006

Morningside Heights Too Blue for Campaign Fervor

Columbia Spectator
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Morningside Heights Too Blue for Campaign Fervor
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 11/3/06 Section: Election

For those Upper West Side residents making their way to the polls on Tuesday, the act may be more of a formality than consequential, at least on a local level.Danny O'Donnell, the state assemblyman for Morningside Heights and Keith Wright, the state assemblyman for West Harlem, are running for re-election unopposed. Bill Perkins, a candidate for state senator for the 30th district, state senator for the 31st district Eric Schneiderman, and Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, are all running against Republican and independent candidates almost no one has heard of.

While not all candidates in Upper Manhattan are Democrats, the area has a history of ensuring that all viable candidates are.

"I don't think there's been a Republican elected in Upper Manhattan for years," said Community Board 9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc. "It's been a long time since I even knew who was running against anybody, even at the primaries."It's not uncommon for the Democratic primaries to determine the course of Manhattan general elections, as many districts are largely Democratic.

But on the Upper West Side, even these primaries are won wih large margins by incumbents.

Political turnover mainly occurs when positions are vacated due to term limits or old age.In 2002, when Morningside Heights Assemblyman Edward Sullivan left his position, seven candidates vied for the job.

O'Donnell, who was known at the time for having served on CB9 for five years, won Sullivan's endorsement-which was meaningful as Sullivan had been re-elected 12 times-and garnered 30 percent of the primary vote. Now an incumbent, O'Donnell's political capital has multiplied exponentially.

This September, O'Donnell's sole primary opponent, Francisco Spies, did not submit his finances for review and received roughly 2,000 votes. O'Donnell got about 9,000.

As his margin of victory has increased, O'Donnell has raised less money for his campaigns. In 2002 he raised about $260,000, according to Project Vote Smart. In 2004 he raised about $91,000, and this year he has raised about $88,000. With no real competitors to speak of, O'Donnell's finances reflect a growing sense of comfort with his constituents who appear to return the sentiment.

Hamilton Heights resident Michael Palma, said that O'Donnell has "always been a very popular person in the community and basically it's a democratic community." He added, "The Republicans have a snowball's chance in hell of running this area."O'Donnell's period as an elected official is dwarfed by Rangel's.

In 1970, Rangel unseated Adam Clayton Powell. He has been elected to the position 18 times. He will be elected again this year, although Rangel has claimed that he will leave Congress if the Democrats do not win a majority. As the highest ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel is in line to chair the committee, which makes some Republicans nervous.

But not nervous enough to put a serious candidate against him. Rangel's Republican opponent, Edward Daniels, has run for Assembly member seats in districts 70 and 71 and lost both.

Unlike O'Donnell, Rangel makes himself a controversial figure. Many of the Hispanics in his district are strongly opposed to his friendly approach to Fidel Castro. And, in a district that according to the 2000 census is 48 percent Hispanic, it would matter if those Hispanics voted.

West Harlem's Hispanic community "has always been a transient community in the sense that people come and go," Palma said. "It's not like the African-American community where they stay here unless they get gentrified out." He added that African Americans "have institutions like churches that are very politically active and basically the political power comes from the political machinery and clubs and churches. What do the Latinos have? They don't have intuitions like that," Palma said.

Palma hopes that demographic changes and time will change the character of a stagnant political climate, but Reyes-Montblanc said he doubts this will happen."I've been in the area for close to 40 years and there have been some demographic changes, so I don't foresee some major political change," Reyes-Montblanc said. "I think it's a shame that there is no counterpolitical structure in place, but that's a fact of this year and has been so for umpteen years."

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