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Race is on to fill Clarke’s Council seat

They’re off and running. With the announcement of the vacancy in the 40th City Council District by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on January 3rd, candidates for the seat vacated by newly elected U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke have hit the streets, to gather petition signatures, with the election scheduled to take place on February 20th. The petition period began on the day the mayor announced the vacancy, and will continue until January 16th, the day petitions are due at the Board of Elections. All petitions must be filed by midnight on that date, with the period of general and specific objections extending until January 25th, and a hearing on the petitions to be held on January 30th. Candidates who wish to make the ballot in this special, non-party election must file a minimum of 1,002 valid signatures of registered voters from the district. Accepted wisdom is that candidates who hope to make the ballot should file two to three times the number of required signatures; however, insiders suggest that the abbreviated election cycle may reduce the number of challenges, meaning that anybody who files petitions with enough signatures may make the ballot. The petitioning period, noted one observer, will, “Separate the men from the boys.” With as many as 30 different people expressing interest in making the run, at various times over the past few months, the number is likely to be whittled down significantly as candidates confront the reality of having a ground operation in place that can meet the challenge. The new congressperson’s endorsement, as well as that of her mother, Una Clarke, who preceded her in the City Council, will further narrow the field, pundits say. “Once the Clarkes make their endorsements,” one remarked, “I believe a lot are going to drop out anyway. I think that is where the rubber meets the road. “A lot of political support is very fickle,” the onlooker added. “If the Clarkes don’t give their blessing, they’ll take off.” Political insiders predict anywhere from five to 10 candidates making the ballot. Among those who onlookers expect to survive the petitioning period are Wellington Sharpe, Zenobia McNally, Democratic District Leader Jesse Hamilton, Harry Schiffman, Joel Toney, Jennifer James, Leithland Rickie Tulloch, Dr. Mathieu Eugene, Anthony Alexis, Geoffrey Davis and Mo Razvi. Other possible candidates for the seat include Gerry Hopkins, Emmanuel Roy, Ferdinand Zizi, Victor Babb, Chris Hylton, Karlene Gordon, Yvon Alexis and George Bousiquot . Schiffman is the only white Jewish candidate, and Razvi is he only Pakistani-American candidate in a field otherwise composed of Caribbean-American and African-American hopefuls. Both of them, remarked one political onlooker, need as large a field of African-American and Caribbean- American candidates as possible, so that their voter base (for Schiffman, Orthodox Jews, and for Razvi, Pakistani-Americans) can carry the day. Both, said the source, “Have a group of voters that are going to vote for him and no one else. The question is, can they get more numbers than that?” For both, said the source, “The more candidates the merrier. They need the threshold from other people’s votes to go down.” It’s a relatively small voter pool who come out for special elections, the source added. “I think about 6,000 people will come out to vote,” the source said. If there are enough people on the ballot, “Somebody can win the race with 900 votes,” the source added. “Who wins this race is the person who works the hardest and makes the best campaign.” Those who have been on the ballot before have an advantage, the insider continued, because they, “Have some name recognition.” Among those who fall into this category are McNally, who ran against Clarke; Hamilton, who just won his district leadership position, as well as Sharpe. Alexis and Davis. As for who the two Clarkes will endorse, persistent whispers among insiders predict that Eugene will nab their backing, which some say will result in Zizi, who had been proclaimed a Haitian consensus candidate by some, dropping out. “She will have appeased the Haitian community because she would have endorsed a Haitian candidate even though it’s not someone the committee asked her to endorse,” one insider remarked. But another political watcher disagreed. Noting that he had heard the rumors, the source said, “I’m not saying she’s not going to endorse Mathieu Eugene, but I don’t know where he jumps ahead.” One source said that, because she wants to protect her own position, the younger Clarke is unlikely to endorse another woman. But, another insider scoffed at that comment. “Anyone who says Yvette is not going to endorse a woman because she doesn’t want competition doesn’t know Yvette,” the pundit contended. “She doesn’t feel competition. She has constantly lifted other people up, especially other women. I think she will very decidedly pick someone who will be a good successor to her, whether male or female.” The person who wins the seat will probably have to keep his or her campaign machinery well-oiled. The special election will only determine who gets to serve in 2007, with a primary and general election to fill the seat for the remainder of Clarke’s term held during the autumn.

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