‘We’re going Obama-style:’ Bill Lynch, for Council candidate Zead Ramadan

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Zead Ramadan. (screen grab via msnbc.com)
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Zead Ramadan, the former community board chairman and board member of the Malcolm X. and Betty Shabaaz Education Center, will formally announce his candidacy for City Council on Jan. 22.

He has already hired Bill Lynch, the Harlem-based political operative and power broker who was a deputy mayor for David Dinkins.

Ramadan is one of about eight candidates running to replace Robert Jackson, who is term-limited and running for Manhattan borough president.

The candidate with the most endorsements so far from members of the Democratic establishment is district leader Mark Levine, who has been endorsed by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, among others.

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But Ramadan is something of a known commodity, too. In addition to his work in the community, he has the distinction of being head of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a role that has entailed regular appearances on national television.

The organization has come under attack by Republicans who say its leaders have been too tolerant of radical Islamist movements. CAIR, a civil-rights group, says it exists in part as an antidote to radicalism, and condemns terrorism and religious violence. 

Ramadan told me emphatically in an earlier interview that he has no intention of bringing international geopolitics or religion into his Council race, and said that he'll be running on his lengthy experience dealing with pragmatic challenges in the neighborhood. But he acknowledged that his role with CAIR would draw attention.

With so many candidates running in the primary in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, Lynch said, as few as 5,000 votes could win the race.

"We're going Obama-style," Lynch said in an interview, promising a heavy grassroots effort in the district.

In addition to seeking political endorsements, Lynch said, "What we're looking for is tenant leaders, block-association leaders--who have real grass-roots constituents--to be supportive of Zead."

I asked Lynch if he thought Ramadan's work with CAIR would play a role in the election.

"I think the thing that will play a role is the things he's done in the community," Lynch said, referring to the "community board, empowerment zone board, Malcolm X Center" and "things he's done to help the business community."

The district includes parts of the Upper West Side, Inwood, Washington Heights and Harlem, which recently saw a contentious congressional race between Rangel and State Senator Adriano Espaillat, where the changing demographics in Upper Manhattan fueled talk about the future of the neighborhood, and identity politics.

"What does it mean to be the soul of black America when the majority of the neighborhood and its member of Congress is not black?" wondered Basil Smikle, a Harlem-based political consultant. "It's something they're going to have to wrestle with."

I asked Lynch if he thought having a "majority minority" district in Harlem represented by someone who was not African-American or Hispanic would be a factor in the City Council race.

"I don't think that will have a big push on it," Lynch told me.

Referring to Ramadan, whose parents immigrated from Palestine, Lynch said, "When he was chair of the community board, he was not African-American. ... I consider him to be a Harlemite. I am working for him, I am helping. What more high praise can I give him?"