Hunting the Magic Number

In council races around town, it's a tale of two cities

Oliver Koppell could say the same thing about his district, which links the neighborhoods around Van Cortlandt Park in the northwest Bronx. After all, he was the assemblyman from Riverdale for 23 years and has been the area's councilmember since 2002. But those roots haven't spared him a race this year. "I am confident that I'll win," he tells the Voice. "On the other hand it's not a walk in the park by any means." The reason, he says, is "I have a very aggressive opponent who's quite well funded, and Mr. Hoffnung is very nasty, very negative in his campaign."

Ari Hoffnung has certainly run hard, staking out subway stations every morning, faulting Koppell for devoting too little time to his council job and slamming him for being ineffective at City Hall. The magic number in this race could be as many as 10,000 votes, coming from a diverse district that includes the relatively affluent and largely Jewish Riverdale section, Irish Woodlawn, black Wakefield, and mixed areas of Norwood and Kingsbridge. The race is not exactly on everyone's lips in the northwest Bronx: Asked if the election is news to the people he meets, Hoffnung quips, "Outside of Riverdale, the City Council is news to them." He blames Koppell—one of the few councilmembers without any leadership posts or committee chairs—for that.

On the air: District 4 candidates Brodsky, Garodnick, Karako, Lester
photo: Kate Englund
On the air: District 4 candidates Brodsky, Garodnick, Karako, Lester

Koppell, never a favorite of former Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez, acknowledges that his outsider stance at first posed "very substantial obstacles" to his getting things accomplished in the council. Now things are better, he says. "I've sponsored a fair number of bills that have become laws," he says, "the most important one to change the zoning in Riverdale—to downzone to prevent buildings over seven stories being built in central Riverdale."

Downzoning is a catchphrase in races this year, but in District 11 it goes to a major difference in how the rivals see their district. To Koppell, overdevelopment is the major concern in the area. But Hoffnung has supported new housing. He also backed the unpopular filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. "I figured, 'This thing's going to happen. What I have to do now is get a fair share of the mitigation funds,' " Hoffnung says, referring to the $200 million allocated to Bronx parks to compensate for the plant—a project that Koppell equated to "a rape of the park."

The rhetoric is a little cooler on the East Side, where Garodnick, Karako, Lester, and Meryl Brodsky are vying for the seat Eva Moskowitz is vacating. She hasn't endorsed in the race and isn't expected to, so the rivals have developed other alliances. Lester, a lawyer active in tenants' issues, has cross-endorsed Virginia Fields. Garod-nick, a litigator who was involved in the CFE case, has Gifford Miller's backing, as well as the New York Times endorsement.

The winner in District 4 will likely be whoever captures the most votes in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Lester says his polling has him "far in the lead there," but Garodnick, who grew up and still lives in the complex, says he'll have knocked on Democrats' doors in all the development's buildings by September 13. He's already been to 93 of them; the magic number is 110.

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