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Douglas Kessel / Senior Staff Photographer

Mark Levine, left, with State Senator Adriano Espaillat at a watch party uptown for President Barack Obama’s convention address in September.

Democratic District Leader Mark Levine is running for City Council member Robert Jackson's seat, he announced Sunday.

The seat includes parts of Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, and all of Morningside Heights—including both Columbia's Morningside Heights and Medical Center campuses under the latest redistricting maps, which may still change.

Levine, who represents Washington Heights, already has the support of a number of local and citywide politicians, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and uptown City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez.

“A great coalition of leaders has come to support me for this seat,” Levine said in an interview Sunday night. “I think we're off to a great start.”

Levine announced his candidacy at a meeting of his Barack Obama Democratic Club. Jackson, who is term-limited and running for Manhattan borough president, also attended the meeting, but said he was waiting for the rest of the field to develop before endorsing, according to Levine.

Also running for the seat are Corey Ortega, an aide to Assembly Member Keith Wright, Community Board 12 member Cheryl Pahaham, public school teacher Mark Otto, and real estate broker Thomas Lopez-Pierre. Other potential candidates include District Leaders Maria Luna and Marisol Alcantara, former District Leader April Tyler, and Rep. Charles Rangel aide Socrates Solano.

“It's a crowded field, but that's democracy,” Levine said. “Open seats in New York City politics don't come along too often, and when an opportunity comes up, a lot of people want to run, and that's fine.”

Levine said his experience has prepared him well for the job and sets him apart from the pack.

“I've spent 20 years in this district working in economic development and education, I've built a nonprofit here, I've built a Democratic club here, I've run for office here, and I've put together an incredibly diverse coalition,” he said.

Levine founded the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union, a credit union that helped its members learn financial literacy, he said. He also taught math and science at a public high school in the Bronx.

In addition, Levine called his bilingualism a “critical asset” in the diverse district.

“I'm as comfortable campaigning in Spanish as in English,” he said.

Levine's announcement comes just days after racially charged comments about him received widespread attention. Last week, Lopez-Pierre, who is known for his controversial statements, sent an email to his followers about “the potential damage to the political empowerment of the Black and Hispanic community if Mark Levine, a White/Jewish candidate was elected to the 7th Council District in 2013,” Politicker reported.

The meeting was intended to “rally support behind one Black candidate and one Hispanic candidate in order to provide Black and Hispanic voters with a less confusing selection of candidates to consider,” Lopez-Pierre said in the email, adding that without such a deal, Levine “would sneak into office (like a thief in the night).” Lopez-Pierre declined to comment for this story.

In response, Levine organized a petition against racially charged rhetoric called Say No To Hate, which has received support from de Blasio, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Jackson and a number of other politicians. Levine called the campaign “an outpouring of positive energy from people who want nothing to do with that language.”

“One thing that Thomas Lopez-Pierre highlighted is just how critical it is in this diverse district that we develop an inclusive brand of politics,” he said. “That's what my entire adult life has been about.”

Levine lost a state senate race to Adriano Espaillat in 2010, but the two are now close political allies.

The lines of the council districts may still undergo changes. While Levine and other uptown leaders had called earlier maps bad for minority communities, he called the latest revision acceptable.

“If you look at the map, it's as close to an even rectangle as you seem to get in politics,” he said. “It's a district with great diversity. You get neighbors of almost every different income, ethnic group, and housing type, from expensive brownstones, public housing, co-ops, and everything in between.”
Robert Jackson Mark Levine City Council
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