In order to gain a microcosmic perspective on the actual opinions of New Yorkers about the upcoming election, City & State and City Limits, in partnership with MetroFocus, present a new series: “The Five Borough Ballot.”
When the city’s redistricting commission pulled back the curtain on newly drawn City Council lines in February, it revealed that all of Mott Haven would be lumped in with East Harlem in the eighth council district.
The move pushed the 17th council district, now represented by longtime incumbent Maria del Carmen Arroyo, to points farther north. The largely residential Melrose neighborhood just north, will remain inside the 17th.
Five months later, few residents appear to have taken much interest in the district lines or the candidates.
Incumbent has low profile among diners
At Camaguey Restaurant on 138th St., and across Mott Haven, Melissa Mark-Viverito is the incumbent voters will consider in September’s primary.
On a sweltering afternoon, a half-dozen 60-something men sat on stools around the entrance to the 6-train at Brook Avenue near the restaurant. None could say who is running for the council seat, or knew that Mark-Viverito has represented this sliver of the neighborhood for eight years.
Beverly Smalls, a regular customer at Camaguey who owns a convenience store around the corner, came in to buy lunch on a slow July 5 afternoon. She explained that a local candidate for the council seat left a form at her store weeks ago, asking for help getting signatures to put her on the ballot. But Smalls said her customers “don’t want to sign a paper if they don’t know who she is. They want to vote, but they don’t want to vote for someone they don’t know.”
“This neighborhood is all about who you know,” she said.
While mopping the restaurant floor, Janet Greenberg, one of three sisters who runs Camaguey, recalled an elected official who began his career locally, then worked his way up to Albany. She recalls how he used to come in regularly to chat with staff and customers, courting votes. It’s been years since he’s been back.
“Now he’s all the way up there and we’re down here,” Greenberg said.
Smalls says she has heard a few local NYCHA tenants say good things about Mark-Viverito, but it’s rare that anyone among the hundreds of regular customers who come into her store for supplies or lottery tickets knows about the candidates or the imminent elections.
“If something is not done, the vote is going to be very low,” Smalls predicted.
Continue reading this week’s Five Borough Ballot coverage on the Bronx Bureau website.