Click for larger image
Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002
x-Helen D. Foster, Dem 11,995 - 86 percent
Jonathan Agosto, Rep 877 - 6 percent
Michael Benjamin, Grn 666 - 5 percent
Anthony Curry, Ind 483 - 3 percent
Helen D. Foster 6,915
Michael Benjamin 4,225
Anthony Curry 2,423
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)
Incumbent: Wendell Foster (can't
run in 2001)
Contributors to these candidates, according to the Campaign
Jonathan Agosto has not filed
to Michael Benjamin
to Anthony Curry
to Helen Foster
Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District
TRANSCRIPT OF CANDIDATE FORUM
Waiting for Empowerment
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with
the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household
income. The students in the area attend some of the city's worst
performing schools. Crime is high, asthma is prevalent, and many
people do not have access to health care.
But those who live there also point out that much is positive
and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations,
not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold
the neighborhoods together.
In an area facing many social challenges, there are hundreds
of groups trying their best to overcome them. Within a just few
blocks in the Highbridge neighborhood north of Yankee Stadium,
one can visit a home for women and children with AIDS, a community
center that provides job training and publishes its own community
newspaper, a community garden with an elaborate irrigation system,
and the Highbridge
Voices, a professional training choir for youth.
Even current Councilmember Wendell Foster, a pastor for the United
Church of Christ who has represented the district for the past
24 years, has seen himself as more of a minister to his constituents,
than a politician. "The totality of my career is based on my faith
in God and serving people," Foster once said. "I will never make
a political decision that conflicts with my faith."
So it is not surprising that the candidates for City Council
are campaigning on similar platforms. Each believes that through
their connections to churches and local organizations, they can
help them empower the community toward a better life.
Candidate Helen Foster, a hospital administrator, makes no attempt
to hide that, as Councilmember Foster's daughter, she wants to
keep the office in the family through her connection to local
churches. "The backbone of my campaign is the black church," said
Foster. "The first thing I did was meet with clergy and unions
to get their endorsements. We've been holding revival services
and then registering people to vote."
Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government
officials and serves on the board of a dozen community groups
in the Bronx, says he has the political as well as the community
experience. "Foster does not have a lock on the clergy," he says.
And Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist who heads a
community group called the "People-tians" that is focusing right
now on voter registration, has vowed that the public will help
set the agenda if he is elected. Curry said he decided to run
because "Benjamin comes from the Bronx political machine," and
Foster seems satisfied with the status quo "that has allowed the
district to decay."
Although the three candidates disagree on who would best represent
the area, they agree on many of the issues, and that something
must be done to keep it from falling further behind the rest of
District 16 has an especially urgent challenge in education since
it has the most young people of any district, with a third of
the population under the age of 18, and some of the lowest-scoring
schools in the city. "We have to create real incentives like housing
stipends and loan repayment to recruit qualified teachers to our
area," says Foster. "We need to not think its ok to put the least
experience teachers in our area."
Although a federally-funded empowerment zone reaches into a portion
of the district, much of the rest of the area is eager for jobs
and business to ease the unemployment and low incomes. "We have
some large employers in and near our area, like Yankee Stadium
and H.W. Wilson publishers, but they do not benefit the people
who live here," says Curry. "We need to give people ways to be
self employed, to create locally owned businesses."
Housing is another major concern. Although new one and two family
houses have been added to the area in recent years, there is still
a shortage of affordable housing. Benjamin said he hopes to put
together a plan to build 100,000 new apartment units over the
next five years that would combine efforts of real estate developers,
non-profits, and the city. "Real estate is the biggest business
in the city, but it is Manhattan-centric," Benjamin says. "I want
to bring some of that to the Bronx."
But before any of the candidates can tackle the issues they must
get elected in a district that is sometimes referred to as "Wendell's
Cave." The area got the name from its longtime council member
and the district's odd horseshoe shape which was drawn to create
a largely African-American district. Getting anyone to vote in
"Wendell's Cave," even for Wendell Foster himself, has not been
easy. This year's race could be decided by a few hundred votes.
First, the candidates will have to convince people their votes
will make a difference. "Our area has been socially and economically
deprived, and our people are disengaged from the process" says
Curry. The prospect of new representation and a new majority of
the Council, he adds, might help the area emerge from its problems.
"I can't see how they could do worse."
At a recent forum, the three Democratic candidates for district
16 in the Bronx told the audience of close to a hundred residents
about their plans for improving the area. (See full
transcript) They talked about getting more teachers, building
affordable housing, and creating better police relations.
But a teenager from the Community Youth Employment Program asked
the candidates a question that put the discussion in more practical
"Last year, Councilman Wendell Foster promised a speed bump on
166th and Sherman Avenue as of June 20, 2001," said Diamond Dessaline.
"What happened to the speed bump that was promised to us and how
can you promise us that we're going to get the speed bump placed
"That question goes directly to the heart of this particular
administration in terms of not being responsive to the Bronx and
getting us the things that we want," said Michael Benjamin. "Whether
it's a speed hump or other types of improvements in our neighborhoods."
"I would go out there, look at it," said Anthony Curry. "If needed,
even if we had to lay out in the street, I would make sure we
get a speed bump!"
"There may be a reason why the speed bump couldn't have been
put on 166th Street," answered Helen Foster, defending her father,
who was sitting in the audience. "And in a situation like that
you need to make sure that you call and you get an answer to your
question and you don't wait for an opportunity like this to ask
a question to a person who doesn't have the opportunity, and is
not afforded the opportunity, to answer the question."
The exchange was a theme for the evening as Michael Benjamin
and Anthony Curry campaigned against the record of longtime Councilman
Wendell Foster, and Helen Foster said her father had done many
good things for the area and that she hoped to carry on her father's
The candidates tried to make their best case for why he or she
should be elected in September.
"We need to have some community involvement with the police department,"
said Curry. "Get the police and community to do joint ventures
together. We need to be building homes together, so that the police
begin to become sensitive to the community, so we can begin to
know each other by the first name. We wa nt to know that the services
that are provided to us are provided to us in the same way they're
provided in other communities."
Foster agreed with both Curry and Benjamin on the issue of improving
police practice. "I think that the police in our area, in our
community, need to look like us and be one of us," she said. "When
I was growing up I knew my police officer, I knew my mailman,
and I knew the bus driver. These are things we need to get back
Another question asked the candidates about their plans to create
affordable housing and promote home ownership.
"I have been campaigning around creating 100,000 new housing
units in the Bronx and in the city throughout," answered Benjamin.
"And the housing, I believe, should not necessarily be private
home ownership. I believe that communities like ours survive best
when we have a community of people who live together, whether
it's in a multi-family dwelling or whether it's 50 or 60 units."
"As far as homes go," said Curry, "we need to have programs where
perhaps we could have persons who live in those communities --
who are interested in purchasing those homes ‰ÛÒ participate in
building those homes."
"If people want to have city contracts and receive city money,"
said Foster, "then they need to hire people in the area, in the
community, that's working on these buildings and also afford them
the opportunity to be able to rent these apartments by making
them affordable and having not-for-profit organizations, such
as the Ford Foundation and other foundations like that, come in
and help subsidize the building."
Jonathan Agosto is a graduate of Evander Childs High School.
He started a web design company called Service Site and his clients
include the American Artist Relief Organization Network and a
documentary web site of the late Opera Tenor, Mario Lanza.
Michael Benjamin is the downstate coordinator for State
Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene. He also served as legislative director
to City Councilmember Adolfo Carrion, as a state assembly aide
and district director for Congressman Jose Serrano. He grew up
in the Adams House/NYCHA in the South Bronx and attended Bronx
High School of Science. He has a BA from Syracuse University and
has done post graduate work at NYU and Hunter College. He has
been active with the Democratic Party since 1981.
Anthony Curry is a fair hearing representative for the
city's Human Resources Administration. He runs a youth program
called "Praise, Peace, and Pride."
Helen Foster is an assistant vice president of legal affairs
at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. She has worked as an assistant
district attorney in Manhattan. She attended Howard University
and CUNY School of Law. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees
at Christ Church in the Bronx.
The New York Times today endorsed a candidate in this race.District
16 (Highbridge Morrisania, Melrose): "Mr. Benjamin is energetic,
but his ties to the Bronx organization suggest Ms. Foster may
be the more independent. Our endorsement goes to Helen Foster."
The New York Times called this one of the ten races to watch.
In a three-way race to succeed Councilman Wendell Foster, a 24-year
veteran, the competition is fierce. One candidate is Helen Foster,
the daughter of the incumbent. Her most significant opponent is
Michael Benjamin, a Democratic district leader who has been endorsed
by the Bronx Democratic Party organization. And the party's prestige
is on the line in the race in this district, which includes Morrisania
and Highbridge. (New York Times)
Long-time chairwoman of Bronx Community Board 3 (Morrisania),
Marcela Brown, came out swinging upon news that she was not being
reappointed to the Community Board. Ms. Brown states that after
she decided to support Michael Benjamin over Foster's daughter
Helen, for the City Council seat from which Rev. Foster is term-limited,
she learned that she wouldn't be renominated. She blames Foster.
Foster replies that "the borough president makes appointments
to the community board, not me." But the borough president's spokesman
"declined to comment" on Brown's ouster from the board. (Inner
City Bronx Reporter)
The Bronx Democratic Organization endorsed Michael Benjamin (district
16). (NY Times)
BronxTalk included the three candidates in the 16th council district,
talk about the Claremont fire, sex shops, asthma, housing, education,
economic development. (Bronx
In an article about the sons and daughters of politicians running
for office, candidate Michael Benjamin complains that Councilmember
Wendell Foster is trying to set up a family dynasty in district
16. "Wendell Foster has the name recognition of ten years of taxpayer
funded mailings," says Benjamin. Helen Foster, of course, does
not see it this way. "The more I was out with my father, which
I've been doing since I was ten, more and more people expressed
an interest in my running," says Foster. (Gotham
The battle to fill a City Council seat in the Bronx is heating
up. It encompasses the borough's 16th District, which includes
Highbridge, Morris Heights, Concourse, Melrose, Morisania and
Longwood. Three candidates are in the running, and NY1 political
reporter Taina Hernandez introduces Helen Foster, Michael Benjamin,
and Anthony Curry. (NY1)
Supporters say farewell to Councilmember Foster and hope his daughter
will continue the family tradition. "There's not a person in this
room who wouldn't support her if she decided to run," said Councilmember