District 16 Highbridge/Morrisania/Melrose

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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what many are calling New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history.

What is so significant about it?
For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

Why will the races be so open?
There are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

What does this have to do with this site?
As a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate page for each race, including all the races for City Council, that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn about the issues, and the districts themselves.

Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government group in the city (founded in 1897).

What's wrong with the way the regular press covers the races?
That is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial press.

Who are we?


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Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002

General Election Results

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

Primary Election Results

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)

The Candidates:

Contributors to these candidates, according to the Campaign Finance Board:

Jonathan Agosto has not filed
Contributors to Michael Benjamin
Contributors to Anthony Curry
Contributors to Helen Foster

City's Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District 16


Campaign Feature:
[Campaign Update]

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.

Area Profile
For a detailed profile of this district from City Project, click here.


  • Hispanic: 54 %
  • Black, non-Hispanic: 43%
  • White, non-Hispanic: 2%
  • Asian: 1%

Median income:$20,112 (Ranks 51st out of 51)

Unemployment rate: 17%

For more information on this district -- its schools, its crime statistics and more -- click here.

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 the city.

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."

Posted 3/26/01

Campaign Update:

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 terms.

"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 there?"

"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 legacy.

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 to."

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 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."

Posted 8/1/01

Candidate Biographies

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.


Campaign Trail

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 Talk)

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 Gazette)

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 Foster. (Daily News)



Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. 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. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

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Board of Elections
32 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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