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Posted Wednesday, February 21, 2007
City Council Gets First Member Born in Haiti

In a special election that highlighted the complicated Caribbean politics of central Brooklyn, Dr. Mathieu Eugene was elected to the City Council yesterday, becoming the Council’s first Haitian-born member. He will take the seat vacated by Yvette D. Clarke after her election to Congress in November.

Dr. Eugene, a physician who runs a youth program in Brooklyn, prevailed in a special election that included 10 candidates in a Council district with a large number of Caribbean-American voters.

With 95 percent of the votes counted, Dr. Eugene received 43 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results by the New York City Board of Elections. In second place was Jennifer N. James, 34, a former campaign aide to Ms. Clarke, with 15 percent of the vote. Wellington Sharpe, 62, a businessman in the district who ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate in 2004, was third, with about 12 percent of the vote.

“We are making history,” Dr. Eugene, 54, said in an interview from his campaign headquarters on Flatbush Avenue. “I’m so happy and delighted. This is a new era. And our mission now is to bring everyone together to work for the best interests of the community.”

The seat, in the 40th Council District, has had a special significance to Caribbean-Americans. The district covers parts of Flatbush and Crown Heights, and has been known as a hotbed of political activism over issues like police brutality and immigration rights.

Ms. Clarke’s mother, Una, made history by becoming the first Jamaican-born member of the Council in 1991. And Yvette Clarke succeeded her mother in the Council in 2001 before going to Congress in January. Both Clarkes were strong supporters of Dr. Eugene, which proved to be crucial endorsements.

But Dr. Eugene had other support, including the endorsement of Representative Anthony D. Weiner and several Council members. He also had endorsements ranging from labor groups like 1199 United Healthcare Workers East, the politically influential health care union, to Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-American rapper formerly of the Fugees.

The district is home to a significant number of New York City’s Haitian-Americans. In 2000, according to figures by the City Planning Commission, there were about 100,000 Haitian-born New Yorkers. And Haitian-American civic associations now suggest that the number of New Yorkers of Haitian descent could be as high as 200,000.

“This is extraordinary because we’re seeing history being made right before our eyes,” Representative Clarke said last night. “The City Council district has an extraordinary new member who will fight for the concerns of all the people of this district.”

The contest was particularly important to Brooklyn’s Haitian-American political and civic leaders. In fact, they held meetings to narrow the field of Haitian-American candidates. The group selected Ferdinand Zizi, a health care administrator, but he withdrew from the race while his petitions were being challenged, leaving Dr. Eugene as the sole Haitian-American running. Dr. Eugene’s candidacy received attention from news media outlets in Haiti, which closely followed the race.

The race was an important one for Ms. Clarke, who had close ties with several of the candidates. By strongly endorsing Dr. Eugene, she placed on the line a good deal of her political prestige, and his victory helps establish her more firmly as a political force in central Brooklyn.

In another special election, on Staten Island, Assemblyman Vincent M. Ignizio was elected yesterday to fill the City Council seat formerly held by Andrew J. Lanza, a Republican who was elected to the State Senate in November.

As a Republican assemblyman in a heavily Republican district, Mr. Ignizio won handily over Emanuele Innamorato, 42, a longtime South Shore resident and deputy director of technology for the City of Yonkers. While the island’s Democratic officials vigorously supported Mr. Innamorato, that proved insufficient in the 51st Council District, which includes Staten Island’s south shore.

The Board of Elections said that with all of the votes counted, Mr. Ignizio received 72 percent of the vote, with Mr. Innamorato receiving 27 percent, in unofficial results.

By winning, Mr. Ignizio will have to resign from the Assembly, which will cause another special election, perhaps in March. He said he wanted to go to the Council because he believed he could do more for the district, especially in areas like zoning.

As was the case in Brooklyn, the election was nonpartisan, and candidates could not run under the banner of established political parties. But Mr. Ignizio recently stepped down as chairman of the Staten Island Republican Party to run for the Council seat.

Mr. Ignizio, 32, had become well known to voters in the district, not only because of his two years in the Assembly, but also because of his years as an aide to two of his predecessors in the Council: Mr. Lanza and, earlier, Stephen J. Fiala.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, New York Report, of Wednesday, February 21, 2007.

RELATED TEXT: Haitian candidate for N.Y. City Council

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