Cheryl Pahaham wants to meet you.
In a race that a number of local political heavyweights may soon enter, Pahaham has wasted no time in beginning her campaign to fill Robert Jackson’s City Council seat. And without a previously established support network in the greater 7th District, Pahaham is working to build a base.
“Local races can sometimes be like popularity contests, so whoever has the biggest club and throws the most parties is often going to win,” said Pahaham, an Inwood resident and former vice chair of the local community board. “Politics is very local. It’s an insider’s club.”
Her proactive approach has made her one of only two candidates to have officially declared their candidacy for the office. Although a number of prominent local politicians, including Democratic District Leader Mark Levine and former Democratic district leaders April Tyler and Maria Luna, have publicly voiced interest in running for the seat being vacated by the term-limited Jackson, Pahaham’s only opponent to file with the Campaign Finance Board is Mark Otto, an assistant principal at a midtown school and a newcomer to the political scene.
In fact, Pahaham says the race’s lack of a clear frontrunner, combined with the experience she gained while serving on Community Board 12, was a major factor in her decision to run.
“If there was a strong, positive candidate who was at the forefront at the beginning, I don’t think I would be here,” Pahaham said. “I would be supporting that candidate.”
A native of Danbury, Conn., Pahaham describes local politics as a test of one’s ability to earn the trust of local constituents, but she’s not worried about being perceived as an outsider.
“Winning elections is not just about who you are,” she said. “It’s about how you connect with voters and how you convince people in your district that you really care and you’re going to fight for them. So it’s about being a really good campaigner.”
Despite her relative lack of experience, Pahaham believes her background still gives her a unique insight into city politics, as well as the notoriously difficult craft of political campaigning. In addition to serving on the community board, Pahaham also worked as chief municipal financial analyst in the state comptroller’s office, where she helped audit city agencies and worked on the office’s strategic plan.
While she cited mass transit and environmental protection as major issues about which she is passionate, Pahaham said there is not a singular issue that will define her campaign or the race itself.
“I have a broad knowledge of policy, and I see connections in a lot of different areas of policy that can help my constituents,” Pahaham said. “It isn’t just education, it isn’t just social services, or transportation, or health, or the environment. It’s all those things.”
Most recently, Pahaham has been vocal in her opposition to the redistricting plans for the 2013 election cycle. Under the city redistricting plan, her home would fall outside of the 7th District and she could face a more difficult election process.
“There is something disturbing about people who are now in office making decisions that have a long term impact in the future,” she said. “They are basically choosing candidates.”
Unlike her potential rivals, who have held off on declaring their candidacies because the district boundaries are still in flux, Pahaham has decided to enter the race before the process is complete.
“I’ve worked hard to be a part of things here,” Pahaham said. “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.”