Zead Ramadan, Chair of CAIR-NY, Braces for NYC Council Run

Azi Paybarah from Capital New York Reports: The chairman of the board for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Zead Ramadan, has opened up a campaign committee to run for the New York City Council.

Ramadan is seeking to replace Robert Jackson, a three-term lawmaker who is leaving because of term limits and running for Manhattan borough president.

Jackson and most of the local Democratic establishment is backing Mark Levine, a district leader and founder of the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan. Levine’s candidacy received some attention outside the district when a fringe candidate sent emails attacking Levine because he is white. The district is among the city’s most racially diverse. It includes portions of the Upper West Side, Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights.

Ramadan is a member of Community Board 12 which covers the northern part of the district, and also owns the X Caffe, a popular eatery in Washington Heights. He’s also worked with more than half a dozen non-profit and community groups, including the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corportation, and others.

Ramanan’s biography is, in some ways, a classic American-immigrant story.

As he told it to me: His father was an illiterate Palestinian-born baker who cooked for soldiers in the Kuwaiti army for 17 years. In 1971, Ramadan’s family (mother, father, seven siblings) immigrated to New York.

He went to public school, now owns a cafe, and has advocated for more business opportunities and educational resources uptown. He thinks motorists are getting nickle-and-dimed by the city, enjoys giving speeches at schools, and has a discerning culinary palet.

The thing that’s very different, in the context of politics in staunchly pro-Israel New York, is Ramadan’s work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

During a nearly two-hour interview late last year before he formally opened his committee, Ramadan, said that if he decided to run, “I understand that I would be a lightning rod.”

CAIR has been a frequent target of Republicans and conservatives, which accuse it of being tolerant of terrorism, or worse.

Ramadan himself has been a frequent target of local anti-Muslim commentators, and several times during the interview Ramadan predicted opponents of CAIR would turn their attention to his campaign.

Ramadan said he is not running for public office in order to make a broader statement about about Israel, Palestine or the Middle East.

“I can’t affect the Middle East problem,” he told me, during an interview in a bakery in Astoria. “That’s so far above my head. If they want a talking head to say I’m for this side or I’m for that side, I think it’s useless. At the end of the day, and I don’t think it’s productive or helpful to the district’s needs.”

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