African Immigrants in Bronx Vie for City Council Seat

RUNNING HARD: Ahmadou Diallo, Abiodun Bello and Bola Omotosho are among the candidates competing for the City Council seat in the Bronx’ District 16.

By Elly W. Yu

Published in New York Daily News on March 1, 2013

Three African-born men and a daughter of African immigrants are vying to represent the Bronx on the City Council, as the borough’s burgeoning West African community tries to gain a political foothold.

Historically known as the “black seat,” District 16 is currently held by Councilwoman Helen Foster, who is prevented by term limits from running again.

“The Africans from the continent have been taken for granted for far too long,” said one of the candidates, Abiodun Bello, a Nigerian immigrant and tax auditor for the city Finance Department. “This will give us a chance to be at the table.”

Three of the four candidates attended a recent forum organized by the new United African Coalition, which is expected to endorse one candidate soon.

About 50 people, including imams, pastors, and residents, turned out at Bronx Community College to hear the candidates’ positions.

In addition to Bello, the other two candidates were Ahmadou Diallo, 49, an accountant and the founder of the Futa Islamic Center, from Guinea; and Bola Omotosho, 52, chairman of Community Board 5 and a doctor from Nigeria.

The fourth candidate, Naaimat Muhammed, 32, an aide in Foster’s office whose parents are from Ghana and Togo, was unable to attend.

The competition symbolizes a political coming-of-age for the immigrant community, said Jennifer Gray-Brumskine, a community activist for Liberians on Staten Island and a member of the coalition.

“It shows that we’re moving up,” she said.

The Bronx is home to about half of the city’s West African immigrants. In District 16, which includes Morrisania, Highbridge and Melrose, there were about 7,500 West Africans, according to the 2010 census.

“To win, you really have to cross groups. You have to form a coalition with people who are part of the power structure,” said Andrew Beveridge, demographer and professor of sociology at Queens College. “There aren’t enough Africans up there.”

He says the candidates will have a formidable opponent in Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson, an African-American woman, who announced her candidacy for Foster’s seat.

But the hopefuls said they have political experience: Diallo was a campaign finance manager for State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson; Bello has been involved in the school district and was elected president for his union; and Omotosho serves as Community Board 5 chairperson.

“If we are not involved in politics, we can’t make a difference,” said Diallo, who is related by marriage to Amadou Diallo, the unarmed immigrant who was fatally shot by police in 1999.

Omotosho said, “I wasn’t elected as community board chairman as an African or physician.” When asked by forum attendee where he was from, he replied, “I’m from the Bronx.”

“If you read about the making of the Bronx, then you will learn that it is a county of immigrants,” said Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, chairperson of the coalition. “We are the latest whose contributions will be very soon by felt by everybody.”


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