Marcus Johnson's City Council race was over before it started.
“It just seemed like it was going to be a big open race, which would have been fun,” said the normally ebullient 24-year old. “I don’t think a race against an eight-year incumbent is gonna be fun.”
It's not as if he was taking it too lightly. Early this year, Johnson filed papers, formed a campaign committee and registered a domain name to run for Council in Bronx District 12.
But after the City Council voted to extend term-limits for city lawmakers, suddenly Democratic incumbent Larry Seabrook—the first black politician from New York to serve in three legislative branches–was back in business.
“When I first heard about it, I was like, 'Sweet, Bloomberg,'” explained Johnson. “And then I was like, 'Hm, that kind of screws up my plans a little bit.'”
Johnson decided to run when he moved home after graduating from Columbia College in 2007 and saw something he hadn't growing up: a dilapidated neighborhood that the city seemed to value less than Morningside Heights.
(The north Bronx district includes Co-op City, Baychester and Williamsbridge)
So Johnson, a marching band leader who won his position in Columbia’s University Senate by talking to everyone in every elevator for a year (“I’m more of a soft sell than a hard sell,” he says) decided to throw in his hat.
“I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I was watching the Obama campaign, and I was like, 'I can do that,'” he said.
But things are different now that Seabrook will likely run for re-election. Seabrook represented the area in the Assembly beginning in 1984, and then in the State Senate, before losing a Democratic primary to Eliot Engel in 2000 and running for City Council.
Also, about a third of District 12 lives in Co-op city, and although Johnson went to junior high there and still has a few friends, Seabrook lives there.
Johnson is pretty sure he’ll use the next five years to go to law school. He likes his job at a city agency he didn't want to name, but also says he wouldn’t make it his career.
“Rising through the ranks of city bureaucracy? That sounds horrible,” he said, almost recoiling. “I’ve never been good at standing in line. If the line’s too long, I’ll just go to another place.”
In between now and when signature gathering to get on the ballot starts next spring, though, you never can be sure what might happen. Apparently Britney Spears has been wandering around the Bronx, handing out money to middle schools, and perhaps a ffresh-faced would-be politician.
“The Britney endorsement? That would be so huge. Ahh, that would be great,” Johnson laughed. “Britney, it’s better for you than for me.”