Marching to the Beat of a New Drum

How Fordham alumnus Mahfuzul Islam has reinvented campaigning on his road to the New York State Assembly

Mahfuzul+with+a+megaphone

COURTESY OF MAHFUZULFOR24

As a part of his campaign for New York State Assembly, Mahfuzul Islam, FCRH ‘13, commissioned a rap song titled “District 24” by New Jersey rapper Zo Morese.

By ETHAN COUGHLIN

How do you beat an incumbent of 10 years for a seat in the New York State Assembly? You’ve got to think outside the box and on the beat.

Mahfuzul Islam, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’13, is running for the District 24 seat in the New York State Assembly, a district that primarily encompasses the Queens Village neighborhood in Queens. “I decided to run for office as a result of seeing how much the demographics have changed,” Mahfuzul, a lifelong resident of District 24, said. Since 1971, the populations of both the working class and South Asian demographics have increased, a change not reflected in the district’s representation.

Mahfuzul is running a grassroots campaign completely funded by the public and has proved to be the biggest competition to David Weprin, who has held the seat for 10 years.

Weprin has run virtually unopposed every term. Before David Weprin, his brother Mark Weprin was the assemblyman for the district, and before that, their father Saul Weprin held the seat. Mahfuzul is using novel ideas and unique tactics to try and remove the old dynasty from office. 

Mahfuzul was proud to add that much of his campaign team is not from the traditional political background, like himself. “The benefit of that is that the team brought new and interesting ideas,” Mahfuzul said, “and always try to push the boundaries in different ways.”

One of those new and interesting ideas was the campaign rap song “District 24.”

There’s a bigger purpose than just making music and being on a radio … your voice is so powerful that you can create change.”

— Zo Morese

The idea of the song was to “harken back to how elections work in other parts of the world,” Mahfuzul said, “where when, during times of election, you would have music playing on the streets (when an) election is coming, have a repeating of either music or actual drums or a parade. It has a signaling that the elections are coming, and so we wanted to kind of replicate that in our own way here, and maybe a song would be a great idea.”

That’s where New Jersey rapper Alonso Dennis, better known as Zo Morese, came in. Zo Morese’s manager and personal trainer was doing a training session with one of Mahfuzul’s campaign staffers when he heard they were looking for some music for the campaign.

While Zo Morese says he takes inspiration from a number of rappers and motivational speakers, it’s his parents whom he cited as his biggest influences overall.

“They just keep me grounded and they keep me humble. And just remind me that what I’m doing is very important. And there’s a bigger purpose than just making music and being on a radio … your voice is so powerful that you can create change. And that’s one thing that stays with me,” Zo Morese said. “So when Mahfuzul contacted me to make this song, I didn’t think about the money or the opportunity for views, I was more concerned about maybe I could create some type of reaction for District 24, for a positive reaction, especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now.”

Zo Morese was only given a week to make the track, but Mahfuzul’s campaign liked his work so much that they flew him to New York from Orlando where he had been working on his album so that he could shoot the music video for “District 24.” 

The music video was shot entirely in District 24 and includes many streets, restaurants and other places that Mahfuzul said locals should recognize, including the childhood home of President Trump. 

On June 22, Mahfuzul ran the 8-mile length of his district followed by a car playing the song the entire way. “We had ideas where we wanted to play the music as a way to bring the town hall to the people,” Mahfuzul said, since they can’t have town halls in an enclosed space due to the novel coronavirus.

“District 24” can be streamed on all major streaming services, and the music video is accessible on YouTube.