A half-dozen Democrats square off in Sept. 9 primary
Six candidates face off for the New York State Assembly’s 79th district seat, which represents Melrose, Morrisania, and other South Bronx neighborhoods, in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
The winner will go against the lone Republican candidate, Selsia Evans, in the Nov. 4 general election. Evans ran in 2012 on the Conservative Party ticket, receiving less than one percent of the vote.
The Assembly seat was last held by Eric Stevenson, who is serving a three year prison term for accepting $22,000 in bribes from four men to expedite the opening of two adult day care centers in the district and draft legislation to stop would-be competitors from opening other senior centers. Stevenson was forced to vacate the seat when he was convicted in January. In the 2012 election, he received over 97 percent of the nearly 30,000 votes cast in the district, which is home to about 140,000 people, according to the 2010 census.
The Bronx Democratic County Committee, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and a number of unions have endorsed Marsha Michael, a lawyer who works as a law clerk for a Justice in State Supreme Court.
But a former organizer on Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns, Michael Blake, has raised more money than his competitors.
As of mid-August, Blake, 31, had put together a war chest of about $200,000.
“Those charged with helping us have let us down,” said Blake in a phone interview in August, referring to both Stevenson and former 79th District Assembly member Gloria Davis, who pled guilty to taking bribes in 2003. Young people in particular, he said, are disillusioned by the greed of those in power, the lack of opportunities and the failure of elected officials to deliver on their promises.
“The system is not working for them,” he said. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Blake has preached as a lay minister in Bronx churches since he was a teen. Improving the educational system is the key to changing the area’s fortunes, and grassroots activism is the only way to win youth over, he said. “
There aren’t too many folks who went to Washington then came home. That’s a continual thread of someone from the Bronx wanting to give back,” said Blake, who served as the Associate Director for the White House Office of Public Engagement between stints stumping for the president.
Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Blake could remain on the ballot after his opponents had tried to have him thrown off, claiming he didn’t live in the area for the requisite five years. He had used his mother’s Norwood address before moving back to the city from Washington in 2013. He now lives in Morrisania.
Blake counts 1199SEIU, the healthcare workers union among his endorsements.
Another of the candidates, George Alvarez, 39, says he has his friends to thank for his entry into the field. The Dominican-born Alvarez, who received a Masters degree in Computer Science in Spain, launched Apple Consultants, a consulting firm, through which he has helped Latino politicians like Nelson Castro and Adriano Espaillat run their campaigns.But, he says, colleagues persuaded him to switch gears and run himself this time.
Speaking at his campaign office on the second floor of an industrial building near Boricua Community College in Melrose, Alvarez said that, if elected he would create training opportunities for prospective entrepreneurs, push for increased police patrols and, above all, fight for added investment for South Bronx schools.
“Resources are coming into the city by zip codes,” he said, adding that local schools are performing well below what is acceptable. He has a daughter in kindergarten in Mott Haven. Elected officials must push to ensure the area receives its fair share of public investment for jobs.
“Our unemployment rate is three times the national average,” he said. “We’re not seeing the money flowing into the district. There’s a lot of new construction here, but the work force is from elsewhere.”
If the Democratic Committee’s recent history of endorsing candidates for the job is an accurate indicator of trustworthiness, Alvarez warned, voters should think twice before pulling the lever for the power brokers’ choice in this year’s primary, Marsha Michael.
“I cannot tell you that the machine is picking questionable people,” he added. “But the fact that [previous Assembly members] got in trouble is not a coincidence. We have to let the people decide.”
The remaining candidates are Raul Rodriguez, who serves as parent coordinator at Fannie Lou Hamer School in Soundview, and two latecomers to the race, Frederick Ricks and Lanita Jones.