Eleven candidates vie for open City Council seat

Voters to choose Arroyo’s replacement on Feb. 23

In a special election to be held on Feb. 23, a crowded field of candidates is vying to replace Maria del Carmen Arroyo on the New York City Council.

Arroyo, who had represented Hunts Point, most of Longwood, Port Morris and part of Mott Haven, left office on Dec. 31, a month after her surprise announcement that she was stepping down “to address pressing family needs.” Later in December, she announced she is accepting a $220,000 position as vice president of administration at the Acacia Network, a Bronx-based non-profit that provides transitional housing for the homeless and rehab treatment for drug users.

Nine men and women declared their candidacies in December or early January, and two undeclared candidates joined the race by submitting nominating petitions on Jan. 19.

The campaign is a sprint, lasting just 45 days. The candidates are all Democrats, but because it is a special election, they are not allowed to run on the labels of established political parties.

The candidates, with their party lines, are:

George Alvarez, Bronx for All, a political activist who ran unsuccessfully to represent Morrisania and Melrose in the State Assembly in 2014
Carlton A. Curry, Lower Our Rent, who sought to represent Morris Heights, Mount Eden and Highbridge in the Assembly
Helen Foreman-Hines, The People First, the former political project director of SEIU 1199, the health care workers union, and a member of Bronx Community Board 9
Marlon Molina, Bronx Renewal, a member on Bronx Community Board 3 and a founding member of the Bronx Volunteer Coalition
Joann Otero, Strong Together, Arroyo’s chief of staff
Julio Pabon, Bronx Not for Sale, a businessman who ran an insurgent campaign against Arroyo in 2013
John Perez, Choice for Change, a Desert Storm veteran who lives in Unionport, and ran for Judicial Delegate last year before being knocked off the ballot by the Bronx County Democratic Committee
Elliot Quinones, Our Town, of Elliot Quinones & Associates, a tax accounting firm in the BankNote Building in Hunts Point
Rev. James Loren Russell, Rebuilding Our BX, an associate minister at the Greater Universal Baptist Church in Melrose
Rafael Salamanca, Community First, district manager of Community Board 2, who is the candidate of the Bronx Democratic County Committee
Amanda Septimo, Bronx Values, the district director for Congressman Jose E. Serrano

Fewer candidates are likely to be on the ballot come Election Day. Each candidate is required to gather 450 valid signatures, which are subject to challenge from their opponents. Conventional wisdom says to be sure of staying on the ballot a candidate needs at least twice the number of required names.

A hearing will be held on Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. at the Board of Elections for the board’s commissioners to review the petitions. Candidates then have three days to file appeals in State Supreme Court.

Several of the candidates appear to be in trouble. Hines, Perez and Quinones tallied fewer than 600 signatures each, leaving them highly vulnerable to challenges from their opponents. Molina and Curry did slightly better, with 663 and 809 signatures, respectively.

To add to their troubles, Hines and Curry submitted certificates of acceptance marking their official entry into the campaign, on Jan. 20, a day after the Jan. 19 deadline.

Another candidate facing an uphill challenge is Septimo, the 25-year-old upstart. Despite tallying an impressive 1,986 signatures, which tied with Pabon for the most of all the candidates, Septimo is in danger of being tossed off the ballot. The Board of Elections says that she violated the special elections’ non-partisan rule when she originally named her party line Democratic Values. Though she renamed it Bronx Values as soon as she realized the error, she faces a hurdle when her team goes before the board on Feb. 8.

The Bronx Young Democrats, which on its website calls itself a “youth-led grassroots political organization that mobilizes young people under the age of 36 to participate in the electoral process,” and to “influence the ideals of the Democratic Party” has filed objections against all of the candidates except Salamanca, Hines-Foreman and Curry.

Latecomers Perez and Quinones have not registered for the city’s campaign finance program, which aims to level the political playing field by providing public funds for candidates who agree to limit the size of any single contribution to $1,375 and who gather small contributions from residents of the district they seek to represent. Of the other nine candidates, Alvarez, Curry, Foreman-Hines and Molina are far from meeting the requirements of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the program (see accompanying story).

The short time for campaigning makes it difficult to build support, said Jerry Skurnik, founder of the political consulting firm Prime New York, which took part briefly in Marlon Molina’s effort to gather signatures..

“You have less time to meet people,” he said, making fund-raising difficult. But, “The main challenge is the turnout. The turnout is going to be much lower in a special election like this,” he said. “People are just not used to voting in February.”

When Arroyo won her seat in a special election in 2005 after Jose M. Serrano, the congressman’s son won election to the State Senate, she needed fewer than 1,900 votes. Just 3,806 people cast ballots. When she ran again in the general election the following November, 25,000 voters cast ballots.

Residents who have not registered to vote can still do so, in person until Feb. 13 at the Board of Elections, 32 Broadway, 7th floor, or by mail with a form postmarked no later than Jan. 29, received by the board by Feb. 3.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters can locate their polling place by calling the Board of Elections at 1-866-VOTE-NYC or searching on-line at http://vote.nyc.ny.us/html/home/locator_updates.shtml.

Additional reporting by Erica Jackson and Annie Nova.