Rafael Salamanca voted to City Council

Rafael Salamanca

Community Board 2’s district manager wins special election to replace Maria del Carmen Arroyo

Rafael Salamanca, the candidate endorsed by the Bronx County Democratic Committee and the district manager of Community Board 2, is the apparent winner in the special election for the 17th district of the City Council, representing Hunts Point, Longwood, Melrose, Soundview and East Tremont.

With over 96 percent of the votes counted in five South Bronx precincts, Salamanca had tallied 1294 votes, about 40 percent of the total number of votes cast. Melrose-based businessman George Alvarez, had 786 votes to finish second. Julio Pabon, a sports memorabilia small businessman and criminal justice reform advocate, was third with 494.

Three other candidates—J. Loren Russell, a Melrose minister and financial planner; Joann Otero, the former chief of staff to outgoing Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo; and banker Marlon Molina trailed well behind.

Arroyo resigned on Dec. 31 to accept a lucrative position as vice president of administration with a Bronx-based nonprofit that provides drug treatment and transitional housing for the homeless. Salamanca will serve out the rest of Arroyo’s term, which ends in November 2017.

Though Salamanca, 36, is a registered Democrat, he ran on the party line of Community First as a requirement of the nonpartisan special election.

Voter turnout was light in the evening hours at a polling station at the Michelangelo Apartments across from Lincoln Hospital in Mott Haven. Many residents even said they were unaware an election was taking place.When a reporter asked one retiree what his impressions were of the voting process, he expressed surprise to hear there was an election going on. He asked the reporter for directions to the polling station, and then for advice on which candidate was best, before turning around to cast his vote.

Another resident of the complex, Mark Hirsch, said he votes in every election, but added he is not representative of the way Mott Haven votes.

“I am probably the only Republican over here,” Hirsch said. “I voted down the line; conservative and Republican.”

The voting machines were located in a room with a door at the corner of a gated courtyard accessible mainly to residents of the complex. More than a dozen other residents passed in front of the polling place, unaware that voting was taking place inside.

Voters were scarce in other polling locations as well. A security guard manning the polls at Hostos Community College said that not a single voter came during a two-hour stretch in the late afternoon. Less than 4,000 voters are expected to turn out.

At the Michelangelo Apartments, some residents said they were making the most of the opportunity to elect a new representative for the neighborhood. Jaclyn Fortune, a 22-year resident of the complex, voted because she wants the winning candidate to make changes in her community.

“I am looking for them to rebuild the Bronx back up,” Fortune said. “And to get all the riffraff that they have in the complex and in the projects. To kinda clean it up.”

The staff of the Melrose housing advocacy group Nos Quedamos went door to door in a Melrose Avenue apartment building on Monday and Tuesday, trying to bring out as many voters as they could. For weeks prior to election day, they had gone to some of the area’s many homeless shelters to register adults to vote. But on election day, they said, the city’s Dept. of Homeless Services denied them access to those same shelters to accompany the voters to the polls.

“Agencies assume people don’t care and that’s how they ended up in their situation,” said Ana Melendez, Nos Quedamos’ community development and program manager. “But in this case, part of your job is getting people out of the shelter, making people more civically engaged. ” said Melendez. “If they let us (bring people out to vote), we’d do it.”

But the group was able to encourage some voters by going door to door in some of the Melrose apartment buildings it manages. One woman, Janelle Taylor, 35, said that knock on her door was the extra encouragement she needed to get out out to vote.

“It put me over the edge — the more community outreach you have the better,” said Taylor. “It’s better to hear (about the candidates) from a person than see (info in) a chart. I definitely appreciate that. I wasn’t thinking of voting and now I am.”

Taylor said crime is the issue that causes her most concern, especially since she has a young child. Melendez and fellow organizer Ely Diaz provided a rundown of the candidates, their backgrounds and their views on the issues.

Despite all the weeks of urging residents to register and vote, Melendez said, persuading voters to get to the polls remained an uphill battle.

“Even though we knocked on thousands of doors, not everyone was spoken to. Not everyone knows this happening,” she said.  There’s not enough time to change people’s mind about the voting process.”

Additional reporting by Michael H. Wilson and Victoria Edwards.