Crucial seats in play in Tuesday primaries

When South Bronx voters cast their votes in Democratic primary elections this Tuesday, June 23, they will be entering new political terrain. 

Gone from the ballot is Rep. Jose E. Serrano, who is retiring after representing the South Bronx in Congress for 30 years. Serrano announced last year that he will step down due to declining health.

Twelve candidates are vying to replace Serrano in the 15th congressional district. The winner will become the prohibitive favorite in the Nov. 3 general election, in a district where Republicans have been little more than cannon fodder for decades.

See two recent debates and interviews with the 12 candidates, here and here. (Editor’s note: Diaz Sr. and Escoffery-Bey declined invitations to participate in these and other debates.) 

In alphabetical order, the D-15 candidates are:

Community activist Frangell Basora;

Assemblyman and former Obama campaign activist Michael Blake;

City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., whose flamboyant and outspoken social conservatism has earned the scorn of his competitors, but whose deliberate absence from public forums has kept him beyond the reach of their criticism;

Mark Escoffery-Bey.

Former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose then-council district included Mott Haven, and whose legacy included closing Rikers and siting a new jail in Mott Haven;

Community organizer Samelys López, who recently made headlines by landing an endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who faces a primary challenge of her own in the neighboring 14th congressional district. Her campaign boasted of having received 10,000 individual donations, with an average donation of $19 as of last week. 

Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Greater NY Chivona Newsome;

Mott Haven entrepreneur Julio Pabón;

Program director at Bronx River Community Center Tomas Ramos;

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez of Northern Manhattan;

Legal consultant Marlene Tapper;

and Councilman Ritchie Torres, who has recently taken heat from victims of NYPD violence claiming Torres’ political ambitions compromise his ability to fight for police reforms.

Torres has far outspent all the other candidates, having raised $1,358,138.96, of which he spent $856,531.23 as of latest federal filing data. That leaves him with just over $500,000 on hand. Blake raised the second-most: $831,991.35 and spent $705,647.57, leaving him with $126,343.

With the exception of Rev. Diaz Sr., the candidates all tout progressive policies.

The Herald/Express asked the candidates for short summaries of how they distinguish themselves. Basora, López, Mark-Viverito, Pabón, Torres responded.

By running, Blake will leave his seat at the helm of New York’s Assembly District 79 open. The district includes Melrose and points north, through Tremont.

Six candidates are vying to replace him: former Bronx County party leader George Alvarez, minister and district leader Cynthia Cox, school social worker and Blake chief of staff Chantel Jackson, Dion Powell, who spent three years as Blake’s community liaison, Morrisania-based community activist Elvis Santana and convicted felon Eric Stevenson, who is trying to mount a comeback despite a 2014 conviction for bribery while serving as assemblyman in the very same district.

In 2014 Alvarez finished third in a primary for the same seat. Then in a 2016 special election for city council, he finished second in a crowded field to County’s candidate, Rafael Salamanca Jr., with nearly a quarter of the votes.

Arroyo out

While primaries are held for several local seats, the 84th Assembly district will go without one. That is because incumbent Carmen Arroyo was tossed off the Democratic ticket last month.
In May, the New York State Court of Appeals found that more than half of Arroyo’s 944 campaign petitions were fraudulently backdated, leaving her challenger, 29-year-old labor organizer

Amanda Septimo, as the lone Democrat in the race. The district takes in Hunts Point, Mott Haven and points east to Yankee Stadium.
Septimo, a Hunts Point native, previously worked as district director for Rep. Jose E. Serrano.

The Board of Elections has sued Arroyo multiple times over the years for failing to file campaign financial disclosures.

She was first elected to the Assembly in 1994, the first Puerto Rican woman ever elected to the chamber.

In another major local shift, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo announced earlier this year that he is calling it quits. He will seek a position in the private sector, leaving the 85th Assembly District open. Crespo, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2009, has chaired the Bronx County Democratic Committee since 2015, and was a rumored favorite to succeed Ruben Diaz Jr. as Bronx borough president when Diaz Jr. planned a mayoral run. But Diaz Jr’s own unexpected withdrawal from politics was soon followed by Crespo’s.

Two relative little-knowns will square off against each other to take over the 85th District: Kenneth Burgos, 26, who handles budget issues for Diaz Sr., and businessman William Moore. Moore ran for city council on the Reform and Democratic tickets several times between 2013 and 2018, and in 2017 garnered 4.33% of the vote.

Moore also ran for the District 85 Assembly seat in 2014 and 2016. In his biography he points to prior duties as a deputy press person for then Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and his experience as co-founder of Black United Leadership of the Bronx.

Burgos’ link to the powerful Diaz Sr. give him an apparent advantage.

In the Democratic primary for the 34th New York State Senate seat, which includes a small sliver of the Hunts Point waterfront, incumbent Alessandra Biaggi faces off against James Gisondi. See a debate here. 

And in a primary for the 32nd State Senate, incumbent Luis Sepulveda runs against Pamela Stewart-Martinez and John Perez.

Here’s the poll site indicator. Put in your address to find out where you can go to cast your ballot in person on Tuesday.

The Board of Elections says that voters are still eligible to vote in person even if they didn’t receive their ballots in the mail.
In-person absentee at a local BOE office on Monday, June 22, will take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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