Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/robert-rodriguez 2017-10-23T02:34:43+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com In Surprise to Some, Diana Ayala Victorious in Tight Primary 2017-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7197:in-surprise-to-some-diana-ayala-appears-on-verge-of-victory Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv-ayala.jpg" alt="mmv ayala" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito with Diana Ayala (photo: Samar Khurshid/GothamGazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The primary election on Tuesday saw incumbents retain power across most of the city and few upsets in contested races. But in one of the most competitive races of the day, a first-time candidate prevailed over a long-time elected official, overcoming an expected gap in name recognition and other deficits, in a City Council district struggling with concerns for its future and looking for its next local leader to advocate for its interests.</p> <p>District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, is the constituency of current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who faces term limits and cannot run for reelection. Four Democratic candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary to replace her: Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff and preferred successor; sitting state Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez; community activist Tamika Mapp; and former state Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>As soon as the field of candidates was clear, it was evident that it would be a race between Ayala and Rodriguez, with the sitting elected official coming into the race with distinct advantages, including in terms of raising funds.</p> <p>After months of tense campaigning, split establishment allegiances, and some mudslinging, it all came down to primary day, September 12, where -- like in most districts across the city -- the outcome would determine the next officeholder given the overwhelming Democratic advantage.</p> <p>A grueling day of crisscrossing the district to canvas for votes, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., culminated with a race that was too close to call once most of the returns were in. Yet, Ayala claimed victory with a margin of just 122 votes in a race that saw only 8,471 ballots cast. She received 3,705 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Rodriguez’s 3,583, good for 42.3 percent. Mapp took 814 votes and Martinez took 369.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ayala declared victory from Harley’s Smokeshack at 11:20 p.m. to a room full of allies and supporters, including Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez soon put out a public statement saying that every vote needed to be counted, given the possibility of affidavit and absentee ballots perhaps yet tallied. One week later, on September 19, all the ballots had been accounted for and Ayala still came out on top. "With all vote counting complete, I am proud to declare victory today," she said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>"El Barrio and the South Bronx are at a crossroads, like so many other communities in our City," she added. "I will fight tirelessly to ensure that we do everything to protect the lives and provide affordability for those who have grown up, are raising their families, or are retiring here." Rodriguez, who will continue to serve in the state Assembly, conceded defeat on Tuesday. "I offer my congrats to Diana Ayala, and I hope she can fulfill the promises she made," he said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 14 hours before she declared victory on primary day, Ayala was standing at the corner of East 109th Street and 2nd Avenue, asking residents for their votes.</p> <p>“My legs are starting to get numb,” said Ayala, around 8:30 a.m., already more than two hours into her time there, as the sun was beginning to warm the crisp morning air. Ayala shifted on her feet as she stood, arms folded at the waist, surveying the scene, as if steadying herself for the long day ahead. It was the first of many stops she would make.</p> <p>Campaign volunteer Joe Taranto, a top government aide to Mark-Viverito, passed out campaign literature as Ayala greeted each voter. “I feel good, I’m excited to see what the results will be,” she said, with a composure that she wouldn’t betray until she was saying she had won, holding back tears with a beaming smile on her face.</p> <p>Around 8:45 a.m., a campaign barker walked by across the street, yelling, “Vote for Robert Rodriguez for City Council, Robert Rodriguez for City Council!!” He had come from the 110th Street subway station where he had been spotted earlier.</p> <p>Ayala has worked for Mark-Viverito for nearly 12 years and, as her director of constituent services, she has been in direct contact with members of the community, hearing residents’ problems firsthand and seeking to help them as she could. It’s one of the reasons she expected that people would vote for her. “They know me personally, they know my work ethic,” she said. “They know I deliver.” It explains why voters recognize her on the street, why some stopped to hug her and wish her good luck.</p> <p>“The best team in the world! That’s my girl!,” exclaimed one voter, Susan Rodriguez, walking down the street seeing Ayala at the corner. Rodriguez, the founding director of Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research &amp; Treatment, a nonprofit, said Ayala had personally assisted her when the nonprofit faced an office space issue. “She’s been a champion of the community,” Rodriguez said. “She goes out of the way to help people. She’s always been accessible. She loves this community and you know that.”</p> <p>Seeing Ayala’s name on the ballot gave her “goosebumps,” Susan Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t need to put her name all over the place, We know her.”</p> <p>“Diana’s been a rock for our community and we’d be blessed and privileged to have her in the Council,” she added. “We love Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and she’s passing the torch to Diana, who will continue her legacy and build her own.”</p> <p>What about her main opponent, Robert Rodriguez? “I only hear about him when he’s running for something,” she said.</p> <p>Another voter, 95-year-old Josephine Surita had just walked out of PS/JHS 117 after voting for Ayala. “Diana la gana! Diana la gana!” she yelled in Spanish. “Diana will win! Diana will win!”</p> <p>It was 9 a.m. and time to head to PS 206, Ayala’s polling site. Ayala and Taranto hopped into her Toyota RAV4 and headed west. First, a quick stop at her favorite coffee cart at the corner of Lexington and 116th, where she gets a cup everyday. Ayala had been up since 2 a.m., she said, tossing and turning in bed, but not out of apprehension, she explained. “I tried to go to sleep early, but I only slept for four hours,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous, though; maybe subconsciously.”</p> <p>Standing in line for coffee, Ayala recounted how four years ago she’d worked, as part of Mark-Viverito’s staff, with the city to help find a suitable location for that very coffee vendor. The owner had faced harassment from a local business across the street where it was located earlier. Throughout the day, Ayala relayed similar anecdotes, pulled from her decade-plus working in the community. “Who are you gonna vote for?” the cart’s owner asked Ayala as she handed her two steaming cups. “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” Ayala chuckled.</p> <p>At the polling site, Ayala’s two adult children and her mother were already waiting. First she had to pick up 11-year-old Isaiah, the youngest of her four children, from the East River North apartments where she lives with her parents. “He’s my baby. He refuses to stop growing,” said the proud mother, who also has three grandchildren from her only daughter. “We measure the amount of time I’ve worked for Melissa by looking at him, because when I started working for her, he was born.”</p> <p>By 9:40 a.m., the entire clan was at PS 206 and soon they had cast their votes. Seeing her own name on the ballot “was a little surreal,” Ayala said with excitement.</p> <p>“She takes care of everybody,” said Abraham, 27, Ayala’s oldest son, thrilled after having just voted for his mom. “She’s always been for the community. She’s been about family, everybody’s her family. She’s just the best candidate. She’ll make sure she does what she has to do to make sure that everybody in the community will thrive and survive.”</p> <p>For Ayala, perhaps the hardest part of running for office, ostensibly a full-time commitment, was the time away from her children and grandchildren. And, at the same time, keeping them removed from what can sometimes be a nasty affair. She spoke of the time an independent group plastered the neighborhood with flyers that depicted her on all fours like a dog, and how she had to explain that to her children. “This is very new to them,” she said. “It can get pretty dirty out there and I didn’t want them tainted by that.”</p> <p>Her children played no small part in her decision to run for office. “If you had asked me three years ago, I would’ve said never,” she said of jumping headlong into a City Council campaign. Her kids were younger and needed their mother, and her infirm parents had also moved in with her. Her family has been supportive, and her youngest also appeared in a campaign ad for her. “They don’t need me anymore, they’re OK without me,” she said, with her typical chuckle. “It’s mama that misses them.”</p> <p>What drove her decision was term limits and the Speaker’s entreaties. The one-time term limit extension passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg had allowed Mark-Viverito to serve a third four-year term on the Council. “Because of term limits, it allowed us four more years, so a lot of things kinda settled,” Ayala said, “in a way that made it possible for me to consider this an option.”</p> <p>Her decision was made over time, in conversations with the speaker, who prodded Ayala to run. “I had never really thought about it,” Ayala said. “I don’t come from a political background. I consider myself more of a social services person. I wanna know the issues. I wanna know people. Even though I have an appreciation for politics, it does tend to get in the way of doing the work sometimes.”</p> <p>It was the realization, she said, that there were so few women on the City Council that pushed her across the line. “I figured, ‘If not me, then who?’ You don’t have to be a politician to run for office,” she said. The term that ends this year includes 13 women in the 51-seat Council. “We’re regular people with life experiences that have shaped who we are,” Ayala continue. “I think that my life experiences allow me some insight into my own community because a lot of the issues that I help constituents navigate through have been my issues.”</p> <p>Ayala regularly talks openly about her life experiences, which led her directly into public service. At the age of 17, she had her first child, whose father died a victim of gun violence earlier that year. She struggled with postpartum depression, and conflict at home with her mother meant that she couldn’t cope with the grief. She emancipated herself, and lived for a time in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side before moving to an apartment in the Bronx. She personally knows the difficulties of navigating the bureaucracy of public assistance offices.</p> <p>“Those kinds of interactions with social service providers that were not always positive left me with an interest of wanting to be helpful and doing it the right way,” she said. Alaya consistently talks on the campaign trail about how she sees the residents of the district through her lived experience. “A lot of people helped me and I just wanna give back,” she said.</p> <p>Just after 10 a.m., Ayala headed to PS 57, where she was met by Mark-Viverito, who had been stumping all morning for her preferred successor. Mark-Viverito’s popularity in the district is distinct. For many voters, she’s immediately recognizable and her opinion carries weight. “I’m not running for reelection so I need you to vote for Diana,” she told residents who passed the two at the corner. Several members of her staff volunteered for Ayala’s campaign. A few, including Taranto, took the day off to help drum up support.</p> <p>“I think that there’s a different level of energy that surrounds her campaign versus the opponent’s campaign,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette, confident of Ayala’s chances. “People are very excited and motivated and have a reason to vote for her...and I don’t get that same sense from the opposing side.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized that the race would hinge on the Ayala campaign’s ground game, which was extensive. Ayala said she had personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors over the course of the campaign and had a team of about 70 volunteers out on the streets on Tuesday, most of them women, urging voters to support her.</p> <p>For Mark-Viverito, Ayala’s campaign also carried the promise of fighting greater gender imbalance on the City Council. The 51-member body had 18 women in 2009, but is down to 13 and was at risk of dropping to single digits. The speaker has been spearheading a movement to improve women’s representation on the legislative body, aiming ultimately to elect more women in 2021 when more than 30 seats will be up for grabs -- the goal is 21 women on the Council through the next cycle. Mark-Viverito called the current gender imbalance “appalling” and pointed to other City Council races where she has tried to support women candidates to ensure what is the best-case scenario given the current situation. “If we work hard, maybe we’ll be able to make it stay the same, that’s my hope at least,” she said, “I would love to gain a little bit...Right now, to stay at least treading water is what we need to do.”</p> <p>Around 11:30 a.m., it was time for the operation to move across the river to the South Bronx, home to half the Council district. Ayala went north, but just blocks away, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez would arrive with his wife and son about two hours later to vote at his poll site at PS 102 (That also happens to be where Mark-Viverito voted that morning and where the Ayala campaign would later call it a day). Comptroller Scott Stringer, who endorsed Rodriguez, made an appearance and the two greeted voters together.</p> <p>Rodriguez, with his young son atop his shoulders, seemed confident of a victory. “I think voters are responding well,” he said as his son absent-mindedly played with his father’s hair. “I’m looking forward to good results and I think the message about our success and our track record and our experience has begun to resonate.”</p> <p>Stringer also spoke to Rodriguez’s experience, having worked with him in the past as Manhattan borough president. “I want members of the City Council who are able to also see beyond their street corner, that they can see the big picture, which is how we’re gonna create a city that everyone can live in,” he said. “And there’s no question that in El Barrio today there are people who built this community who are now being forced out. So we need to have leaders like Robert Rodriguez who understand land use and zoning, who understand community planning.”</p> <p>Ayala recognizes that gentrification has been rapid in East Harlem and is creeping into the South Bronx. “I think that voters are concerned, they would like to see the next Council member is cognizant of the fact that they are afraid, that they have real life fears that they will be displaced,” she said at one point on primary day. Mark-Viverito, Ayala and Rodriguez have stood against a de Blasio administration proposal for a comprehensive rezoning of East Harlem, and have emphasized the need for community input to inform the process.</p> <p>An alternate community-based proposal called the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan -- an effort led by Mark-Viverito, with help from Ayala -- included community priorities but was largely ignored by the administration. The rezoning is likely to be voted on under the current Council, but on Tuesday, it was one of the issues that voters took to the polls. Although some who spoke to Gotham Gazette felt that current leadership had been unable to protect them from displacement, and saw Ayala as a continuation in that direction, others believed Ayala’s close ties to the community would mean she would fight that much harder for them.</p> <p>Ayala’s ties to Mark-Viverito, in that sense, are a double-edged sword, even if one edge is sharper than the other. “Some people say, ‘I don’t know you, but if the Speaker says you’re good enough, you’re good enough for me,’” Ayala said, outside Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx. It was about 2:30 p.m. and schools were letting out. Hoards of little children rushed to a snow cone vendor at the corner and Ayala tried to catch their parents and a few more votes. Joe Pressley, another Mark-Viverito staffer volunteering for the campaign, had taken Taranto’s place and was Ayala’s sidekick for the rest of the afternoon.</p> <p>Ayala realizes that she’ll have to forge her own path, independent of Mark-Viverito. “Those are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill her shoes, I’m trying to find my own role, find my own position and how I fit in, how my experiences can benefit this community, both parts of it. I’m not in a competition with the speaker.”</p> <p>Could she fill those shoes? “One day, one day,” she said.</p> <p>By late afternoon, Ayala was running on fumes and lunch was long overdue. “One piece of advice I’d give people is definitely get in shape,” she joked, about running for Council. “Because it’s a lot of walking around and door knocking. She needed “some pep in my step” for the next stop. After a quick roast chicken lunch at Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio, Ayala and Pressley headed for the Mitchell Community Center on Alexander Avenue where they were met around 4:30 p.m. by another campaign ally, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>The charismatic Diaz Jr.’s energy was almost infectious, and no voter that passed by escaped his grip. At least three cars stopped to greet the popular Democrat, who was also on the ballot Tuesday (he easily fought off two primary challengers). Diaz Jr. said Ayala’s advantage over Rodriguez was her familiarity with both the Harlem and Bronx sides of the district. Rodriguez’s Assembly district falls entirely south of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill. “I think both sides of the river are familiar with Diana and the work that she’s done, working with Mark-Viverito, but also being the face of the office, being the face of constituent services,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>“People just want services, people want someone who can identify with them,” Diaz Jr. continued. “People want someone who is sincere, who is hardworking, and she’s exhibited and shown all of those qualities without the title...I think Diana just represents that everyday constituent, that everyday citizen that people are yearning for.”</p> <p>Diaz Jr. didn’t discount Rodriguez but preferred him to remain in the Assembly. “I respect him,” he said, adding with a slight chuckle, “I think that he’s done a great job in Albany and he should stay in Albany. He’s actually shown to be an involved and intelligent legislator and we certainly need that.”</p> <p>Having popular leaders like Diaz Jr. and Mark-Viverito on her side helped offset the establishment support that went in Rodriguez’s favor, Ayala said. Rodriguez was endorsed by the Bronx County machine, including Bronx Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other local, state, and federal elected officials. For her part, Ayala also had the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, prominent unions including 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and DC37, and activist group Make the Road New York.</p> <p>Another hour, another stop. It was almost rush hour and Ayala began to head back across the river to 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue, to grab the dozens of potential voters exiting the 6 Train. On the way, she witnessed a Rodriguez volunteer -- the same man who had been shouting across the street that morning -- yelling at one of her own campaign volunteers, a young woman. She was familiar with the man, having seen him around in previous campaigns, and said he had a history of being menacing and aggressive. She immediately directed Pressley to call campaign headquarters. “Call and send someone there. She shouldn’t be alone,” she told him.</p> <p>At 5:45 p.m., Ayala pulled over at the corner of 103rd, converging with Mark-Viverito who was already at the bustling intersection. A large blue truck, emblazoned with Assemblymember Rodriguez’s face, intermittently blared support for him between pop songs that drowned out the street traffic. The truck, and about a dozen or so individuals, represented 700 Strong, a group purportedly made up of residents of public housing, people living in homeless shelters, and those living near public housing, and even philanthropists. The group handed out dozens of fliers, including disparaging ones that showed Mark-Viverito as a puppetmaster controlling Ayala and John Ruiz, a candidate running for District Leader. Ayala picked up the phone. “This corner is all Robert Rodriguez,” she told someone at her 116th street campaign headquarters, calling for backup. “This is when anxiety starts to peek in,” she turned and said. “People tend to get tense and aggressive.”</p> <p>The volunteers for 700 Strong were either unaware or would not say who leads the group, which is not registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as is required of any independent expenditure group that engages in electioneering. Kimesha Alvarado, one volunteer, said they were out there to support Rodriguez because he “is more connected to the people, more accessible and community oriented,” while dismissing Ayala, with no hint of irony, as a “part of the establishment” that had allowed gentrification in the district to go unchecked.</p> <p>The group also encouraged residents to vote for Kelmy Rodriguez, a candidate running for District Leader against John Ruiz. Kelmy Rodriguez was on the scene and denied any knowledge of who had organized the fliers and campaigners, while acknowledging that he was a member of 700 Strong. Mark-Viverito speculated that the group was illegally coordinating its efforts with Ayala’s opponent.</p> <p>Amid the chaos of rush hour commuters, traffic and campaign teams, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez arrived, an hour after Ayala had already been there. The two candidates were barely seven feet apart, but did not acknowledge each other. Volunteers from both campaigns tried to shout over their counterparts, devolving into a barely comprehensible white noise assailing those stepping out of the subway station.</p> <p>Barely 10 minutes later, the Assembly member started to rush away. Asked what prompted him to show up, he said, “Well, you know, sometimes you can’t concede any street corners and 103rd Street is where my family grew up and I wanna make sure that on election day, they have a choice and understand that the choice should be Rodriguez. I wanna make sure that an alternative is presented this evening.” He also denied knowing anything about 700 Strong, but said he was grateful for their support.</p> <p>Having finished the last frenetic push of the day, just one stop remained for Ayala: PS 102, Mark-Viverito’s poll site. The entrance to the site had been shifted, confusing voters who had showed up there for years, including the speaker herself. She realized it would be a good place to stake out for the last leg of the race, to catch the later voters and nudge them to the ballot and towards an Ayala vote.</p> <p>“Diana is the kind of person who doesn’t mind coming to the community,” said Mildred Santiago, 56, a retired special education teacher who had just exited the poll site. “She visits the seniors, she visits the disabled, she sees what they need...she follows up on cases. She calls you directly. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’ll send someone,’ like other people. She says, ‘I’ll be in charge.’ So she knows how to manage issues.”</p> <p>For voters like Santiago, Tuesday was a bittersweet election because it also meant that Mark-Viverito was that much closer to leaving office. (Mark-Viverito also won the position of District Leader that day, which she says will keep her involved in the community.) “I’ll miss Melissa,” Santiago said, “but if she goes to Congress, I’m gonna be so happy.” Mark-Viverito heard Santiago and laughed. She has been rumored as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who is said to be considering retirement, but she wouldn’t say if she had considered a run for Congress.</p> <p>It was late, just after 8 o’clock and the polls would be closing in about an hour. Ayala had literally walked a hole into her beige ballet flats. “I didn’t take them off because they’re my lucky shoes,” she said, and she needed every bit of luck she could get. The campaign had done all it could do and now there was only the wait for results.</p> <p>Back at the campaign headquarters, there was an air of “nervous excitement” as the campaign team took a breather in the large back office, where the walls were plastered with maps of the district. At about 9 p.m., when voting was done for the day, they would head two doors down to Harley’s Smokeshack, a local barbecue joint advertising a Tuesday Tacos and Tequila special. The campaign team, including dozens of union workers from LiUNA Local 78, crowded in front of the bar as a screen switched to NY1, which was broadcasting the primary results.</p> <p>Ayala betrayed no emotion. “I’ve put everything I’ve had into it, and if it’s for me, it’s for me,” she had said earlier. “And if it isn’t, then there’s a lot of lessons to learn. It’s a new experience for me and one should never be afraid to challenge themselves and to take chances.”</p> <p>At the bar, the first precincts had begun to report. Ayala was leading and the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. “Diana! Diana! Diana!,” they roared. The next two hours would be an emotional rollercoaster as Ayala continued to lead through the night but Rodriguez inched closer and closer. At 9:30 p.m. Ayala had a five point lead. By 10 p.m., with about 85 percent of precincts counted, that lead had whittled down to three points, and then two. The race had become a nail-biter, as the numbers then stayed frozen for well over an hour. “I’m so nervous,” exclaimed Alicia, Ayala’s 25-year-old daughter.</p> <p>“It’s a little annoying that they’re not moving,” Ayala said, before retreating outside to sidebar with Mark-Viverito and her core campaign team. They repeatedly huddled outside, with anxious faces, as the ballots crawled up. Most other races had already been called and District 8 was one of only two City Council races that remained undecided.</p> <p>At 11:20 p.m., Ayala and Mark-Viverito walked back in. More than 96 percent of precincts were reporting and Ayala led by 122 votes. Mark-Viverito signalled to the bartender to kill the music and stepped up on a barstool, hushing the supporters. “I wanna introduce our next Council member,” she said smiling, declaring triumph to a roaring response.</p> <p>Ayala gingerly climbed up after her. “As a woman, and as a minority, it was not an easy decision” to run for office, she said. “Many of the women that are represented in this room, we do all of the work in the background, we do it all and we don’t ask for credit, we just ask for decency...It wasn’t until this woman said to me that I have the potential to do this, that I believed in myself,” she said, tearing up and pointing to Mark-Viverito. “I thank all of you!”</p> <p>“It was a very close race but this is a huge victory. We won against an incumbent,” she added. Supporters rushed to hug Ayala as Celebration by Kool &amp; The Gang blasted through the speakers.</p> <p>“This is a community victory, this is amazing,” Mark-Viverito said to Gotham Gazette afterwards. “I didn’t doubt it. Obviously we knew it was gonna be close. It reminds me of my first election.”</p> <p>“I think Diana was the right candidate for the moment, the right candidate for the community,” said Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78. “Diana is a person that is not a politician per se, but is a daughter of these streets...She’s real, she’s us. And we feel that people like that are the people we need representing us.”</p> <p>Rodriguez had not conceded the race, however, noting that affidavit ballots and absentee ballots will still have to be counted. “This race is far too close to call right now, and it is premature for anyone to declare a victory,” he said in a statement released just before midnight. “There are still ballots left to be counted, and we want to make sure each voter has their voice heard.”</p> <p>But Ayala’s team was confident it had the votes. “I feel great,” Ayala said. “I was really calm through all of it. I just had faith that the system was gonna work in my favor and that people were gonna turn out...It is a dream come true, for me and for a lot of little girls that come from communities of color, and I hope that I’m an inspiration to those women and that they feel that they see in me an opportunity to do what I’m doing, one day.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv-ayala.jpg" alt="mmv ayala" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito with Diana Ayala (photo: Samar Khurshid/GothamGazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The primary election on Tuesday saw incumbents retain power across most of the city and few upsets in contested races. But in one of the most competitive races of the day, a first-time candidate prevailed over a long-time elected official, overcoming an expected gap in name recognition and other deficits, in a City Council district struggling with concerns for its future and looking for its next local leader to advocate for its interests.</p> <p>District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, is the constituency of current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who faces term limits and cannot run for reelection. Four Democratic candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary to replace her: Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff and preferred successor; sitting state Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez; community activist Tamika Mapp; and former state Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>As soon as the field of candidates was clear, it was evident that it would be a race between Ayala and Rodriguez, with the sitting elected official coming into the race with distinct advantages, including in terms of raising funds.</p> <p>After months of tense campaigning, split establishment allegiances, and some mudslinging, it all came down to primary day, September 12, where -- like in most districts across the city -- the outcome would determine the next officeholder given the overwhelming Democratic advantage.</p> <p>A grueling day of crisscrossing the district to canvas for votes, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., culminated with a race that was too close to call once most of the returns were in. Yet, Ayala claimed victory with a margin of just 122 votes in a race that saw only 8,471 ballots cast. She received 3,705 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Rodriguez’s 3,583, good for 42.3 percent. Mapp took 814 votes and Martinez took 369.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ayala declared victory from Harley’s Smokeshack at 11:20 p.m. to a room full of allies and supporters, including Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez soon put out a public statement saying that every vote needed to be counted, given the possibility of affidavit and absentee ballots perhaps yet tallied. One week later, on September 19, all the ballots had been accounted for and Ayala still came out on top. "With all vote counting complete, I am proud to declare victory today," she said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>"El Barrio and the South Bronx are at a crossroads, like so many other communities in our City," she added. "I will fight tirelessly to ensure that we do everything to protect the lives and provide affordability for those who have grown up, are raising their families, or are retiring here." Rodriguez, who will continue to serve in the state Assembly, conceded defeat on Tuesday. "I offer my congrats to Diana Ayala, and I hope she can fulfill the promises she made," he said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 14 hours before she declared victory on primary day, Ayala was standing at the corner of East 109th Street and 2nd Avenue, asking residents for their votes.</p> <p>“My legs are starting to get numb,” said Ayala, around 8:30 a.m., already more than two hours into her time there, as the sun was beginning to warm the crisp morning air. Ayala shifted on her feet as she stood, arms folded at the waist, surveying the scene, as if steadying herself for the long day ahead. It was the first of many stops she would make.</p> <p>Campaign volunteer Joe Taranto, a top government aide to Mark-Viverito, passed out campaign literature as Ayala greeted each voter. “I feel good, I’m excited to see what the results will be,” she said, with a composure that she wouldn’t betray until she was saying she had won, holding back tears with a beaming smile on her face.</p> <p>Around 8:45 a.m., a campaign barker walked by across the street, yelling, “Vote for Robert Rodriguez for City Council, Robert Rodriguez for City Council!!” He had come from the 110th Street subway station where he had been spotted earlier.</p> <p>Ayala has worked for Mark-Viverito for nearly 12 years and, as her director of constituent services, she has been in direct contact with members of the community, hearing residents’ problems firsthand and seeking to help them as she could. It’s one of the reasons she expected that people would vote for her. “They know me personally, they know my work ethic,” she said. “They know I deliver.” It explains why voters recognize her on the street, why some stopped to hug her and wish her good luck.</p> <p>“The best team in the world! That’s my girl!,” exclaimed one voter, Susan Rodriguez, walking down the street seeing Ayala at the corner. Rodriguez, the founding director of Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research &amp; Treatment, a nonprofit, said Ayala had personally assisted her when the nonprofit faced an office space issue. “She’s been a champion of the community,” Rodriguez said. “She goes out of the way to help people. She’s always been accessible. She loves this community and you know that.”</p> <p>Seeing Ayala’s name on the ballot gave her “goosebumps,” Susan Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t need to put her name all over the place, We know her.”</p> <p>“Diana’s been a rock for our community and we’d be blessed and privileged to have her in the Council,” she added. “We love Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and she’s passing the torch to Diana, who will continue her legacy and build her own.”</p> <p>What about her main opponent, Robert Rodriguez? “I only hear about him when he’s running for something,” she said.</p> <p>Another voter, 95-year-old Josephine Surita had just walked out of PS/JHS 117 after voting for Ayala. “Diana la gana! Diana la gana!” she yelled in Spanish. “Diana will win! Diana will win!”</p> <p>It was 9 a.m. and time to head to PS 206, Ayala’s polling site. Ayala and Taranto hopped into her Toyota RAV4 and headed west. First, a quick stop at her favorite coffee cart at the corner of Lexington and 116th, where she gets a cup everyday. Ayala had been up since 2 a.m., she said, tossing and turning in bed, but not out of apprehension, she explained. “I tried to go to sleep early, but I only slept for four hours,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous, though; maybe subconsciously.”</p> <p>Standing in line for coffee, Ayala recounted how four years ago she’d worked, as part of Mark-Viverito’s staff, with the city to help find a suitable location for that very coffee vendor. The owner had faced harassment from a local business across the street where it was located earlier. Throughout the day, Ayala relayed similar anecdotes, pulled from her decade-plus working in the community. “Who are you gonna vote for?” the cart’s owner asked Ayala as she handed her two steaming cups. “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” Ayala chuckled.</p> <p>At the polling site, Ayala’s two adult children and her mother were already waiting. First she had to pick up 11-year-old Isaiah, the youngest of her four children, from the East River North apartments where she lives with her parents. “He’s my baby. He refuses to stop growing,” said the proud mother, who also has three grandchildren from her only daughter. “We measure the amount of time I’ve worked for Melissa by looking at him, because when I started working for her, he was born.”</p> <p>By 9:40 a.m., the entire clan was at PS 206 and soon they had cast their votes. Seeing her own name on the ballot “was a little surreal,” Ayala said with excitement.</p> <p>“She takes care of everybody,” said Abraham, 27, Ayala’s oldest son, thrilled after having just voted for his mom. “She’s always been for the community. She’s been about family, everybody’s her family. She’s just the best candidate. She’ll make sure she does what she has to do to make sure that everybody in the community will thrive and survive.”</p> <p>For Ayala, perhaps the hardest part of running for office, ostensibly a full-time commitment, was the time away from her children and grandchildren. And, at the same time, keeping them removed from what can sometimes be a nasty affair. She spoke of the time an independent group plastered the neighborhood with flyers that depicted her on all fours like a dog, and how she had to explain that to her children. “This is very new to them,” she said. “It can get pretty dirty out there and I didn’t want them tainted by that.”</p> <p>Her children played no small part in her decision to run for office. “If you had asked me three years ago, I would’ve said never,” she said of jumping headlong into a City Council campaign. Her kids were younger and needed their mother, and her infirm parents had also moved in with her. Her family has been supportive, and her youngest also appeared in a campaign ad for her. “They don’t need me anymore, they’re OK without me,” she said, with her typical chuckle. “It’s mama that misses them.”</p> <p>What drove her decision was term limits and the Speaker’s entreaties. The one-time term limit extension passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg had allowed Mark-Viverito to serve a third four-year term on the Council. “Because of term limits, it allowed us four more years, so a lot of things kinda settled,” Ayala said, “in a way that made it possible for me to consider this an option.”</p> <p>Her decision was made over time, in conversations with the speaker, who prodded Ayala to run. “I had never really thought about it,” Ayala said. “I don’t come from a political background. I consider myself more of a social services person. I wanna know the issues. I wanna know people. Even though I have an appreciation for politics, it does tend to get in the way of doing the work sometimes.”</p> <p>It was the realization, she said, that there were so few women on the City Council that pushed her across the line. “I figured, ‘If not me, then who?’ You don’t have to be a politician to run for office,” she said. The term that ends this year includes 13 women in the 51-seat Council. “We’re regular people with life experiences that have shaped who we are,” Ayala continue. “I think that my life experiences allow me some insight into my own community because a lot of the issues that I help constituents navigate through have been my issues.”</p> <p>Ayala regularly talks openly about her life experiences, which led her directly into public service. At the age of 17, she had her first child, whose father died a victim of gun violence earlier that year. She struggled with postpartum depression, and conflict at home with her mother meant that she couldn’t cope with the grief. She emancipated herself, and lived for a time in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side before moving to an apartment in the Bronx. She personally knows the difficulties of navigating the bureaucracy of public assistance offices.</p> <p>“Those kinds of interactions with social service providers that were not always positive left me with an interest of wanting to be helpful and doing it the right way,” she said. Alaya consistently talks on the campaign trail about how she sees the residents of the district through her lived experience. “A lot of people helped me and I just wanna give back,” she said.</p> <p>Just after 10 a.m., Ayala headed to PS 57, where she was met by Mark-Viverito, who had been stumping all morning for her preferred successor. Mark-Viverito’s popularity in the district is distinct. For many voters, she’s immediately recognizable and her opinion carries weight. “I’m not running for reelection so I need you to vote for Diana,” she told residents who passed the two at the corner. Several members of her staff volunteered for Ayala’s campaign. A few, including Taranto, took the day off to help drum up support.</p> <p>“I think that there’s a different level of energy that surrounds her campaign versus the opponent’s campaign,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette, confident of Ayala’s chances. “People are very excited and motivated and have a reason to vote for her...and I don’t get that same sense from the opposing side.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized that the race would hinge on the Ayala campaign’s ground game, which was extensive. Ayala said she had personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors over the course of the campaign and had a team of about 70 volunteers out on the streets on Tuesday, most of them women, urging voters to support her.</p> <p>For Mark-Viverito, Ayala’s campaign also carried the promise of fighting greater gender imbalance on the City Council. The 51-member body had 18 women in 2009, but is down to 13 and was at risk of dropping to single digits. The speaker has been spearheading a movement to improve women’s representation on the legislative body, aiming ultimately to elect more women in 2021 when more than 30 seats will be up for grabs -- the goal is 21 women on the Council through the next cycle. Mark-Viverito called the current gender imbalance “appalling” and pointed to other City Council races where she has tried to support women candidates to ensure what is the best-case scenario given the current situation. “If we work hard, maybe we’ll be able to make it stay the same, that’s my hope at least,” she said, “I would love to gain a little bit...Right now, to stay at least treading water is what we need to do.”</p> <p>Around 11:30 a.m., it was time for the operation to move across the river to the South Bronx, home to half the Council district. Ayala went north, but just blocks away, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez would arrive with his wife and son about two hours later to vote at his poll site at PS 102 (That also happens to be where Mark-Viverito voted that morning and where the Ayala campaign would later call it a day). Comptroller Scott Stringer, who endorsed Rodriguez, made an appearance and the two greeted voters together.</p> <p>Rodriguez, with his young son atop his shoulders, seemed confident of a victory. “I think voters are responding well,” he said as his son absent-mindedly played with his father’s hair. “I’m looking forward to good results and I think the message about our success and our track record and our experience has begun to resonate.”</p> <p>Stringer also spoke to Rodriguez’s experience, having worked with him in the past as Manhattan borough president. “I want members of the City Council who are able to also see beyond their street corner, that they can see the big picture, which is how we’re gonna create a city that everyone can live in,” he said. “And there’s no question that in El Barrio today there are people who built this community who are now being forced out. So we need to have leaders like Robert Rodriguez who understand land use and zoning, who understand community planning.”</p> <p>Ayala recognizes that gentrification has been rapid in East Harlem and is creeping into the South Bronx. “I think that voters are concerned, they would like to see the next Council member is cognizant of the fact that they are afraid, that they have real life fears that they will be displaced,” she said at one point on primary day. Mark-Viverito, Ayala and Rodriguez have stood against a de Blasio administration proposal for a comprehensive rezoning of East Harlem, and have emphasized the need for community input to inform the process.</p> <p>An alternate community-based proposal called the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan -- an effort led by Mark-Viverito, with help from Ayala -- included community priorities but was largely ignored by the administration. The rezoning is likely to be voted on under the current Council, but on Tuesday, it was one of the issues that voters took to the polls. Although some who spoke to Gotham Gazette felt that current leadership had been unable to protect them from displacement, and saw Ayala as a continuation in that direction, others believed Ayala’s close ties to the community would mean she would fight that much harder for them.</p> <p>Ayala’s ties to Mark-Viverito, in that sense, are a double-edged sword, even if one edge is sharper than the other. “Some people say, ‘I don’t know you, but if the Speaker says you’re good enough, you’re good enough for me,’” Ayala said, outside Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx. It was about 2:30 p.m. and schools were letting out. Hoards of little children rushed to a snow cone vendor at the corner and Ayala tried to catch their parents and a few more votes. Joe Pressley, another Mark-Viverito staffer volunteering for the campaign, had taken Taranto’s place and was Ayala’s sidekick for the rest of the afternoon.</p> <p>Ayala realizes that she’ll have to forge her own path, independent of Mark-Viverito. “Those are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill her shoes, I’m trying to find my own role, find my own position and how I fit in, how my experiences can benefit this community, both parts of it. I’m not in a competition with the speaker.”</p> <p>Could she fill those shoes? “One day, one day,” she said.</p> <p>By late afternoon, Ayala was running on fumes and lunch was long overdue. “One piece of advice I’d give people is definitely get in shape,” she joked, about running for Council. “Because it’s a lot of walking around and door knocking. She needed “some pep in my step” for the next stop. After a quick roast chicken lunch at Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio, Ayala and Pressley headed for the Mitchell Community Center on Alexander Avenue where they were met around 4:30 p.m. by another campaign ally, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>The charismatic Diaz Jr.’s energy was almost infectious, and no voter that passed by escaped his grip. At least three cars stopped to greet the popular Democrat, who was also on the ballot Tuesday (he easily fought off two primary challengers). Diaz Jr. said Ayala’s advantage over Rodriguez was her familiarity with both the Harlem and Bronx sides of the district. Rodriguez’s Assembly district falls entirely south of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill. “I think both sides of the river are familiar with Diana and the work that she’s done, working with Mark-Viverito, but also being the face of the office, being the face of constituent services,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>“People just want services, people want someone who can identify with them,” Diaz Jr. continued. “People want someone who is sincere, who is hardworking, and she’s exhibited and shown all of those qualities without the title...I think Diana just represents that everyday constituent, that everyday citizen that people are yearning for.”</p> <p>Diaz Jr. didn’t discount Rodriguez but preferred him to remain in the Assembly. “I respect him,” he said, adding with a slight chuckle, “I think that he’s done a great job in Albany and he should stay in Albany. He’s actually shown to be an involved and intelligent legislator and we certainly need that.”</p> <p>Having popular leaders like Diaz Jr. and Mark-Viverito on her side helped offset the establishment support that went in Rodriguez’s favor, Ayala said. Rodriguez was endorsed by the Bronx County machine, including Bronx Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other local, state, and federal elected officials. For her part, Ayala also had the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, prominent unions including 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and DC37, and activist group Make the Road New York.</p> <p>Another hour, another stop. It was almost rush hour and Ayala began to head back across the river to 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue, to grab the dozens of potential voters exiting the 6 Train. On the way, she witnessed a Rodriguez volunteer -- the same man who had been shouting across the street that morning -- yelling at one of her own campaign volunteers, a young woman. She was familiar with the man, having seen him around in previous campaigns, and said he had a history of being menacing and aggressive. She immediately directed Pressley to call campaign headquarters. “Call and send someone there. She shouldn’t be alone,” she told him.</p> <p>At 5:45 p.m., Ayala pulled over at the corner of 103rd, converging with Mark-Viverito who was already at the bustling intersection. A large blue truck, emblazoned with Assemblymember Rodriguez’s face, intermittently blared support for him between pop songs that drowned out the street traffic. The truck, and about a dozen or so individuals, represented 700 Strong, a group purportedly made up of residents of public housing, people living in homeless shelters, and those living near public housing, and even philanthropists. The group handed out dozens of fliers, including disparaging ones that showed Mark-Viverito as a puppetmaster controlling Ayala and John Ruiz, a candidate running for District Leader. Ayala picked up the phone. “This corner is all Robert Rodriguez,” she told someone at her 116th street campaign headquarters, calling for backup. “This is when anxiety starts to peek in,” she turned and said. “People tend to get tense and aggressive.”</p> <p>The volunteers for 700 Strong were either unaware or would not say who leads the group, which is not registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as is required of any independent expenditure group that engages in electioneering. Kimesha Alvarado, one volunteer, said they were out there to support Rodriguez because he “is more connected to the people, more accessible and community oriented,” while dismissing Ayala, with no hint of irony, as a “part of the establishment” that had allowed gentrification in the district to go unchecked.</p> <p>The group also encouraged residents to vote for Kelmy Rodriguez, a candidate running for District Leader against John Ruiz. Kelmy Rodriguez was on the scene and denied any knowledge of who had organized the fliers and campaigners, while acknowledging that he was a member of 700 Strong. Mark-Viverito speculated that the group was illegally coordinating its efforts with Ayala’s opponent.</p> <p>Amid the chaos of rush hour commuters, traffic and campaign teams, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez arrived, an hour after Ayala had already been there. The two candidates were barely seven feet apart, but did not acknowledge each other. Volunteers from both campaigns tried to shout over their counterparts, devolving into a barely comprehensible white noise assailing those stepping out of the subway station.</p> <p>Barely 10 minutes later, the Assembly member started to rush away. Asked what prompted him to show up, he said, “Well, you know, sometimes you can’t concede any street corners and 103rd Street is where my family grew up and I wanna make sure that on election day, they have a choice and understand that the choice should be Rodriguez. I wanna make sure that an alternative is presented this evening.” He also denied knowing anything about 700 Strong, but said he was grateful for their support.</p> <p>Having finished the last frenetic push of the day, just one stop remained for Ayala: PS 102, Mark-Viverito’s poll site. The entrance to the site had been shifted, confusing voters who had showed up there for years, including the speaker herself. She realized it would be a good place to stake out for the last leg of the race, to catch the later voters and nudge them to the ballot and towards an Ayala vote.</p> <p>“Diana is the kind of person who doesn’t mind coming to the community,” said Mildred Santiago, 56, a retired special education teacher who had just exited the poll site. “She visits the seniors, she visits the disabled, she sees what they need...she follows up on cases. She calls you directly. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’ll send someone,’ like other people. She says, ‘I’ll be in charge.’ So she knows how to manage issues.”</p> <p>For voters like Santiago, Tuesday was a bittersweet election because it also meant that Mark-Viverito was that much closer to leaving office. (Mark-Viverito also won the position of District Leader that day, which she says will keep her involved in the community.) “I’ll miss Melissa,” Santiago said, “but if she goes to Congress, I’m gonna be so happy.” Mark-Viverito heard Santiago and laughed. She has been rumored as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who is said to be considering retirement, but she wouldn’t say if she had considered a run for Congress.</p> <p>It was late, just after 8 o’clock and the polls would be closing in about an hour. Ayala had literally walked a hole into her beige ballet flats. “I didn’t take them off because they’re my lucky shoes,” she said, and she needed every bit of luck she could get. The campaign had done all it could do and now there was only the wait for results.</p> <p>Back at the campaign headquarters, there was an air of “nervous excitement” as the campaign team took a breather in the large back office, where the walls were plastered with maps of the district. At about 9 p.m., when voting was done for the day, they would head two doors down to Harley’s Smokeshack, a local barbecue joint advertising a Tuesday Tacos and Tequila special. The campaign team, including dozens of union workers from LiUNA Local 78, crowded in front of the bar as a screen switched to NY1, which was broadcasting the primary results.</p> <p>Ayala betrayed no emotion. “I’ve put everything I’ve had into it, and if it’s for me, it’s for me,” she had said earlier. “And if it isn’t, then there’s a lot of lessons to learn. It’s a new experience for me and one should never be afraid to challenge themselves and to take chances.”</p> <p>At the bar, the first precincts had begun to report. Ayala was leading and the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. “Diana! Diana! Diana!,” they roared. The next two hours would be an emotional rollercoaster as Ayala continued to lead through the night but Rodriguez inched closer and closer. At 9:30 p.m. Ayala had a five point lead. By 10 p.m., with about 85 percent of precincts counted, that lead had whittled down to three points, and then two. The race had become a nail-biter, as the numbers then stayed frozen for well over an hour. “I’m so nervous,” exclaimed Alicia, Ayala’s 25-year-old daughter.</p> <p>“It’s a little annoying that they’re not moving,” Ayala said, before retreating outside to sidebar with Mark-Viverito and her core campaign team. They repeatedly huddled outside, with anxious faces, as the ballots crawled up. Most other races had already been called and District 8 was one of only two City Council races that remained undecided.</p> <p>At 11:20 p.m., Ayala and Mark-Viverito walked back in. More than 96 percent of precincts were reporting and Ayala led by 122 votes. Mark-Viverito signalled to the bartender to kill the music and stepped up on a barstool, hushing the supporters. “I wanna introduce our next Council member,” she said smiling, declaring triumph to a roaring response.</p> <p>Ayala gingerly climbed up after her. “As a woman, and as a minority, it was not an easy decision” to run for office, she said. “Many of the women that are represented in this room, we do all of the work in the background, we do it all and we don’t ask for credit, we just ask for decency...It wasn’t until this woman said to me that I have the potential to do this, that I believed in myself,” she said, tearing up and pointing to Mark-Viverito. “I thank all of you!”</p> <p>“It was a very close race but this is a huge victory. We won against an incumbent,” she added. Supporters rushed to hug Ayala as Celebration by Kool &amp; The Gang blasted through the speakers.</p> <p>“This is a community victory, this is amazing,” Mark-Viverito said to Gotham Gazette afterwards. “I didn’t doubt it. Obviously we knew it was gonna be close. It reminds me of my first election.”</p> <p>“I think Diana was the right candidate for the moment, the right candidate for the community,” said Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78. “Diana is a person that is not a politician per se, but is a daughter of these streets...She’s real, she’s us. And we feel that people like that are the people we need representing us.”</p> <p>Rodriguez had not conceded the race, however, noting that affidavit ballots and absentee ballots will still have to be counted. “This race is far too close to call right now, and it is premature for anyone to declare a victory,” he said in a statement released just before midnight. “There are still ballots left to be counted, and we want to make sure each voter has their voice heard.”</p> <p>But Ayala’s team was confident it had the votes. “I feel great,” Ayala said. “I was really calm through all of it. I just had faith that the system was gonna work in my favor and that people were gonna turn out...It is a dream come true, for me and for a lot of little girls that come from communities of color, and I hope that I’m an inspiration to those women and that they feel that they see in me an opportunity to do what I’m doing, one day.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Meet The Three State Legislators Likely Heading To The City Council 2017-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7195:meet-the-three-state-legislators-coming-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/gjonaj_election_night_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj election night crop" width="600" height="416" />&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Gjonaj &amp; Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)</p> <hr /> <p>With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.</p> <p>Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.</p> <p>Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent,&nbsp;Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.</p> <p>The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.</p> <p>Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.</p> <p>The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.</p> <p>"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.</p> <p>Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.</p> <p>In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/leaving-n-y-senate-article-1.3394774" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7122-dan-squadron-fought-the-llc-loophole-and-the-loophole-won" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole”</a> had never made it to the Senate floor.</p> <p>The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.</p> <p>Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.</p> <p>“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.</p> <p>Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.</p> <p>“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”</p> <p>In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.</p> <p>The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.</p> <p>"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.</p> <p>To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.</p> <p>This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.</p> <p>As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.</p> <p><strong>Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18</strong><br />Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/ruben-diaz/what-you-should-know-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">newsletter</a>, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.</p> <p>Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/240132/diaz-will-introduce-legislation-to-address-toplessness-crisis/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">targeting the topless panhandlers</a> in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/246064/ruben-diaz-sr-to-cuomo-implement-id-program-that-helps-immigrants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an identification card program</a> similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.</p> <p>“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Post</a>. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”</p> <p>Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/personality/interviews-and-profiles/state-sen-ruben-diaz-sr-city-council-interview.html#.WbkpPkqGM6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">famously</a> organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.</p> <p>Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/03/i-am-the-church-i-am-the-state-diaz-sr-faces-younger-voices-in-bronx-primary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told City Limits</a>, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”</p> <p>Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2016/02/17/wysk-eliot-spitzer-vs-hiram-monserrate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Bronx Chronicle</a> continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ruben-diaz/3-new-amigos-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">colleagues</a> in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/228751/diaz-whats-good-for-the-ethics-goose/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ethics reform attempts</a>, actor/director <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/229541/diaz-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-offended-by-sean-penn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sean Penn’s comment</a> at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2015/12/09/melissa-mark-viverito-is-the-wrong-person-to-teach-american-values-to-donald-trump/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in his crosshairs</a>.<br /><br />On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.</p> <p>“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.</p> <p><strong>Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13</strong><br />Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120930/POLITICS/309309975/the-unlikely-assemblyman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by surprise</a>.</p> <p>The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.</p> <p>The 48-year-old Gjonaj, <a href="http://bronxink.org/2012/10/20/24603-from-albanian-roots-to-an-albany-job-mark-gjonajs-long-trail-to-the-assemblybly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">who is known</a> for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with <a href="http://observer.com/2017/03/bronx-mark-gjonaj-assembly-council-albanian-flag-day-don-coqui/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">energizing</a> a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.</p> <p>Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/education/charter-schools-republicans-vs-democrats.html#.WbLXNdOGPVo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signaled support</a> for charter schools. He has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-pol-brags-pushing-women-rights-bill-voted-no-article-1.2964989" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for taking credit</a> for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.</p> <p>During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-hopeful-sets-record-pumping-716g-bid-article-1.3485386" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than $716,469</a> -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.</p> <p>“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”</p> <p>But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."</p> <p><strong>Francisco Moya: Council District 21</strong><br />Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.</p> <p>Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.</p> <p>"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/crooked-domestic-abuser-monserrate-sees-city-council-hopes-dashed-article-1.3491279?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.</p> <p>Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.</p> <p>Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/08/cuomo-endorses-moya/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsements</a> from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.</p> <p>Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for <a href="http://www.latinpost.com/articles/15552/20140625/dream-act-fails-pass-ny-bill-sponsor-francisco-moya-acts-immigration-reform.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his efforts</a> to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.</p> <p>As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6749-citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an extensive legislative package</a> aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.</p> <p>He has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/legislators-step-protect-wage-workers-article-1.2218229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced legislation</a> to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed <a href="http://thenycfcnation.com/2017/01/queens-borough-president-open-to-soccer-stadium-in-willets-point/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bringing </a>a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.</p> <p>Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/gjonaj_election_night_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj election night crop" width="600" height="416" />&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Gjonaj &amp; Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)</p> <hr /> <p>With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.</p> <p>Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.</p> <p>Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent,&nbsp;Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.</p> <p>The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.</p> <p>Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.</p> <p>The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.</p> <p>"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.</p> <p>Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.</p> <p>In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/leaving-n-y-senate-article-1.3394774" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7122-dan-squadron-fought-the-llc-loophole-and-the-loophole-won" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole”</a> had never made it to the Senate floor.</p> <p>The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.</p> <p>Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.</p> <p>“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.</p> <p>Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.</p> <p>“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”</p> <p>In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.</p> <p>The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.</p> <p>"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.</p> <p>To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.</p> <p>This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.</p> <p>As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.</p> <p><strong>Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18</strong><br />Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/ruben-diaz/what-you-should-know-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">newsletter</a>, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.</p> <p>Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/240132/diaz-will-introduce-legislation-to-address-toplessness-crisis/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">targeting the topless panhandlers</a> in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/246064/ruben-diaz-sr-to-cuomo-implement-id-program-that-helps-immigrants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an identification card program</a> similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.</p> <p>“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Post</a>. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”</p> <p>Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/personality/interviews-and-profiles/state-sen-ruben-diaz-sr-city-council-interview.html#.WbkpPkqGM6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">famously</a> organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.</p> <p>Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/03/i-am-the-church-i-am-the-state-diaz-sr-faces-younger-voices-in-bronx-primary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told City Limits</a>, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”</p> <p>Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2016/02/17/wysk-eliot-spitzer-vs-hiram-monserrate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Bronx Chronicle</a> continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ruben-diaz/3-new-amigos-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">colleagues</a> in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/228751/diaz-whats-good-for-the-ethics-goose/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ethics reform attempts</a>, actor/director <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/229541/diaz-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-offended-by-sean-penn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sean Penn’s comment</a> at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2015/12/09/melissa-mark-viverito-is-the-wrong-person-to-teach-american-values-to-donald-trump/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in his crosshairs</a>.<br /><br />On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.</p> <p>“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.</p> <p><strong>Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13</strong><br />Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120930/POLITICS/309309975/the-unlikely-assemblyman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by surprise</a>.</p> <p>The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.</p> <p>The 48-year-old Gjonaj, <a href="http://bronxink.org/2012/10/20/24603-from-albanian-roots-to-an-albany-job-mark-gjonajs-long-trail-to-the-assemblybly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">who is known</a> for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with <a href="http://observer.com/2017/03/bronx-mark-gjonaj-assembly-council-albanian-flag-day-don-coqui/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">energizing</a> a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.</p> <p>Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/education/charter-schools-republicans-vs-democrats.html#.WbLXNdOGPVo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signaled support</a> for charter schools. He has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-pol-brags-pushing-women-rights-bill-voted-no-article-1.2964989" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for taking credit</a> for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.</p> <p>During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-hopeful-sets-record-pumping-716g-bid-article-1.3485386" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than $716,469</a> -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.</p> <p>“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”</p> <p>But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."</p> <p><strong>Francisco Moya: Council District 21</strong><br />Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.</p> <p>Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.</p> <p>"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/crooked-domestic-abuser-monserrate-sees-city-council-hopes-dashed-article-1.3491279?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.</p> <p>Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.</p> <p>Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/08/cuomo-endorses-moya/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsements</a> from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.</p> <p>Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for <a href="http://www.latinpost.com/articles/15552/20140625/dream-act-fails-pass-ny-bill-sponsor-francisco-moya-acts-immigration-reform.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his efforts</a> to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.</p> <p>As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6749-citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an extensive legislative package</a> aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.</p> <p>He has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/legislators-step-protect-wage-workers-article-1.2218229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced legislation</a> to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed <a href="http://thenycfcnation.com/2017/01/queens-borough-president-open-to-soccer-stadium-in-willets-point/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bringing </a>a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.</p> <p>Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.</p>
Assemblymember Rodriguez Would Have to Give Up Outside Income If Elected to City Council 2017-08-25T19:46:36+00:00 2017-08-25T19:46:36+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7156:assemblymember-rodriguez-would-have-to-give-up-outside-income-if-elected-to-city-council Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/5486053310_233801dbac_z.jpg" alt="5486053310 233801dbac z" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Assembly member Robert Rodriguez (photo: Elbert Garcia/Former Rep. Charles Rangel's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, a Democrat from East Harlem running for the City Council, has a second job at an asset management and financial consulting firm that has earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years. But, if Rodriguez wins the Council seat, which will be vacated by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year, he would have to give up his position at the firm under new rules passed by the Council last year. &nbsp;</p> <p>The New York City Council voted to give its members hefty <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6179-de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pay raises</a> in February 2016 and simultaneously imposed a ban on certain forms of outside income, effectively making the job of City Council member a full-time position. The outside income restriction justified, in part, the salary increase from $112,500 to $148,500 a year, Council members and others in support of the move argued. In comparison, salaries in the state Legislature are far lower -- base salaries are $79,500 and have not changed in nearly 20 years -- but the position is part-time, and has almost no restrictions on outside income.</p> <p>Rodriguez, first elected to the Assembly in 2010, is among a number of state legislators running for City Council this year, but he is the only one with significant outside income. The Assemblymember currently serves as director of PFM Financial Advisors LLC, an asset management and financial consulting firm that is considered an industry leader. He joined the company when it acquired A.C. Advisory, Inc., a firm where Rodriguez previously served as vice president, earning a lucrative paycheck and bonuses atop his salary as a state legislator.</p> <p>Rodriguez is running in a competitive primary against Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala, whom the speaker has endorsed for the seat, to represent the district that also includes parts of the South Bronx. The two candidates have split support from the local Democratic party machines and elected officials, and have overshadowed two other Democrats on the primary ballot, community activist Tamika Mapp and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>"If elected to the City Council Robert Rodriguez is ready and willing to vacate his position at PFM in order to serve as a full-time Council Member for District 8,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Rodriguez, in a statement. “He is excited for the opportunity to continue the work he has done in the State Assembly on a local level.”</p> <p>Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7143-for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes</a></p> <p>State legislators are required to declare any outside sources of income on annual financial disclosures submitted to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). For the last four years, Rodriguez’s filings show that his positions at PFM and A.C. Advisory were profitable. In 2016, for instance, he <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/elected%20officials/2016/assembly/Assemblymember-Rodriguez%20R_2016_with_addendum.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earned</a> between $50,000-75,000 from his work at A.C. Advisory and between $5,000-20,000 from PFM. In 2015, he earned between $75,000-100,000 from A.C. Advisory, and in 2014 his salary and bonus at the company totalled between $100,000 - $150,000.</p> <p>For 2012 and 2013, Rodriguez listed his position at A.C. on his JCOPE filings but initially declared no income from the job. It was only in June 2015 that he filed amendments to his earlier disclosures, declaring that he earned between $50,000-$75,000 in 2013 and between $100,000-$150,000 in 2012. A spokesperson for JCOPE said it was not uncommon for legislators to file such amendments.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both A.C. Advisory and PFM have had business dealings with state and city entities. Prior to its acquisition by PFM, A.C. Advisory’s clients included the City of New York, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the New York City Educational Construction Fund and the Battery Park City Authority.</p> <p>From 2004 till 2016, A.C. Advisory had contracts with New York City to provide financial advisory services in changing capacities to the Comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. According to the Comptroller’s office, fewer than half a dozen financial advisory firms across the country have the capacity to fulfill the contract, based on responses to requests for proposals.</p> <p>The latest contract was awarded jointly to A.C. Advisory with another firm in <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/nyw/pdf/nywpr_08_06_15.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">August 2015</a>, and when A.C. was bought out, PFM inherited the contract and also A.C. Advisory’s employees, including Rodriguez. “This contract was the result of a thorough RFP process and eventually awarded jointly with the Comptroller,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office who deals with budget matters, in an email. “The City awards contracts to whichever vendor is best suited for the job. That’s all there is to it.”</p> <p>Rodriguez was earlier listed as the point person on the contract, but has since taken a step back after moving to PFM, according to his campaign spokesperson. He does not manage the contract and is not listed on the city’s <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doingbiz/home.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Doing Business Database</a> -- which tracks individuals and entities with city business -- although PFM and it’s top brass are on the database.</p> <p>As a member of the state Legislature, where there are no limits on outside income, Rodriguez’s outside position is not uncommon.</p> <p>Numerous state lawmakers have other jobs and sources of income, although these have been a perennial source of controversy. Government reform advocates insist that outside employment creates real and perceived conflicts of interests. The most infamous example from recent history is the corruption conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faced charges stemming from actions he took relating to his non-government job. The conviction was later overturned based on new standards established by the Supreme Court, but is likely to be retried.</p> <p>“We have long thought that state legislators should not have significant outside income because it creates potential conflicts of interest,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good government advocacy. “It certainly raises in the minds of the public concerns about conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>Horner said elected officials should make every effort to follow the letter of the law, but emphasized that the law itself is the problem and that the state Legislature has not done away with it. “What really matters is the policy that allows lawmakers to moonlight,” he said. As noted, the City Council did away with such leeway last year.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/5486053310_233801dbac_z.jpg" alt="5486053310 233801dbac z" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Assembly member Robert Rodriguez (photo: Elbert Garcia/Former Rep. Charles Rangel's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, a Democrat from East Harlem running for the City Council, has a second job at an asset management and financial consulting firm that has earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years. But, if Rodriguez wins the Council seat, which will be vacated by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year, he would have to give up his position at the firm under new rules passed by the Council last year. &nbsp;</p> <p>The New York City Council voted to give its members hefty <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6179-de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pay raises</a> in February 2016 and simultaneously imposed a ban on certain forms of outside income, effectively making the job of City Council member a full-time position. The outside income restriction justified, in part, the salary increase from $112,500 to $148,500 a year, Council members and others in support of the move argued. In comparison, salaries in the state Legislature are far lower -- base salaries are $79,500 and have not changed in nearly 20 years -- but the position is part-time, and has almost no restrictions on outside income.</p> <p>Rodriguez, first elected to the Assembly in 2010, is among a number of state legislators running for City Council this year, but he is the only one with significant outside income. The Assemblymember currently serves as director of PFM Financial Advisors LLC, an asset management and financial consulting firm that is considered an industry leader. He joined the company when it acquired A.C. Advisory, Inc., a firm where Rodriguez previously served as vice president, earning a lucrative paycheck and bonuses atop his salary as a state legislator.</p> <p>Rodriguez is running in a competitive primary against Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala, whom the speaker has endorsed for the seat, to represent the district that also includes parts of the South Bronx. The two candidates have split support from the local Democratic party machines and elected officials, and have overshadowed two other Democrats on the primary ballot, community activist Tamika Mapp and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>"If elected to the City Council Robert Rodriguez is ready and willing to vacate his position at PFM in order to serve as a full-time Council Member for District 8,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Rodriguez, in a statement. “He is excited for the opportunity to continue the work he has done in the State Assembly on a local level.”</p> <p>Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7143-for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes</a></p> <p>State legislators are required to declare any outside sources of income on annual financial disclosures submitted to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). For the last four years, Rodriguez’s filings show that his positions at PFM and A.C. Advisory were profitable. In 2016, for instance, he <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/elected%20officials/2016/assembly/Assemblymember-Rodriguez%20R_2016_with_addendum.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earned</a> between $50,000-75,000 from his work at A.C. Advisory and between $5,000-20,000 from PFM. In 2015, he earned between $75,000-100,000 from A.C. Advisory, and in 2014 his salary and bonus at the company totalled between $100,000 - $150,000.</p> <p>For 2012 and 2013, Rodriguez listed his position at A.C. on his JCOPE filings but initially declared no income from the job. It was only in June 2015 that he filed amendments to his earlier disclosures, declaring that he earned between $50,000-$75,000 in 2013 and between $100,000-$150,000 in 2012. A spokesperson for JCOPE said it was not uncommon for legislators to file such amendments.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both A.C. Advisory and PFM have had business dealings with state and city entities. Prior to its acquisition by PFM, A.C. Advisory’s clients included the City of New York, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the New York City Educational Construction Fund and the Battery Park City Authority.</p> <p>From 2004 till 2016, A.C. Advisory had contracts with New York City to provide financial advisory services in changing capacities to the Comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. According to the Comptroller’s office, fewer than half a dozen financial advisory firms across the country have the capacity to fulfill the contract, based on responses to requests for proposals.</p> <p>The latest contract was awarded jointly to A.C. Advisory with another firm in <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/nyw/pdf/nywpr_08_06_15.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">August 2015</a>, and when A.C. was bought out, PFM inherited the contract and also A.C. Advisory’s employees, including Rodriguez. “This contract was the result of a thorough RFP process and eventually awarded jointly with the Comptroller,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office who deals with budget matters, in an email. “The City awards contracts to whichever vendor is best suited for the job. That’s all there is to it.”</p> <p>Rodriguez was earlier listed as the point person on the contract, but has since taken a step back after moving to PFM, according to his campaign spokesperson. He does not manage the contract and is not listed on the city’s <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doingbiz/home.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Doing Business Database</a> -- which tracks individuals and entities with city business -- although PFM and it’s top brass are on the database.</p> <p>As a member of the state Legislature, where there are no limits on outside income, Rodriguez’s outside position is not uncommon.</p> <p>Numerous state lawmakers have other jobs and sources of income, although these have been a perennial source of controversy. Government reform advocates insist that outside employment creates real and perceived conflicts of interests. The most infamous example from recent history is the corruption conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faced charges stemming from actions he took relating to his non-government job. The conviction was later overturned based on new standards established by the Supreme Court, but is likely to be retried.</p> <p>“We have long thought that state legislators should not have significant outside income because it creates potential conflicts of interest,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good government advocacy. “It certainly raises in the minds of the public concerns about conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>Horner said elected officials should make every effort to follow the letter of the law, but emphasized that the law itself is the problem and that the state Legislature has not done away with it. “What really matters is the policy that allows lawmakers to moonlight,” he said. As noted, the City Council did away with such leeway last year.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes 2017-08-21T20:27:12+00:00 2017-08-21T20:27:12+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7143:for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/diaz_jr_ayala_mmv.jpg" alt="diaz jr ayala mmv" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. introduces Diana Ayala, alongside Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @jtaranto)</p> <hr /> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the City Council, is term-limited and leaving office at the end of this year, which, aside from indicating that there will be a new leader of the Council, means her position representing the Council’s 8th District is “open.”</p> <p>Since 2005, Mark-Viverito has represented the district, which includes East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. New York State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, whose district encompasses much of District 8, and Diana Ayala, a former Mark-Viverito staffer who the speaker has endorsed as her preferred successor, are in a highly competetive race for the seat.</p> <p>Ayala, 43, has appeared at multiple campaign events alongside her former boss, for whom she was constituent services director and deputy chief of staff. Mark-Viverito has also been door-knocking in the district with Ayala, attempting to use her name recognition to boost Ayala’s, which is far behind Rodriguez’s given his stature as an elected official.</p> <p>Several other electeds from the area have endorsed Ayala, too. These include Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressional Rep. Adrian Espaillat, and City Council Members Rafael Salamanca, Ritchie Torres, and Annabel Palma of the Bronx. Ayala is hardly running away with the endorsements competition, though. The 41-year-old Rodriguez has support from Congressional Rep. Jose Serrano, who campaigned alongside Rodriguez at a recent family day gathering at Johnson Houses, and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is Bronx Democratic Party Chair, among others.</p> <p>While the two can perhaps call it even in backing from key politicians, Ayala had significantly more money than Rodriguez for the remainder of the campaign, at least as of the most recent filings with Campaign Finance Board. As of that mid-August filing, Rodriguez had a bit under $34,000 left after raising $140,000 over the course of the campaign, while Ayala has raised over $77,000, boosted by $95,095 of public matching funds, to leave her campaign with $110,415 to spend. Rodriguez has not yet received any public matching funds.</p> <p>And, though Ayala has the endorsement of the City Council Progressive Caucus and other progressive groups, the two candidates have few disagreements on the key policy issues in the race -- the two top contenders posit themselves similarly on charter schools and the East Harlem rezoning, along with affordable housing, generally.</p> <p>Also on the primary ballot will be community activist Tamika Mapp, who ran against Rodriguez for his Assembly seat in the 2014 primary, and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>Ahead of the Democratic primary on September 12, the candidates have been making their pitches to voters during campaign forums, door-knocking excursions, and community events in the district, revealing two distinct styles reflective of their backgrounds. Gotham Gazette spent time on the campaign trail with both Ayala and Rodriguez, including during retail campaigning and at candidate forums.</p> <p><strong>Candidate Messaging</strong><br />Rodriguez, the son of a former Assembly member for the same district, speaks predominantly about his achievements in Albany, particularly as they relate to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), on the campaign trail. “You sent me up to Albany to fight for NYCHA,” Rodriguez said in his opening statement at a campaign forum in July. “Before I got there, there was no state contribution to New York City public housing. Not one dollar! Since then, in the fight to makes sure that the State meets its responsibility to NYCHA, we now have $300 million committed toward capital for New York City public housing,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rodriguez-raskin.jpg" alt="rodriguez raskin" width="250" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />First elected to the Assembly in 2010, Rodriguez is a former member of Community Board 11. He went on to call attention to his other achievements as a state legislator. “You sent me to Albany to make sure we got a Second Avenue Subway that comes from 96th street to 125th street,” Rodriguez continued. “When there were dangers of taking it out of the budget, which is still being talked about, you sent me up there to be a champion. And today we have $2.2 billion in the MTA plan to move the subway up to 125th street,” he said. “You sent me there to fight for affordable housing to fund the Mitchell-Lamas we have in our community. We have $75 million in the budget to fight for our Mitchell-Lamas to keep them [affordable],” he said, sparking applause from an audience of just short of 200 in an East Harlem school. “Those are the things that you sent me to Albany that have given me the experience to be able to serve you in the City Council.”</p> <p>Like several other state legislators, Rodriguez is making a run this year for City Council, attempting to leave behind the many commutes to Albany and to boost his base salary by nearly 100%, from the $79,500 of a state legislator to the $148,000 of a City Council member. Rodriguez will not lose his Assembly seat if he is not victorious, since state legislative elections are in even years.</p> <p>Campaigning in East Harlem Saturday, August 12, Rodriguez struck familiar points, molding his pitch slightly to the audience inside Jefferson Houses. “I grew up understanding that NYCHA is the only way that low-income people can raise their families and aspire for better,” he said. “So when we got to the Legislature...the State gave no money to public housing. Not one dollar,” he said. “We had to change that. So we made the fight and over the last three years we’ve got $300 million to go to New York City public housing.”</p> <p>“Now that’s not enough,” he continued. ”I’m not saying the job is done; it’s just the beginning. But we know that that put cameras here in Jefferson, and there are more projects that we have to do across NYCHA to help make things better and safer for all our residents,” he said. “Just know that I’ll keep up that fight wherever you let me go.”</p> <p>For her part, Ayala often talks of her own life experiences as making her uniquely suited to represent the district. “I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are all before us,” Ayala said at the August campaign forum. “And I think that’s what makes me a qualified candidate, coupled with the fact that a lot of the issues that came before us, or have come before the office of the Speaker, have been my issues,” she said. “I have been homeless, I have been hungry, I have been the victim of domestic violence, I have been a single mother, I have been a teenage mother,” she told the audience. “So these issues allow me a different perspective on the way that we legislate in the City Council.”</p> <p>Ayala sees her strength as a candidate in her ability to be in tune with her community’s needs, rather than having particular policy expertise. Asked about her differences with Rodriguez, she took the opportunity to draw a distinction regarding community knowledge and relationships.</p> <p>“In order for you to create common sense legislation you need to be engaged with what’s happening in your community,” she said. “And if not, how do you? This is where policy is born, right?” she said. “And it’s deeply-rooted in the community and things that are happening on a day-to-day basis and it’s really important that we be active participants,” she continued.</p> <p>During her time in Mark-Viverito’s office, Ayala, in addition to building her relationship with residents of the 8th district, grew to admire respect her boss. When they were asked in a July debate to grade the Speaker’s performance, Ayala graded her with an “A” while Rodriguez, noting he respects how hard her job is as an elected official himself, gave her a B or B minus, adding, “[t]here needs to be someone with experience to pick up the banner.” Ayala, who remains loyal to her former boss and has spent time with her while campaigning, is hesitant to put any daylight between herself and her former boss. “The Right to Know Act, I probably would have acted a little bit more swiftly,” she said. “But,” she quickly said, “I understand that she felt like the need to be legislated and there needs to be an opportunity for discussion first.”</p> <p>When asked about the disagreement between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio over legal funding for immigrants that have been convicted of certain crimes, Ayala balked at taking a stance. “I don’t really feel comfortable taking a position on that yet,” she said. “I haven’t really been actively involved in that.”<br /> <br />Despite her loyalty to Mark-Viverito, Ayala has not been able to carry over all of her institutional support. The city’s healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, which is a strong force in city and state politics and has been a close ally (and former employer of) Mark-Viverito, endorsed Rodriguez last week.</p> <p>Indeed, one of the most interesting and determinative aspects of the race to replace her will be what kind of pull Mark-Viverito has among her constituents to choose her successor.</p> <p><strong>Differentiating Themselves</strong> <br />Throughout interviews, forums and other events, the candidates repeatedly underscored their campaign identities: Ayala as the on-the-ground community member and liaison who knows everyone in the neighborhood and what they need, and Rodriguez, the policy guy who’s worked in Albany to help the district largely from afar.</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette asked Ayala if Rodriguez comes up on the campaign trail, Ayala said it’s a rarity but when he does constituents tell her Rodriguez is is seen to be out of touch with the district. “He rarely comes up, but when he does come up, people say ‘where is he? I don’t see him. He’s not in this district. I’m not voting for him.’”</p> <p>Ayala’s campaign is clearly seeking to capitalize on the issue of district presence and constituent services. While going door-to-door in an East Harlem senior NYCHA development, Ayala knew well over half of the people at the doors.</p> <p>“I saw that it was your birthday,” Ayala said in an upbeat tone to one registered Democrat in the building, noting she knew of the birthday from Facebook. At other doors, she stopped to inquire about renovations in the apartments, gave instruction on how best to go about getting things fixed, cleaned, or replaced to residents with home issues and politely inquired about certain tenants’ health if she knew they had been ill.</p> <p>Ayala’s relationships with community members are not exclusively from her years as constituent services director for Mark-Viverito. Before her tenure in the City Council office, Ayala worked in senior services for 20 years, which she credits with lending her familiarity with many in the district.</p> <p>At the August 12 campaign event in East Harlem, Rodriguez spoke comfortably with members of the community. He, like Ayala, transitioned seamlessly between Spanish and English.</p> <p>After his brief speech, Gotham Gazette asked Rodriguez how he differs from Ayala. Like her, he draws on experience, not particular ideological or policy differences between the two, to make the case. Rodriguez argues that the problems are known and thus political skill is what is needed to improve quality of life for District 8 residents. “Policy-wise, on some of the issues...there may not be a difference but execution and experiences I think is where there’s huge difference there,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p>“Having served in the Legislature and understanding the challenges around finding funding, bringing funding into the district, and recognizing that you have to make some difficult decisions and prioritize,” said Rodriguez. “Someone who has that experience, I think, has the advantage in terms of being able to better represent this district and address the issues that are really at crisis levels in the East Harlem and South Bronx,” he added. “I think I can bring a unique set of experiences to do that.”</p> <p><strong>Affordable Housing</strong><br />In an interview in Ayala’s campaign office just a few blocks south of Jefferson Houses following her voter outreach, she again highlighted housing as the most important part of the campaign. “Housing is always going to be the centerpiece of everything,” she said. “Housing continues to be an issue for a lot of reasons. We have a large public housing stock that’s...in pretty dilapidated condition.”</p> <p>Ayala remembered that NYCHA units had declined over the years. “I grew up in public housing. It was really nice and people don’t believe it, but it was,” she said. “They used to paint your house every five years, they would change your cabinets, they would clean the grounds, there was all types of stuff -- they didn’t have rats. Seeing a mouse in public housing was unheard of,” she recalled.</p> <p>This deterioration, she estimates, happened about a decade or two ago. Ayala did not offer specific plans for addressing the problems.</p> <p>Beyond NYCHA, Ayala said affordable housing no longer fits people’s budgets, a major problem in the district. “We have people that are in rent-stabilized units that are paying upward of $2,000 [per month]. So you have families that are overcrowded in these apartments because, even though they’re rent-stabilized...they stopped being affordable,” she said. “We lose almost 400 units a year to rent destabilization and we’re not making them up fast enough, so there’s more going out than coming in,” said Ayala. “And that’s a problem, because that’s how the community stops becoming El Barrio.”</p> <p>This dynamic comes into play regarding East Harlem rezoning in Ayala’s telling. When asked about why she was opposed to the city’s plan, Ayala said that many in the community “fear that they’re going to be pushed out” if the city’s version of East Harlem rezoning is enacted. “And,” she continued, “they fear that y’know we’re going to have all these luxury tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and it’s] not going to be Harlem anymore.”</p> <p><strong>Public Safety</strong><br />After housing, public safety is the next most important issue in the campaign, according to Ayala. “I have several members of my family that have been killed in gun violence,” she said. “My cousin was shot when he was 16 years old at a party when he was minding his business because he accidentally stepped on someone's sneaker and the guy pulled out a shotgun and killed him. My boyfriend was shot when I was 15,” Ayala said. “So..that’s something that continues to plague our community. I spend a lot of time in the community and people are afraid. Our seniors are afraid to sit on the benches, parents are afraid to take their children to the park because we’ve had shootouts in the park in the local playground,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez has been endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association (PBA) and received a $1,000 campaign donation from the police officers union in January. Rodriguez says he favors <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">J-RIP</a>, formally known as Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program. “It really helped with some of the gang issues we’re having in our community and that has to continue,” he said of the program, a paternalistic anti-crime <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">method</a> in which police officers track and intervene in the lives of teenagers authorities deem most likely to commit crimes. He also lamented the high turnover rate in the NYPD, which he regards as a problem of not allowing officers to establish relationships with the communities they serve.</p> <p>Ayala said she did not see the PBA’s stamp of approval as something she would seek, citing differing on issues such as the <a href="http://www.amny.com/news/right-to-know-act-pushed-by-council-members-protesters-in-front-of-city-hall-1.11717618" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Right to Know Act</a> and Closing Rikers Island jails. “I am a supporter of several pieces of legislation in the City Council that, you know, that the PBA is not in favor of, and so I didn’t feel like it was an endorsement that I should pursue,” she said. “I think if you’re being stopped by anyone you should know why you’re being stopped,” she said, referring to one provision of the Right to Know Act, which would mandate more communication from officers during street stops where a crime is not evidently being committed.</p> <p>“I have a great relationship with all of the precincts and community affairs officers, commanding officers,” Ayala said. “I understand that they have a really tough job. But I’m also a parent of a 27-year-old who happens to have dark skin and who happens to, in his teens, be stopped every single day. I think that I have not only a responsibility to teach my son to be respectful of law enforcement, but also to teach law enforcement to be respectful of the community,” she said. “And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. And I work very closely with the police department too so that they understand the perspective of the young people who live in these communities and I think that we’ve been very fortunate that the precinct in the district have been slowly coming along and that relations have improved significantly.”</p> <p><strong>The Campaign’s Defining Issue</strong><br />But housing, and related topics like gentrification and neighborhood character, more so than public safety, jobs, or anything else, has dominated the discourse around the race. At a July campaign forum, Ayala assured the audience that she was in tune with their anxiety about the signs of gentrification, putting her signature personal spin on the matter.</p> <p>“Where I come from,” she said, “it hasn’t always been a positive thing. I grew up on the Lower East Side and we were gentrified and we didn’t know that we were being gentrified because we lived in public housing and nothing really changed for us except for the fact that several years into it, we lost all of our delis, we lost the local pharmacist, we lost the pediatrician that has seen me, my kids my neighbors children,” Ayala said. “And all of these mom and pop stores were replaced by all these sheek bars.”</p> <p>“We have people that move into the community and complain about the many festivals that we have or they complain about the marketa music being too loud, being the type of music they don’t enjoy,” she said. “When we talk about gentrification we want to make sure that if you’re coming into this community, we’ll welcome you, but you need to accept us the way that we are,” said Ayala, speaking to the divide between long-time residents of the neighborhood and some new-coming gentrifiers.</p> <p>At the forum, Rodriguez framed the phenomenon of neighborhood change in a different manner. “East Harlem is still a community of immigrants,” he said. “Let’s not forget our history here. People come from different places far and wide into our community,” Rodriguez said adding that new people moving in “should not be something that we are afraid of.”</p> <p>“I’m open to new people coming in. I’m open to new business. That’s what makes New York City great,” Rodriguez added. Rodriguez also spoke to people’s anxieties about the lack of affordable housing. “Now that being said, we deserve to stay here,” he said. “The housing should reflect what we can afford.”</p> <p>Rodriguez emphasized affordable housing as the “number one issue” in the campaign. “There are concerns that your developments, if it’s something like a Mitchell-Lama, may one day not be affordable,” he said, referring to a type of subsidized housing set aside for middle-income New Yorkers. “They may opt out of a program and they may become market-rate,” said Rodriguez of landlords. “That is what everyone’s concern is when you’re looking at affordable housing units.”</p> <p>He went on to note that affordable housing is a term that is unique to everyone’s needs based on their income and family size. “That’s why, years ago, when I was the chair of the community board, we set affordable housing guidelines that defend what we need as a community so that the city is on notice,” he said. “There are $17 billion of capital needs in NYCHA. Whatever numbers we’re talking about need a significant intervention.” Rodriguez said. “This is a crisis that we have.”</p> <p>But Rodriguez does not welcome all opportunities to build new affordable housing. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7132-crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The East Harlem rezoning plan</a> has loomed in the background of the race. As it stands, Rodriguez is against the city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal, as are Ayala, Mark-Viverito, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>“I’m against it and I support the conditions that were included by the Community Board,” Rodriguez said. “Some of the concerns about the benefits -- are they extending some of those benefits to those that are earning below 30% of AMI (Area Median Income)? How do we increase that? I raised additional concerns about what happens to small businesses and smaller commercial spaces as we start to increase density. Where do the small mom and pop stores go?” he said.</p> <p>Rodriguez, formerly a member of Community Board 11, voiced his respect for the process and disappointment the community’s input wasn’t incorporated sufficiently in the de Blasio administration’s plan. “There’s been a significant amount of community dialogue and I think that the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan is pretty comprehensive at covering some of those issues and concerns and I think that didn’t all materialize in terms of the City Planning proposal,” he said of the plan put forth by the community, in conjunction with Mark-Viverito’s office. Still, all hope is not loss for the prospect of East Harlem rezoning and getting the additional affordable housing that it is aimed at spurring. “[A]t this point in the process, ultimately, it falls on the City Council to either approve it or reject it and try to make as many changes as possible before they get to that place,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not voted upon yet so there’s alway room and opportunity for change.”</p> <p><strong>Charter Schools</strong><br />The two leading candidates’ divergent frames is also evident when they speak about charter schools, which both feel have advantages and drawbacks. “My children are public school students,” Ayala said, prefacing her opinion on the issue. “As a parent, I don’t want anyone to tell me where I can and cannot enroll my children,” she said. “I want to have options. That having been said, there have been issues” with charters. “The reality is, when we meet with parents -- we meet with parents all the time -- and we talk about the whole charter school issues, a lot of the concerns are lack of space,” she explained.</p> <p>Ayala added that many charter schools take up extracurricular activity space used by traditional public school students and lack special education programing, which gives her a less favorable opinion on charter schools. “These are things that are all as important as reading and writing and math,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez spoke about many of the same issues as Ayala when asked about the role of charter schools in an interview, adding the criticism that some charters churn out students that do not meet certain education standards or hurt test scores, and are not welcoming</p> <p>“We have different experience with the charters. We have community charters that are doing great work, and we have some that get a lot of criticisms for practices that are not necessarily reflective of what public schools should be doing,” Rodriguez told Gotham Gazette. He quickly pivoted from any problems with charter schools to the agenda he hopes to help implement in the Council. Funding regular public schools, not charter school policies, would top his list of educational priorities should he be elected, he said. “So my priority on the City Council will be to pick away at some of these issues that are administered locally by the Board of Education and figure out why we’re not getting our fair share.”</p> <p><strong>Purpose</strong><br />During the interview, when Rodriguez was asked for a short summation of his campaign’s central purpose, he talked about what he would do in the City Council. “The elevator pitch is, how can we make differences for our community? And one thing we haven’t talked about is parks and waters,” he said. “One of the things we haven’t talked about is the The East River Esplanade and the South Bronx waterfront,” he said. Rodriguez went on to lament the sorry state of the conditions by the two areas.</p> <p>“There’s no reason why our community, which happens to be low income but are changing rapidly, shouldn’t have world-class parks and open space on their waterfront and that’s something I’d like to fight for,” he said. “I’ve raised the issue, I’ve gotten some state funding. But this is clearly one of those times that it’s clearly a New York City issue that can only be changed by, hopefully, being elected to the City Council and bringing that vision there,” he said. “That’s just one example of many things that can dramatically improve the lives of residents here, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”.</p> <p>At the campaign forum, Rodriguez summed things up more broadly in his closing statement. “If you’re a working mom, if you’re a working family, those are the thing that at the government is supposed to be able to provide some support for,” said Rodriguez. “That’s the job that you sent me to Albany to do,” he said. “So I have the experience and the track record just because you have given me that chance. I want to be able to take the experience and bring it to bear on the city council to meet your needs every day.”</p> <p>As for Ayala, she again struck the tone of personal experience informing her public service when asked about the purpose of her candidacy. “I’m a regular person. I’m a mom. I’m a constituent of this district. I love my community,” she said. “I’m motivated by the needs of my community that are also my needs,” said Ayala. “So when people talk about gentrification and people being pushed out, these are my people that are being pushed out,” Ayala said. “These are my kids that are being pushed out.”</p> <p>”Am I an expert on all things? I am not,” Ayala said at the July campaign forum. “But I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are before us.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/diaz_jr_ayala_mmv.jpg" alt="diaz jr ayala mmv" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. introduces Diana Ayala, alongside Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @jtaranto)</p> <hr /> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the City Council, is term-limited and leaving office at the end of this year, which, aside from indicating that there will be a new leader of the Council, means her position representing the Council’s 8th District is “open.”</p> <p>Since 2005, Mark-Viverito has represented the district, which includes East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. New York State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, whose district encompasses much of District 8, and Diana Ayala, a former Mark-Viverito staffer who the speaker has endorsed as her preferred successor, are in a highly competetive race for the seat.</p> <p>Ayala, 43, has appeared at multiple campaign events alongside her former boss, for whom she was constituent services director and deputy chief of staff. Mark-Viverito has also been door-knocking in the district with Ayala, attempting to use her name recognition to boost Ayala’s, which is far behind Rodriguez’s given his stature as an elected official.</p> <p>Several other electeds from the area have endorsed Ayala, too. These include Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressional Rep. Adrian Espaillat, and City Council Members Rafael Salamanca, Ritchie Torres, and Annabel Palma of the Bronx. Ayala is hardly running away with the endorsements competition, though. The 41-year-old Rodriguez has support from Congressional Rep. Jose Serrano, who campaigned alongside Rodriguez at a recent family day gathering at Johnson Houses, and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is Bronx Democratic Party Chair, among others.</p> <p>While the two can perhaps call it even in backing from key politicians, Ayala had significantly more money than Rodriguez for the remainder of the campaign, at least as of the most recent filings with Campaign Finance Board. As of that mid-August filing, Rodriguez had a bit under $34,000 left after raising $140,000 over the course of the campaign, while Ayala has raised over $77,000, boosted by $95,095 of public matching funds, to leave her campaign with $110,415 to spend. Rodriguez has not yet received any public matching funds.</p> <p>And, though Ayala has the endorsement of the City Council Progressive Caucus and other progressive groups, the two candidates have few disagreements on the key policy issues in the race -- the two top contenders posit themselves similarly on charter schools and the East Harlem rezoning, along with affordable housing, generally.</p> <p>Also on the primary ballot will be community activist Tamika Mapp, who ran against Rodriguez for his Assembly seat in the 2014 primary, and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>Ahead of the Democratic primary on September 12, the candidates have been making their pitches to voters during campaign forums, door-knocking excursions, and community events in the district, revealing two distinct styles reflective of their backgrounds. Gotham Gazette spent time on the campaign trail with both Ayala and Rodriguez, including during retail campaigning and at candidate forums.</p> <p><strong>Candidate Messaging</strong><br />Rodriguez, the son of a former Assembly member for the same district, speaks predominantly about his achievements in Albany, particularly as they relate to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), on the campaign trail. “You sent me up to Albany to fight for NYCHA,” Rodriguez said in his opening statement at a campaign forum in July. “Before I got there, there was no state contribution to New York City public housing. Not one dollar! Since then, in the fight to makes sure that the State meets its responsibility to NYCHA, we now have $300 million committed toward capital for New York City public housing,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rodriguez-raskin.jpg" alt="rodriguez raskin" width="250" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />First elected to the Assembly in 2010, Rodriguez is a former member of Community Board 11. He went on to call attention to his other achievements as a state legislator. “You sent me to Albany to make sure we got a Second Avenue Subway that comes from 96th street to 125th street,” Rodriguez continued. “When there were dangers of taking it out of the budget, which is still being talked about, you sent me up there to be a champion. And today we have $2.2 billion in the MTA plan to move the subway up to 125th street,” he said. “You sent me there to fight for affordable housing to fund the Mitchell-Lamas we have in our community. We have $75 million in the budget to fight for our Mitchell-Lamas to keep them [affordable],” he said, sparking applause from an audience of just short of 200 in an East Harlem school. “Those are the things that you sent me to Albany that have given me the experience to be able to serve you in the City Council.”</p> <p>Like several other state legislators, Rodriguez is making a run this year for City Council, attempting to leave behind the many commutes to Albany and to boost his base salary by nearly 100%, from the $79,500 of a state legislator to the $148,000 of a City Council member. Rodriguez will not lose his Assembly seat if he is not victorious, since state legislative elections are in even years.</p> <p>Campaigning in East Harlem Saturday, August 12, Rodriguez struck familiar points, molding his pitch slightly to the audience inside Jefferson Houses. “I grew up understanding that NYCHA is the only way that low-income people can raise their families and aspire for better,” he said. “So when we got to the Legislature...the State gave no money to public housing. Not one dollar,” he said. “We had to change that. So we made the fight and over the last three years we’ve got $300 million to go to New York City public housing.”</p> <p>“Now that’s not enough,” he continued. ”I’m not saying the job is done; it’s just the beginning. But we know that that put cameras here in Jefferson, and there are more projects that we have to do across NYCHA to help make things better and safer for all our residents,” he said. “Just know that I’ll keep up that fight wherever you let me go.”</p> <p>For her part, Ayala often talks of her own life experiences as making her uniquely suited to represent the district. “I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are all before us,” Ayala said at the August campaign forum. “And I think that’s what makes me a qualified candidate, coupled with the fact that a lot of the issues that came before us, or have come before the office of the Speaker, have been my issues,” she said. “I have been homeless, I have been hungry, I have been the victim of domestic violence, I have been a single mother, I have been a teenage mother,” she told the audience. “So these issues allow me a different perspective on the way that we legislate in the City Council.”</p> <p>Ayala sees her strength as a candidate in her ability to be in tune with her community’s needs, rather than having particular policy expertise. Asked about her differences with Rodriguez, she took the opportunity to draw a distinction regarding community knowledge and relationships.</p> <p>“In order for you to create common sense legislation you need to be engaged with what’s happening in your community,” she said. “And if not, how do you? This is where policy is born, right?” she said. “And it’s deeply-rooted in the community and things that are happening on a day-to-day basis and it’s really important that we be active participants,” she continued.</p> <p>During her time in Mark-Viverito’s office, Ayala, in addition to building her relationship with residents of the 8th district, grew to admire respect her boss. When they were asked in a July debate to grade the Speaker’s performance, Ayala graded her with an “A” while Rodriguez, noting he respects how hard her job is as an elected official himself, gave her a B or B minus, adding, “[t]here needs to be someone with experience to pick up the banner.” Ayala, who remains loyal to her former boss and has spent time with her while campaigning, is hesitant to put any daylight between herself and her former boss. “The Right to Know Act, I probably would have acted a little bit more swiftly,” she said. “But,” she quickly said, “I understand that she felt like the need to be legislated and there needs to be an opportunity for discussion first.”</p> <p>When asked about the disagreement between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio over legal funding for immigrants that have been convicted of certain crimes, Ayala balked at taking a stance. “I don’t really feel comfortable taking a position on that yet,” she said. “I haven’t really been actively involved in that.”<br /> <br />Despite her loyalty to Mark-Viverito, Ayala has not been able to carry over all of her institutional support. The city’s healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, which is a strong force in city and state politics and has been a close ally (and former employer of) Mark-Viverito, endorsed Rodriguez last week.</p> <p>Indeed, one of the most interesting and determinative aspects of the race to replace her will be what kind of pull Mark-Viverito has among her constituents to choose her successor.</p> <p><strong>Differentiating Themselves</strong> <br />Throughout interviews, forums and other events, the candidates repeatedly underscored their campaign identities: Ayala as the on-the-ground community member and liaison who knows everyone in the neighborhood and what they need, and Rodriguez, the policy guy who’s worked in Albany to help the district largely from afar.</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette asked Ayala if Rodriguez comes up on the campaign trail, Ayala said it’s a rarity but when he does constituents tell her Rodriguez is is seen to be out of touch with the district. “He rarely comes up, but when he does come up, people say ‘where is he? I don’t see him. He’s not in this district. I’m not voting for him.’”</p> <p>Ayala’s campaign is clearly seeking to capitalize on the issue of district presence and constituent services. While going door-to-door in an East Harlem senior NYCHA development, Ayala knew well over half of the people at the doors.</p> <p>“I saw that it was your birthday,” Ayala said in an upbeat tone to one registered Democrat in the building, noting she knew of the birthday from Facebook. At other doors, she stopped to inquire about renovations in the apartments, gave instruction on how best to go about getting things fixed, cleaned, or replaced to residents with home issues and politely inquired about certain tenants’ health if she knew they had been ill.</p> <p>Ayala’s relationships with community members are not exclusively from her years as constituent services director for Mark-Viverito. Before her tenure in the City Council office, Ayala worked in senior services for 20 years, which she credits with lending her familiarity with many in the district.</p> <p>At the August 12 campaign event in East Harlem, Rodriguez spoke comfortably with members of the community. He, like Ayala, transitioned seamlessly between Spanish and English.</p> <p>After his brief speech, Gotham Gazette asked Rodriguez how he differs from Ayala. Like her, he draws on experience, not particular ideological or policy differences between the two, to make the case. Rodriguez argues that the problems are known and thus political skill is what is needed to improve quality of life for District 8 residents. “Policy-wise, on some of the issues...there may not be a difference but execution and experiences I think is where there’s huge difference there,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p>“Having served in the Legislature and understanding the challenges around finding funding, bringing funding into the district, and recognizing that you have to make some difficult decisions and prioritize,” said Rodriguez. “Someone who has that experience, I think, has the advantage in terms of being able to better represent this district and address the issues that are really at crisis levels in the East Harlem and South Bronx,” he added. “I think I can bring a unique set of experiences to do that.”</p> <p><strong>Affordable Housing</strong><br />In an interview in Ayala’s campaign office just a few blocks south of Jefferson Houses following her voter outreach, she again highlighted housing as the most important part of the campaign. “Housing is always going to be the centerpiece of everything,” she said. “Housing continues to be an issue for a lot of reasons. We have a large public housing stock that’s...in pretty dilapidated condition.”</p> <p>Ayala remembered that NYCHA units had declined over the years. “I grew up in public housing. It was really nice and people don’t believe it, but it was,” she said. “They used to paint your house every five years, they would change your cabinets, they would clean the grounds, there was all types of stuff -- they didn’t have rats. Seeing a mouse in public housing was unheard of,” she recalled.</p> <p>This deterioration, she estimates, happened about a decade or two ago. Ayala did not offer specific plans for addressing the problems.</p> <p>Beyond NYCHA, Ayala said affordable housing no longer fits people’s budgets, a major problem in the district. “We have people that are in rent-stabilized units that are paying upward of $2,000 [per month]. So you have families that are overcrowded in these apartments because, even though they’re rent-stabilized...they stopped being affordable,” she said. “We lose almost 400 units a year to rent destabilization and we’re not making them up fast enough, so there’s more going out than coming in,” said Ayala. “And that’s a problem, because that’s how the community stops becoming El Barrio.”</p> <p>This dynamic comes into play regarding East Harlem rezoning in Ayala’s telling. When asked about why she was opposed to the city’s plan, Ayala said that many in the community “fear that they’re going to be pushed out” if the city’s version of East Harlem rezoning is enacted. “And,” she continued, “they fear that y’know we’re going to have all these luxury tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and it’s] not going to be Harlem anymore.”</p> <p><strong>Public Safety</strong><br />After housing, public safety is the next most important issue in the campaign, according to Ayala. “I have several members of my family that have been killed in gun violence,” she said. “My cousin was shot when he was 16 years old at a party when he was minding his business because he accidentally stepped on someone's sneaker and the guy pulled out a shotgun and killed him. My boyfriend was shot when I was 15,” Ayala said. “So..that’s something that continues to plague our community. I spend a lot of time in the community and people are afraid. Our seniors are afraid to sit on the benches, parents are afraid to take their children to the park because we’ve had shootouts in the park in the local playground,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez has been endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association (PBA) and received a $1,000 campaign donation from the police officers union in January. Rodriguez says he favors <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">J-RIP</a>, formally known as Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program. “It really helped with some of the gang issues we’re having in our community and that has to continue,” he said of the program, a paternalistic anti-crime <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">method</a> in which police officers track and intervene in the lives of teenagers authorities deem most likely to commit crimes. He also lamented the high turnover rate in the NYPD, which he regards as a problem of not allowing officers to establish relationships with the communities they serve.</p> <p>Ayala said she did not see the PBA’s stamp of approval as something she would seek, citing differing on issues such as the <a href="http://www.amny.com/news/right-to-know-act-pushed-by-council-members-protesters-in-front-of-city-hall-1.11717618" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Right to Know Act</a> and Closing Rikers Island jails. “I am a supporter of several pieces of legislation in the City Council that, you know, that the PBA is not in favor of, and so I didn’t feel like it was an endorsement that I should pursue,” she said. “I think if you’re being stopped by anyone you should know why you’re being stopped,” she said, referring to one provision of the Right to Know Act, which would mandate more communication from officers during street stops where a crime is not evidently being committed.</p> <p>“I have a great relationship with all of the precincts and community affairs officers, commanding officers,” Ayala said. “I understand that they have a really tough job. But I’m also a parent of a 27-year-old who happens to have dark skin and who happens to, in his teens, be stopped every single day. I think that I have not only a responsibility to teach my son to be respectful of law enforcement, but also to teach law enforcement to be respectful of the community,” she said. “And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. And I work very closely with the police department too so that they understand the perspective of the young people who live in these communities and I think that we’ve been very fortunate that the precinct in the district have been slowly coming along and that relations have improved significantly.”</p> <p><strong>The Campaign’s Defining Issue</strong><br />But housing, and related topics like gentrification and neighborhood character, more so than public safety, jobs, or anything else, has dominated the discourse around the race. At a July campaign forum, Ayala assured the audience that she was in tune with their anxiety about the signs of gentrification, putting her signature personal spin on the matter.</p> <p>“Where I come from,” she said, “it hasn’t always been a positive thing. I grew up on the Lower East Side and we were gentrified and we didn’t know that we were being gentrified because we lived in public housing and nothing really changed for us except for the fact that several years into it, we lost all of our delis, we lost the local pharmacist, we lost the pediatrician that has seen me, my kids my neighbors children,” Ayala said. “And all of these mom and pop stores were replaced by all these sheek bars.”</p> <p>“We have people that move into the community and complain about the many festivals that we have or they complain about the marketa music being too loud, being the type of music they don’t enjoy,” she said. “When we talk about gentrification we want to make sure that if you’re coming into this community, we’ll welcome you, but you need to accept us the way that we are,” said Ayala, speaking to the divide between long-time residents of the neighborhood and some new-coming gentrifiers.</p> <p>At the forum, Rodriguez framed the phenomenon of neighborhood change in a different manner. “East Harlem is still a community of immigrants,” he said. “Let’s not forget our history here. People come from different places far and wide into our community,” Rodriguez said adding that new people moving in “should not be something that we are afraid of.”</p> <p>“I’m open to new people coming in. I’m open to new business. That’s what makes New York City great,” Rodriguez added. Rodriguez also spoke to people’s anxieties about the lack of affordable housing. “Now that being said, we deserve to stay here,” he said. “The housing should reflect what we can afford.”</p> <p>Rodriguez emphasized affordable housing as the “number one issue” in the campaign. “There are concerns that your developments, if it’s something like a Mitchell-Lama, may one day not be affordable,” he said, referring to a type of subsidized housing set aside for middle-income New Yorkers. “They may opt out of a program and they may become market-rate,” said Rodriguez of landlords. “That is what everyone’s concern is when you’re looking at affordable housing units.”</p> <p>He went on to note that affordable housing is a term that is unique to everyone’s needs based on their income and family size. “That’s why, years ago, when I was the chair of the community board, we set affordable housing guidelines that defend what we need as a community so that the city is on notice,” he said. “There are $17 billion of capital needs in NYCHA. Whatever numbers we’re talking about need a significant intervention.” Rodriguez said. “This is a crisis that we have.”</p> <p>But Rodriguez does not welcome all opportunities to build new affordable housing. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7132-crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The East Harlem rezoning plan</a> has loomed in the background of the race. As it stands, Rodriguez is against the city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal, as are Ayala, Mark-Viverito, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>“I’m against it and I support the conditions that were included by the Community Board,” Rodriguez said. “Some of the concerns about the benefits -- are they extending some of those benefits to those that are earning below 30% of AMI (Area Median Income)? How do we increase that? I raised additional concerns about what happens to small businesses and smaller commercial spaces as we start to increase density. Where do the small mom and pop stores go?” he said.</p> <p>Rodriguez, formerly a member of Community Board 11, voiced his respect for the process and disappointment the community’s input wasn’t incorporated sufficiently in the de Blasio administration’s plan. “There’s been a significant amount of community dialogue and I think that the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan is pretty comprehensive at covering some of those issues and concerns and I think that didn’t all materialize in terms of the City Planning proposal,” he said of the plan put forth by the community, in conjunction with Mark-Viverito’s office. Still, all hope is not loss for the prospect of East Harlem rezoning and getting the additional affordable housing that it is aimed at spurring. “[A]t this point in the process, ultimately, it falls on the City Council to either approve it or reject it and try to make as many changes as possible before they get to that place,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not voted upon yet so there’s alway room and opportunity for change.”</p> <p><strong>Charter Schools</strong><br />The two leading candidates’ divergent frames is also evident when they speak about charter schools, which both feel have advantages and drawbacks. “My children are public school students,” Ayala said, prefacing her opinion on the issue. “As a parent, I don’t want anyone to tell me where I can and cannot enroll my children,” she said. “I want to have options. That having been said, there have been issues” with charters. “The reality is, when we meet with parents -- we meet with parents all the time -- and we talk about the whole charter school issues, a lot of the concerns are lack of space,” she explained.</p> <p>Ayala added that many charter schools take up extracurricular activity space used by traditional public school students and lack special education programing, which gives her a less favorable opinion on charter schools. “These are things that are all as important as reading and writing and math,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez spoke about many of the same issues as Ayala when asked about the role of charter schools in an interview, adding the criticism that some charters churn out students that do not meet certain education standards or hurt test scores, and are not welcoming</p> <p>“We have different experience with the charters. We have community charters that are doing great work, and we have some that get a lot of criticisms for practices that are not necessarily reflective of what public schools should be doing,” Rodriguez told Gotham Gazette. He quickly pivoted from any problems with charter schools to the agenda he hopes to help implement in the Council. Funding regular public schools, not charter school policies, would top his list of educational priorities should he be elected, he said. “So my priority on the City Council will be to pick away at some of these issues that are administered locally by the Board of Education and figure out why we’re not getting our fair share.”</p> <p><strong>Purpose</strong><br />During the interview, when Rodriguez was asked for a short summation of his campaign’s central purpose, he talked about what he would do in the City Council. “The elevator pitch is, how can we make differences for our community? And one thing we haven’t talked about is parks and waters,” he said. “One of the things we haven’t talked about is the The East River Esplanade and the South Bronx waterfront,” he said. Rodriguez went on to lament the sorry state of the conditions by the two areas.</p> <p>“There’s no reason why our community, which happens to be low income but are changing rapidly, shouldn’t have world-class parks and open space on their waterfront and that’s something I’d like to fight for,” he said. “I’ve raised the issue, I’ve gotten some state funding. But this is clearly one of those times that it’s clearly a New York City issue that can only be changed by, hopefully, being elected to the City Council and bringing that vision there,” he said. “That’s just one example of many things that can dramatically improve the lives of residents here, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”.</p> <p>At the campaign forum, Rodriguez summed things up more broadly in his closing statement. “If you’re a working mom, if you’re a working family, those are the thing that at the government is supposed to be able to provide some support for,” said Rodriguez. “That’s the job that you sent me to Albany to do,” he said. “So I have the experience and the track record just because you have given me that chance. I want to be able to take the experience and bring it to bear on the city council to meet your needs every day.”</p> <p>As for Ayala, she again struck the tone of personal experience informing her public service when asked about the purpose of her candidacy. “I’m a regular person. I’m a mom. I’m a constituent of this district. I love my community,” she said. “I’m motivated by the needs of my community that are also my needs,” said Ayala. “So when people talk about gentrification and people being pushed out, these are my people that are being pushed out,” Ayala said. “These are my kids that are being pushed out.”</p> <p>”Am I an expert on all things? I am not,” Ayala said at the July campaign forum. “But I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are before us.”</p> <p> </p> Three More State Legislators Seek City Council Seats 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6948:three-more-state-legislators-seek-city-council-seats Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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