Assembly District 82 - Bronx by Gotham Gazette Staff, Jul 26, 2004 TwitterÂ GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATES Raymond Capone (Con/Rep) Michael Benedetto (Dem) PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS: Winner - Michael Benedetto (Dem) PRIMARY CANDIDATES Michael Benedetto (Dem) Jeannette Graves (Dem) Rodney Saunders (Dem) CAMPAIGN FEATURE: In a Rare Open Race, Education and Co-Op City Dominate Campaign The indictment of long-time State Senator Guy Velella, who is serving one year in prison for bribery, has upended the status quo in Bronx politics this year - not only in his district, but in two other districts as well. Two incumbent State Assembly members have even given up their seats to run for Velella’s spot. One of them is Assembly Democrat Stephen Kaufman, who has represented the neighborhoods of the northwest Bronx since 1998. Five candidates â€“ including a teacher, a long time education advocate, and a current City Council member â€“ are now running to take Kaufman’s place. And all are campaigning on two main issues: education and the future of Co-op City. Democrat Michael Benedetto, a special education teacher and founder of the Bronx Times Reporter newspaper, has received Kaufman’s endorsement. Benedetto said 30 years of teaching at P.S. 160 has made him increasingly frustrated with legislators in Albany who have been unable to adequately fund Bronx schools. Last year, P.S. 160 faced budget cuts and the principal is still unsure how many teachers can be hired for the fall. “As a teacher, you want the security of knowing what will happen when the school year opens,” said Benedetto. “ There is an uncertainty in not knowing if you have enough personnel or enough teachers.” Another candidate Democrat Rodney Saunders also has an extensive education background. He is a long-time school district leader and is also on the board of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the group that successfully sued the state charging that the formula for funding New York City schools is unconstitutional. Saunders said that money from the lawsuit â€“ which legislators are required to address by July 30 - must be used to repair school buildings, expand classrooms and purchase computers. “In the new millennium, we should have classrooms of the future,” said Saunders. City Councilmember Larry Seabrook, who served in the State Assembly, State Senate, and was elected to the New York City Council in 2001, is also running on his education record. "I've been able to accommodate all the schools within the district that have made requests to me for computer labs, for intercom systems, for gym floors to be fixed," Seabrook said last year. Another critical issue is Co-Op City, the giant housing complex that houses 50,000 residents. It is also a key political battleground for candidates running for office. In recent years, Co-Op City has fallen into disrepair and racked up $220 million in debt. The buildings are crumbling, windows are broken, and last year its parking garages were shut down for fear that they might collapse. In January, the State Legislature came to the aid of Co-Op City, promising a $475 million bailout, but the plan has hit difficulties in recent months. Banks, who were supposed to be part of the plan, are reluctant to loan money to the troubled housing complex, which means repairs are being delayed. “The financing plan didn’t work out,” said Benedetto, who said returning the housing complex to fiscal stability must be a top priority for the new elected official. Saunders hopes to ensure that rents and maintenance fees remain low at Co-Op City, the state’s largest Mitchell-Lama housing complex. But with all of the needed repairs, costs are expected to rise. While Conservative Party candidate Raymond Capone does not have specific ideas for dealing with the immediate crisis at Co-Op City, he said it must remain affordable in order to keep young middle-class people from leaving the city. “More and more middle class families are leaving New York State,” said Capone, “and unfortunately the Bronx is a dying and forgotten borough.” Capone, who ran three years ago, said he would focus on lowering taxes and attracting new businesses to the area if elected. Both Seabrook and Saunders live in Co-Op City and their past political rivalry will play out in the area. Raymond Saunders’ wife Shirley Saunders faced off against Seabrook in the last two City Council elections. She narrowly lost in 2001 by just over 100 votes. Past campaigns have been hard fought, with Saunders accusing Seabrook of being absent from many community meetings and not doing enough to address the needs of the area. Seabrook dismisses the charges. “I have the political experience to run a tough race, win and serve this community in the Assembly the way it should be served,” Seabrook told The Bronx Times. While Seabrook has a long track record and name recognition, Benedetto, who is also chair of community board 10, is gaining support from other area politicians including Bronx City Council member Madeline Provenzano. Benedetto lost previous bids for office, but is hopeful this time. “Every other time I ran, I was running against incumbents,” Benedetto said. “This time, it’s an election where I am known throughout the community.” CAMPAIGN UPDATE (Posted 09/07/04) City Councilmember Larry Seabrook, who was running as a Democrat in district 82, withdrew from the race and placed his director of constituent services, Jeannette Graves on the ballot in his place. Under city election law, candidates who exit a race after they file valid petitions may hand-select their replacement if they do so within three days of filing. Another candidate Felicia Sementilli was knocked off the ballot because she became a Democrat only a month before filing her petitions for the Democratic Party primary. To run in a party’s primary, a candidate must be registered with that party at least one year before the general election. CANDIDATE BIOGRAPHIES Michael Benedetto is the founder the Bronx Times Reporter, an online community newspaper. He has taught special education at P.S. 160 for 27 years. He has been a Democratic district leader for 16 years. He is the head of the Chippewa Democratic Club. Raymond Capone serves on the executive board of the Conservative Party. Jeanette Graves is the director of consitutent services for Bronx City Councilmember Larry Seabrook. Rodney Saunders is a former president of Community School Board 11 in the Bronx. Saunders is currently on the Board of Directors for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. CAMPAIGN TRAIL 9/16/04 Michael Benedetto won the Democratic nomination for the 82nd Assembly District seat. With an extensive resume of community and education activism, the former Co-op City teacher beat two Co-op City residents, Jeannette Graves and Rodney Saunders. Benedetto will face off against Raymond Capone on Election Day. (The Bronx Times) 08/12/04 Political newcomer Felicia Sementilli will not be able to run for the 82nd Assembly District seat, because she only became a Democrat a month before filing her petitions for the Democratic Party primary, City Board of Elections officials said last week. Sementilli became the second candidate in this race to make a replacement, following City Councilman Larry Seabrook, who dropped out three weeks ago and named his director of constituent services, Jeanette Graves, to replace him. (Bronx Times Reporter) 7/15/04 Assemblyman Stephen B. Kaufman officially endorsed the candidacy of current Democratic District Leader Michael Benedetto for the 82nd Assembly District. ( Bronx Times) 6/10/04 With Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, who currently represents the 82nd Assembly District, and Assemblyman Jeff Klein, who currently represents the 80th Assembly District, considered the two main contenders for the Senate Seat vacated last month by Guy Velella, the coming weeks and months should prove quite interesting in terms of who is or isn’t running for office in the Bronx Times Reporter. (Bronx Times) 6/3/04 Michael Benedetto, who has taught at P.S. 160 for 25 years and has served as, Democratic district leader for the past decade and a half, announced his Candidacy for Stephen Kaufman’s Assembly seat on Tuesday, June 1. Bronx Times Reporter. 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