District 17 The South Bronx

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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what many are calling New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history.

What is so significant about it?
For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

Why will the races be so open?
There are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

What does this have to do with this site?
As a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate page for each race, including all the races for City Council, that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn about the issues, and the districts themselves.

Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government group in the city (founded in 1897).

What's wrong with the way the regular press covers the races?
That is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial press.

Who are we?


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Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002

General Election Results

x-Jose Serrano, Dem 12,002 - 88 percent
Aida Perez, Rep 1,428 - 11 percent
Patrick McManus, Con 145 - 1 percent

Primary Election Results

Jose Serrano 9,258
Pedro Espada Jr. 5,975
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)

Incumbent: Pedro G. Espada

The Candidates:

  • Patrick McManus (Con)
  • Aida Perez (Rep)
  • Jose Marco Serrano (Dem)

Contributors to these candidates, according to the Campaign Finance Board:

Contributors to Pedro G. Espada
Contributors to Jose Marco Serrano
Patrick McManus has not filed.
Aida Perez has not filed.

City's Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District 17

Campaign Feature:
[Campaign Update]

Rising Sons, Still-Fallen Neighborhood

Walking along Hunts Point Boulevard near 163rd Street, with its modest but well-kept apartment buildings and high-flying Puerto Rican flags, it is difficult to believe that this section of the South Bronx is one of the city's most troubled areas.

Much of District 17, although better than it once was, remains abused and forsaken. Although the problems cut a broad swath, the city council race in the area will focus on three major issues: the environment, education and a lack of affordable housing. These concerns are familiar throughout much of the city, but in district 17, they are especially dire and symptomatic of what candidate Jose Marco Seranno calls an "on-going systematic neglect of the South Bronx."

Such difficulties may be put on the backburner, though, while the two candidates vying to represent the district, incumbent Pedro G. Espada and challenger Jose Marco Serrano, carry on a family feud begun by their fathers, state Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr. and U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano.

The Espadas, known as political mavericks, are familiar foes of the Bronx Democratic Party organization, which endorsed Serrano for city council in mid-May. The Espadas once considered Congressman Serrano a firm supporter, says Councilman Espada. But tensions have run high between the Espadas and the Bronx Democratic Party since Senator Espada was accused of embezzling money from his health-care center to fund his political campaigns. Espada charged the Democratic Party organization with being behind the indictment. He was acquitted last year.

Area Profile
For a detailed profile of this district from City Project, click here.


  • Hispanic: 66%
  • Black: 30%
  • White: 2%
  • Asian: 1%

Median income: $20, 809 (50th out of 51)

Unemployment rate: 16%

For more information on this district -- its schools, its crime statistics and more -- click here.

The younger Espada is far less confrontational than his father in discussing the feud, and indeed far less clear. "I was unaware when the family feud began," he says. "In no shape or form do we consider it a feud."

Serrano, an information systems manager at the New York Shakespeare Festival, says he grew up "in a household where community service was the number one priority." He believes his dedication to the South Bronx will infuse "a new energy into city district 17," and rally the community to demand change from the city council.

District 17 has long served as a receptacle for the city's waste and as a site for industrial eyesores. Everything from medical incinerators to garbage transfer stations and power turbines have found a home there. At least 40 percent of the city's garbage is dumped in the district. During his term in office, Espada has consistently opposed placing new waste transfer stations in the district.

Trucks traverse the neighborhoods, contributing, some believe, to an asthma rate in the South Bronx that is 12 times the national average. In recent months, the city has increased its steps to move the Fulton Fish Market from Manhattan to the South Bronx. This has placed more strain on an already tenuous relationship between the district's community leaders and city hall.

Majora Carter of the Point Community Development Corporation, who considered running for City Council herself, says the council member elected to represent the South Bronx should push for research on alternative fuels and develop truck routes that circumvent neighborhoods. Serrano endorses Carter's approach.

Carter and Serrano believe that residents of the South Bronx need to join together to fight the "environmental racism" that forces so many polluting facilities on poor neighborhoods.

Education also cries out for the candidates' attention. Although some improvements have been made, such as Saturday English class for Spanish-speaking students at some elementary schools, test scores are among the lowest in the city. In 1998-99 only 28 percent of students scored at or above the national average in reading; 39 percent scored at or above the national average in math.

The schools confronted with this problem are woefully overcrowded. PS 130, on Prospect Avenue is at 110 percent of its capacity. The average class size is 38, according to principal Daniel Garcia, who says his teachers are not offered enough training. This is especially crucial in the neighborhood, because schools often must provide children the kind of support that they are not receiving at home.

Despite persistent problems, Garcia has been pleased with Espada's work as a city councilmember. "He's very responsive to us," declares Garcia. Espada estimates that he has pumped over $100,000 into new school computer labs and after-school programs. He supported the opening of two youth centers at the Melrose Houses, a housing project.

The problem of affordable housing in the area is made worse because, while there are still plenty of abandoned buildings that could be renovated for the poor, new buildings are going up instead for middle-income families, through projects such as those run by the New York City Partnership. Most of these apartment are for families that make a minimum of $35,000 a year, says Mathew Lee of the Inner City Press, while the average household income in district 17 is around $20,000.

Each candidate in this race has an asset. Espada is the incumbent; Serrano h as the Bronx Democratic Party organization's backing. The race might come down to which organization, the Bronx Democrats or the Espadas, has the most political leverage. But with a neglected community in tow, many people in the South Bronx are less interested in political rivalries than their community's future.

Campaign Update:

Incumbent Councilman Pedro G. Espada and Jose Marco Serrano remain the only Democratic candidates vying for the city council seat in district 17, but one of them will face Republican Aida Perez and Conservative Patrick McManus in the general election in November.

McManus, a retired postal service employee and former candidate for Congress, cited failing schools and crime as two major issues he would address if elected. McManus believes the first step to solving the district's problems is electing a city council member who operates independent of any party machine.

"It's important to have council members who don't answer to political leaders and are not afraid of stepping on a few toes. Council members should be their own people," says McManus.

Aida Perez could not be reached for an interview.

Posted 8/01/01

Candidate Biographies

Pedro G. Espada is the current council member for district 17. He serves on the civil service and labor committee, contracts committee, health committee, and youth services committee. Espada became the youngest State Assemblyman in history when he won a seat there in 1996, and then served for less than a year.

Patrick McManus, a retired postal worker, ran for Congress in 2000. He also serves on the executive committee of the Conservative Party.

Aida Perez (no information available)

Jose Marco Serrano is an information systems manager for the New York Shakespeare Festival and a member of Community Board 4 and Bronx Council on the Arts as well as chairman of the board for Urban Family Health, a nonprofit health-care organization.

Campaign Trail

The New York Times called this one of the ten races to watch. The race in the Mott Haven and Hunts Point sections of the Bronx is an intense battle between the sons of two of the Bronx's best-known politicians. Councilman Pedro Gautier Espada, the son of State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., is in the battle of his political life against Josˇ Marco Serrano, the son of Representative Josˇ E. Serrano. The race also highlights a boroughwide feud between the Espada family and its political operation and the Bronx Democratic organization, which is supporting Mr. Serrano. (New York Times)

Roberto Ramirez is not the only one with something to lose this fall. Another potential big loser or winner, depending on what happens, is Congressman Jose Serrano. The race in the 17th council district is a very tough race. Opposing any incumbent is a difficult thing. This is high-stakes political theater, here. When you have Jose Marco Serrano, the congressman's son, running against Councilman Pedro Gautier Espada, the son of the borough president candidate and state senator, you would have to expect that if the younger Serrano doesn't win that race, someone would be challenging Congressman Serrano the following year in 2002. (Bronx Talk)

The Bronx Democratic Party organization endorses Jose Marco Serrano. (NY Times)

Jose Marco Serrano, a 28-year-old information systems manager for the New York Shakespeare Festival and the son of Representative Jose E. Serrano, is running for a Council seat in the Bronx. (He is challenging the incumbent, Pedro Gautier Espada, who is the son of State Senator Pedro Espada Jr.) And in another generational move, the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., 57, is hoping to win a Council seat with the assistance of his 27-year-old campaign manager and son, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. (New York Times)

The sons of two well-known South Bronx Democrats are carrying on their fathers' rivalries in the 17th District City Council race. Incumbent Pedro G. Espada, son of state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., will face a challenge from Jose Marco Serrano, whose father is Rep. Jose Serrano. The race promises to be yet another battlefront in the war between the Espadas and the borough's Democratic organization. (Daily News)



Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

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Board of Elections
32 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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