Tag Archive | "primary election"

Newcomer Trounces Incumbent in Bid for Bronx State Assembly Seat

Mark Gjonaj becomes the first Albanian American with a chance to serve in the 80th State Assembly District. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

A Bronx ballroom filled with supporters of political newcomer Mark Gjonaj erupted in cheers near midnight Sept. 13 when poll numbers pushed the real estate developer over the top in the race for the Democratic state assembly nomination in the 80th district. Gjonaj, 43, is poised to become the first Albanian American in the Bronx to hold a seat in the assembly. He toppled two-term incumbent Naomi Rivera by a margin of 11 percent (513 votes). More than one hundred supporters celebrated the successful campaign with food, an open bar and DJ at Maestro's Catering on Bronxdale Avenue in Van Nest. "I'm feeling loved," Gjonaj told the crowd, with relief. "I'm feeling blessed and I'm grateful and I'm humbled." Rivera, his opponent who has held the 80th assembly seat since 2005 had the backing of the powerful Bronx Democratic Committee, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. She faced criticism after political scandals surfaced during her most recent term. Most recently Rivera came under fire for placing  boyfriend Tommy Torres on her state payroll as a part-time consultant. Another investigation involving a different ex-boyfriend is also underway. Gjonaj won the backing of social conservative New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. He outspent Rivera by about 62 percent. Gjonaj thanked his campaign volunteers and supporters in a speech, saying "without them, there's no me." "This is about progress," said Gjonaj in a speech last night. "It's about change. It's about moving forward." He also acknowledged Rivera's public service in the district for the past eight years. Gjonaj grew up in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, the son of two Albanian immigrants. He has worked as a realtor and businessman, and has served as a member of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

A homemade poster supporting Mark Gjonaj. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

According to campaign manager Emmett Hare, Gjonaj currently resides in at Eastchester Road in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood with his wife and two sons, ages 12 and 13. He used his business acumen to his advantage, and raised $227,893 for his campaign according to financial disclosure reports from April to August. His backers included several realtors, construction companies, insurance agencies, contractors and law firms, as well as many individual donors. Rivera raised $140,697.69 between March and August. Community outreach was a key aspect of Gjonaj’s campaign. On Sundays throughout the summer, he hosted free barbecues for residents of his district. He launched a street-cleaning initiative called “Gjonaj Cares” along 204th Street in the Norwood area of the Bronx and on Lydig Avenue in Morris Park. His Morris Park campaign office opened to the public as a cooling station during the summer, he donated school supplies to the children of the Pelham Parkway Houses development and facilitated the donation of unsold food from local restaurants to shelters. Gjonaj's campaign team, dressed in signature yellow shirts, was out in full force in the weeks before the election, handing out pamphlets and talking to community members. Volunteer Troy Coleman said that "the experience was fantastic." The day of the primaries, he campaigned outside of Tracey Towers, where Gjonaj was active in preventing a rent increase. Gjonaj promised to work hard for the future of his district. "This means the 80th assembly district will have somebody that represents their best interests," he said. "I'm going to wake up each with them on my mind and before I lay my head down to sleep. I'm going to think about them and how I serve them."

Mark Gjonaj stands with his family and supporters after the primary results are announced. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

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Incumbent Arroyo Pummels Both Primary Challengers

Panels and campaign volunteers promoted Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo throughout the South Bronx. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / The Bronx Ink)

Longtime incumbent New York State Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo captured 53 percent of the  Democratic primary vote by late Thursday night., despite two spirited bids to unseat her.  Challengers Maximino Rivera, a community activist, and Charles Serrano, a former police officer, split the remaining votes 25 percent to 22 percent. Arroyo, whose campaign volunteers were not available for comment last night while votes were being tallied, will likely continue representing the 84thdistrict that includes Highbridge, Longwood, Melrose, Mott Haven, Port Morris and Hunts Point neighborhoods after election day Nov. 6. There has yet to be a Republican challenger for the seat. Her opponents criticized her lengthy tenure that has not been free from scandal. “She’s been there too long,” Rivera said of Arroyo. “It’s time for her to go.” Both opponents faced challenges staying afloat in the race against Arroyo, whose ties to party politics are well established. The Rivera and Serrano camps said the Arroyo campaign unsuccessfully challenged the signatures on their petitions, which slowed down their campaign timetables. “It’s a real battle just to get on the machine,” said Jose Velez, who was raised in the South Bronx and ran for male district leader of the Serrano campaign. After getting past that hurdle, Rivera and Serrano focused on presenting alternatives to Arroyo. Rivera, a former Post Office employee and community organizer, ran a lively campaign. Rivera’s sister Maria Chompre said the campaign had a 30-person core comprised of family and friends. Rivera campaigned for Arroyo during a previous race, and said he did so only because he favored Arroyo over her opponent.

Maximino Rivera believed it was time for longtime pol Carmen Arroyo to step down. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / The Bronx Ink)

Serrano, who was part of the New York City Police Department for 25 years, campaigned on the promise to push for term limits for all state-level representatives. He also focused on housing, senior citizen issues and crime, with an emphasis on gun violence. Both challengers are Vietnam veterans. Both complained that Arroyo has become complacent after almost two decades in office. “Carmen was a very good activist, but for the last eight to ten years she’s been missing in action,” Rivera said. Arroyo disclosed $4028 in campaign contributions. Rivera and Serrano did not file financial reports.

Candidate Charles Serrano and district leader candidate Jose Velez said getting on the ballot was not easy. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE / The Bronx Ink)

Low voter turnout did not help the challengers to Arroyo's seat. Serrano said people's focus lay elsewhere, even though the primary campaign was important because the results decided who would win this seat in the general election. “People want to vote, they don’t really know when they have to vote,” Serrano said, “They’re only thinking about  November 6.” For those who did make it to a polls, change was an important factor. Evelyn V. Figueroa, a nurse from the Melrose section of the Bronx, said she wanted to see crime decrease and access to housing and healthcare increase. She said she had not seen any improvements in these categories in the 10 years she has been living in the area. “This is like a lottery game,” Figueroa said. “We’ll see what happens. I definitely hope there will be some change.      

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