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Newcomer Defeats Espada in Primary

October 7, 2010

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STATE SENATOR PEDRO ESPADA, JR. TALKS TO THE MEDIA AFTER CONCEDING (PHOTOS: A. TALWAR)

By ALEX KRATZ and JAMES FERGUSSON

Gustavo Rivera, a 34-year-old first-time candidate buoyed by an army of local, institutional and political support, defeated incumbent 33rd District State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. in the Sept. 14 primary.

A career-long Democratic operative, the tall, goateed Rivera easily defeated Espada, taking nearly two-thirds of the total votes (62 percent to Espada’s 32 percent).

That night, Espada gave a defiant concession speech at La Luna Lounge in Tremont, blaming the media and “outsider millionaires” for toppling him. Rivera, meanwhile, thanked his supporters at the Monte Carlo Room across from the Kingsbridge Armory and told voters they had made the right decision.

“For far too long, our community has been ill-served by corrupt politics,” Rivera said. “We’ve been the brunt of jokes and the object of ridicule. Well, tonight you had a choice. You had a choice between progress or patronage. You had a choice between honest policy or the politics of ‘me.’ You had a choice between ethics or indictments. Tonight, I am here to report that the people of the Bronx made the right choice!”

Since taking office in January 2009, Espada had used the thin Democratic majority (32-30) in the Senate to his advantage, leveraging his support for Democratic leadership to gain increasingly powerful titles and positions.

Last year, he sided with Republicans, effectively shutting down state government for more than a month in the so-called Senate coup. He switched back to the Democrats after they made him majority leader and enacted reforms that gave more power to committee chairs.

Espada’s actions drew the ire of the state Democratic Party and Senate colleagues, many of whom endorsed Rivera — as did a long list of unions and progressive advocacy groups. His inaction on pro-tenant bills as housing committee chair (and cozy relationship with powerful landlord organizations) made him a target for the city’s numerous pro-tenant organizing groups.

On top of that, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a civil suit against Espada for allegedly bilking his chain of nonprofit health care clinics for $14 million. (Espada’s defenders say the suit was politically motivated and point to the lack of criminal charges as proof.)

Sensing Espada’s vulnerability, Democratic challengers, including Rivera and Kingsbridge lawyer Dan Padernacht jumped into the race.

In July, millionaire political activist Bill Samuels, who vowed to spend $250,000 to defeat Espada through his New Roosevelt group, announced his support for Rivera, and slowly more and more anti-Espada groups began coalescing around Rivera’s candidacy.

Padernacht stayed in the race until the week before the primary. His name appeared on the ballot, but a week before the primary, he threw his support behind Rivera, and Democratic leaders hailed him as a hero. He still took in 5 percent of the vote.

On top of New Roosevelt’s spending spree and vast network of volunteers (many of them local activists), the Working Families Party, a minor political party with a reputation for fighting hard for their chosen candidates, spent close to $100,000 on the race. On Primary Day, they sent 105 people to the district to campaign for Rivera. Daniel Cantor, the party’s executive director, described the race as the “most important in the state” and a major priority for his party.

“The Senate coup was really a terrible thing he [Espada] did, and so this is payback, recompense,” Cantor said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of 32BJ SEIU and 1199 SEIU members campaigned for Rivera in the weeks leading up to the primary and on Primary Day itself, knocking on doors and handing out fliers.

Haile Rivera, an Espada aide who took time out to work on his boss’ campaign, said the unions played a role in Espada’s defeat, but that other factors were also at play. He says “an overwhelming number of voters [at the polls] confused” Gustavo Rivera with Jose Rivera, the well-known and long-serving assemblyman.The near constant bad press also hurt Espada, Rivera said, especially with white voters in the northern end of the district.

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ON PRIMARY NIGHT, GOV. DAVID PATERSON (RIGHT) STOPPED BY TO CONGRATULATE RIVERA (LEFT)

While Espada promised a political comeback, two days after the primary, a tired but happy Rivera said he wanted to be accountable to the people who elected him. “I always said this was about serving the constituents of this district,” he said. “[Espada] is somebody who forgot about who he worked for.”

In what is a heavily partisan district, a victory in the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the general election on Nov. 2. Rivera faces Republican John E. McCarthy and Green Party candidate John Reynolds.

Fitness Room Opens at Local Senior Center

October 7, 2010

Morris Senior Center on East 181st Street now has a fitness room.

“Obesity rates for seniors have risen significantly in the last decade so I am excited to celebrate the opening of the fitness center at BronxWorks Morris Center that will help combat that,” said Councilman Fernando Cabrera in a statement. “When my seniors get excited about working out, I can’t help but get excited as well. It is a joy to see our seniors once again help lead the way in an area where my entire district can improve, healthy living.”

The senior center is run by BronxWorks, formerly called the Citizens Advice Bureau.

U.N. Diplomat Found Dead

October 7, 2010

Photobucket                      CESAR MERCADO’S BODY IS REMOVED FROM THE SCENE (PHOTO: D. GREENE)

By DAVID GREENE

Police are still investigating the death of a high-ranking United Nations official, found with his throat slashed in his Grand Concourse apartment in Mount Hope on Sept. 23.

According to police, the body of Cesar Antonio Mercado, 34, the Nicaraguan Consul General, was discovered by a livery cab driver, who was to take him to the United Nations, where leaders were gathering for the 64th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Officers from the 46th Precinct were called to Mercado’s sixth floor studio apartment at 2070 Grand Concourse, at 10 a.m., on Sept. 23. Mercado’s body was reportedly found just inside his front door.

Police say Mercado had been stabbed several times in his abdomen and his throat was cut so deeply, he was nearly decapitated. A steak knife and paring knife were found at the scene.

It was initially assumed that Mercado had been murdered. But an NYPD spokesman, speaking earlier this month, said neither homicide nor suicide had been ruled out. The investigation is ongoing. Police sources told the New York Daily News that Mercado had ingested liquid drain-cleaner before his death and that he had recently been diagnosed as HIV positive.

“We can only think of positive things when you think of this person,” said Kirk Jiminez, 46, a Grand Concourse resident and friend of Mercado. “What took place, we don’t know and don’t want to make assumptions.”

The friend continued, “He was very in tune with the community as far as outreach. He would help the homeless. He would do whatever he could, and it’s unfortunate.”

Several who live in the building claimed Mercado was not the first death to happen there, and that a tenant on the third-floor was killed two years ago. Despite that incident and several other violent crimes, residents say security cameras in the building haven’t worked for years.

Opinion: Bronx Working Families Win Significant Victories in State Government

October 7, 2010

Bronx Working Families Win Significant Victories in State Government

By ASSEMBLYWOMAN VANESSA L. GIBSON

In recent months, the working families of our community have won several major victories that will improve the quality of life for thousands of west Bronx residents and their families. Working with my colleagues in the state Legislature, I am proud to have played a key part in this. These historic wins mean that our domestic workers and minority-owned and women-owned businesses will finally have many of the opportunities they have deserved for so long.

One of those key victories was the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Under this new law, which I co-sponsored as Assembly Bill A. 1470-B, domestic workers will no longer be treated like second class citizens and they will finally be given important labor rights. Employers will now be required to pay domestic workers the state minimum wage, and these workers will be protected against discrimination and sexual harassment. Employers will also be required to give domestic workers at least one day off every week. This important legislation will take effect in the beginning of December.

Working with my fellow Democrats in the state Assembly majority, I am also pleased that we were able to enact several new laws that enhance opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned businesses. One of these new MWBE-related laws, Assembly Bill A. 11525, will expand the number of state contracts available and double the amount a state agency can purchase from an MWBE without being required to go out to bid. Another piece of legislation that became law, Assembly Bill A. 11526, will strengthen the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and eliminate many of the stumbling blocks that have blocked MWBEs from competing effectively for contracts with state authorities.

These new MWBE laws will open the opportunities for commerce in New York State for many Bronx-based businesses and encourage creation of the types of long term employment opportunities that the adults in our community need and deserve. It will also help level the playing field so that companies affected by discrimination will now have a more equitable opportunity to compete.

Along with these significant new laws, I have joined with my colleagues to support legislation which would raise the pay and improve the working conditions for west Bronx residents who work in the service industry. For years, many of those workers – including janitorial service workers, doormen, groundskeepers, gardeners and security service employees – have not been paid fairly and have not been covered by New York’s prevailing wage laws even though they perform jobs for public agencies and should be included under the protection of those laws. Unfortunately some companies have used contract agencies and other gimmicks to avoid paying service workers the wages they deserve. It is time to stop this practice and bring fairness to the workplace for these New Yorkers.

I have been a strong supporter of the legislation, Assembly Bill A. 10257-D, which addresses this issue and would provide the prevailing wage protections that our workers need. This important legislation passed the state Assembly on July 1st and I will continue advocating for this important reform.

These issues continue to be very important to our community and the families I represent in the state Assembly. I will remain a strong and vocal advocate for this and other legislation that will make a positive difference for the people living in the Concourse, Clarmont, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights communities.

Assemblywoman Vanessa L. Gibson represents the 77th Assembly District which includes the communities of Concourse, Claremont, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights. Her district office is located at 930 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10451 and can be reached at (718) 538-2000 or via email at gibsonv@assembly.state.ny.us.

Andrews Avenue Woman Found Murdered in Maryland

October 7, 2010

By DAVID GREENE

A body found in a Landover, Maryland dumpster back in July, has been identified as an Andrews Avenue woman and ruled a homicide.

According to the Prince George’s County Police Department, firefighters discovered the decomposing body of Nicole Thompson of 1893 Andrews Ave., on July 24.

Investigators say Thompson, 24, was identified by her fingerprints and the case was classified as a homicide by asphyxiation on Sept. 24.

Patricia Cohen, an Andrews Avenue resident who knew Thompson, called her “a beautiful and quiet girl.”

A woman believed to be Thompson’s mother had no comment, “until police do their investigation.”

Detectives are working to determine Thompson’s ties to the area where she was found, along with any motives for her death. There have been no arrests.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Homicide Unit at (301) 772-4925.

Assemblyman Castro Reflects on Great Victory

October 7, 2010

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ASSEMBLYMAN NELSON CASTRO (PHOTO: A. WATKINS)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Last month, Assemblyman Nelson Castro fought off a primary challenge from Hector Ramirez, a district leader who’d received the support of the Bronx Democratic Party, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and several large unions.

In what was the tightest race in the borough, Castro secured 54 percent of the vote to Ramirez’s 46.

Reached by phone the following week, Castro was in high spirits. “I feel great. It’s a great victory,” he said. “Now going back to Albany, I have a lot of expectations. I’m not a freshman anymore and so I should be able to ask for more and deliver more for my district.”

Castro, who pulled in few big endorsements himself, put his victory down to voters knowing him, liking him, and recognizing what he’s done in the community.

While his opponent focused on attacking him (mailers were sent to voters reminding them of Castro’s checkered past which includes voter fraud investigation), Castro says he was out there talking to people.

“All the negative stuff they did, they did to cover up the fact that he [Ramirez] hasn’t done anything in the community,” Castro said.

Sherman Browne, a former aide to ex-Councilwoman Maria Baez, who worked on Castro’s campaign, said they successfully identified his supporters and then made sure they voted. “We took a personal approach,” Browne said.

Said Castro: “I myself even went out and picked up a couple of older ladies and drove them to the polls.”

On primary night, Ramirez held what was supposed to be a victory party at a small restaurant on East Tremont Avenue. In the end, though, it was a rather somber occasion.

“Whatever happens tonight, I am not going to move from the District 86,” said Ramirez. “I’m going to continue to fight to improve the quality of life for the people that live in the District 86, and the Bronx, and New York State.”

Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, said: “We need to give Hector a lot of credit. He ran tremendous race. It’s tough to beat an incumbent. Incumbency is a powerful tool.”

On Nov. 2 Castro will face Republican Rene Santos and Conservative Lisa Marie Campbell.