Reporter Turned Political Operative Takes on Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera
PELHAM GARDENS — A young campaign worker and former reporter with empty coffers hopes to unseat Naomi Rivera, an entrenched Assemblywoman from a Bronx political family who already faces another, well-funded challenger.
Adam Bermudez, 29, knows the odds are against him in the race for the 80th Assembly District seat, which includes Pelham Parkway, Pelham Gardens, Allerton and part of Morris Park. Rivera is a two-term incumbent backed by the Bronx Democratic party, while her other challenger, Mark Gjonaj, is a real estate agent with deep pockets and ties to the local Albanian community.
“Of course, I’m just a nobody,” Bermudez said Monday, standing on a street corner near Pelham Gardens, where he grew up. “So it’s my job to say, ‘How can I get visible?’”
Since January, Gjonaj raked in $167,818 in contributions, while Rivera raised $101,148 — far more than any other Bronx assembly member during that period. Bermudez has yet to start fundraising.
Meanwhile, a person affiliated with the Bronx Democratic County Committee has filed objections to the petitions that Bermudez and Gjonaj were required to submit in order to get their names on the state primary ballot in September. The upshot could be costly court hearings that would sap whatever money Bermudez is able to raise.
Not that Bermudez didn’t see this all coming.
After all, he’s a veteran Democratic operative who has worked on many campaigns — including Bill Thompson’s 2009 mayoral bid — and who joined the Bronx Times Reporter partly to meet the local powerbrokers.
One of the stated aims of his long-shot campaign is to share what he’s learned about the nuts and bolts of democracy with voters — starting on his Facebook page, where he’s already posted scanned images of his campaign filings.
“I’m running, in some ways, to shed light on the process,” said Bermudez, a self-described political nerd. But, he quickly added, “That’s not to say that I’m not looking to win.”
Bermudez, a practicing Catholic, is the son of a Puerto Rican father and Irish mother. He graduated in 2007 from Wesleyan University in Connecticut — where he had the Bronx Times delivered — then enrolled in the graduate teaching program at the University of Pennsylvania.
But the pull of politics proved too strong, and he left the program after a semester. He was set to ship off to Ohio for the 2008 Obama campaign when he was offered a reporting job with the Bronx Times Reporter. He took it.
A story he wrote at the newspaper involving former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin pleased the pol so much that he offered Bermudez a spot on his staff, which Bermudez accepted. But the two soon began to clash on certain issues and Bermudez was let go after several weeks.
Since then, he’s combined real estate work and odd jobs with canvassing and field organizing on local campaigns, most recently, for Queens Assemblyman Rory Lancman’s unsuccessful Congressional primary run.
Jerry Goldfeder, a prominent election lawyer who has counseled Naomi Rivera, crossed paths with Bermudez when both did work for Lancman’s campaign.
“Adam is a very enthusiastic, gregarious, smart young man,” Goldfeder said. Nonetheless, he added, “I assume Naomi will win.”
The daughter of former Bronx Democratic Party leader and current Assemblyman Jose Rivera, and sister of City Councilman Joel Rivera, Naomi Rivera was first elected to the Assembly in 2004.
Her campaign office did not respond to calls and emails over the past few days. But a campaign flyer lists her efforts to raise the minimum wage, increase school funding, promote equal pay for women and ensure affordable housing for seniors and the disabled.
Bermudez cites education reform — for example, expanding the number of charter schools — and youth concerns, such as unemployment, among his key issues. He said he was sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement, but would rather see people “occupy the ballot box.”
Getting people to the ballot box, then to vote for him once there, will be difficult.
Angie Spiro, 55, the owner of a salon along a heavily Albanian strip of Williamsbridge Road, said Gjonaj had already visited her store and, “in my language, explained everything to us perfect.” His campaign sign is now affixed to her window.
Nearby on Pelham Parkway, standing on the sidewalk in front of Rivera’s office while she waited for a bus, Mariana Baez, 61, said she had never heard of the Assemblywoman — or any of her challengers, for that matter.
“The only time I’m interested in politics is in the presidential election,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t give a hoot.”