SOUTH BRONX — Favored candidate Rafael Salamanca won the special election to represent the South Bronx's 17th District on the City Council, beating out several other candidates to fill Maria del Carmen Arroyo's old seat, according to preliminary numbers from the New York City Board of Elections.
"I want to thank the community for believing in me and giving me the honor to represent them at City Hall," Salamanca said. "I’m humbled. I’m blessed. I’m overtaken with emotion, to be honest."
Salamanca has served as district manager of Bronx Community Board 2 and president of the 41st Precinct Community Council, and he was widely viewed as the front-runner in the election thanks to his endorsements from the Bronx Democratic Committee and several prominent local politicians, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Rep. Jose Serrano.
However, he still had to beat back a large field of competitors to secure his victory.
The race originally attracted more than 10 candidates, but five were kicked off the ballot by the Board of Elections, leaving a total of six people on Tuesday's ballot: Salamanca; South Bronx activist and businessman Julio Pabón; Bronx Community Board 3 board member Marlon Molina; Arroyo's chief of staff while she was on the council Joann Otero; Bronx preacher and businessman Rev. J. Loren Russell; and former State Assembly candidate George Alvarez.
Salamanca had won 39.26 percent of the vote with about 96 percent of scanners reporting as of Wednesday morning, according to the New York City Board of Elections. Alvarez was in second with about 24 percent, followed by Pabón at roughly 15 percent and Russell at roughly 11 percent.
Otero won about 7 percent, and Molina won about 3 percent.
Although there were roughly 85,000 enrolled voters in District 17 as of April 2015, only about 3,300 votes were cast, according to the Board of Elections.
Russell said this incredibly low voter turnout was his biggest disappointment of the race.
"To have that many people not come out to vote for a position that is critical to the resources that are available in the community is just crazy," he said.
The 17th District represents a large portion of the South Bronx, including neighborhoods such as Hunts Point, Longwood and Melrose, and it has been vacant since Arroyo's surprise resignation took effect at the end of 2015.
The former council member said she was resigning for family reasons and has since taken a job as vice president of administration at the Acacia Network, a housing company. The job pays $220,000, which is about $70,000 more than she would have made on the City Council after members' recent pay raise.
Economic development and improving NYCHA developments will be two of Salamanca's main priorities when he officially takes his position on the City Council, he said.
"They need advocacy," he said. "They need someone that’s going to be there knocking on NYCHA’s door saying we need help. That’s going to be one of my top priorities."
Although Salamanca won Tuesday's election, he is only guaranteed to hold the seat until the end of the year.
Another election for the seat will take place in November, and the winner will hold it until Arroyo's full term would have ended in 2017, so the victor of that race would then have to run again to keep his or her seat next year.
Salamanca said he plans to run in both upcoming elections and is not intimidated by the frequent campaigning he will have to do going forward.
"I think this was the hardest one. I feel confident," he said. "I'm the councilman. The community voted. The community spoke."