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City Council Speaker's Open Seat Sparks Political Rift in Bronx

By Shant Shahrigian | May 19, 2017 2:33pm
 Diana Ayala and Assemblyman Robert Rodriquez have split Bronx political endorsements in the race for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's seat.
Diana Ayala and Assemblyman Robert Rodriquez have split Bronx political endorsements in the race for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's seat.
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BRONX — Get ready for a rumble in The Bronx.

The borough’s leading politicians — known for their tendency to agree on seemingly all major issues — have endorsed rival candidates for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s seat, which includes the South Bronx in addition to her home base of East Harlem.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on Friday endorsed Mark-Viverito’s deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala.

On the same day, the chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, endorsed Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez for the seat. That likely portends the county party will formally endorse Rodriguez, too. It is expected to make a decision in the coming days.

“I’m very surprised when you tell me [Bronx elected officials] are not going to march in lockstep on this because my impression has been that they very seldom take different positions,” said veteran Bronx observer Buddy Stein, longtime Bronx newspaper editor and retired Hunter College professor.

At this stage of the City Council race, significant policy differences between Ayala, Rodriguez and at least three others running for the seat are yet to emerge.

In phone interviews, Ayala and Rodriguez each highlighted affordable housing and education as priorities.

Ayala welcomed Bronx elected officials’ differences of opinion over their preferred candidates.
“Isn’t that exciting? I think it’s exciting,” she said.

Rodriguez, who is getting endorsements from state Sen. Jose Serrano and Assembly members Carmen Arroyo and Latoya Joyner in addition to Crespo, said that support is a “testament” to his relationship with Bronx leaders.

“They’ve shown confidence in my ability based on the work I’ve done in East Harlem to strongly advocate and represent the residents of the South Bronx,” said Rodriguez, whose current district overlaps with Mark-Viverito’s.

Just why Diaz and other Bronx Dems are endorsing different candidates this time is not yet clear. Diaz is seen as a close ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a foe of Mayor Bill de Blasio — who in turn has had a strong relationship with Mark-Viverito. The Speaker, expectedly, has endorsed her staffer.

Bronx Democrats including current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — a Crespo ally — were said to have a testy relationship with Mark-Viverito after her district was changed to include the Bronx in 2013. 

Statements from Diaz and Crespo offered little clue as to their underlying reasons for their choices.
“I am endorsing Diana Ayala for City Council because she is a tough, tireless fighter,” Diaz said.

“Robert has been a great colleague in Albany and I've seen firsthand his passion for public service and his dedication to his constituents,” Crespo said.

Ayala, 43, and Rodriguez, 41, will both be touting Bronx ties in their pitches to voters in Highbridge, Mott Haven and other parts of the borough.

Ayala said she lived in Highbridge for 19 years. Rodriguez went to Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx.

Still, neither is a household name in The Bronx or their home base of East Harlem.

Other candidates in the District 8 City Council race include activist Ed Gibbs, educator Edward Santos and businesswoman Tamika Mapp. Like Ayala and Rodriguez, their roots are in the East Harlem part of the district.

CORRECTION: The article previously incorrectly stated that Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez went to Cardinal Spellman High School. He attended Cardinal Hayes High School.