Rivera Wins Fordham Bedford Council Seat
By HANNAN ADELY
Joel Rivera, a 22-year-old Fordham University student, became the youngest City Council member on Feb. 20, beating out former Community Board 6 member Edwin O. Ortiz in a special election for the 15th Council District. Rivera will take over the seat vacated by his father Jose Rivera, who was elected to the state Assembly in November.
Rivera had the powerful backing of Bronx Democratic Party chief Roberto Ramirez and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who are political allies of his father. He won the election with 54 percent of the vote (2,944 votes), while Ortiz drew 40 percent (2,250 votes).
About 10 percent of registered voters in the 15th District, which covers parts of Fordham Bedford, Belmont, Crotona and Tremont, turned out for the election.
The 33-year-old Ortiz, a strong contender for the seat, campaigned on his experience as a tenant and AIDS prevention activist, and as a founder of the organization Young Adults Against Drugs and Alcohol.
Ortiz was backed by Councilman Pedro G. Espada, State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. of the south Bronx and Congressman Eliot Engel of Riverdale. The three Democrats came together out of their opposition to Ramirez who has supported other candidates in races against them.
One active community resident said Rivera's name helped carry him from a classroom seat to a driver's seat in city government.
"Joel Rivera's name in itself piqued people's interest," said Fordham Bedford resident Yvel Calderon, who sat on a panel of questioners at a pre-election debate. "People tend to go with who they know very well."
Rivera attributed his success to "hard work, a grassroots effort, and to a good, solid team that stressed honesty and integrity."
Calderon also believes Rivera's age may have been a plus. "He was able to get a lot of the youths' ear," she said. "The young people were really out there."
The councilman insisted his youth makes him a better politician. "I have vitality, vibrance, energy, and dedication to the community," he said. "[Young people] now have someone they know they can relate to, someone who understands their concerns."
Among Rivera's top priorities are reducing tuition costs at CUNY, and encouraging people to register for low-cost and free health insurance.
Rivera will have to defend his seat in November, and may face Ortiz again. (Ortiz did not return calls from the Norwood News.) "If [Rivera] can remember and stay on track with his platform, and if he tries his best to deliver on his platform, then he'll do okay," Calderon said.
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