Vol. 14, No. 10   May 17 - 30, 2001 


Race for Borough President on Unpredictable Path
Field Waits for Ramirez' Decision Which May Be to Run Himself


Campaigns for Bronx borough president are usually about as exciting as watching paint dry. Incumbents and other candidates endorsed by the borough's Democratic machine almost always win and have faced only token challenges. But with term limits forcing other borough officials to look for a new political chair, the field this year is getting crowded and the outcome is anything but certain.

So far, only State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. and salsa superstar Willie Colon have officially declared their candidacies. But others who may enter the pool include City Council members Adolfo Carrion, June Eisland and Lawrence Warden, and Assemblyman Jose Rivera.

"When there are a lot of candidates, anyone can win," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "The Bronx has not experienced this in over 22 years ... There has not been a really contested Bronx borough race since 1979, when you had four candidates."

Current borough president Fernando Ferrer took office in 1987, never facing any serious reelection challenges. But now that Ferrer is running for mayor, the post of borough president is the brass ring everyone is grabbing for.

The Bronx is also in a new era where the endorsement of the official Bronx Democratic Party no longer means a sure win. In recent years, a few candidates have splintered from the party and built their own bases. Espada, most notably, broke off ties with Ramirez, and formed a strong base of support in the south Bronx where he is also executive director of the Soundview Health Center.

Whoever ends up in the borough showdown, one thing is for sure -the race is off to a complicated and slow start because the party hasn't picked its horse. Some say the delay is intended to give spotlight to Ferrer's campaign for mayor. "It needs to be put in the context of Ferrer's campaign for mayor, and in the context of the many people who have contributed to the development of our borough," Carrion said.

Also, analysts say, the more candidates that run, the more incentive for their supporters to go to the polls -and vote for Ferrer for mayor.

Much of the stalling can be traced directly to Roberto Ramirez, the Democratic Party chief, who has yet to officially back any candidate. "The fact that it's slow to take off has to do with the fact that there haven't been contested races in the Bronx like this in recent memory," Sheinkopf said. "They function the way they're used to. They're waiting for word from the organization, for which candidate it will endorse."

Ramirez may choose the elder Rivera, a former councilman who has considered running for some time, or Carrion, a young councilman eager to move ahead. Rivera and Carrion, both party loyalists, are expected to yield to Ramirez' decision.

But if rumors that Ramirez himself might run prove true, both Rivera and Carrion will step aside. Even Eisland, an unofficial candidate, might withdraw if Ramirez entered the race. "June's an interesting commodity, but I don't see her doing it," said political consultant Norman Adler. "... She's got to take [an] anti-organization stance, and I think that's not the way she works. She's never been a confrontational politician."

If Ramirez did decide to run, the race would essentially come down to him and Espada, Adler said. "Ramirez would be a potent candidate," Adler said. "I think my money is on Roberto in that kind of situation. You can't count out Espada, but the edge would be to Roberto."

But with Carrion and Eisland having begun to campaign, the likelihood of Ramirez entering the race seems less and less. "I am still working on preparing myself to be a candidate," Carrion told the Norwood News on May 10. "I am going to make an announcement within a week to15 days ... I'm meeting with folks around the borough. I'm looking for support from leadership. I think the next borough president is going to need a mandate from the leadership of these communities."

Also, Carrion will appear in a candidates forum for the Bronx borough president race on May 17 on NY 1, the cable news station. Although Eisland's candidacy grows more certain -her spokeswoman said she was "pretty confident" -she will not take part in the forum.

Without Ramirez in the race, all the candidates could be frontrunners. Colon, Carrion and Espada are all Latinos with good name recognition. Eisland would also have a shot. "With multiple Hispanics, it gives June Eisland power," Sheinkopf said.

"It's hard to determine," Sheinkopf added. "Espada is a major player in the southern part and Eisland in the northern part."

The race for borough president could be even more muddled if the Rev. Al Sharpton throws his support behind Warden, the only African-American in the pool of potential candidates. Councilman Wendell Foster, also an African-American, was reportedly also considering a run, but political analysts say he is no longer interested.

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