Vol. 19,  No.  17 Sept. 7 -  Sept. 20,  2006


Thompson Challenges Rivera in Assembly Race Rematch


The posters say it all. On a window outside of a Norwood bodega, surrounded by beer and cigarette ads, campaign posters for Democratic candidates in the 80th Assembly District, Naomi Rivera and Joe Thompson, square off.

The poster for Rivera, the incumbent who’s just finishing her first two-year term, looks glossy and professional. It’s printed on substantial poster board and the picture of the candidate is clear and vibrant. A wavy American flag sets the background, while a small Puerto Rican flag highlights Rivera’s name. Rivera’s mantra – Mother, Neighbor, Leader – is prominently displayed.

Next to Rivera’s poster is Thompson’s. While almost as big as Rivera’s (about the size of a big screen television), Thompson’s poster is decidedly less polished. His picture, while in color, is fuzzy. The paper is thicker than standard printer paper, but after a little wear and tear, is beginning to fray at the corners. Thompson’s mantra is staggered underneath his picture: Solving Problems; Creating Opportunities. It looks like it was made at Kinko’s.

The sharp contrast in quality perfectly illustrates the differences in the two candidates, who face each other in the Democratic Primary on Sept. 12. Rivera, daughter of Assemblyman and Bronx County Democratic boss Jose Rivera, is backed by the Bronx Democratic machine. Thompson, on the other hand, is running his campaign out of his apartment.

Rivera’s campaign organization, the Committee to Elect Naomi Rivera, has spent more than $33,000 on campaign-related activities since the beginning of 2005. Meanwhile, Thompson barely topped the $1,000 mark for a couple of activities this past summer.

“I have less money than you have in your wallet right now,” Thompson said in an interview last week.

Thompson, a 67-year-old retired cop who serves as president of the 49th Community Precinct Council, says he is challenging Rivera because she’s been absent from many of the key community battles, specifically over crime and development, that are being waged on the streets.

“There are a lot of major issues that are not being addressed,” Thompson said.

Recently, Thompson said, Rivera stayed out of a fight concerning rezoning in both Indian Village and Williamsbridge Road (the 80th A.D. includes some of Norwood, but is predominately in the east Bronx). The community wanted Indian Village rezoned, but Williamsbridge Road to maintain its status and not be rezoned for heavy commercial use. In the end, they were both rezoned, despite the efforts of Community Board 12 (which Thompson serves on) and Councilman Jimmy Vacca.

“I didn’t see the position or the work [from Rivera],” Thompson said. “I saw the Board’s work, I saw Vacca’s work. This is a situation where local politicians have to weigh in with their views.”

Rivera said the city wasn’t going to give the community everything they wanted on both of those sites. “It was either this or we don’t do [any of the rezoning] at all,” she said. “It’s all a compromise and I worked very closely with Jimmy Vacca on this.”

As for her lack of presence, Rivera says even when she’s not there physically, she always sends a staffer in her stead. “You have to remember that I’m in Albany half the year,” she said.

Thompson also says there is an “epidemic” of gang violence in the district that is being ignored. “No one has taken on the fighting of the proliferation of gangs and gang violence,” he said.

The former Bronx detective, who was wounded twice in the line of duty, says he wants to see stiffer penalties for gang activity. “Everything comes down to what laws are on the books and what we can enforce, which means we need to have new laws. We need new weapons to fight this battle,” Thompson said.

Rivera says she’s “tough on crime,” but doesn’t think stiffer penalties are the answer.

“I’m not looking to incarcerate our youth, but help our youth,” she said. “I’m not looking to get paddy wagons out there to pick up all our kids who are hanging out on the streets.”

Rivera says she’s delivered on her commitments in Albany and that any criticism she’s receiving over her lack of presence is just “rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, Thompson, who lost to Rivera in a primary two years ago, says he won’t back down from a tough fight despite his lack of funding. He’s knocking on doors and counting on word of mouth to make up for the difference.

“Getting involved is better than writing a check,” he said.

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