17, No. 19
23 - Oct. 6, 2004
Bronx Dems Revel In Primary Victories
Engel Wins Big
By HEATHER HADDON
It was a clean
sweep for Bronx Democratic regulars last Tuesday when a small electorate
helped deliver primary victories to the machine's incumbent and rookie
candidates. The results were a big ego boost for the organization, which
has taken its lumps over the last year for a number of its controversial
positions and potential legal troubles.
The local slate of winners included Naomi Rivera (80th Assembly
District), Jeff Klein (34th Senatorial District), and Efrain Gonzalez
(33rd Senatorial District).
As the returns came in, officials, union representatives, and supporters
gathered at the organization's clubhouse in Westchester Square.
"There are no Dems like Bronx Dems," said Bronx Borough
President Adolfo Carrión to a packed house. "The road to Albany goes
through the Bronx."
The victories were especially sweet in two hotly contested open races.
Naomi Rivera, daughter of Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the party boss,
triumphed over challengers Anthony Friedman, the son of former party
leader George Friedman, and veteran community activist Joseph
While Rivera clearly held the name-brand advantage, things turned vicious
challengers attempted to associate her with what they called a corrupt
party machine. "We had a tougher campaign than most because we had to
deal with a lot of negativity," said Rivera after her victory was
secured. "Many times I had to bite my tongue. But this is really
sweet and we did it right."
Klein, the current assemblyman in the 80th District prevailed in a bitter
Democratic primary contest in the race to replace Guy Velella in the 34th
Senatorial district. (Velella had to resign after pleading guilty to
bribery charges.) Klein defeated fellow Bronx Assemblyman Steve Kaufman,
who also ran in the Republican primary. Kaufman, who had the backing of
Republican leaders in the state legislature and Mayor Bloomberg, lost both
races. Kaufman did win the Conservative primary but dropped out of the
race. Klein will face Republican John Fleming, a former detective, in the
While Klein's appearance at the clubhouse was brief, he did get plenty
of applause earlier in the night. "My campaign was about, in some
ways, this organization," he said. "We've heard a lot of
negative things about this organization over the last few months. I want
to say I will always be a proud Bronx Democrat."
Party regulars have taken tremendous heat over the last year for their
roles in supporting the construction of a water filtration plant in Van
Cortlandt Park and for backing a controversial plan to consolidate the
Bronx' Meals on Wheels program. (Standing awkwardly in the back of the
room was Louis Vasquez, whose RAIN senior centers received two of the
Meals contracts allegedly because of his close relationship with Bronx
Gonzalez and Congressman Jose Serrano have also received negative
publicity lately for their relationships with, and financial support of,
Gonzalez, who easily triumphed over former state senator Israel Ruiz,
Jr., spent the beginning of the night looking detached and rather lonely.
He noticeably brightened as the calls for party unity continued. "I'm
not ashamed. [Efrain] is someone I'm proud of, someone who needs to be
shown respect," said Rivera to resounding applause.
Former borough president and probable mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer,
who had also been standing alone, kept the self-congratulatory ball
rolling. "In spite of unfair commentary, we prevail," he began
his sermon-like address. "In spite of any naysayers, we prevail. In
spite of everybody, we are strong, we are united."
Also in attendance were important elected officials from outside the
borough, signifying perhaps the resurgent clout of the Bronx machine.
State Comptroller Alan Hevesi was there as was Public Advocate Betsy
Gotbaum, who gushed over Naomi Rivera. "She is a great candidate, a
great campaigner, and a great friend," said Gotbaum with her arms
The only disagreement came over the extent of the Rivera legacy. The elder
Rivera, now with two of his children in politics (his son, Joel, is the
majority leader in the City Council), compared, as he now often does, his
family to the Rockefellers and other "dynasties." But his
daughter had a different take.
"It's not about a dynasty," she said. "The Riveras are a
people who believe in struggle. We are the underdogs."
Engel Defeats McAdams, Flagg
Incumbent Eliot Engel won the Democratic nomination for Congress in the
17th Congressional District with a commanding 65 percent of the vote,
despite a spirited challenge by firefighter Kevin McAdams, who campaigned
hard with a large crew of staff and volunteers. McAdams regularly
campaigned in Norwood, greeting voters at the entrance of the D train
station on Bainbridge Avenue, and on the Friday before primary day, he
campaigned with the actor Steve Buscemi, a former firefighter, at El Coral
Restaurant on Bainbridge.
But McAdams lost by a large margin, netting only 23 percent of the vote.
The fact that his campaign was well organized and had a relatively large
contingent of volunteers and paid staff for a newcomer made the loss all
the more discouraging for McAdams' supporters. A third candidate in the
race, Jessica Flagg, got half as many votes as McAdams despite having
virtually no organization.
At McAdams' election night party at Rory Dolan's, a large Irish bar and
restaurant just over the Bronx border in Yonkers, supporters - many of
them firefighters - were disappointed.
"Kevin would have done everybody proud," said his lieutenant,
Ritchie Mlecz. "The voters made a mistake."
McAdams, who is only 32, seemed to signal that he would be back.
"This is only a beginning," he told his supporters. "Our
campaign is going to keep going. We're not stopping."
When someone yelled, "2006!" McAdams said, "We'll
see." After a pause, he smiled and reminded his listeners, "Bill
Clinton lost his first Congressional campaign." - Jordan
Status Bump for Koppell
Council Member Oliver Koppell extended an olive branch to the Bronx County
Democratic Party just two months ago, and the unexpected move already
seems to be bearing fruit. For the first time since he was elected to the
Council in 2001, a press release from Koppell's office was distributed by
the Council's press office last week, a courtesy reserved only for those
loyal to the speaker and the Council leadership.
Koppell is the favorite son of the Riverdale-based Benjamin Franklin
Democratic Reform Club, which is at perpetual odds with the regular
organization. But in a surprising move last July, Koppell threw his weight
behind regular Jeff Klein in his Senate bid. Even more startling to
political observers was his endorsement of Naomi Rivera, the daughter of
party chief Assemblyman Jose Rivera, in her race for the 80th Assembly
Koppell told the Norwood News back in July that his endorsements were
tactical. "I won't deny that I'm trying to establish better
relations," he said. "[I hope] my reaching out to them will have
a reciprocal effect."
The press release favor may appear to be a minor gesture, but it signifies
that Koppell may be making progress toward his goal of gaining more
leverage in the Council. Koppell has most likely been kept on the back
bench due to Speaker Gifford Miller's allegiance to the Bronx machine,
whose backing made his ascent to the top job possible. Koppell has yet to
chair any of the Council's 32 committees - an obvious slight considering
he was a former state attorney general and there are only 51 members
total. But, if he continues to gain favor with regular organization, that
could change when new committee appointments are made in January 2006
after the next Council election.
The committee chairs, usually doled out based on loyalty to the speaker,
also come with $10,000 extra pay.
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