Vol. 17, No. 19 Sept. 23 - Oct. 6, 2004


Bronx Dems Revel In Primary Victories
Engel Wins Big


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 Thompson. 

While Rivera clearly held the name-brand advantage, things turned vicious as her 
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 general election. 

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 Dems.) 

Gonzalez and Congressman Jose Serrano have also received negative publicity lately for their relationships with, and financial support of, Bronx nonprofits..

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 around Rivera.

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 Moss

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 District.

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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