Thursday, September 25, 2008

Meeting thwarted, Democratic rebels hold massive demonstration

By Candice M. Giove

The Rainbow Rebellion—a broad group of Bronx elected officials hoping to overthrow Bronx County Leader Jose Rivera—flexed their muscles on Monday evening, despite a court ruling that prevented the Bronx Democratic County Committee meeting from happening that night.
"All this does is prolong the inevitable, and what we have here is an ailing patient and the doctor just gave them five extra days," said state Senator Ruben Diaz Jr. at a Rainbow Rebellion rally.
The decision handed down by Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Seewald on Monday, September 22, which stopped the rebel-called meeting citing concerns over room capacity at the Co-op City Community Center, did little to stop rebel momentum.
"It doesn't matter if it's today, Sunday, Tuesday, doesn't matter," said State Senator Ruben Diaz. "The Bronx will be united. It'll no longer be one family. It will be for everybody."
At the rally at the Co-op City Community Center where the vote would have taken place, rebels put 14 of 24 district leaders on display, showing supporters that they have the numbers to win on Sunday. District leaders play a crucial role in the election because they vote with County executives for County Leader.
"Whether it happens now or happens Sunday, the numbers are what they are," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. "We feel confident and we look forward to the day when we can have leadership in The Bronx that's not divisive, leadership in The Bronx that's inclusive of everyone, leadership in The Bronx that wants to do the best for the Democratic Party in The Bronx and not necessarily for a selective few."
With the majority of district leaders favoring the rebels, others too might come on board by Sunday when the meeting occurs at Rivera's selected meeting space, the Grand Concourse's Utopia Paradise Theatre, political observers said.
In addition to the district leaders, the rebels—Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene, Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., state Senator Ruben Diaz, Councilwoman Anabel Palma and Councilman James Vacca—brought about 500 committee members to the rally despite the cancellation.
"There's no meeting, but they're here," Assemblyman Heastie said.
Leaders said that the committee members present were just a fraction of their support. One official worried, however, that the Sunday meeting would disenfranchise some members. "It seems almost as if they intended to try to exclude people from participating in the county committee meeting by holding it on Sunday night right before Rosh Hashanah and on any Sunday night for that matter," said Assemblyman Dinowitz.
At the rally, the rebels said that they looked forward to creating a better Bronx—one that was more inclusive. Assemblywoman Greene recounted how the schism widened between rebels and the organization after Rivera promised to put up a black candidate for Civil Court judge and instead put up a Latina candidate. Rebel candidate Elizabeth Taylor emerged victorious from a three-way primary and served as a symbol that County leadership would be changed.
Rebels also said that Rivera pit Latinos and African Americans against each other during the primary because he sent a racially charged letter urging Latinos to support Sigfredo Gonzalez over incumbent rebel Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, who is black.
Divisiveness was not the only complaint from the Rainbow Rebellion. They also pointed to what seems to be a Rivera Dynasty. "The people of The Bronx are beginning to realize that when you have a man who makes a city employment chart look like a family tree, that's something the people are not going to stand for," Assemblyman Benedetto said.
Chairman Rivera's son Joel Rivera is the majority leader of the City Council and his daughter Naomi Rivera is an assemblywoman. Others with Rivera family ties serve in other government roles.
After the rally disbanded, many waited to take chartered buses back to their corner of the Borough. Michael Nieves, Chairman Rivera's spokesman, stood outside on the street of the opposition meeting.
He scoffed at the Rainbow Rebellion gripe that Rivera was divisive. "It wasn't divisive when Michael Benjamin got elected. It wasn't divisive when Michael Benedetto was elected. It wasn't divisive when both Ruben Diazes were elected. I could go on and on and on," he said.
Rivera supported candidates against Assembly members Benjamin, Heastie and Diaz this year.
"OK. You got a couple of renegades getting upset and going after them," he added. "You can't tell me that in a Borough that's totally Democratic today, no other county leader in the history of this Borough has accomplished that. The goal of the Democratic Party is to empower Democrats and that's what's happened here."
Though Nieves predicted a Rivera win, no one else there that evening would agree. Stanley Schlein, a former organization loyalist turned Rainbow Rebellion attorney, said following the rally, "I think the conclusion was simply as Mr. Heastie said. Whenever, wherever this meeting is held—it'll be held some day—this group will precipitate the change that is long overdue."