Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dem rebels romp, may take over reins of party

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review 09/18/2008

Bronx Democratic machine was dealt a crushing, potentially fatal blow at the ballot box on Primary Day.
Civil Court candidate Elizabeth Taylor, who was backed by a prominent coalition of elected officials known as the "Rainbow Rebellion," handily defeated machine-backed candidate Maria Matos for the boroughwide court seat.
Across The Bronx Taylor picked up 19,228 votes, roughly 54 percent of the total, according to unofficial counts. Matos grabbed 10,406 votes, about 29 percent of the borough total. A third candidate, Verena Powell, finished third with 5,917 votes, good for almost 17 percent.
In addition, three Rebellion leaders who faced primary opponents with machine tiesÑAssembly Members Ruben Diaz Jr., Carl Heastie and Michael BenjaminÑeach cruised to victory by wide margins.
At the Rainbow Rebellion's primary night victory party at Maestro's on Bronxdale Avenue, campaign workers dined on free food and were thanked individually by Taylor. Spirits were high when the Rebellion members, including the aforementioned officials as well as Assembly Members Jeffrey Dinowitz, Aurelia Greene and Michael Benedetto, and State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz, took to the stage to declare victory and demand change in the Borough's political culture.
Assemblyman Diaz, widely considered to be the frontrunner for the borough presidential race in 2009, defeated his opponent with a whopping 84 percent of the vote. He said that the results of the Civil Court race showed that the current Bronx political leadership, led by Chairman Assemblyman Jose Rivera, had lost its grip on The Bronx.
"Gutter politics, divisive politics, character assassination will no longer be tolerated," said Assemblyman Diaz.Ê "We are not going to tolerate it anymore."
The assemblyman added that the civil court race, while characterized as a rebellion, really represented a coming together of various elected officials to put politics aside and choose the best person to serve on the bench. Assemblyman Diaz said that the race would also represent a sea change in the spirit and the attitude of The Bronx and its political culture.
"What we're doing here is that we're showing everyone that we can come together as one whole Bronx," said Assemblyman Diaz. "We won't always agree with one another, but we'll listen with respect."
He added, "The Bronx right now is laughable. People are laughing at us from the outside. We're looking to repair that."
Though he faced no race himself Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz did play a critical role in the election of Taylor. Taylor defeated Matos in the three-to-one margin in the 81st Assembly District, despite Matos holding the endorsement of City Councilman G.Oliver Koppell. In Riverdale the numbers were even more stark, with Taylor defeating Matos by a five-to-one margin. The initial significance of the race, said Dinowitz, was that The Bronx had come together to elect a quality jurist.
Dinowitz also said that the results of the primary proved that Rivera's county machine is virtually powerless.
"Every candidate that we supported tonight, that's part of this coalition, won, and won by an enormous margin," said Dinowitz. "I believe that the county Democratic organization has been exposed as a paper tiger."
Though the mood was one of jubilation at Maestro's it was a very different scene at the Bronx Democratic Party headquarters, where Assemblyman Rivera awaited the results of the evening in his office. County headquarters lacked decorations and catering, usually a staple of such affairs. The crowd was sparse, and the feeling was more of a wake than a celebration.
In his office Assemblyman Rivera, joined by a small parade of various well-wishers, discuss his career and what he felt were the negative perceptions of his Bronx power. He also blamed the media, especially this newspaper and the Daily News, for contributing to his loss.
At one point, while television news discussed the fallout between himself and election lawyer Stanley Schlein, who is part of the Rebellion. At one point Schlein was described on the television as a political genius, to which Assemblyman Rivera got annoyed.
"Says who?" asked the chairman.
To the victors go the spoils, and the Rainbow Rebellion have begun a push to name a new Democratic County leader, with their likely candidate being Heastie. The meeting of the county committee, the body that decides such positions, had been scheduled for this past Monday, though that was eventually cancelled.
Instead, the current Rivera-led organization has called the meeting for September 28, a Sunday, and have implied to numerous sources that they have the votes to keep Assemblyman Rivera in power as chairman.
However, the "Rainbow Rebellion" has mounted a challenge to that leadership by acquiring the signatures of more than 25 percent of the members of the county committee. That maneuver allows the "Rainbow Rebellion" to call its own meeting for Monday, September 22, at the Dreiser Auditorium in Co-op City.
"We have the votes to make the change," said one source close to the Rainbow Rebellion.
At that meeting it is expected that the assembled members of the county committee will vote, select Heastie as the new party leader, who would then cancel the September 28 meeting. In all likelihood, the entire situation would end up in court shortly thereafter.
A new leadership under Heastie would also mean that other plum jobs would be filled by Rebellion members. Greene, for example, appears to be the odds on favorite to takeover as County Clerk, a position that has remained vacant for several months. Reports have also surfaced that the new leadership may pressure City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to remove City Councilman Joel Rivera, Assemblyman Rivera's son and a candidate for borough president, as Council majority leader.
The county organization did see one victory on primary night. Nelson Castro, who was dogged throughout his campaign by reports of past criminal convictions, defeated Mike Soto for the 86th Assembly District seat by a 63-37 margin.