by Candice M. Giove
Riverdale Review 10/02/2008
The start of the Bronx Democratic County Committee meeting erupted in chaos, as elected officials loyal to party boss Jose Rivera took control of the election, gave the post back to Rivera, and ran out of the Utopia Paradise Theatre on the Grand Concourse.
Rainbow Rebellion leaders casted it as illegitimate spectacle, and went on to conduct a much calmer, by-the-books election, selecting Assemblyman Carl Heastie as the new county leader.
Determining which election stands will likely fall into the hands of the court by the end of the week.
"This was a schizophrenic evening," said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. "Unfortunately the first meeting was more of a show of buffoonery and they really made a mockery of the democratic system."
Rivera flooded the auditorium with people, who waved bi-lingual signs proclaiming "Jose Rivera Stays." Though people did fill the seats to favor Rivera, it remains unclear how many of those people were legitimate members of the county committee. Some attendees seemed clueless as to why they were there, and reportedly some senior citizens bused in by the Rivera camp believed they were attending a show.
Legitimate county committee members remained bottlenecked in the theatre's lobby, where they had to stop and sign in to verify their presence. Most of those stuck outside were loyal to the Rainbow Rebellion. Councilwoman Maria Baez seized on the jam, took the microphone and started a meeting. She installed a temporary executive board and filled vacancies on the county committee, though none of those attendees were vetted.
"They tried through mob rule to try to retain control of the county organization – even though they had the support of a small minority – by bringing in hundreds of people who aren't eligible to vote here because they were not county committee members," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.
Each committee member signed his or her name into a book, and received a yellow wristband to show their status as a person eligible to vote. Dinowitz's glasses were scratched up by Rivera supporters who tried to wrest those rolls from people overseeing the 11 sign-in tables. "I guess they wanted to destroy the legitimate records of the legitimate meeting and so they wanted to grab the books," he said.
In a video interview with the New York Observer, Councilwoman Baez claims that Assemblyman Dinowitz assaulted Rivera allies.
While up on the stage at the theatre Baez conducted voting by soliciting an "aye" or "nay" from the crowd, though there was no way to distinguish the screams of legitimate voting members from the others. And even though at times the "nays" far outweighed the affirmative cheers Baez ignored them.
"She was not authorized according to the rules to conduct a meeting. The chairman was present. The court ruled that he was supposed to run the meeting," Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene said, referring to Judge Robert Seewald's opinion which makes clear that Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the executive committee's chair, would run the election.
During the pandemonium, the Rivera allies created a new executive board: Assemblyman Jose Rivera, chairman; Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, first vice chair; Assemblyman Peter Rivera, second vice chair; Councilman Larry Seabrook, second vice chair; Latisha Seabrook, secretary; Gerald Sheiowitz, treasurer; Richard Izquierdo-Arroyo, sergeant-at-arms; and Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, parliamentarian. Koppell was booed by a large contingent of county committee members from his district.
Before the show was over, Assemblyman Rivera took his spot on stage. "They wanted to have a party?" he yelled. "We are having a party."
With that, Rivera's supporters and Rivera-aligned elected officials rushed out of the doors. They took the microphones with them.
"He had a chance to leave with dignity and he chose just the opposite," said rebel Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. "It's very sad."
Assemblyman Heastie began a much more civilized meeting and carefully followed procedural rules. First, county committee members elected a new executive slate: Assemblyman Dinowitz, county committee chairman; Councilwoman Anabel Palma, first vice chair; Assemblywoman Greene, secretary; Assemblyman Benedetto, treasurer; Howard Vargas, counsel; Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, parliamentarian; and Hector Ramirez, sergeant-at-arms.
That slate, along with 15 of the Bronx's 24 district leaders, voted for Heastie as the new county leader. The Rivera vote was done vocally, and without the district leaders.
Though the evening put the intense fracture in Bronx politics on display, Heastie hopes to patch things up. "It's going to be a tough task, but from what we witnessed tonight it may be a little tougher than I first thought," he said.
Assemblyman Michael Benjamin said that their slate better represents The Bronx. "We want to show that the new Bronx Democratic Party is going to serve all communities and will not be about self and family and close friends," he said. "It's about democracy in our borough."
Rebels said that the evening's election would most likely wind up in court.
Michael Nieves, a spokesman for Jose Rivera, doesn't see need for legal action. "As far as I'm concerned we conducted a meeting and we won. If they disagree because they conducted a meeting after ours they need to go to court."
Both Rivera and Heastie sent out press releases claiming victory.
The Heastie release provides the district leader vote count to substantiate the victory. It calls the first half of Sunday evening "a failed effort to retain control of the party by a small and shrinking faction."
Rivera's release boasts an overwhelming victory. "In a year when Jose Rivera's leadership was challenged, Bronx Democrats showed their appreciation for Jose Rivera's contributions to the people of the Bronx by arriving by feet, car, train and buses to cast their vote. Bronx Democrats have spoken. Jose Rivera remains the Chairman of the Democratic Party."
A Rivera spokesman could not immediately provide any vote tally.