Friday, September 26, 2008

HIGH NOON FOR EL CAUDILLO JOSE

Bronx Democratic Party's final vote

Thursday, September 25th 2008, 5:10 PM

DeCrescenzo for News

Members of Democratic Party rebels, nicknamed 'Rainbow Rebels,' who are hoping to oust party boss Jose Rivera, take the stage at a rally Monday-night in Co-op City.

Bitterly divided Bronx Democrats battled down to the wire Thursday for Sunday night's vote for control of the party.

Party boss Jose Rivera's camp was reportedly trying to sway key members, while rebel elected politicians and supporters expressed confidence they control the votes to oust Rivera.

The 72-year-old Rivera has seen his support withering with an open revolt over what the insurgents see as nepotism, favoritism to Puerto Rican members and major embarrassing losses in the Sept. 4 primary.

Last Monday, the rebels lost a court fight to hold a party vote for that night. Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Robert Seewald ruled their Co-op City meeting space was too small if the entire 2,890 county committee members - though 1,000 slots remain vacant - showed up.

At a rally there that night, rebel leaders said they hold a 2-1 majority of the 1,780 county committee members, and 14 of the 24 assembly district leaders who will vote Sunday night at the Utopia Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse.

The county committee members - elected in primaries from election districts in the borough's 11 assembly districts - vote for members of the party's executive committee, which along with 24 assembly district leaders, votes for its chairman - the party boss.

But the key to victory could be some thousand empty county committee member slots not filled in the Sept. 4 primary that district leaders could fill at the meeting.

But rebel sources argue that unless Rivera can swing more district leaders to his side, he has little chance of winning.

"If we control county, we'll put our people in," said key Rivera adviser Mike Nieves. "If they [rebels] control county, they'll put their people in."

Rebel Assemblyman Carl Heastie, chairman of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, said Thursday that only county committee members whose signatures match Board of Elections certified signatures in a sign-in book will be allowed to vote.

He also told members they should ignore Rivera's meeting notice stating they would be required to bring identification and their copy of the notice.

There were already reports Thursday that Rivera's camp was planning to bus seniors in from senior centers to stack the meeting.

It appears likely that whichever side wins, both will be back in court.

"You know it's not going to stop Sunday," said one rebel camp insider. "Jose isn't going to go down like that."

"It's going to be the shootout at the OK Corral in the Bronx," said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs and expert on city government at Baruch College.

Muzzio also predicted the battle for control of the party won't be over Sunday night.

"Being back in court is inevitable, no matter what happens," he said. "You can guarantee there'll be some judicial filing Monday."

While a number of names have been proposed to take over party leadership should the rebels triumph, Heastie has emerged as a leading candidate.

The core group of rebels, nicknamed the Rainbow Rebels or Coalition because of their multiracial composition, also includes Assemblymembers Aurelia Greene, who is party secretary; Ruben Diaz Jr.; Jeffrey Dinowitz; Michael Benedetto and Michael Benjamin.

Also expressing support are state Senators Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Ruben Diaz Sr. and Eric Schneiderman, and City Councilmembers James Vacca and Annabel Palma.

Ruben Diaz Jr. is running for Bronx borough president in next year's race, and is expected to face a challenge by Rivera's son, term-limited Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera. But that could all change if Rivera's father is unseated.

rkappstatter@nydailynews.com

Post a Comment