Gustavo Rivera, the Democratic hopeful who wants to bump off Bronx state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. in the Sept. 14 primary election, picked up two more significant endorsements today at City Hall — Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the two highest-ranking elected Democrats in municipal government.
The two endorsers, as did Rivera, stressed that the challenger has lived in his 33rd Senate District in the northwest Bronx for many years.
Rivera, 34, was born in Puerto Rico, as was Espada, 56. But thick ethics cloud around Espada includes questions of whether he lives within his impoverished district or in upscale Mamaroneck, where he has a home.
Rivera, a longtime campaign operative for a slew of Democratic candidates, including now-President Obama, said after getting his endorsements,
“I live in a rent stabilized apartment, right in the middle of the district. I’ve been there for the past 10 years. I take the (subway) train every day. I’ve lived the same situations as this district because I am from this district. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but came here 12 years ago, and for the last 12 years I’ve been living in the Bronx. And last year I felt compelled, I felt compelled to run because the people of this district have not been well served.”
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Liu said of Rivera, “ (He) has been in the community, active on a number of issues, including the most important issues to the community—education, health care, housing—Gustavo Rivera has already built a track record for himself in the community on these important issues, (and) he’s shown himself to be effective in advocating for result on these issues. And Gustavo is also somebody who will bring a much needed measure of unity in the community as well as unity in the state Senate. So I am very pleased to be here to give my full, unabated support for Gustavo River for New York State Senate.”
De Blasio said the progressive coalition of unions, elected officials and community activist that last year contributed to his and Liu’s elections has “come together” to help Rivera topple Espada.
“There is a sense in his district and also all over the city and state that this is the right man to represent that district and to help change the state Senate. I think, sadly, if you said to New Yorkers what is the one thing that they most want to see changing, that the one part of government that we need help in the most, they say the state Senate. And I’m convinced that Gustavo Rivera is going to be a difference maker, that he not only has the skills to win the race he has the skills be a great state senator, as someone who can help that body to move forward…to be good in this business you have to be in touch with the people…You can only represent a district if you’re actually in the district, living the life of the district, understanding the people’s needs. You can’t do it if you’re living a life different from your constituents, and Gustavo lives in the district, in a modest building, with people, understanding the issues, and this is the kind of guy who can actually serve the people of that district. I’m honored to support him and I’ll do everything I can to help him get elected.”
Rivera, a first-time candidate, displayed a sense of humor when I asked him what he described as a “very important, significant, pointed” question about his campaign: “Do you pay for your suits?”
“I do, sir -- matter of fact this one I got at the Woodbury Commons, at the clearance sale," he said about his neat (but unremarkable) dark business suit, a sharp contrast from Espada’s tailored duds. “This is like a $1,200 suit I got for like $185 bucks.”
Asked if he thinks Espada is a crook, Rivera also showed a veteran’s ability to duck and weave when making public pronouncement, saying, “Well I think he has not served the community well. I think he has not been what he’s supposed to be. As a state senator you’re supposed to be a representative, you’re supposed to a legislator that actually addressed the concerns of the community. I do not believe he has done that, and the people that I’m speaking to every single day, the voters from the northern part of the district all the way to the south, they all believe the same thing…that’s why I feel so positive about this race.’
Rivera, who also has the Working Families Party’s ballot line for the Nov. 2 general election, wouldn’t acknowledge the possibility he might lose the Democratic primary.
Asked if he would still run in November on the WFP line should Espada win the primary, Rivera said he would still be on the ballot. Pressed if he would “run” (and not just be technically on the ballot), he said, “I’m only focused on Sept.. 14 right now.”