State Senatorial candidate Gustavo Rivera, won a landslide victory against his previously entrenched opponent, Pedro Espada on primary day, September 14, 2010. Rivera, who has never held office had a remarkable triumph. But what was even more significant was the lack of support from the Bronx political machine. Conspicuously absent from his post election party were members of the Machine such as Carl Heastie. The only visible representative was Jeffrey Dinowitz who gave Rivera an endorsement at the eleventh hour of the campaign.
Rivera won through support of unions, tenant organizations and his relationship with local community groups when he campaigned for Barack Obama. And like Obama, his political platform is based largely on reform and change. The question then becomes, can he do it without "kissing the ring" of the Bronx political machine.
Historically, the Machine was a factory for patronage jobs. It funneled federal and state money to community based programs in the area and created jobs. That created a large voting support base for any candidate chosen by the Machine. Now, with a recession raging and state budget cuts, the funnel has become clogged. Hence, Rivera's large support from unions and the Working Families Party. That support was significant enough to prevent him from being whacked off the ballot by machine lawyers such as Stanley Schlein. In previous years, the tactic was to protest a candidate's petition and then find a judge favorable to the Machine who would decertify the candidate. Now, with the Internet and instant messaging, political antics such as these are hard to disguise.
With the old machinery in place, it would have been easy for political insurgents such as Gustavo Rivera to be kept off the ballot. But, with the backing of the Democratic party and Bill Samuels, this was a difficult task for the Machine.
However, the hard work for Rivera has begun. The road to reform begins with economics. Rivera's district has a poverty rate that rivals some third world countries. The median income is $25,000. The promise of job creation is daunting. Bronx businesses that are loyal to the Machine fear political contributions to the Rivera camp. All campaign contributions are made public under the Federal Election Commission regulations. Therefore, they are open to scrutiny and possible retaliation by the Machine.
But one must also examine the fact that Rivera won without their strong endorsement. Espada was their poster child since his Soundview Healthcare facility generated jobs and good public relations for the Machine. But his subsequent legal woes diminished his value to them.
So, it would appear that the Machine may be forced into a marriage of convenience with Rivera.
Albeit separate bedrooms, the two entities will have to make it work if progress is to be made.
The issue of housing is tied directly to the Machine and it's connection to real estate developers and landlords who fund many Machine sanctioned campaigns. A quick scan of projects in upscale neighborhoods will show that many have either been delayed, downsized or canceled. Yet another venue where Rivera will have to make peace with the "Machinistas."
Despite the negatives, Rivera is a fresh face in a new age. Hopefully, his enthusiasm and political backing will navigate the murky waters of the Machine. The tune from Nero's fiddle has been replaced with a chant. "Si Se Puede."