Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Race for 80th state Assembly District in Bronx heats up with scandal, mudslinging and quirky music video 

Scandal-tainted Naomi Rivera faces three challengers



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Challenger Mark  Gjonaj

Bryan Smith/for New York Daily News

Challenger Mark Gjonaj

State assembly candidate Adam Bermudez

The race for the 80th state Assembly District is the hottest political bout in the Bronx, thanks to four candidates, multiple investigations and a cheesy music video.
Adam Bermudez, a political organizer from Pelham Gardens, stars in "Vote For Me Maybe," a quirky cover of the catchy pop song, "Call Me Maybe."
"I promise to work hard, write bills and not be lazy, so vote for me maybe" he sings, strumming a guitar in the clip posted Monday.
Incumbent Naomi Rivera was the clear favorite a month ago but nepotism and corruption allegations have rocked her reelection bid, triggering probes by city and state law enforcement.
The Bronx Democratic machine and organized labor are still backing Rivera, the daughter of Assemblyman Jose Rivera and sister of City Councilman Joel Rivera. But challenger Mark Gjonaj is hot on her heels, while Bermudez and repeat candidate Irene Estrada-Rukaj are calling on her to withdraw.
"I respect the legal process, but the writing is on the wall," Bermudez said Tuesday. "We have seen facts and figures. My neighbors have convinced me that this is the sentiment of the community."
The investigations involve an ex-boyfriend who claims Rivera got him a cushy job and siphoned taxpayer money from a nonprofit to cover personal expenses.
Rivera has denied the allegations and her campaign didn't respond to a phone call Tuesday. Her sister passed away last Friday.
For that reason, a televised debate on BronxNet scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed until Sept. 10.
Rivera will benefit from name recognition and demographics in her majority Hispanic district. But Gjonaj could triumph if she pulls out. The Albanian-American realtor has raised more campaign cash and has flooded the district with literature, including a mailing with headlines about the Rivera allegations.
Several unions have endorsed Rivera, while rogue state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative Democrat, supports Gjonaj, whose campaign workers have ambushed several Rivera events.
Bermudez has raised less than $2,500 but won't drop out. The Wesleyan University graduate is counting on low turnout and targeting the 3,000 district voters who never miss an election.
He calls himself "the only progressive Democrat in the race," citing Gjonaj donations to Republican campaigns, and a "political nerd," who watches live video of the state legislature for fun.
Estrada-Rukaj, a public school parent coordinator, longtime community volunteer and fervent Christian who challenged Rivera in 2008, could pull Hispanic and female votes from Rivera.
Rivera has shown "poor judgment," Gjonaj is close to the landlord lobby, and Bermudez is too young, Estrada-Rukaj insists.
The 80th District includes Pelham Parkway, Pelham Gardens, Allerton and parts of Norwood, Bedford Park and Morris Park.
dbeekman@nydailynews.com
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