Sunday, September 16, 2012


 Winds of political change blow through Bronx, says good government group, as Gjonaj defeats Rivera 

Bronxites tiring of ethically-challenged legislators











 Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera at her campaign headquarters Thursday.

Daniel Beekman

Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera at her campaign headquarters Thursday.


Daniel Beekman

Mark Gjonaj at his victory party after unseating state Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera in a Democratic primary election in the Bronx.

The winds of political change are blowing through the Bronx, says the director of a New York good government group.
The thunderbolt Democratic primary defeat of state Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera by businessman Mark Gjonaj, paired with strong showings by other reform candidates Thursday, are proof that "the tide is turning," according to Alex Camarda, Citizens Union policy director.
"It seems that Bronxites are growing tired of the ethically-challenged legislators that have been representing them," Camarda said. "More and more, Bronxites are turning towards change."
Bronx incumbents very seldom José, and Rivera was backed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee, elected officials such as Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, labor unions and her powerful family, including Assemblyman and ex-party boss José Rivera and City Councilman Joel Rivera.
Pundits said the Albanian-American challenger would struggle to pull enough votes in a district with a Hispanic plurality.
But an aggressive, well-funded Gjonaj campaign and allegations of corruption by Rivera - currently under investigation by law enforcement - sunk the embattled legislator Thursday and possibly signaled the end of the Rivera political dynasty.
Even before the election was called for the challenger at 52% to 41%, the incumbent delivered a somber speech at her Allerton Ave. campaign headquarters in the heart of the 80th District.
Two other challengers, Irene Estrada-Rukaj and Adam Bermudez, pulled 7% of the vote.
"This has been a difficult campaign," she said, tearing up at times. "There have been a lot of accusations - without evidence - leveled at me and my family."
The result was the second defeat for a scandal-scarred Bronx incumbent in two years, Camarda noted. State Sen. Gustavo Rivera unseated the infamous Pedro Espada Jr. in a 2010 primary.
Citizens Union endorsed Gjonaj before the election, citing his firm support for redistricting reform and for lowering campaign contribution limits."
But Bermudez and Estrada-Rukaj, at times during the race, accused the eventual victor of buying the election. Gjonaj raised $200,000 and splashed the cash on hordes of campaign workers, national television ads and an endless stream of voter mail.
The result was a triumph not just for the candidate but for the Albanian community of the Bronx and beyond. Gjonaj will be the first-ever Albanian-American in the city to hold elected office.
"This is history," crowed Ezad Rizai, president of the Albanian American Society Foundation. "The Albanians came out for Mark and we're all very proud."
The key to the upset wasn't an Albanian-American stronghold, however. Tenants at Tracey Towers, the 869-unit Mosholu Parkway complex, voted overwhelmingly for Gjonaj after he helped them sue to block a 65% rent hike.
The complex, home mostly to black and African immigrant voters, went 360-68 for the challenger, according to his campaign.
"We went heavily for Gjonaj because he stepped in when we were down for the count," said Jean Hill, tenant leader.
The 80th District includes Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, Allerton, Pelham Gardens and parts of Norwood and Bedford Park.
dbeekman@nydailynews.com
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