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28th May

First Published in The New York Sun, May 28, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

The political season in the Bronx promises to be an unusually busy time due to a ripple effect following the resignation of Senator Guy Velella and his felony conviction. 

    Two members of the Assembly, Stephen Kaufman and Jeffrey Klein, have announced that they will attempt to succeed the senator.This will open up their Assembly seats and the prospect that the number of Jews in the borough’s Assembly delegation will be diminished to just one: Jeff Dinowitz of Riverdale. 
    The Bronx was once a Jewish-dominated Democratic stronghold, incubator of politicos like Robert Abrams, Harrison Jay Goldin, and Oliver Koppell. Today, it is the employer of first resort for the sons and daughters of the borough’s minority political elite. 

    City Council majority leader Joel Rivera is the son of the Bronx County Democratic Leader José Rivera. Joel Rivera was elected to the Council in a special election in 2000, as a 22-year-old junior in college.Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr. is the son of Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr.The younger Mr. Diaz preceded his father in the legislature, having won his seat from Pedro G. Espada, the son of then State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr., who was later defeated by Mr. Diaz père. City Councilman José M. Serrano, the son of Congressman José Serrano, assumed his post by also defeating the unlucky Mr. Espada fils. His council colleague, Helen Diane Foster, took over the seat held by her father, the Reverend Wendell Foster. 

    The word on the street is that the favored organization candidate to succeed Mr. Klein in the Assembly is Naomi Rivera, the daughter of the county leader and the older sister of the councilman. Ms. Rivera is already deputy director of the Bronx office of the Board of Elections, a $64,000-a-year post. 

    Mr. Serrano the son, having not quite completed two-and-a-half years in the City Council, has decided it is time to move on. He is seeking the Democratic nod to challenge Senator Olga Mendez, considered vulnerable because she switched to the Republican from the Democratic Party. Her East Harlem/South Bronx district has a 10-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage. 

    The political intrigue in the borough is defined by the machinations of the fathers on behalf of their children. All of the youngsters covet the seat of the president of the Bronx, Adolfo Carrion, whose ambition exceeds his capabilities. Mr. Carrion can sit tight until 2009, when his term limit runs out. 

    Should Comptroller William Thompson or Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum seek to unseat Mayor Bloomberg next year, or simply decide they’ve had enough, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that Mr. Carrion will try to make a quick exit from the Bronx, running for comptroller or public advocate. 

    A possible Ruben Diaz, Jr. vs. Joel Rivera vs. José M. Serrano race for Borough Hall is anticipated. This is why a move to the Legislature may be so attractive to Mr. Serrano. On the surface, this is not a good move. Shlepping up to Albany in the dead of winter is not anyone’s idea of fun. Mr. Serrano will take a pay cut and suffer the indignity of being a member of the Democratic Senate minority, among the least influential persons in state government. But Mr. Serrano would not have to give up his new job to run for borough president, nor would he be constrained by term limits as he is in the council. 

    This thinking may have been in the plans of the young Mr. Rivera as well. He recently moved into Mr. Klein’s district, and many here believe that it was with an eye toward moving into Mr. Klein’s seat. Velella’s guilty plea opened up the Senate seat too early for Mr. Rivera to be legally substituted for Mr. Klein’s Assembly post. His sister, however, is a bona fide resident of the district, so the seat might be salvaged for the Rivera clan after all. 

    Anticipating opposition from the Diazes, the senior Mr. Rivera, the Democratic leader, has consigned them to the political deep freeze. So the Diazes enlisted a slate of candidates to challenge another organization stalwart, Assemblyman Peter Rivera (no relation) of Parkchester.This was considered a problem for the organization, so the county leader was considering turning to his old enemies, the Espadas, backing them in races this year against the father and son Diaz clan. 

    The Diazes blinked. Wednesday afternoon, they stood in front of Bronx County Democratic headquarters and reluctantly endorsed Assemblyman (Peter) Rivera, buying themselves a year of peace, unless the Espadas decide to go it alone against the Diazes without support from the party bosses. This sets up the possibility, come January, of there being three Bronx Assembly members named Rivera. 

    As for the Velella Senate seat that has so complicated life among the Bronx political clans, there will be a Democratic primary between Messrs. Klein and Kaufman. People are scratching their heads, wondering why the ambitious Mr. Klein would give up a safe seat in the Assembly Democratic majority to move to the minority in the state Senate. 

    According to a report in Monday’s Daily News, Mr. Klein may feel that he will gain greater exposure in a larger district — one that includes Westchester — in preparation for a possible run next year for attorney general, should Eliot Spitzer move up. Or perhaps Mr. Klein was gently nudged aside by Mr. Rivera, whose daughter is now measuring Mr. Klein’s office for new drapes. 

    Mr. Kaufman has bigger plans. A lifelong moderate Democrat, he has sewn up the Republican and Conservative nominations for the general election, will probably win the Independence Party line, and perhaps even the line of the Working Families Party. This “unity slate” seems to resonate with voters.There is a chance Mr. Kaufman could lose to Mr. Klein in the Democratic primary, but he could still prevail in November. 
    If elected, Mr. Kaufman would sit with the Republican majority caucus. The prospect of a friend in the Senate majority is luring many key Democrats to place their bets on Mr. Kaufman. He is not just looking to win Velella’s seat, but assume his considerable power as well.

© 2004 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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