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30th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 30, 2004

By Andrew Wolf

For those who care about the political process, the past two weeks have been delicious. As we all know, based on little more than Internet fund raising and dubious poll results, the pundits and politicians declared Howard Dean the inevitable Democratic nominee for president.

Trouble is, they never bothered to ask the voters what they thought. Once the voters started taking a closer look at Dr. Dean, they decided that they didn’t like what they saw. That the talking heads had awarded the former Vermont governor the nomination before a single vote was cast was stupid, but not as stupid as the knee jerk actions of the Democratic pols who should have known better. Hundreds of them eagerly jumped on board the Dean bandwagon, endorsing a candidate they really didn’t know or care about. I suspect that many of them would now like to jump off that sinking ship. 
Here in Gotham, nobody jumped higher or faster than our City Council Speaker, Gifford Miller. As the dispenser of millions of dollars in patronage to the members of this next to useless legislative body, he managed to convince 20 or so of his lemming-like colleagues to join him on the Dean team.

In my home borough of the Bronx, the favorite son, according to elected officials, is not Senator Lieberman, whose wife, Hadassah, was a long time Riverdale resident, and whose mother-in-law still lives here. Nor is it even the ex-frontrunner, Dr. Dean, who attended medical school here at Einstein, where he met his bride, the refreshing Dr. Judy Steinberg. No, the favorite presidential candidate of Bronx elected officials is the Rev. Al Sharpton, who boasts the support of over half of them.

The word on the street is that the failure to back Mr. Sharpton’s bid comes at a steep price — a Sharptonendorsed opponent in the next primary. However, apparently, this directive may be limited to only one public official for each family.

The Bronx County Democratic Leader, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, is with Mr. Sharpton, having served prison time with him over the Vieques issue. However, his son, the 25-year-old “majority leader” of the Council, Joel Rivera, went along with Mr. Miller, his City Hall patron, and endorsed Dr. Dean.The former Vermont governor has no other visible support in Mr. Rivera’s nearly all-minority council district. However, the young Mr. Rivera’s avoidance of a Sharpton entanglement may prove beneficial up the road.

It is widely speculated that sooner rather than later, Rivera the Younger will be running for Bronx borough president. Even at his tender age, his term limit clock is already ticking, and only thebold will be among those left standing. The current less-thanscintillating borough president, Adolfo Carrion Jr., already pictures himself sitting in William Thompson’s chair in the city comptroller’s office at the Municipal Building. If Mr. Thompson challenges the vulnerable Mayor Bloomberg, a distinct possibility, Mr. Carrion is expected to vie for the vacant spot the comptroller will leave behind.

This will touch off a free-for-all among the sons of the borough’s current political “elite.” Mr. Rivera’s Dean endorsement, while doing little for him or the former governor right now, can help him a lot more than the Sharpton endorsements made by his presumed opponents, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. and Councilman Jose M. Serrano.

With three young Hispanics looking to move up and dividing their natural constituency, it will be other ethnic groups who will decide which of the trio will advance. While whites comprise just 14% of the Bronx population, they often account for 25% of the Bronx vote. This is why young Rivera organized a “Unity March” against anti-Semitism in Riverdale on January 19, 2004. Although it was Mr. Rivera’s event, both Messrs. Diaz and Serrano also took care to show up.

However, both Messars. Diaz and Serrano have touched the third rail of racial politics by endorsing the Sharpton candidacy. This linkage is what made a Riverdale resident, Fernando Ferrer, once that community’s favorite son, into the fourth-place finisher here in the 2001 Democratic mayoral primary. The concept of Mr. Sharpton in the White House is so surreal to white voters (who, I suspect, would not have to suspend belief over a Colin Powell,Condoleezza Rice, or Harold Ford in the Oval Office) that an endorsement of Mr. Sharpton’s candidacy will be a major obstacle to winning white and particularly Jewish support up the road.
Mr. Serrano’s backing of Mr. Sharpton is less of a surprise that that of Mr. Diaz. His father, Rep. Jose Serrano, has consistently backed Mr. Sharpton for years with the same enthusiasm he reserves for another controversial figure, Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Mr. Diaz comes from a different place. His father, the Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr., is a State Senator representing much the same Bronx area as his son. The elder Diaz is known for his traditional values (most notably opposition to gay marriage), and is leading a delegate slate committed to Senator Lieberman. Had the younger Mr. Diaz joined his father in that endorsement, he would have struck gold with Jewish voters in Riverdale — even those not supporting Mr. Lieberman for president.

The two Bronx politicos who are best positioned in the Democratic presidential race are the two who have fallen into the most disfavor with the political bosses, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, both from Riverdale. Only two Bronx-based elected officials are supporting the current front-runner, Senator Kerry: Mr. Dinowitz and Assemblyman Peter Rivera, his low-octane colleague. Three Bronx officials are supporting the currently upwardly mobile bid of Senator John Edwards, Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein and Councilwoman Madeline Provenzano and Mr. Koppell. However, Mr. Koppell apparently played a key role in Mr. Edwards’s success in recruiting delegate slates across the state, calling on his contacts from his previous statewide races for Attorney General.

Should a Kerry/Edwards ticket emerge, Riverdale’s political position could strengthen dramatically, hardly the conventional wisdom just days ago.

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

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