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11th January

First Published in The New York Sun, January11, 2008

By Andrew Wolf

If you are looking for a reason why the economic good times in the city seem to have passed by the borough of the Bronx, events in recent days should offer some clues.

In a national atmosphere where the word of the day is change, in the Bronx, among the poorest places in the entire nation, the watchword is “more of the same.”

A game of political musical chairs is being played in the borough, designed to insure that the “dynasties” that benefit a handful of well-connected families are strengthened, at the expense of what would otherwise be a competitive political system. As we fight for democracy in the Middle East, that concept still hasn’t taken hold in what was once the Borough of Universities.

The latest chapter would move the Bronx County Clerk, Hector Diaz, to the job of City Clerk. This position is technically filled by the City Council, but is actually chosen by the speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn. She won the support of the Bronx Democratic machine for her post, and feels a debt of gratitude to the Bronx Democratic County Leader, Assemblyman Jose Rivera. Mr. Rivera once sat in the City Council, but needed to leave due to term limits, so slid back into the Assembly (where he served a decade before), deftly handing his seat over to his 22-year-old son, Joel, then a college student, in 2001, and he was soon named “majority leader” of the council. Mr. Rivera the younger, who hasn’t found the time to finish his degree, is now himself term limited, and is preparing for a race for borough president next year.

If, with Ms. Quinn’s help he can overcome unified opposition from the Brooklyn delegation, and win the City Clerk post, Mr. Diaz will now have a somewhat more prestigious post that will also beef up his considerable pension, as the salary is nearly $175,000 a year. Good for him. Pushing Mr. Diaz along, gives Mr. Rivera the opportunity to fill the newly vacant Bronx clerk’s job with his old friend, Maria Baez, who is term-limited in her city council seat.

Should this appointment be made, to possibly succeed Ms. Baez in the Council, there is her daughter, Carmen Baez. The 27-year-old Ms. Baez is now deputy chief clerk in the Bronx Office of the City Clerk, a job that entails running the borough’s Marriage Bureau. The younger Ms. Baez made the news recently after complaints were filed that couples seeking to tie the knot regularly arrived at the office only to find that she had closed it early.

Now of course should Ms. Baez the younger move on to the City Council, someone would need to move up into her job. The problem may be that the elder Mr. Rivera, the Bronx Democratic leader, may be running out of relatives. Joel Rivera’s half-sister, Naomi Rivera, has been made a member of the New York State Assembly from a district adjoining her father’s. Her husband, Antonio Rodriguez, surfaced on the staff of the City Council at $95,000 a year. Another son, Rodney, is a press officer on the staff of State Senate minority leader Malcolm Smith.

The Councilman’s mother, Ivine Gallarza, is already District Manager of Community Board 6, and the Councilman’s wife, 26-year-old Valerie Vazquez-Rivera is the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the New York City Board of Elections.

I can imagine an argument that extols this extended family for its commitment to public service. But the truth is that the parade of spoils to the Riveras and those close to them is choking the Bronx body politic. This nepotism is tolerated only due to the lack of organized opposition and the fact that much of the rest of the Bronx political elite is engaging in a similar dynastic approach to public service.

Jose Rivera, the father of the year by anyone’s reckoning, is unapologetic. He views his children through the same lens as the Cuomos and the Kennedys and sees his aid to the careers of his family and friends as something akin to the help that was given to the man who discovered America, as reported by the New York Observer’s Azi Paybarah. “Columbus did not do it by himself. He needed Queen Isabella and her treasury.”

I know Mr. Rivera, and find him a most engaging and genuinely likable fellow. With all due respect and admiration - I hope he won’t mind if I simply address him as “daddy.”

© 2008 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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