Just got off the phone with Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (79th Assembly District), who last night defeated primary opponent Sigfredo Gonzalez by 2301 votes to 1432.
It was the third time that Benjamin has defeated Gonzalez in a primary. But this victory was particularly sweet because party boss Jose Rivera, who was supporting Gonzalez, had accused Benjamin (an African-American) of ignoring the needs of the Latino community.
Ultimately, voters were turned off by these efforts to "fan the flames of racial division and ethnic discord," says Benjamin. And they "sent a message" this wasn't the kind of politics they wanted.
Benjamin also puts his victory down to his political record, his wife's skillful campaign management, and support from his district's West African population.
If, as expected, Benjamin wins the election in November, he says he'll continue to focus on bringing in "more affordable housing, better public education, and job creation." And he'll continue to "advocate on the behalf of ex-offenders."
Benjamin is part of the so-called Rainbow Rebellion, a group of breakaway Bronx pols who are openly challenging Rivera's leadership. He says his victory - and indeed the overriding successes of Rainbow Rebellion candidates, including Elizabeth Taylor for Civil Court judge - is a huge blow to the party machine and Rivera in particular.
"He has suffered the greatest loss in a primary of any [Bronx] democratic party leader in the last 30 years,” Benjamin said. "There have been losses in the past, but not at this level, in one night, across the board, across the borough."
So is this the end of Rivera's reign? Benjamin seems to think so. "I believe change is in the air," he said, adding that Bronx politicians who had previously sat on the fence will now likely abandon the party leadership.
Benjamin and his allies celebrated their victories with a party at Maestro's restaurant on Bronxdale Avenue. "Truly, it was a great, great night," he said.