Vanessa Gibson (in red), the assembly woman in the 79th District, won't face a primary opponant (Photo: J. Fergusson)
Standing on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse on Monday morning, Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson announced her intention to seek reelection.
She was joined by a bevy of her fellow pols - including Congressman Jose Serrano, State Sen. Jose M. Serrano, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Deputy Borough President Aurelia Greene, and Councilman Fernando Cabrera - and they took turns praising her work ethic and character.
Assemblyman Nelson Castro, who represents the 86th District, just north of Gibson's, launched his reelection bid that same day, with a party at the Monte Carlo night club on Jerome Avenue.
Petitioning began on Tuesday, hence Gibson's and Castro's timing. By mid-July, Assembly candidates need to have gathered 500 signatures from registered voters in their district to get on the ballot. State Senate candidates need 1,000 signatures. Ideally, candidates will secure these numbers and then some, to avoid being kicked off the ballot if certain signatures are challenged. (For example, if a voter signs two candidates' petitions, only the one signed first will count.)
Assemblyman Nelson Castro addressing his supporters on Monday night. Unlike Gibson, Castro has a real race on his hands (Photo: A. Watkins)
When Castro won the Democratic primary in September 2008, on his way to becoming the first Dominican-American sent up to Albany from the Bronx, he enjoyed the support of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, then led by Assemblyman Jose Rivera. Not this time. The party, now chaired by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, is supporting Hector Ramirez, a district leader, instead. (Here's Ramirez's campaign website, and here's Castro's.)
At Castro's reelection party, then, Diaz, Heastie, Greene, etc. were no where to be seen. In fact, not a single councilman, senator, or assemblyman, was present, leaving the impression that he's been hung out to dry.
Still, more than 100 local residents and community leaders showed up to cheer Castro on. "He's a people person," said Willie Simmons, a senior who lives on Morris Avenue. "I've gone to him with several problems and he took care of them."
Simmons, who's black, said Castro "doesn't see color," and is equally willing to serve, help, and represent people of all races - a theme Castro was keen to play on in his speech.
"We've united our community in the 86th Assembly district," he said. "There's no longer African-Americans to one side, Latinos to the other side." Castro added: "I'm committed to this community, I work hard to make sure I bring in the resources necessary to make [it] grow."
He went on to talk about several of his initiatives, including a bill he's sponsoring which would allow substitute teachers to claim unemployment during the summer-time.
Simmons said it's unfortunate that Castro's colleagues are attempting to oust him. "Everyone connected with Maria [Baez, the former councilwoman, and ally of Rivera], you know they want them out, and I think it's unfair," she said. Simmons worries that Castro's opponents will attempt to "railroad him" by bringing up past controversies. (He was - and still is? - being investigated by the Bronx DA's office over allegations that he committed perjury.)
Reached by phone, Patrick Jenkins, an advisor and spokesman of Heastie's, denied that the party's endorsement of Ramirez was political payback for Castro.
"The simple fact is that Nelson Castro was not able to secure the support of the district leaders of his district, which is bascially the pathway to losing County's support," Jenkins said.
Sherman Browne, a former staffer of Baez's who's now running Castro's campaign, says this argument is flawed. First off, one of the 86th Assembly District's district leaders is Ramirez himself, and so Castro was never likely to get his support, Browne said. (The other district leader, Samantha Serrano, is in Castro's camp.)
"Obviously it has nothing to do with district leaders," said Browne. "That's what they say to protect the integrity of the party."
Jenkins also said that Castro hasn't worked closely with the Country organization these past 18 months, and hasn't commincated well with Chairman Heastie and other members of the executive committee, and that this went against him, too.
Browne, though, says Castro has always been about "unity" and that it's Heasite and co. that have failed to reach out. He says Castro was never invited to meet with the executive committee to discuss his candidacy.
Ultimately, Brown insists, Castro can live without County's support because local residents and community leaders are firmly behind him, e.g. Bishop Ronald Bailey of Love Gospel Assembly and community activists Louella Hatch and Yolanda Contreras. He also's been endorsed by several Bronx pols who aren't tied to Heastie, including Assemblymen Jose Rivera and Peter Rivera, and by a number of assembly members outside the borough. (Whether any of them play a significant role in Castro's campaign remains to be seen.)
Interestingly, State Sen. Pedro Espada, with whom Castro is regularly seen with at events and press conferences, has yet to support to him. (Espada's spokesman didn't return an email inquiring about this.)
As for Gibson, she has none of these worries. Indeed, she doesn't even have a primary opponent, unless someone's running a very quiet campaign.
Outside the courthouse on Monday morning, Sen. Jose M. Serrano said, "Vanessa Gibson is someone who I dare say is of unusual integrity. Someone who thinks outside the box, who worries about the little things, who makes sure her community is well represented."
Diaz, the borough president, said he supports her "1,000 percent." He called her a coalition builder - Joel R. Rivera, her opponant in last year's special election, is supporting her this time around - and said she was someone who fights for the entire Bronx, not just her west Bronx district.
(Diaz also took the opportunity to formally endorse Sen. Jose M. Serrano and Assemblyman Marco Crespo for reelection; Eric Stevenson, a district leader running for Micheal Benjamin's soon to be empty assembly seat; Congressman Jose Serrano, who may face a primary challenge from Benjamin; and Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who's running for reelection as a district leader. Down the road, Diaz is expected to endorse Ramirez, too.)
Gibson, whose accolades include leading an effort to halt the proposed elimination of the Bx18 bus, said, "I am honored to be here to receive so much support and love and encouragement and endrosement, from all of my colleagues and community residents."
She continued: "The borough president often talks about it being 'one Bronx.' It is 'one bronx' because we have one voice for one purpose, and that purpose is an investment in the Bronx. To make sure we take care of our families, uplift and strengthen our communities, and give our young people the opportunities they need to be leaders in this communtiy and in this borough. That's what I'm committed and invested in doing."