Gustavo Rivera, a state Senate candidate, talking to potential petition signers
Early yesterday morning, State Senate candidate Gustavo Rivera and a handful of his volunteers worked the rush hour crowd on the downtown platform of the Fordham Road 4-Train station.
They were after signatures so that Rivera can get on the ballot.
One exchange went like this:
Volunteer: "Are you a registered Democrat living in the Bronx?"
Middle-aged man: "I don't vote. All the politicians are crooked."
When asked the same question, several other commuters pretended not to hear, and walked on, eyes straight ahead - the kind of response (or lack of) that beggars on the subway often elicit.
Still, not everyone was so unresponsive.
Joshua Iscoa, a local resident and computer programmer who was heading to work, even let a train pass by as he listened to Rivera's pitch.
Typically, that pitch begins with Rivera informing the potential petition signer that Pedro Espada, Jr., the current office holder, is a bad guy who has abused his position. Rivera then reels off a few of his own accomplishments: how he's an experienced educator, how he helped Obama get elected, and how he's worked for several other pols with stellar reputations, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Speaking afterwards, Iscoa said he signed Rivera's petition because "some of his qualifications sound legit." He liked that fact that Rivera has been a teacher for many years and that he's Hispanic. "He's an Hispanic guy, you know, only a Hispanic person can understand immigration," he said.
For Rivera to get on the Democratic primary ballot, he needs a thousand Iscoas. With a thousand signatures, he'll be able to challenge Espada, and anyone else who makes it, on primary day, Sept 14. (Community activist Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter; Fernando Tirado, the district manager of Community Board 7 who's on a leave of absence from his job; and Daniel Padernacht, a lawyer, are also running.)
According to Rivera, he and his team have already surpassed this number, but they're not letting up. Signatures can be challenged by other candidates, and ultimately thrown out by the Bronx Board of Elections, if they are illegible; if the voter signed another candidate’s petition on an earlier date; if the voter is, say, a registered Republican when the candidate is a Democrat; and for myriad other reasons. It makes sense, then, to gather as many signatures as you can. The deadline for filing is July 15.
Whether these signatures turn into votes remains to be seen, but Rivera, an easy-going 34-year-old, said he's had a positive response from the public. "[There's] a recognition that Pedro Espada needs to go," he said. "We're letting them know there's another option."
"The entire state has been grossly disserviced by his opponent," says Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, a volunteer and adviser to Rivera who was present yesterday morning. "This is one of the races that everyone should care about."
Lorris Ritter, who was alluding to last summer's Senate coup, which Espada helped orchestrate , said most people don't realize how powerful and influential state legislators are when it comes to housing (rent laws, etc), the MTA, peoples' taxes, and more.
All the more reason, she says, to elect someone who has Bronxites best interests at heart.
For more on Rivera, here's a recent article that appeared in the Norwood News.