Espada near PS 33, a busy polling site. In the background is one of his bodyguards (Photos: James Fergusson)
The elderly typically vote in large numbers, and so most candidates running for election (or reelection) penciled in visits to local senior centers today.
At around 1 p.m., Senate candidate Gustavo Rivera and Councilman Fernando Rivera, who's endorsed him, spoke to seniors at Morris Senior Center on East 181st Street.
Rivera, seniors said afterwards, is a relatively new face at the center, unlike his opponent, State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. who's well known. "He [Espada] comes around, he shakes your hand, a lot of people are swayed by that," said one 80-year-old woman, who was quick to say that she, personally, "cannot stand him, because of all the things they're saying in the [news]papers."
|Rivera at East Concourse Senior Center|
Rivera told the group of about 60: "The main difference between my opponent and me is simple. I want to work for you. I want to be accountable to you."
For local senior Dina Alverez, Cabrera's and Rivera's message fell on deaf ears: she'd already voted, and for Espada. "I know he has a lot of problems, but I like Espada," she said. "When he talks to you, he listens to you and your problems. You can't believe all you read in the papers."
Mary Kelly, another senior, seemed bored by the whole spectacle. "People [candidates] all basically say the same thing, 'cos they know what you want to hear," she said. She voted this morning but wouldn't say for whom.
When Cabrera and Rivera were done, the bingo continued - for a minute or two. Then Hector Ramirez showed up. Ramirez, who's running against Assemblyman Nelson Castro in the 86th Assembly District, gave a brief speech, before stepping outside and talking to local residents. He got chatting to one woman, who, during her walk up the block, had been given several campaign fliers - one of Ramirez's, one of Rivera's, and one of Castro's. Smiling, Ramirez gently removed Castro's from her hand and discarded it.
Later this afternoon, near PS 33 on Jerome Avenue in Fordham, Richard Baker, one of Espada's campaign workers, handed out fliers to passersby. He said he's been with the campaign for two weeks, and that he was both "working and volunteering," although he'd yet to be paid.
"He [Espada] stands up for those who don't have," said Baker, a Belmont resident, adding that he'd seen Espada give out food to the poor.
Not everyone shared Baker's fondess for the incumbent. Attempting to hand a flier to one middle-aged man, Baker was given a tongue-lashing. "He's [Espada's] a fraud! He's a fraud!" the man shouted. "You're pushing paper for the wrong guy. He steals from old people. He's a crook!"
Rivera supporters on Jerome Avenue near PS 33
Inside the polling station, two of Espada's "poll watchers" were keeping a eye on proceedings. (I didn't see any of Rivera's.)
Like Baker, Vidal was quick to laud's Espada's record. "He's been able to bring a position [majority leader] to the Bronx, that the Bronx has never had before," he said. He later added, "When the big [Democratic] bosses are against you, it's a sign that you have an independent voice."
Richard Baker, one of Espada's campaign workers
Espada himself showed up around 4 p.m. Accompanied by two suited bodyguards, he ate a late lunch in a nearby Subway, before hitting the streets again, talking to campaign staff and mingling with local residents.
Asked about his day, Espada said he was concerned that the "abruptly introduced" new voting system would "potentially disenfranchise voters." He thought the system was confusing.
A little earlier in the day, Rivera's campaign had fired off a press release, accusing Espada and his campaign of "illegal activity" at polling stations. Espada was quick to brush off the accusations: "I have absolutely no knowledge of that," he said. As he spoke, a couple of sign-holding Rivera supporters wandered over and began chanting Rivera's name. Gesturing at them, Espada said they were trying to intimidate people voting for him. (The Daily News has more on Espada's reaction to these accusations, courtesy of his colorful spokesman Franck LaBoy).
Castro was also campaigning near PS 33 (his district overlaps with Espada's). He was accompanied by his lawyer, who claimed that Board of Elections workers have been telling voters to vote for Ramirez. (Ramirez has been endorsed by the Bronx Democratic Party, which now controls the city Board of Elections.)
Castro was fuming. "This is a fight that is bigger than me, this is about the civil rights of this community," he said. "If it's close, it's because they're actually stealing it." He promised legal action if he lost.
Ramirez, who also showed up at PS 33, said he was "very confident" of victory. "I know that tonight you're going to write that Hector Ramirez will be the new assemblyman," he said.