Assemblyman Nelson Castro (right) at a tenant rally last month (Photo: Alma Watkins)
It's gearing up to be one of the most competitive races in the Bronx. No, not Pedro Esapda vs. Gustavo Rivera - although that's expected to be close, too. Rather, Nelson Castro vs. Hector Ramirez.
Castro, the assemblyman in the 86th AD (Mount Hope, University Heights, and parts of Fordham), has his work cut out. Ramirez, a Mount Hope resident who runs a small accountancy firm on Davidson Avenue, is being backed by just about everyone with clout (the Bronx borough president, the Bronx Democratic Party, the Work Families Party, and several unions with large local memberships).
It means Castro is in an unusual position for an uncumbent - that of the underdog.
“This is maybe the battle of David and Goliath,” said Castro in a recent interview. “[But] you know the end of the story, David prevails.”
Castro says he's well known and liked in the community, and that Ramirez, despite being a district leader since 2002, is rarely seen or heard.
During a tour of a rundown, rat-infested apartment building on Creston Avenue last month, Castro caught a reporter's attention and whispered, “Where is my opponent when things like this happen?”
Hector Ramirez campaigning in Fordham last month (Photo: James Fergusson)
Ramirez, for his part, says Castro, who has a poor attendance record at Assembly sessions in Albany, is inherently lazy, and that he's failed to build relationships with his colleagues. (Castro has his own thoughts on why his colleagues have shunned him.)
“We need somebody that has the respect of other elected officials and institutions so they feel comfortable working with that person,” says Fernando Aquino, a political operative who's working on Ramirez's campaign. “That’s not the case with Nelson Castro.”
"He [Castro] has a total lack of credibility," says Ramirez, who touts his relationship with BP Ruben Diaz, Jr. and his business experience as reasons why he's the better candidate. (As well as being a small business owner, Ramirez has an MA from Monroe College in business administration.)
Certainly, trouble (or bad luck, depending on who you believe) seems to follow Castro. He has a criminal record and has been accused of voter fraud and perjury. More recently, it's been alleged that he had an affair with a married staffer. (Gary Axelbank's asked him about all of this on a recent BronxTalk show.)
Ramirez, by the way, skipped Axelbank's show. He told me he did so because he'd previously planned to knock on voters' doors that night. It's an argument that's not entirely convincing. Some have said that he was worried a debate would show up his shaky English language skills. While Ramirez speaks English, he does so slowly and haltingly, and with a heavy accent. (Both Castro and Ramirez are from the Dominican Republic. Castro came to the US as a child, Ramirez as an adult.)
Ramirez doesn't see this as a problem. "I’m the typical resident of New York and the Bronx," he says. "I don’t have any problem with my Dominican accent. I rather prefer, and I think the community would, too, to have someone who really represents the community, that really works for that community, than someone who maybe speak English a little bit better and doesn’t represent the community."
Here's Castro's campaign website, and here's Ramirez's.
The BxNN recently asked both candidates to answer a series of questions about their political beliefs, and what they might do if elected (or re-elected in Castro's case). Castro's campaign got back to us with answers, but Ramirez's didn't. You can read Castro's answers here.
The primary is on Tuesday.