The 2021 Bronx Borough President Race: Why Does It Matter?
By Akeem Alao B.
The Bronx is one of the five boroughs in the New York City. Even though it is the poorest and most violent borough, it is popular for its multi-diverse ethno-linguistic nature and of course entertainment, perhaps because it is known as the home and root of the hip-hop music.
The county is mostly dominated by the people of color, especially the Hispanic, Asians, Yemenis and West Africans. Its political atmosphere is mostly dominated by the Hispanic/Latino community. A clear example could be seen in this year’s Bronx Borough Presidential race, which is, of course, the main focus of this article.
Though it is an election at a borough level, the process is no different from what is obtainable at the national level. The resources on how to register to vote are provided by the NYC Board of Elections. And in a few months now, the presidential power at the borough level will shift and new leaders will emerge through a collective electoral consensus.
At least four of the five borough presidents in New York City are about to leave office due to term limits; the struggles to fill their empty seats have begun.
Individuals are jostling for the vacant seats in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. The eligible voters are eagerly awaiting a replacement of the current office-holders — Ruben Diaz Jr., Eric Adams, Gale Brewer and James Oddo respectively.
At their own level, the presidents represent their individual borough and play significant roles which engender a growth and development by facilating local initiatives, funding groups and projects in government-owned schools. They also renovate local parks and community health outreach.
According to the City’s Campaign Finance Board, Borough Presidents enjoy some monetary autonomy through fiscal expenditure of about 5% of the city budget — roundabout $4 billion— on things in their borough.
Another important role played by the Borough presidents is introduction of bills in the City Council. They also weigh in on land use proposals such as development projects that need public approval. Borough presidents appoint all members of community boards, the local bodies that weigh in on everything from new bike lanes to liquor licenses for restaurants.
The borough presidents are also constitutionally empowered to call news conferences on issues that bother on their borough.
According to CFB records, this year's election will feature many candidates. In the the Bronx for instance, Fernando Cabrera, Nathalia Fernandez, Vanessa Gibson, Victor Gutierrez, Samuel Ravelo and Luis Sepulveda will contest the vacant seat.
During their electioneering, the candidates rolled out their plans and agendas for their communities.
One of the candidates who was interviewed by Parkchester Times for this story, Fernando Cabrera, explained why he is qualified for the position.
"I have the experience and leadership necessary during these difficult and challenging times to serve as the next Bronx Borough President. I have proudly served as the NYC Council Member representing the 14th district in the Bronx since January 2010. My leadership positions in the NYC Council include: Majority Whip Leader, Chair of the Government Operations Committee, and Co-Chair of the Gun Violence Task Force," he said.
He added, "I am the former chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, the Chairman of the Technology Committee, and Chair of the Substance Abuse Committee. I served at the Democratic National Conference delegate for President Barack Obama. I passed over 40 bills and resolutions in the City Council, including the Tenant Bill of Rights and School Environmental Bill."
When asked if he had any project to execute if elected, he responded that, "I look forward to completing some of the projects Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr started, such as the renovations of Orchard Beach. I am looking forward in having destination venues to attract tourist and revenues, such as the Salsa Museum. I will provide funding for affordable housing, upgrading schools, renovating parks and helping non-profits development projects."
Cabrera also stated some efforts he is making to provide quality education for students in the Bronx.
In his words, "As a former school counselor and college professor, I understand full well the importance of creating successful educational pathway for students of all ages.
"As borough president, I will provide funding to build a science lab in every public school by the year 2025. Students learn best when they have an interactive, real hand on experience with STEM labs. Either through technology activities, engineering projects, 3D printers, coding robots or math games, students can be better prepared for the real world of work. I will also fund hydroponic science labs so students can learn more closely about agriculture, technology, biology and even nutrition, while growing vegetables, herbs, and fruits with limited amount of soil and minerals. I will advocate to reduce class size in order for our Bronx students to improve their academic performances."
In their endorsement of Fernando Cabrera for Borough President, Northwest Bronx Democrats stated, “We supported his election in 2013 and then on, for one simple reason, he’s a district listener- and exactly what we believe the borough of the Bronx needs, especially right now.”
They highlighted Cabrera’s efforts regarding: public safety, passing Resolution 104 which will increase accountability of batterer intervention programs by requiring that program effectiveness is measured.
Presenting her plans for the Bronx, Nathalia Fernandez, said, “The Bronx is home to several major highways and waste transfer stations - two leading causes of our borough’s sky-high asthma rate. Our Black and brown communities have long been targeted by environmental racism. We cannot wait any longer to implement life-saving measures that empower all Bronxites."
“As borough president, I will invest in renewable energies, upgrade our infrastructure, create good-paying green jobs, and improve the quality of both our air and water.”
Fernández has therefore introduced a plan that includes implementing new policies and funding investments that not only will revitalize but transform The Bronx.
Others are: the Environmental Bond Act, reduction of The Bronx’s Carbon Footprint, creation of Sustainable Transportation, expansion of bus service and building of miles of bus and bike lanes, expansion of bike sharing throughout the borough, installation of publicly accessible and affordable EV charging stations across The Bronx.
Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, who represents the Bronx’s 16th Council District, passionately advocates for affordable housing, low income families, seniors, LGBTQ rights, gender equity, employment access, and meaningful opportunities for our youth.
She said, "Early last year when the pandemic first hit, we worked with our partners at Local 372, to get PPE for our School Crossing Guards and Cafeteria / Lunchroom Staff and Aides to keep them safe!"
She added, "We are making sure that our School District 9 cafeteria workers have sufficient personal protective equipment while serving food in our schools every day."
Sammy Ravelo, while explaining the reason he is seeking elective office, stated that his plan is to be the voice of his people.
"That is the most single most pressing issue facing our community, and what I intend to do about it," he said.
He added, "Since the pandemic has caused this country to lose 40 million jobs, we need to get our people working again. I plan to introduce and push an infrastructure bill that will create millions of paying jobs to fix our crumbling roads and bridges and outdated water system.
"Many of those jobs will come to our district. It will help small businesses get back on their feet."
He further promised that he would like to spend more on education, stabilize the housing market, lower the drugs prices and help small business get back on their feet.
This year’s borough president election is so important because the Broxites are now heavily faced with serious financial, health and public safety breakdowns; hence, the need for a good experienced leader to take over the seat post-pandemic is non-negotiable.