Which Democrat will Replace Congressman Jose Serrano?
By Robert Press
With the announcement that he will not seek another term in congress, several people have announced their intentions to replace Congressman Jose Serrano. Since the last elected Republican was former State Senator Guy Vellela, the Democratic Primary is the real election in the Bronx that you have to win.
Most involved agree that Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. is the person to beat. Diaz Sr. has conservative minded views and one such comment cost him the Chairmanship of the City Council For Hire Committee. Among voters Diaz Sr. has always done better with fewer candidates in the race. His toughest race was against four opponents for City Council in 2017. This should be Ruben Diaz Sr's race to win or lose.
Councilman Ritchie Torres tried to be Speaker of the council in 2017 seeking the support of the Bronx Democratic County organization which included Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. Although a deal was made to have Cory Johnson elected Speaker, Ritchie Torres was elevated to a higher position in the council, and considered to be a rising star in NYC politics. It seemed that with his elevation in the City Council there were those who said Torres's goal was that of Public Advocate in 2021. So why didn't Ritchie Torres run in the special election for Public Advocate this year?
I was told about an arrangement that was made between Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres and Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake to have only one Bronx elected official run in the special election for Public Advocate. Councilman Torres would support Assemblyman Blake for Public Advocate, and Assemblyman Blake would support Councilman Torres for the 15th Congressional District race. When I questioned Assemblyman Blake on the deal his answer was that only two people knew of that deal. He asked me how I found out, and wanted to know. When I continued with my questions, Assemblyman Blake still wanted to know how I found out about the deal.
When I questioned Councilman Torres about not running in the special election he said that he never had an interest in running for Public Advocate, it's an office that is powerless. When I told him what Assemblyman Blake had said about their deal to support each other Councilman Torres seemed to get mad at Assemblyman Blake, and would not speak on the record. Councilman Torres and I had a very interesting conversation off the record since Assemblyman Blake was now running for the 15th Congressional District against him.
As a DNC Vice-Chair a congressional seat would be a feather in Blake's hat. Assemblyman Blake may be trying to capitalize on his Bronx performance in the special election for Public Advocate for the 15th Congressional race. However in the special election there was only one Bronx elected official running.
Others who had announced their intentions early to run for the open 15th Congressional seat are Johnathan Ortiz a Director at the non-profit Phipps Neighborhood company, and Thomas Ramos a program director at the Bronx River Houses Community Center. Ramos is also affiliated with Justice Democrats, and should be the choice of Justice Democrats in the 15th Congressional race.
Last year I met former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on the campaign trail for Cynthia Nixon. I asked her if she was going to run for Jose Serrano's congressional seat, and her answer was no. When I asked if her goal would be Public Advocate in 2021 her answer was yes. That was before there was any mention of Letitia James running for State Attorney General or of a special election for Public Advocate which MMV ran in and lost. I spoke to Ms. Marlene Cintron (President of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation) over a month ago who said she was exploring a run for the 15th Congressional seat, and most recently announced that she has entered the race for the 15th Congressional District. In July I also spoke with South Bronx Community Activist Julio Pabon, and he said that he also was exploring a run for the 15th congressional district. In a conversation Sunday night Julio Pabon told me that he is looking for a place and time to announce that he is running for the 15th Congressional District.
Two people I interviewed who announced they were running for the 15th congressional seat have already dropped out of the race. State Senator Gustavo Rivera shortly after our interview decided that he wants to stay in the State Senate. Former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson who announced that he was running in the 15th congressional race, after being told that he can run for his old seat in the assembly has told me he is dropping out of the congressional race to run for his old assembly seat, currently held by Assemblyman Michael Blake.
Currently there are eight people running for the 15th Congressional District. It is still over eight months away from the June 2020 Democratic primary, and I expect at least one or more people announcing they are going to run, while I do expect one or more people to drop out of the 15th Congressional race. It's to early to predict the winner, that should come when we know who is on the ballot.
Robert Press has covered Bronx politics for over fifteen years for various Bronx newspapers.