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September 13th coming down to the wire

Bronx Times
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By David Cruz

Thousands of Bronx voters will be heading to the polls next week to pick their Albany representatives.

With an overwhelming 10-1 advantage of registered Democrats versus Republicans in the Bronx, the winner of Thursday’s primary on September 13th is pretty much guaranteed a win in the November 6 general election.

A host of challengers going up against incumbents managed to survive petition challenges this year to make it on to the ballot, but other than two key races, any upsets would be a major surprise.

The race in the 80th Assembly District has been hotter than the summer temperatures given a number of scandals hurting incumbent Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera. Rivera, embroiled in city, state and federal investigations over accusations she abused taxpayer money by hiring boyfriends for key positions respectively, hails from a Bronx political dynasty with its shares of past troubles.

The scandal could shift votes to her lead challenger, Realtor and businessman Mark Gjonaj, as well as some votes draining from Gjonaj to minor challengers Adam Bermudez and Irene Estrada-Rukaj.

Neophyte Bermudez has been running a shoe- string campaign claiming he’s more in line with the people’s political palate than Gjonaj and Estrada-Rukaj, who he believes are too conservative for what he sees as a liberal leaning district.

Perennial candidate Estrada-Rukaj, a community activist based in Allerton, claims Rivera has attracted “enough drama” to the district. But while Estrada-Rukaj is not clear about what she would like to see change in the district, she calls herself a family-oriented candidate.

Gjonaj (pronounced Joe-nigh), however, has launched a serious campaign thanks to his heavy warchest.

His website highlights where he stands on the issues of education, safety and health. He has doled out thousands of dollars to fund his campaign, as well as bankroll other causes, including a funeral for 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan killed in a cross-fire this summer, and a lawyer for tenants at Tracey Towers fighting a 65 percent rent hike.

While Rivera has been weak in the fundraising department, Gjonaj has already sent out a number of mailings, with newspaper headlines blaring the multiple investigations against Rivera, her absentee record in Albany and lack of local constituent services.

He has proposed revitalizing the borough’s tourism infrastructure, more affordable housing, more afterschool and senior programs.

But while the challengers’ views differ, they do have one thing in common - a campaign website, which Rivera does not have. Rivera’s camp did not return calls seeking an explanation.

Despite the lack of financial resources, Rivera maintains more political clout, with backing from Bronx Democratic Party Boss Carl Heastie and the county organization, local unions whose issues she has sided with in Albany and the endorsement of Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who also backed Democrat Luis Sepulveda in the newly named 87th Assembly District, formerly the 76th, covering Parkchester, Castle Hill and West Farms.

A Parkchester attorney,

Sepulveda picked up endorsements from Heastie and City Councilwoman Anabel Palma early on in the race against Danny Figueroa III, longtime chief of staff to former Assemblyman Peter Rivera, who left office to become Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Labor Commissioner.

Sepulveda lost to Peter Rivera in 2010 following a campaign where he notched 44% of the electorate.

Figueroa, an attorney as well, has a platform on hand with several bills drafted by his former boss, who as state Labor Commissioner has endorsed him, creating some ethical concerns.

Polls are opened from 6a.m. to 9p.m. on September 13th.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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