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Party machine in high gear for Sept. 10 Primary

Bronx Times

Democracy, or as close as it gets to in the Bronx, will reign on Tuesday, Sept. 10 as voters go to the polls to pull the lever for their favorite candidates for citywide and local offices in primary contests.

Given the 11-to-1 ratio of Bronx Democrats to Republicans, a local primary winner is pretty much guaranteed a win in the Nov. 5 general election.

With the citywide primaries - especially for mayor - expected to draw a large turnout, the local Democratic Party machine could find itself in trouble with their candidates for City Council and in a special election to fill the west Bronx seat of disgraced assemblyman Nelson Castro.

Local primaries usually turn out 3,000 to 4,500 voters at most, giving the party organization a stronger hand at turning out the faithful and union volunteers for its candidates.

The assembly race and three council races could be especially vulnerable this time. With both a larger voter turnout and a large number of candidates running in each race, the vote could be dramatically diluted, narrowing the possible margin for victory.

Even race and ethnicity could play a role with black, Puerto Rican and Dominican voting blocs in some races.

“On the one hand, when you have a citywide mayoral election that gets a lot of news coverage, that’s going to draw voters out on its own - beyond what the party and union folks bring out,” said Bob Liff, a former political reporter and now political consultant with George Arzt Communications.

“On the other hand, when you have as many candidates as you do, every bloc vote - from union members, to church groups and so forth - becomes that more important,” said Liff. “Whoever hands you the palm card outside the polling place, there’s where the party organization is at more of a premium.”

Here are some of the hotter races:

•Six candidates are vying for term-limited Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera’s seat in the 15th C.D. covering Belmont, Bathgate, Fordham, East Tremont and Crotona.

While 24-year-old Richie Torres, a protege and staffer for Councilman Jimmy Vacca, has heavy union and political elected’s endorsements, his strongest challenger is Rivera’s longtime, experienced chief of staff Albert Alvarez. After a storm of criticism for dropping his middle initial, candidate Joel R. Rivera has recently restored it on his campaign literature. Also on the ballot, the Rev. Joel Bauza, attorney (and new mom) Raquel Batista, and Legal Aid attorney Cynthia Thompkins.

•The party organization is pulling out the stops supporting Victor Pichardo, a staffer for Senator Gustavo Rivera, to fill Castro’s west Bronx 86th Assembly District. A loss there would be some major egg on Party Boss Carl Heastie’s face after Castro rubbed his nose in it a few years ago by trouncing Carl’s candidate, Hector Ramirez, who is running again. Also on the ballot, local female district leader Yudelka Tapia, former Obama field organizer Haile Rivera, and Castro-backed Keny Nunez,

•Party Boss Heastie is also backing Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson to fill the seat of term-limited Councilwoman Helen Foster in the 16th C.D. covering Morrisania, Highbridge and Melrose. Long considered “a black seat”, Gibson faces challenges from former Foster challenger Carlos Sierra, as well as Pedro Alvarez, Carlton Berkley, Daryl Johnson, Nasimat Muhammed and Bola Omotosho.

Also facing challenges are Council incumbents Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Andy King, Annabel Palma and Fernando Cabrera. With Riverdale Councilman Oliver Koppell term-limited, attorney Andrew Cohen has mega-backing from electeds and unions against local businessman Cliff Stanton.

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