Bronx native Leonardo Coello set to challenge Landon Dais for 77th District Assembly seat

Photo courtesy Leonardo Coello

Leonardo Coello is a familiar face to anyone who has attended a community board, precinct council or political meeting in the Bronx. As Bronx borough director for the mayor’s office, he has spent a year and a half as the face of the mayor at events and during emergencies. 

And he is now running — by popular demand, he says — against incumbent Landon Dais for the 77th district State Assembly seat.  

Coello, who lives with his wife and two sons two blocks outside the district he seeks to represent, said he was approached by many Bronxites familiar with his work who told him he’d be great for the role that is currently filled by Landon Dais, who won the February 13 special election following the resignation of Latoya Joyner

After hearing their support, “I almost feel obligated to give this a chance,” he told the Bronx Times in a May 21 interview at the bustling Court Deli near Borough Hall. 

Coello, 48, received the endorsement of Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who represents Harlem and the northwest Bronx. Espaillat’s endorsement of Coello over Dais — a Harlem native — could be a significant step forward for Coello, a Bronx native. Meanwhile, Dais received the endorsement of former longtime Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano.

‘A strong grassroots effort’

Coello sees his candidacy as a significant marker for the community — an opportunity for residents to “select our own leaders” that he hopes will pay off for those who supported him into his assembly run. 

These days, Coello said he spends plenty of time greeting supporters and strangers alike, out campaigning while on three months’ leave from the mayor’s office. Coello said his campaign is a “strong grassroots effort” of door knocking and handing out flyers at train stations, places of worship and community centers — but most of all, remaining “hyper-focused on my borough,” he said. 

Coello greets residents on the campaign trail. Photo courtesy Leonardo Coello

Coello comes from a Dominican immigrant family and attended the now-closed John F. Kennedy High School in Riverdale. Throughout his professional life, Coello went from the corporate world to the nonprofit sector to government — and he credits his years with longstanding community nonprofits such as Children’s Aid, East Side Housing Settlement and Harlem Children’s Zone as critical to his qualifications for government. 

“My skill set is grounded in these organizations,” Coello said.

But Coello said his current job with the mayor’s office is also “a great role.” As liaison between city agencies and the community, he attends all meetings for Bronx Community Boards 1 through 6, as well as precinct council and district cabinet meetings, plus other events and situations that require a presence from the mayor’s office.

As he prepares for a possible role in broader politics, Coello said he is already familiar with the basics of state-level government. As former chief of staff for Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia of the 86th district — a role he held for just three months from November 2020 to January 2021, according to his LinkedIn profile — Coello said he is comfortable with the all-important budget process and “embodied” the role of assembly member in his previous job. 

But with the June 25 primary just around the corner, Coello said he wishes he had more time to get the word out about his candidacy. 

He said he might have put his hat in the ring for the February special election — but he criticized the quicker-than-expected election as “unfortunate,” saying that residents felt uninformed and there wasn’t enough time to get candidates ready for the ballot. Dais was the only Democratic party option, and turnout on the snowy election day was very low, with only 1,525 total votes cast, according to New York City Board of Elections data. 

“Once that happened, I felt compelled to jump in there,” Coello said.

He said his greatest challenge lies in energizing the voting bloc, which he called “dormant” — but when it comes to connecting with constituents, Coello believes he has an edge over his fellow Democratic opponent. 

As a Latino, Coello said he can most effectively communicate with people in the district. And he is a native Bronxite, whereas Dais grew up in Harlem and has lived since 2016 in the district he currently represents.

Photo courtesy Leonardo Coello

Coello said his personal and professional knowledge of the Bronx helps inform his positions on the most important issues affecting the borough: affordable housing, safer streets and education. 

On housing, Coello called City of Yes for Housing Opportunity — the mayor’s rezoning initiative to create more housing in more neighborhoods — “a very good initial plan” that needs strong investment from state government to enact. The plan is currently being presented to community boards throughout the city.  

Public safety, Coello said, is a “huge challenge” that requires far more than just additional NYPD officers. He advocates for a multi-pronged approach focused on youth development, mental health, more funding for NYPD, job opportunities and gun control, among other related issues. Coello said he hears many safety concerns from moms and grandmas — and as a fellow Bronxite, “I’m living that with them,” he said.

And he said education is the issue closest to his heart, since his own education allowed him to climb further and further on the career ladder. 

But Coello said that education doesn’t stop at school buildings. In order for students to succeed, their primary needs must also be met: “If a child’s coming to school hungry, he’s not gonna learn.” More funding from the state, as well as increased parent engagement and exploration of more public-private partnerships, are all needed to improve kids’ learning. 

And education doesn’t stop with children, either. Coello said he wants to see more continuing education programs for adults, who also need help in overcoming the “trauma” of crime and poverty that too many Bronxites have experienced.

With the primary in less than a month — and the constant buzz about the November presidential election that sometimes drowns out news of local races — Coelllo said he remains hopeful for a strong Bronx turnout. He said he is trying to coordinate a televised debate with Dais and looks forward to having his message heard by more residents. 

As a candidate handpicked by the District 77 community, Coello feels the excitement and responsibility of the moment. But while pollsters and pundits debate who will be the next president, he said Bronxites shouldn’t overlook the importance of local leadership. 

 “I think the community is waking up to it,” he said.

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes