After 21 years, the Bronx’s 78th Assembly District begins a new political chapter

Democrat George Alvarez coasted to a general election victory over Republican Michael Dister on Tuesday night.
Photo courtesy George Alvarez

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Entering this June’s Democratic primary George Alvarez had been politically pigeonholed as a bottom-ballot perennial candidate before pulling off the Bronx’s biggest shock of this year’s election cycle by unseating long-term incumbent Jose Rivera.

A month prior to his upset of Rivera, the 21-year seatholder and former head of the Bronx Democratic Party, Alvarez faced a two-week legal battle with an election lawyer who unsuccessfully tried to get him removed from the ballot before the primary.

On Tuesday night, Alvarez continued his climb up New York’s local political ladder, winning the open seat for the state Assembly’s 78th District seat over Republican Michael Dister by a 80.3%-19.3% margin — 87% of scanners were reported at the time of publication, according to NYC Board of Elections data.

“My message has always been the same and I’ve always been committed to fighting for those that needed a voice,” said Alvarez, a member of Bronx Community Board 1 and vice president of the Bronx Dems. “Winning or losing an election has never stopped me from being in service to my community. And I do foresee myself and my Democratic colleagues continuing to reach across the aisle to work together for the betterment of the state. ”

District 78 encompasses the Belmont and Fordham Manor sections, and the district — a majority Black and brown district — was hit particularly hard during the pandemic, and continue to struggle with housing and homelessness.

“Rivera’s leadership during some of the darkest times in the history of our borough will never be forgotten,” said Alvarez. “The people of our district were hit hard during the pandemic. I felt it was critical for the district to have representation at this moment that understands the challenges as well as the determination to fight for resources.”

Alvarez credits the backing of U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat during his primary campaign, making him another Espilliat-backed Dominican to win elected office in recent political cycles.

A filmmaker and 35-year Bronx resident, Dister performed better in his second bid, where he only received 11% of the vote when ran against Rivera in 2020.

“Republicans are a minority in the Bronx. It’s 93% Democrat, and we are in the minority, but still, I feel very honored to be running, even though the numbers are, are sort of against me,” Dister told the Bronx Times ahead of Tuesday. “Otherwise, we don’t have democracy. If you don’t have both sides (running), people don’t have anyone to vote for and historically, that’s been how the system has evolved (in the Bronx.)

Much of Dister’s campaign centered on crime ⁠— an issue that has been a major campaign platform for local and national Republicans — but a concern that Alvarez still believe has merit in the 78th district.

“We all know that fear mongering is the Republican playbook but I am not here to dismiss the importance of safety in our communities,” Alvarez said. “Crime is very important in my district and across the country and we have some of the brightest and most intelligent state legislators (that) there has ever been addressing it, along with all the many other challenges our communities face. There isn’t one magic spell which will end crime, it is an issue with many tentacles that needs to be attacked from many different directions.”

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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