Challenger Mark Gjonaj defeats Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera


Bronxites woke up Friday morning to a changed political landscape.

Morris Park Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, underfunded and rocked by scandal and investigations, went down to defeat, crushed 52 percent to 41 percent by businessman Mark Gjonaj.

Luis Sepulveda stomped Danny Figueroa by 4-1 in open race to fill longtime Parkchester/Castle Hill/West Farms Assemblyman Peter Rivera’s seat with Rivera moving up as new state labor commissioner.

Other incumbents handily fought off challenges by minor candidates, including first-term west Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera, despite challenger Manny Tavarez getting support from Senator Ruben Diaz Sr..

A Pentacostal minister miffed at Rivera’s support for gay marriage and pro-choice, Diaz provided Tavarez with both sound trucks and troops in the campaign to unseat Rivera in the 33rd Senate District.

Gjonaj (Joe-nigh) had the wide support of the Albanian-American community, but pretty much swept across the 80th Assembly District for winning numbers.

He crushed the three-term assemblywoman at the large Tracey Towers complex, where the vote was 360-66 in what had been her strong political base.

But his stepping in with legal help to temporarily halt a 65 percent rent hike while she was inactive there, was enough to bring him home with a 513 vote winning margin.

The final vote tally was 2407 to 1894, with 100% of the votes counted.

A new Board of Elections voting system using printed ballots and electronic scanners to record them created a long, dramatic late night finger-biting wait for results. What normally would bring in an unofficial county by 9:30 to 10 p.m. dragged on to well after midnight before a final count.

Emotions soared and sank as the latest tallies see-sawed, with a wide lead for Gjonaj, then a closing gap, until the final results and pandemonium breaking out about 12:30 a.m. at Maestro’s Caterer’s in Van Nest where his supporters had gathered.

The mood at Rivera’s campaign headquarters on Allerton Avenue became quickly grim early on.

Before the numbers were tallied, Rivera briefly stopped there at 10:30pm, thanking well-wishers while blasting the campaign season’s “smear attacks.”

“This has been a difficult campaign,” said Rivera. “A campaign unlike anything that I’ve ever witnessed in my career.”

Rivera stood side by side with her family, including assemblyman father Jose and Council majority leader brother Joel.

She dismissed allegations of nepotism, funneling nonprofit funds for private use, and hiring boyfriends for taxpayer-funded jobs.

“There were a lot of accusations and allegations without evidence that were leveled at me and my family.”

Twenty minutes later, River left with family in tow without answering any questions.

But even with the loss, Rivera vowed to plow ahead with her duties as the assemblywoman representing Allerton, Morris Park, Pelham Gardens, and Pelham Parkway communities, as well as parts of Norwood and Bedford Park.

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