Cruz and Quattlebaum to challenge for Benedetto’s long-held Assembly seat

2022 Election campaign buttons – Illustration
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Michael Benedetto has been a state Assemblyman in the northeast Bronx for nearly two decades, and has never had a competitive candidate run against him.

But in 2022, Community Board 10 District Manager Matthew Cruz and local activist Al Quattlebaum, both Democrats, are throwing their hats in the ring with hopes to dethrone the longtime incumbent.

The 74-year-old Benedetto, who has represented the 82nd Assembly District since 2004, was primaried in 2012 and 2020 by Egidio Sementelli, and handily defeated him. The district covers Co-op City, Throggs Neck, Westchester Square, City Island, Country Club and Pelham Bay.

Both candidates told the Bronx Times it is time for a change.

Matthew Cruz

While Cruz is just 29, he says he’s ready to take on the seasoned politician.

“I think my age is a benefit,” he said. “If it was an issue, I don’t think I would be district manager. My pedigree is, I get results.”

Community Board 10 District Manager Matthew Cruz is running for the 82nd Assembly seat.Photo courtesy Matthew Cruz

Cruz, of Pelham Bay, was born and raised in Harlem public housing and moved to the Bronx at 16. His mother Noemi and late father Miguel were city employees and instilled a work ethic in him, so he knew from a young age he wanted to make an impact and help his community.

The go-getter worked for the NYC Department of Buildings, was the budget director for Councilman Jimmy Vacca and became district manager at 25.

“I’ve always been curious about the community board process,” he said.

Over the past four years as district manager, Cruz has noticed that the communities are lacking resources. Edgewater Park needs a new firehouse, City Island needs to be more climate-resilient, renovations must be done at the Throggs Neck Houses and education must improve overall.

While Cruz has never run for office, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of recently elected progressive leaders, like Councilwoman-elect Marjorie Velazquez and New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi.

“This is something I’ve been invested in for a long time,” Cruz said. “I’m going to take the fight to Albany and this is where I want to be for the rest of my life.”

Al Quattlebaum

Quattlebaum, 52, is an associate minister of Co-op City Baptist Church, the owner of Big Al’s Soul and Catering, the president of Co-op City’s People First Democratic Club and a community activist.

Born and raised in Mott Haven, he said he witnessed violence, drug dealing and more. After having rough teen years, Quattlebaum served in the military and lived in California for a decade. But in 1999, he returned to the Boogie Down and settled in Co-op City.

“I had to re-fall in love again with New York City,” he said.

Soon, he discovered his love for cooking, obtained a degree from the New York Culinary Academy and launched his catering company, which was active until the pandemic.

In 2010, he took a stab at politics when he ran unsuccessfully for the City Council District 12 seat against Larry Seabrook. After that, he decided to focus on his family, catering and community. He also launched a nonprofit called See us Rise Above.

In 2018, his father died and Quattlebaum decided he wanted to do more. He figured he would start a soup kitchen, but then the pandemic came.

Quattlebaum teamed up with elected officials like Councilman Kevin Riley and State Sen. Jamaal Bailey to give away tons of food over the past year. Quattlebaum told the Bronx Times he never saw Benedetto help with the pandemic giveaway efforts. Knowing that many children lacked internet access or devices, he said he was shocked the assemblyman didn’t do more to help.

Al Quattlebaum is running for the 82nd Assembly District. Photo courtesy Al Quattlebaum

“I’m like, that’s the Education Chair, so all of this is happening on his watch,” Quattlebaum said.

From there, he knew it was time for a change. Quattlebaum wants to improve education and provide better funding for the police.

“It’s time for somebody that wants to bring real change to our district, not the status quo,” he said. “I will work for the party, but I’m not a sell-out to the party.”

Quattlebaum also said Benedetto was barely in his Co-op City office until recently.

The assemblyman, however, told the Bronx Times that he helped set up the first pop-up vaccination site in Co-op City and the COVID-19 testing site in Bay Plaza, and gave away tons of food, hand sanitizer and masks during the past year and a half. Also, he wasn’t at his Co-op City office because the building was closed due to the pandemic.

“It’s a shame that Mr. Quattlebaum doesn’t know the full depth of what I was doing during the course of the whole COVID period,” Benedetto said. “He hasn’t been a factor on the issues in the community for such a long time that I’m really not surprised that he’s so uninformed.”

Members of the New York State Assembly make $110,000 annually plus per diem, and their terms last two years. The primary is scheduled for June 28, 2022.

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

More from Around NYC