Assemblymember Fernandez celebrates ‘competitive’ state Senate win as Zherka holds out hope

Assemblymember Fernandez cheering
Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez declares victory Tuesday night at Sangria Cafe in Co-op City.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez will have a new title come January after declaring victory in the state’s 34th Senatorial race over Samantha Zherka Tuesday night, though her challenger was not ready to concede Wednesday afternoon.

The two opponents were battling for the open seat, which spans the east Bronx from Parkchester and Castle Hill to City Island, and also includes Westchester’s Pelham and parts of New Rochelle.

As of Wednesday, Fernandez garnered 59% of the vote, with 32% going to Zherka and 8% of voters leaving the race blank on their ballot. All Westchester poll sites have been counted, and 97.6% of NYC ballots have been reported after the last city Board of Elections update at 12:27 a.m. Wednesday morning.

“The voters saw the true leaders that are here in the community, the true individuals that only have the good intentions for the community and I’m so happy that the voters are smarter, are better than that and they turned out today,” Fernandez said in her victory speech around 10 p.m., at the Sangria Cafe in Co-op City along fellow Bronx Democrats. ” … the Bronx is only getting bigger and better and this year again we proved it.”

State Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez beside state Sen. Jamaal Bailey at Sangria Cafe in Co-op City Tuesday night. Photo Aliya Schneider

But two hours later, Zherka told the Bronx Times she was still confident she would win, saying the results aren’t done coming in. At the time, around 97% of NYC scanners were reported with a 30-point cushion for Fernandez in the Bronx, and a similar pattern in Westchester.

“I am not done and the fight isn’t over and I will be victorious at the end of tonight,” Zherka, an independent who ran on the Republican and Conservative lines, said on the phone shortly after midnight.

She said she will concede once she sees “there is no other avenue,” and if that is the case, Fernandez hasn’t seen the last of her.

Zherka had an election night party at Jay’s Tavern Beer Garden on Williamsbridge Road in Morris Park. The Throggs Neck resident told the Bronx Times last month that NYC has turned into a “third-world country” compared to Florida.

“I’m not going nowhere,” Zherka said. “I plan on fighting a fight that will take them (Democrats) all to another level, and that level is to a demise. Out of our state, out of our world … we will end their government intrusion once and for all.”

Zherka confirmed at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday that she had still not conceded the race.

Fernandez told the Bronx Times Tuesday night she felt relieved and grateful, calling the run the most competitive general election race she has experienced in the Bronx in a while.

“This was a competitive race, you know, we saw it to be more competitive than any part of the Bronx and I’m just really so grateful for the turnout, that we won, that we won well,” she said in an interview with the Bronx Times shortly after her victory speech.

According to city Board of Elections data, the senatorial district has total of 168,045 active voters, of which 66.2% are Democrats and 10.9% are Republicans, which paints a similar picture to when current seatholder Alessandra Biaggi ran for reelection in November 2020, with 66.4% Democrats and 11.49% Republicans.

But Biaggi, a Progressive who will be vacating the seat this year, saw about 10 more percentage points of support in the 2020 general election than the more moderate Fernandez saw on Tuesday.

This year’s redistricting process pulled the district eastward, stripping away parts of the Bronx like Riverdale and Hunts Point that have more liberal voting patterns than some of the more eastern parts of the borough. Yet more residents actually voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 under the old lines compared to the new ones.

Fernandez, a Democrat who lives in Morris Park, initially ran for reelection for her 80th Assembly seat without opposition in the June primaries, but when New York’s district lines were redrawn after the ones drawn earlier in the year were deemed unconstitutional, her plans changed, and she went on to win the August primaries for the 34th senatorial district with 60.2% of the vote.

The Bronx Dems put forward John Zaccaro Jr., chief of staff to New York City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., to replace Fernandez’s Assembly seat, who also declared victory Tuesday night.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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