Ferrara elected first female CB11 chair as she prepares to primary Velázquez

Bernadette Ferrara with an American flag
Bernadette Ferrara is the first woman to chair Community Board 11, and her term has begun with questions about her plans to campaign for City Council.
Photo courtesy Bernadette Ferrara

Bernadette Ferrara, who plans on challenging Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez in the June Democratic primary, became the first woman elected to chair Community Board 11 last Thursday, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest.

Ferrara, who is president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, defeated board member Richard Reynoso for the position.

It is unclear how many board members knew Ferrara had plans to run for City Council at the time she was elected chair, and representatives of CB11 are on a different page than the Bronx Borough President’s Office about whether she will need to step down if she gets on the ballot.

CB11 District Manager Jeremy Warneke said he isn’t aware of any legal issues with Ferrara running while she chairs the board, as long as she keeps her campaign separate.

However, Arlene Mukoko, spokesperson for Borough President Vanessa Gibson, told the Bronx Times that community board members must step down or take a leave of absence if they run for political office, citing a memo sent from Gibson’s office to the borough’s 12 community boards last March.

However, the memo was not so clear cut, and left board members thinking Ferrara is OK to run while serving as chair.

While Gibson’s office did not provide the document, the Bronx Times was able to obtain it from another source. On March 7, Tom Lucania, Gibson’s director of community boards unit and legislative affairs, disseminated a legal memorandum from Mirtha Camille Sabio, the office’s general counsel, that details rules for board members to follow “in the event that they run for elected office,” such as not using city resources for their campaign or campaigning at community board meetings.

The memo also says board members “may be required to take a leave of absence” during their campaign.

CB11 was first alerted that there may be an issue shortly before Ferrara’s election as chair last week, when Lucania allegedly called Al D’Angelo, the board’s acting chair, saying Ferrara would have to step down if she files petitions to run for City Council. However, Lucania did not respond to a request from the community board on Monday to provide this in writing.

Carolyn Lisa Miller, the executive director of the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board, declined to comment when reached by the Bronx Times.

Even though Ferrara, a conservative Democrat, can still run to Warneke’s knowledge, he admitted that the dynamic of the board chair running against the local councilmember has the potential for issues.

“Naturally, anybody could see how that could be problematic,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it will be. … If there are problems, there might be some uncomfortableness. There is room for conflict — not the same as conflict of interest.”

Though Ferrara did not disclose to the board that she had plans to run for City Council, she publicized her run on social media two weeks prior to the vote. She told the Bronx Times she felt that it would have been premature to announce her campaign plans, and that she should have been approached earlier in the process if there were concerns.

Ferrara and the other candidates for chair were nominated at the board’s Dec. 22 meeting, a month prior to the Jan. 26 election.

Yahay Obeid, who recently stepped down as chair after a 6-month stint, was also under the impression that Ferrara is allowed to run as chair. He could see someone arguing the appearance of a conflict of interest under other circumstances, but doesn’t think much will change for the board, as he didn’t have a good relationship with Velázquez anyway, he said.

“If we had a great relationship with her (Velázquez), then there might be a second thought,” he said. “Like this might impact business; this might impact the public; this might impact the community we care for, since there will be clashes.”

According to Warneke, Velázquez has not attended a CB11 meeting since being elected in November 2021.

Velázquez did not comment on whether she has concerns about her relationship with the board now that Ferrara is chairing it. She also did not comment on her meeting attendance or her relationship with Obeid.

Ferrara, a retired graphic designer who still freelances, ran unsuccessfully for the District 15 City Council seat in a special election in March 2021 and the Democratic primary in July 2021. Ferrara lives in Van Nest, which moved from District 15 to 13 under the redrawn City Council lines.

She posted on Facebook last Thursday afternoon that running against Velázquez in the primary is “the surest way to get rid of” her.

While the board didn’t broach Ferrara’s political candidacy, Roxanne Delgado, an outspoken CB11 constituent, claimed prior to the vote at last Thursday’s meeting that if the new chair runs for City Council they would have to resign.

“The community board is supposed to be apolitical,” Delgado said. “We don’t want to bring politics; we constantly have politics here.”

Reynoso, the runner-up for the chair position, told the Bronx Times that he was unaware Ferrara was running for City Council, but he connected the dots when Delgado made her statement. Reynoso said he doesn’t mind that she’s running — he is also of the understanding that Ferrara is allowed to run for council as chair.

Ferrara, who doesn’t see a conflict in her running for council, said the issues she will advocate for as chair, such as keeping a close watch on land use proposals and bringing community centers to the district, parallel her issues on the campaign trail.

“These are all things I’m already working on,” she said. “So are they overlapping? I think they are basically the same.”

Obeid had a similar outlook, and said Ferrara’s campaign and chair position complement one another.

“She will put up a fight to defend the community, and she is probably the toughest person on the board to put up the fight,” said Obeid, who donated to Ferrara’s campaign in 2021.

Aaron Hecht, a Velázquez campaign spokesperson, sent the following statement in regard to the new CB11 chair campaigning against Velázquez: “As a lifelong Bronxite, Democratic District Leader, former Community Board Member, and now as Councilmember, Marjorie Velázquez has been working hard for East Bronx residents for years. Councilmember Velázquez will continue fighting to deliver the safe streets, better transit, and quality of life that all our families deserve.”

For her 2023 City Council campaign, Ferrara is branding herself as a “Different Kinda Democrat.” She said while she came from a Democratic family, she became an independent before registering as a Republican before switching back to the Democratic party in 2021.

Ferrara said that her platform is “very comparable” to the Republican Party’s platform but that she doesn’t align with it completely.

“I said you know what, I really do want to win, and if I know in my heart I’ve always been a Democrat, then I need to be able to get on a platform that’s gonna win,” she said. ” … I’m not running for a party. I’m running for what the communities want.”

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes