Ferrara allowed to continue as CB11 chair and run against Velázquez

Bernadette Ferrara speaking into a microphone
Bernadette Ferrara, pictured at a Sept. 29, 2022, Community Board 11 hearing, has the green light to serve as board chair and challenge local Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez in the June primary.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Community Board 11 Chair Bernadette Ferrara has the green light to continue in her role while campaigning against local City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez in the June Democratic primary, though the Bronx Borough President’s office believes she should step aside.

Ferrara, a conservative Democrat, was elected CB11 chair on Jan. 26. But after a call from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s office shortly before the election, confusion unraveled about whether she would have to step down from the role if she proceeds with her City Council run.

Representatives of CB11 told the Bronx Times that the borough president’s office told Al D’Angelo, the then-acting chair of CB11, that Ferrara would have to step aside if she were to be elected chair and run for council. The borough president’s office told the Bronx Times that the purpose of the call was to discuss a March 2022 memo that requires board members to take a leave of absence if they run for public office.

The problem is, the memo didn’t actually say that. Instead, it outlined rules for keeping campaign matters separate from board business matters and vaguely stated that board members “may be required to take a leave of absence” — language that parallels a city conflict of interest rule for city employees.

But the NYC community board handbook explicitly allows board members, which are volunteer positions, to run for public office while continuing to serve on their local community board. Members just need to resign if they are actually elected into public office.

Carolyn Lisa Miller, the executive director of the COIB, also confirmed with the Bronx Times this week that the city’s conflicts of interest rules do not prohibit any community board member, including a board’s chair, from running for elected office.

After seeking guidance from the COIB, the borough president’s office confirmed that all board members, including chairpersons, aren’t required to step down as long as they follow the city’s conflict of interest regulations in a reversal from the week prior.

That being said, Gibson’s office recommends that anyone serving as board chair step down from their position if seeking elected office in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest, spokesperson Arlene Mukoko told the Bronx Times. She cited “the importance of the chairperson position to the community board they represent” and “recommendations that chairpersons make on budget and policy matters.”

Since each community board has its own bylaws, the role of the chair differs from board to board.

On CB11, the chairperson presides over hearings and meetings of the full board, files all reports for the board, sits on the leadership committee, serves as an ex-officio member on all committees, is a member of the borough board, supervises the district manager and other community board staff, and appoints all members, chairs and co-chairs to committees.

While Ferrara did not respond to requests for comment for this article, CB11 District Manager Jeremy Warneke said that to his knowledge, Tom Lucania, the former director of the community boards unit and legislative affairs for the borough president’s office, spoke with Ferrara last Friday and mentioned various district managers who took leaves of absence. However, unlike board chairs, district managers are paid city employees.

Ferrara’s fellow CB11 board members Phyllis Nastasio, who is running in the Republican primary for the 13th District City Council and ran for state Assembly in the fall, and Christian Amato, who ran in a state Senate Democratic primary in August, both confirmed with the Bronx Times that no one approached them about taking a leave of absence when they ran.

And there are countless examples of community board members running for public office. Velázquez was a board member herself during both her 2017 and 2021 City Council runs as CB10 treasurer and Municipal Services Committee chair, respectively.

Corey Johnson, the former City Council speaker, initially ran for his council seat in 2013 while serving as chair of Manhattan’s CB4 and did not take a leave of absence, although the local councilmember was not running for reelection.

While Emmanuel Martinez, former chair of CB7, stepped down when he ran for state Assembly last year against then-incumbent Jose Rivera, it was his choice, not a requirement, former CB7 District Manager Ischia Bravo confirmed with the Bronx Times.

Diana Finch, an outspoken constituent of CB11, told the Bronx Times that she believes hot button topics before the board like proposed rezonings will put board members in a position where they need to decide whether Ferrara’s participation veers too close to campaigning, since they are both part of her platform and involve Velázquez.

“That Ferrara’s primary attempt will draw the entire community board and the community it serves into unnecessary conflict is more than enough reason for her to realize that the right thing to do is to make a choice: Serve as Board chair or run for City Council as a regular Board member, but not do both at the same time,” Finch said.

But last week, Yahay Obeid, the board’s former chair, told the Bronx Times he doesn’t think Ferrara’s candidacy will change the board’s relationship with Velázquez.

Ferrara, who was president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, announced at the group’s meeting on Monday that she is stepping aside until after the primary, citing the group’s bylaws. The City Council primary is scheduled for June 27.

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

This article was updated on Feb. 11 at 2:05 p.m.

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