Longtime incumbent José Rivera ‘shocked’ by George Alvarez for AD 78 seat in lopsided loss

It was time for celebration for candidate George Alvarez, who was the only Assembly candidate to unseat a Bronx incumbent on Tuesday night.
Photo courtesy George Alvarez

Incumbency prevailed for fourof the five Bronx Assembly races in the first of two political primaries this summer, but it was in the Bronx’s 78th District where a longtime incumbent was toppled by a perennial candidate.

In a three-candidate race for the Fordham-based seat, George Alvarez woke up Wednesday as the presumptive District 78 seatholder — which encompasses the Belmont and Fordham Manor sections — usurping incumbent José Rivera and Community Board 7 Chair Emmanuel Martinez, with 47%, or 1,860 votes, according to preliminary tallies by the city Board of Elections. With 99% of scanners reporting, Rivera had captured just 28%, or 1,107 votes, and Martinez 24%, or 956 votes.

“During the campaign trail, the message that voters sent to me was clear, they want government to improve public safety and quality of life in the Bronx, and want a government that listens and is responsive to them,” Alvarez said in a statement. They also want government to invest more in the future of our children.”

A perennial candidate who has appeared on ballots for the City Council’s District 17 and the previously-drawn 79th Assembly District, Alvarez focused his campaign on qualitative education for Bronx children, affordable housing and safety in the district.

Alvarez currently is a member of Bronx Community Board 1 and vice president of the Bronx Democratic Party, and told the Bronx Times his “Better Bronx” message seeks to uplift lifestyles in the neighborhoods of District 79.

“I want their children to receive a quality education, regardless of neighborhood and ZIP code,” he said. “As Assemblyman, they can count on me to amplify the issues they care about. They can count on me to listen to them, and make their voices heard. I look forward to working and delivering for the people on the issues they care about.”

Rivera, 85, had won reelection in November 2020 with 86% of the vote, and secured the Democratic primary before that with 83% of the vote. On Tuesday, Rivera’s 28% marked the lowest vote of any Bronx incumbent in the June 28 primaries.

Alvarez’s victory is impressive given the popularity that Rivera had cultivated in his time during office, serving the district since 2001, after an earlier stint on the City Council — Alvarez had consecutively held public office since 1988. The entrenched incumbent also served as chair of the Bronx Dems from 2002-2008 before being ousted, a casualty of the Rainbow Rebellion takeover.

A few Democratic strategists told the Bronx Times they were “shocked” by the decisiveness of Alvarez’s victory, but noted key endorsements from U.S. Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Ritchie Torres and City councilmembers Oswald Feliz and Pierina Sanchez helped make inroads in his upset win.

Alvarez told the Times that the endorsements were a “game-changer” in his primary bid.

Additionally, Alvarez also had to win out amongst his opponents’ fervent fundraising efforts. THE CITY highlighted an independent expenditure fund with ties to Jane Street Capital, a secretive Wall Street firm, who invested nearly $200,000 to support Martinez, who finished a distant third.

Alvarez will now face Republican Michael Dister in the November general election. Dister, who ran unsuccessfully against Rivera for the seat in 2020, only garnered 14% of that vote.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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