Gjonaj defeats Vacca choice/Sen. Diaz captures the 18th CD Dem nod

Ruben Diaz Sr. speaks to a crowd of Democratic supporters attending a celebration at Maestro’s Caterers after he won a primary race in the 18th Council District on Tuesday, September 12.
Community News Group/Bob Guiliano

Mark Gjonaj, Ruben Diaz Jr. and Ruben Diaz Sr. were among the Democratic primary victors celebrating at Maestro’s Caterers on Tuesday, September 12.

Gjonaj, Democratic candidate for the 13th Council District, squeaked ahead of Marjorie Velazquez with 38.63 percent of the votes to her 34.36 percent, with 95.6 percent of the votes reported to the Board of Elections.

John Doyle came in a distant third with 19.10 percent, followed by Victor Ortiz, 6% and perennial candidate Egidio Semintelli at the back of the pack with only 3%.

The 5-way race, that was marred by truth-challenged negative advertising put out by political novices Velazquez and Doyle against Assemblyman Gjonaj, was a nailbiter, that practically went down to the wire.

Velazquez, whose candidacy was propped up by outgoing Councilman James Vacca, along with supporters, remained optimistic as she fell further and further behind as the results filtered into her campaign office on 79 Westchester Square.

Vacca, who fashions himself a ‘king maker,’ according to political insiders, could not carry the inexperienced Velazquez across the finish line.

Vacca spent most of primary day at the Preston High School polling site trying to convince voters to back his candidate.

The site, which was expected to favor Velazquez, produced a dissappointing 60-vote advantage for her, out of almost 600 votes cast.

At one point, as the election night returns delivered a steady flow of bad news, her supporters formed a prayer circle to stem the room’s dissipating energy as the mood jarringly turned hopeless.

By 11:04 p.m., Gjonaj was declared the primary winner.

Vacca opened the floor for Velazquez’s post-primary speech by crediting her for a decent showing.

Velazquez thanked her team and supporters who had sacrificed their time and energy to spend with her late Tuesday.

Gjonaj said that his win puts him on course to make history again. If he wins the general election in November he will be the first city councilman of Albanian descent, a feat he accomplished in the Assembly five years ago.

He is currently serving his third term as an assemblyman.

He told the crowd at Maestro’s that he wants to “send a very clear message that here in the Bronx, working together, we can overcome negativity and accomplish great things.”

He said that working together will help keep our communities safe, address quality of life issues, protect our seniors and others, improve the educational system that our children, the next generation, depends on.

“I’m honored by the trust you have put in me and all the work that you have devoted to make tonight special, and that it is, a very special night,” Gjonaj said.

Doyle, a community activist, who formerly worked for Senator Jeff Klein, spoke to supporters just before 11 p.m. Tuesday, September 12, at Brewski’s in Throggs Neck.

He thanked his grassroots volunteers for sticking by him when the political establishment supported other candidates.

“They lent their voices to me, and in many respects, I stand on their shoulders,” said Doyle.

He said that over the course of the campaign, he and Velazquez became friends, and while they disagreed about whom the Democratic nominee should be, they weren’t all that different.

“I feel blessed beyond belief at the amount of friends I have in this world and in this room, and all those who voted for me,” said Doyle.

As Gjonaj continued his victory speech, he reminded everyone of the promise he made when elected to the Assembly about the principle he follows in public service — why he was excited to serve in the Assembly and why he’s excited to go to the City Council.

“This principle is simple — government working together with the people making a positive difference in people’s lives,” Gjonaj said.

“When somebody told me you need to hit back, to go negative, attack your opponents the way they’re attacking you, I made a decision, no matter what I wouldn’t engage in that negativity that the residents in this council district have been subject to,” he said. “By working together we can accomplish so much more. Instead of tearing each other down, we must focus on ways to build our communities up.”

Gjonaj thanked the people who helped him in his campaign, especially his family, saying public service is a family affair.

They’ve been the foundation for everything he does, he said. He thanked his wife, two sons, mother, sister, brother, 94-year old grandfather — the entire Gjonaj family.

He also thanked many elected officials, including Klein, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Gov. Mario Cuomo and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto.

Ortiz came by the victory party to offer his congratulations.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. won the Democratic primary for re-election by a large margin, with 86.03 percent of the vote, as 98.08 percent of the scanners reported results to the BOE.

Diaz Jr. thanked his volunteers who worked over the summer for his campaign.

“You’ve been out there, you’ve been campaigning. And you can feel good because tonight we won big!” he said.

“For the last eight years, I think that we’ve been leading the Bronx in the right direction, making sure that we create jobs, we’ve been creating affordable housing, fixing up our parks,” Diaz Jr. said.

And Ruben Diaz, Sr. was also a victor in his primary race for the 18th Council District, with 41.92 percent of the vote as 99 percent of the scanners reported to the BOE.

Diaz Sr. thanked the people who helped him get elected, including family and campaign workers and elected officials.

Diaz Sr. has said in an interview with the Bronx Times Reporter that he’s been a supporter of business improvement districts, seeing results in his district and elsewhere in the borough.

He called BIDs “a win-win situation, happy to support them wherever they may be forming.”

“Everyone has the right to housing,” Diaz Sr. said. “The Bronx has done more than its fair share. Things have been looking up in recent years, but we still need to focus on Bronx job creation and education — including adult vocational training — that can lead to people improving their economic situation so they can afford decent housing.”

Newcomer Amanda Farias garnered 20 percent of the vote to place second in the race. While the results weren’t what she was hoping for, she looked forward to being involved in the community for years to come.

“I want to thank everyone who worked so hard on behalf of my campaign,” she said early Wednesday morning. “So many family members, friends and community residents dedicated hours of their time because they believed in our message.”

Elvin Garcia garnered just under 15 percent of the vote, while fellow candidate Michael Beltzer got just under 14 percent. Neither could be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

A fifth candidate, William Russell Moore, grabbed just under 9 percent of the vote. Moore will appear on the November ballot under the Reform Party line, and his manager Pamela Stewart said she had made several complaints she hoped to be addressed concerning polling stations in the district.

Among Stewart’s complaints were poll workers whom she alleged did not speak adequate enough English to properly operate tablets used to sign in voters, and that voters were sent to wrong polling stations due to conflicting information sent by the board of elections.

In the 8th Council District, partially in the south Bronx and mostly in Manhattan, there is a open seat that is being vacated by term limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

As of press time, Diana Ayala appears to have edged out Robert Rodriquez in the Democratic primary with 43.64 percent to 42.20 percent respectively with more than 97 percent of precincts reporting.

Ayala had declared victory, according to published reports, while Rodriguez, according to a statement, had not conceded.

(Reporters Patrick Rocchio, Arthur Cusano, Robert Wirsing and Bob Guiliano contributed to this story.)

Reach Reporter Bob Guiliano at (718) 260-4599. E-mail him at bguiliano@cnglocal.com.
Mark Gjonaj speaks to supporters as his wife Roberta and Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. are elated over his 13th Council District Democratic primary win.
Community News Group/Bob Guiliano

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