Much of the political theater surrounding the tightly-contested primary for New York’s 33rd Senate — which runs from Riverdale to the Bronx Zoo — was the Bronx Democrats’ decision to endorse first-time candidate Miguelina Camilo over the entrenched incumbent Gustavo Rivera.
As Tuesday’s lone competitive Bronx primary came down to the waning precincts around 11 p.m., Rivera declared victory with 98% scanners unofficially reporting a 4.6% lead after a grueling and contentious primary campaign that solidified a seventh two-year term in the state Senate for the progressive.
By Wednesday, with 11,087 ballots counted Rivera had maintained his lead at 51.4%-46.8%, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
While his opponent has not issued a concession at press time — telling the Bronx Times she wants to wait for 100% of election precincts to report and final absentee ballots to be counted — Rivera’s victory lap included a reference to Omar Little’s “don’t come at the king” line from HBO’s “The Wire,” and a reiteration of his devotion of public service to his constituents, most of all.
As the Bronx Dems eschewed his campaign in favor of his opponent, Rivera told the Bronx Times at his watch party in Kingsbridge’s Bronx Alehouse that any reconciliation will need to come from them.
“My loyalties are to my constituency. That has never changed. Will it change now? No, because they’re the ones that came out for me,” said Rivera who also chairs the Senate’s Health Committee. “It seems to me that the reparation or the repairing (of that relationship) if you will, has to come from them.”
In particular, Rivera took exception to negative remarks by moderate Dems in leadership positions about his progressive-leaning policies, stating “they lied about who I am, lied about what I believe in, and lied about the things that I do, scare people that didn’t know me.”
The Bronx Democratic Party was reached for comment regarding Rivera’s statements and the Bronx Times is awaiting a response.
Rivera has spent more than a decade in Albany, first elected to the Senate in 2010 when he defeated entrenched pol Pedro Espada Jr. in a Democratic primary; Espada Jr. was later convicted on federal corruption charges and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The last time Rivera faced a legitimate primary opponent was in 2016 when then City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, a conservative Democrat, challenged him — he won that race by a wide margin. Rivera emigrated from Puerto Rico in 1998. Prior to joining the state Legislature, he worked on various political campaigns, including Fernando Ferrer’s 2001 failed mayoral run in New York City.
For a first-time political candidate, Camilo made quite the impression on Bronx voters and establishment Democrats in this cycle.
Camilo, a Riverdale resident, is the former president of the Bronx Women’s Bar Association. She also ran her own law firm before a stint as commissioner of the city Board of Elections. Camilo entered her watch party alongside establishment Dems such as Jeffrey Dinowitz and Jaamal Bailey at Belle Notte on Johnson Avenue — seven blocks from her opponent Rivera — to an ovation of “Go Camilo Go!” from supporters.
Back in February, she first announced her candidacy for the Senate seat that became vacant when Progressive Sen. Alessandra Biaggi decided to run for Congress — she lost to U.S Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. But when the state’s redistricting plans were finalized in late May, Camilo found herself redrawn into a new district — 33
Camilo trails Rivera by 506 votes on Wednesday –according to unofficial tallies — and told the Bronx Times that despite all the chaos that redistricting brought to her initial intentions for office, she touted her “resilience” as a first-time candidate and vowed to continue building on the momentum of her senatorial campaign.
“I understand him (Rivera) declaring victory because we have about 96, 97% of the vote but we don’t have 100% reporting and every vote counts,” she said on Tuesday night. “There’s also absentee ballots that are outstanding and being processed by the NYC Board of Elections, and you can win by just one vote, so I’m still hopeful there’s a path to the Senate.”
But with another two-year term on the horizon, Rivera is setting sights on a slew of priorities including passing the long-stalled New York Health Act, which would create a single-payer system with the goal of providing universal health care for all New York residents.
Rivera wasn’t the only candidate to defeat the Bronx Democratic Party’s hand-picked candidate, as state Sen. Robert Jackson — whose 31st District includes Inwood, Washington Heights and Kingsbridge — cruised to a primary win over three challengers, including Angel Vasquez, who had been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat.
-ET Rodriguez contributed to this report
This article was updated at 5:48 p.m. on Aug. 24.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes