James Gisondi, a former lawyer who challenged state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in the 2020 Democratic primaries, says he’s a “moderate in a sea of Progressives” in the state Senate’s District 34 race.
“I’m a moderate centrist, but I’m also a social liberal,” Gisondi, a Locust Point resident, said in an interview with the Bronx Times.
The registered Democrat, who ran unsuccessfully in the general election on the Republican line after Biaggi defeated him in the 2020 primaries — he says he remained a Democrat and it was just a ballot strategy — initially missed his chance to get on the ballot this year because his staffer filed twice with the city instead of the city and state separately, he said. Gisondi said he was going to keep fighting to get on the ballot, but with newly drawn districts and the Senate primaries pushed back to August, he has a second chance to officially enter the race.
But the Democratic field isn’t lacking for players with Biaggi leaving her seat for a congressional run. Also vying for the seat are Progressive Christian Amato, a Community Board 11 member and former Biaggi staffer, and most recently Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez, who has the Bronx Democratic establishment behind her after Miguelina Camilo changed races with the new districts.
The district now encompasses much of the east Bronx and parts of southeastern Westchester county.
Fleetwood’s Lisa Do Hofflich, who was one of Gisondi’s opponents before redistricting was finalized, has dropped her campaign after being drawn out of the new district.
If he loses the Democratic primary, Gisondi said he will still enter the general election, this time planning to run on the Parent Party ballot line. The newly formed political party, which focuses on education policy, has endorsed Gisondi for his Senate race.
Gisondi, who grew up in the Bronx but moved to Pelham for 18 years when his kids were in school before returning to the Bronx, describes himself as semi-retired. A former lawyer, he now has a real estate investment company where he buys distressed homes to fix up before putting them back on the market — the work creates more home ownership, he said.
Touting a “common sense approach,” the candidate blamed Progressives for “always dragging somebody down in order to lift somebody else up” and claimed he can find a happy medium.
He listed public safety, fair housing laws and infrastructure as his top issues.
The Bronxite believes the city should focus more of its approach to public safety on gangs, both punitively and through youth program outreach.
“They’re the ones who are having shootouts on the corners; they’re the ones who are smuggling guns from the south up here,” he said.
As for the bail reform debate over how much discretion judges should have, Gisondi believes they should have unilateral power to remand a defendant or set bail. He criticized the state’s marijuana legislation to grant commercial marijuana licenses to people who were convicted for dealing weed, while he believes some licenses need to be reserved for people of color and minorities, with business training.
As for infrastructure, he said he believes contractors should be required to provide apprenticeship programs for young people, saying workers are aging out of good-paying union jobs.
He also said the flooding-prone Shore Road needs to be restructured, and spoke in favor of bike lanes, saying they can address e-scooter safety concerns.
When it comes to housing, Gisondi thinks there should be a separate part of housing court for owner-occupied, small multifamily homes with an expedited eviction process. He said homelessness comes from mental health issues that need to be better addressed, and not from evictions.
The candidate said he supports single-payer health care and believes health care is a right.
Gisondi emphasizes that if elected, he will prioritize the district residents over Democratic power brokers. He called Fernandez a “political climber” who is aligned with Progressives U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Biaggi, citing a joint campaign event Fernandez did with Ocasio-Cortez in March and constituent events she held with Biaggi.
“I’m the only independent,” Gisondi said. “I can go up to Albany and I can vote the way my district needs me to vote. I don’t have to worry that, oh, well, the person who put me into office wants me to vote this way so I have to do it, otherwise I’ll get a challenge come next election.”
Fernandez’s campaign manager Alex Porco said his comments about Fernandez seemed targeted at women leaders, and stated that the assemblymember is “proud to be a woman and a Latina running for state senate to represent working families and individuals in The Bronx and Westchester.”
“She has always remained committed to serving her community regardless of her title,” Porco added.
Fernandez and her team would not specify whether or not she identifies as a Progressive.
Gisondi’s jab at Amato is that he is a “radical anarchist” unfit for office, pointing to a video screenshot that shows Amato holding an “ACAB” (all cops are bastards) sign in summer 2020. But Amato told the Bronx Times the paparazzi-style snapshot was taken while he was working with cops to clean up signs from a Black Lives Matter counter-protest — which Gisondi also called anarchist — held in response to a Back the Blue rally just over a month after George Floyd was killed by police, amid national uproar.
In the photo, Amato appears to be walking near a pile of signs while holding another sign behind the “ACAB” one.
Amato said Gisondi is entitled to his own opinion and criticized him for initially failing to initially get on the ballot despite being a former attorney.
Members of the state Senate are elected to two-year terms and make an annual salary of $110,000 plus per diem.
Reach Aliya Schneider at email@example.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes