Jonathan Soto, Benedetto’s Progressive challenger, is back.

Jonathan Soto speaks with his hands together, looking off camera while speaking outside the Trump Links at Ferry Point Park site.
Jonathan Soto speaks to an Instagram live audience at a “landback ceremony” to launch his campaign in front of Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point on Jan. 6, 2022.
File photo Aliya Schneider

Is the third time the charm for Jonathan Soto?

Soto, a Progressive, is challenging longtime Assemblymember Michael Benedetto in the June 2024 primary to represent the East Bronx 82nd Assembly District. It’s his third time getting ready to face the moderate Democrat.

Since his 2022 primary run, Soto, of Throggs Neck, has done more than reflect on his loss. He passed the bar exam (he went to law school six years ago but went on to work as a faith outreach leader in former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration afterward) and began working in housing court and impartial hearings. Impartial hearings allow for due process for parents who do not believe their disabled children have received an appropriate education or reasonable accommodations.

From working with families facing eviction and witnessing parents struggle to find summer childcare to watching education cuts in the city budget and seeing housing plans flop on the state level — Soto was inspired to run again.

The cherry on top? The election will coincide with the mayoral control vote in Albany.

A power repeatedly granted by the state Legislature, mayoral control has been in place since 2002 and lets the mayor appoint the schools chancellor and nine out of 15 members of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy. The state Legislature negotiates the terms of the measure each time it’s renewed. In 2022, Mayor Eric Adams wanted a four-year extension but was only given two.

A fierce critic of mayoral control, Soto, 38, acknowledged that it would be tough to completely get rid of it. He described recent cuts to the district’s education funding as a consequence of the practice in its current form and believes there should be more oversight from the state Legislature.

Jonathan Soto speaks while a woman records him on Instagram live. Various people stand behind him, with one person playing the drums. The Trump Golf Links clubhouse is also in the background.
Jonathan Soto speaks to an Instagram Live audience at his campaign launch on Jan. 6, 2022. Photo Aliya Schneider

Soto doesn’t shy away from mentioning that Benedetto, 76, chairs the state Assembly Education Committee when expressing his discontent with the system.

“I think it’s just too much power and too much decision making centered on one person, or one branch,” Soto told the Bronx Times. “Which is why we need more accountability, have the legislative branch exercise more oversight. But that can’t happen at the city level. It has to happen at the state level and it happens in the committee that Mr. Benedetto chairs.”

But Benedetto, of Throggs Neck, emphasized that he stands by his record, and plans to campaign on it.

“I’m very proud of my education platform, what I’ve done for education over the years,” he told the Bronx Times. “We have allocated and sent more money to the schools of the state of New York more than any other time in the history of this state. I’m very proud of that. That happened underneath my watch and I’ll contend with him on that anytime.”

A former organizer for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Soto initially intended to challenge Benedetto in the 2020 Democratic primary. But he dropped out just months into his campaign because he was busy rebuilding a school in Puerto Rico as part of de Blasio’s Hurricane Maria relief efforts.

By January 2022, he was back in the running again. He announced his bid at his own Jan. 6 “insurrection” in front of the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point golf course in Throggs Neck. But no one stormed the building. Instead, a group of Progressives — one equipped with a drum — stood around Soto with a view of the Whitestone Bridge, speaking to an audience on Instagram Live. The candidate called the event a “landback ceremony,” condemning the use of public park space for a golf course.

He lost to Benedetto by 1,766 votes, garnering only 36% of the tally.

This time around, Soto is confident that he’ll be able to better connect with East Bronx voters with roughly double the amount of time to campaign ahead of the June 2024 primary. 

Before Soto came along, Benedetto was challenged only three times since winning the seat against two opponents in 2004. (Assembly seats have two year terms.)

map color codes parts of district that voted for Soto and Benedetto
A map shows unofficial election night results categorized by which candidate voters chose. Map courtesy Steven Romalewski

And Soto got more votes than Benedetto’s two 2010 challengers combined, even though the incumbent raked in more than 4,300 votes that year.

Benedetto’s 2012 challenger Egidio Sementilli was more than 2,700 votes behind him — a margin 934 votes wider than Soto’s — and when he tried again in 2020, he trailed the incumbent by a whopping 11,300 votes.

Benedetto knows himself that a loss doesn’t stain an aspiring politico’s potential. The incumbent ran for state Assembly unsuccessfully in 1976 and lost state Senate races in 1978, 1980 and 2000.

But will Soto reach enough voters as a Progressive to add another loss to the incumbent’s record?

Beyond his passion for education as a parent, Soto believes the district needs affordable housing and that there should be more investments in resources that can prevent crime, not just a focus on responding to it.

The East Bronx Assembly District 82 includes much of City Council District 13, along with District 12’s Co-op City. But the 13th District has seen momentum among more conservative voters, with a competitive Republican primary this June.

Soto said that while he is running to represent everyone, he rejects “MAGA” energy and feels that the area has been “poisoned by right wing propaganda.”

“But a lot of Republicans send their kids to school, actually some of them send their kids to school with my daughter,” he said. “And at the end of the day, I think people are tired of fighting over ideology, over politics. I’m not here to make a point. I’m here to try to make connections.” 

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