Kingsbridge Democrat Jessica Woolford is challenging state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz’s Northwest Bronx seat, which he has kept warm since 1994.
Woolford, a progressive who has spent a decade working in Democratic politics — mostly in communications roles — told the Bronx Times on Friday she resigned from her position as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s New York City press secretary two weeks prior to focus on her campaign.
“Coming into this work as a storyteller is really important because I grew up for so long not seeing stories like mine,” she said.
She emphasized her experience as the daughter of Dominican immigrants, saying her campaign goes beyond her candidacy and is about investing in the future leaders of the Bronx. Woolford grew up in Kingsbridge and lives in Riverdale.
The Assembly’s 81st District, which she is running to represent, includes Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Norwood, Woodlawn and Wakefield.
“To be a daughter of the district, to be a Dominican American woman who grew up here, you can’t miss how important representation is,” she said. “When at a moment we’ve seen so many progressive Latinas win local office across the Bronx, it’s because of our lived experiences. It’s because of how we were raised.”
Progessive Democrats Pierina Sánchez, Amanda Farías and Marjorie Velázquez, all incoming Latina councilwomen, will replace male predecessors who represented Bronx communities.
“The women who raised us were incredible influences for us to learn about resilience, to really practice our faith and to really work hard for the community,” she added. “So those kinds of values are really important to the communities that live here.”
Woolford speaks English and Spanish in her first campaign video, which features her grandmother, a Kingsbridge resident, who taught her “care should never be conditional.”
The 31-year-old emphasized putting “people first,” and said “impossible is a challenge we don’t shy away from in the Bronx.”
Woolford is the founder of Kingsbridge Unidos, a volunteer-run effort that has delivered more than 30,000 pounds of fresh produce, thousands of masks, and bilingual information about pandemic aid to families in Kingsbridge. The project began with buying groceries wholesale for 24 families in her grandmother’s building as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
This is the first time Woolford is running for elected office, and she said after working on mutual aid projects in the borough she decided it was time to focus on systemic change.
Dinowitz, who also identifies as a progressive, initially won a special election in February 1994 with 42% of the vote and won the next 14 elections. He grew up in Soundview and Kingsbridge Heights and now, like Woolford, lives in Riverdale.
Before joining the state Legislature, he was elected as a New York Democratic Committee member in 1978 and went on to be a Democratic district leader from 1986-1994. He also chaired the Bronx Democratic Committee from 2008-2016.
The 66-year-old had not faced any primary challengers until 2020, when George Diaz Jr., a Norwood Progressive ran for the seat. But Dinowitz took home 63.5% of that primary vote. The incumbent told the Bronx Times on Friday he doesn’t know how contentious the 2022 primary race will be, but he plans “to work as if it’s the toughest race in human history.”
He said he doesn’t know much about Woolford but looks forward to “a primary contest based on the issues.”
“It’s certainly going to be hard to say that I haven’t gotten good things done in the community, that I haven’t gotten good laws passed,” he said. “Now somebody could campaign saying, ‘well, it’s time for a change’ and that type of stuff, but every candidate says that when they challenge an incumbent, that it’s time for a change.”
He pointed to the twice-extended COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act and the bill that allowed people to vote by absentee ballot because of the pandemic, both of which he sponsored.
The legislator also cited food and personal protective equipment giveaways in the district, saying his team reaches out to people “in all corners of the district.”
Members of the New York State Assembly make $110,000 annually plus per diem, and their terms last two years. The primary is scheduled for June 28, 2022.
Reach Aliya Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.