This political cycle has been a roller coaster, to say the least, for both incumbent politicos and aspiring officeholders in the state. This year’s election schedule includes June 28 and Aug. 23 primaries, and while the state’s redistricting saga waylaid some candidates’ best-laid political plans this summer, it has also allowed others to seek higher office.
Among those seeking a new opportunity due to the shifting of legislative boundaries is state Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez, a Democrat who announced a bid for the Senate District 34 seat, a position held by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi who decided to run for a congressional seat instead of seeking reelection. What amounts to Biaggi’s open seat will pit Fernandez in a primary against Progressive Christian Amato, a former Biaggi staffer and conservative Democrat James Gisondi, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate two years ago.
When new maps reassigned attorney Miguelina Camilo to Senate District 33 — whom Fernandez and the Democratic Party intended to support to succeed Biaggi in the Senate — Fernandez told the Bronx Times that she saw the reshuffled districts as a chance to bring “fire for the people” of Senate District 34.
“There was interest in a Senate seat (before the maps were drawn) … but when we petitioned in March, we saw a great slate of district leaders going for those seats, and we were happy to continue building our team in (the 80th Assembly District),” said Fernandez, whose current constituencies include Allerton, Pelham Gardens and Morris Park. “When the lines got tossed out by the courts for Senate … and split up the 34th district — my candidate of choice Miguelina Camilo couldn’t run for that seat — I felt it was my time to step up and run and bring something new to this race.”
Senate District 34 includes the northeastern Bronx neighborhoods of City Island, Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay, Country Club, Castle Hill, Parkchester and Clason Point, as well as the southern Westchester communities of Pelham, Pelham Manor and New Rochelle. It’s considered a strong Democratic district, with 65.8% registered Democrats to 12.5% registered Republicans.
Fernandez is also in a unique win-win opportunity to seek higher office this summer, due to the lack of opposition for her current seat. Fernandez is unopposed for her Assembly District 80 seat, and has already cemented her place on the general election ballot.
The Bronx Democratic Party announced their endorsement for Fernandez on the same day she announced her candidacy for Senate Thursday. The party touted Fernandez for her commitment to environmental justice, health care access and her effort in successful criminal justice reforms such as the Andrew Kearse Act, a law that requires law enforcement officers to seek care for any person in their custody experiencing a medical episode or mental health crisis.
Fernandez needs roughly 850 more signatures by June 10 to make it on the Aug. 28 ballot. If Fernandez wins the August primary for state Senate, she can opt-out of her Democratic nomination for Assembly, prompting a future special election.
Fernandez has been a fast riser in New York’s political scene since 2012, going from working in the offices of former Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj’s as his chief of staff, to a Bronx representative for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to the Assembly.
She ran a distant third in last year’s primary for Bronx Borough president, a contest won by Vanessa Gibson.
Fernandez told the Times she’s seeking a Senate seat because it would allow her to generate more resources for the Bronx, an evergreen call from Bronx politicos who have expressed habitual and legislative underinvestment by the state in regards to housing, safety and community services.
“I’m very well versed on the issues that affect the constituents of that community but I also have built relationships with my Bronx colleagues and in Albany so I believe that gives me a chance to win this position,” she said. “A lot of people still see the Bronx as it was when it was burning in the ’70s. So there’s still a lot of education that I do in the Assembly to make people aware about the east Bronx, this district and the amenities, services and programs that we need in the Bronx.”
Members of the state Senate are elected to two-year terms and make an annual salary of $110,000 plus per diem.
This story was updated at 6:10 p.m. on June 3.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at email@example.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes