Three Democrats up for consideration for Fernandez’s open Assembly District 80 seat

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With Nathalia Fernandez set to vacate her Assembly for the state Senate, three names are being mulled by Democrats to run for her seat in November.
Photo Aliya Schneider

With the New York State Assembly District 80 seat set to be vacated by Nathalia Fernandez following her state Senate primary victory last Tuesday, party insiders told the Bronx Times that Democrats are currently considering three candidates to run in her place this November.

According to insiders, Community Board 7 District Manager Ischia Bravo, John Zaccaro Jr., chief of staff to New York City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., and community leader Bharati S. Kemraj are the names being mulled for the party’s nomination by a vacancy committee. Whomever the committee lands on one, the nominee will run as the presumptive seatholder against Republican candidate and Community Board 11 member Phyllis Nastasio in the general election.

In 2018 and 2020, Fernandez won elections to her Assembly seat at 86% and 79% clips, maintaining the district as a Democratic stronghold.

Fernandez will vacate her Assembly seat at the year’s end to join the state Legislature’s upper chamber, succeeding outgoing state Senator Alessandra Biaggi as the representative of Senate District 34. After  winning the state Senate primary convincingly over Christian Amato on Aug. 23, Fernandez is expected to defeat Conservative candidate Samantha Zherka in the general.

According to state election law, when a vacancy occurs in the state Assembly, state Senate or Congress, county committee members in that district — elected in the Democratic primary once every two years — may be convened to vote on selecting the party’s nominee to fill the vacancy. Due to the proximity of the general election, the outcome of the seat does not require a special election.

Assembly District 80 spans the neighborhoods of Morris Park, Pelham Gardens and Allerton.

Zaccaro, who has 14 years of local government experience under his belt, told the Bronx Times that this was an opportunity to take a wealth of on-the-ground work to the Assembly.

“I’ve been involved in this district for the better part of a decade, and to be able to take the experiences I’ve learned in this district, in my experience with (Salamanca) to the Assembly is a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “I like to think I’ve kept my ears to the ground to know what people of this district are looking for in an assemblymember and it would be a great opportunity to put that in action to best improve the quality of life in this district, and the borough at large.”

Kemraj, who founded the BHARATI Dance Academy at the Vishnu Mandir Hindu Temple and has held numerous community forums tackling quality of life issues, told the Bronx Times that being considered is “humbling” and an encouraging sign that women of color without electorate experience are being considered for key roles in state government.

“I’ve put some thought to it, because it’s the perfect moment for someone in the community who has gotten to connect with these different groups to perhaps reach a platform in local government where they can advocate and continue the work that’s been done in the community,” Kemraj said . “You don’t often see a push for a woman who looks like me, has the background as a Guyanese woman. But this community knows that I will continue to do the work … with or without an official title.”

Bravo, who has been District Manager of CB 7 since 2018, also worked for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano as a housing liaison, was district office director with state Senator Jose Serrano and executive director of the Bronx Democratic County Committee from 2008-2015.

While she lost in a special election to Oswald Feliz for the open City Council District 15 seat in March 2021 and then again that June, in a Democratic primary, she is ready to jump back into politics. Bravo said she would aim to improve quality of life issues, safety and education.

“I think it’s important people know I’ve dedicated my life to public service since the age of 19,” Bravo told the Bronx Times. “The 80th District needs a fighter in Albany who will stand up for what the district needs.”

Members of the state Assembly earn a yearly salary of $110,000 plus per diem, and are elected to two-year terms. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 8.

-Jason Cohen and Christian Falcone contributed to this report

This article was updated at 5:12 p.m. on Aug. 31 to reflect comments from Ischia Bravo. 

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes