After ‘encouraging’ Assembly bid, Phyllis Nastasio joins City Council District 13 race

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Phyllis Nastasio with Lee Zeldin, center, the 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate. Nastasio is planning a run for the City Council District 13 seat.
Photo courtesy Phyllis Nastasio

In her first bid for public office last November, longtime community member and school teacher Phyllis Nastasio came away encouraged by the result of her race for the state’s then-vacant 80th Assembly District. Nastasio, a Republican, garnered just above 30% of the vote against eventual winner John Zaccaro Jr., a Democrat, but views that threshold as a sign of progress for a GOP candidate running against a distinct Democratic voter registration advantage.

With momentum from that race and a perception that incumbent District 13 City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez —  who represents areas in the East Bronx like Throggs Neck, Morris Park, Pelham Bay and Country Club — is vulnerable in her bid for reelection this year, Nastasio has entered her name into a rapidly growing Republican primary for the seat.

In addition to Nastasio, former Community Board 10 member George Havranek, Kristy Marmorato, Ariel-Rivera Diaz and Hasime Samantha Zherka have filed to run for the District 13 seat. Velázquez is also facing intraparty competition as conservative Democrat Bernadette Ferrera has also filed to run for the seat.

“I think this is great for not just the Republican Party, but for voters in the Bronx to see a variety of candidates running for this seat, because they also want to change the way things are going,” said Nastasio.

After coming up short in a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2017, Velázquez won the District 13 seat in 2021, but her GOP opponent Aleksander Mici — whose campaign Nastasio worked closely on — secured 45% of the vote, showing a competitive avenue for Republicans in the district. And even though 61.5% of active voters in the district were registered Democrats in 2021, the district voted 48.5% in favor of Republican Curtis Sliwa in the mayoral election that year, a slight edge over Eric Adams (47.4%).

Velázquez’s rise to City Council chambers and subsequent first term has been a roller coaster, depending on which constituents you ask.

District 13 is one of the more engaged political districts in the Bronx, and a subset of constituents have used issues like the rezoning of Bruckner Boulevard to add 348 units of housing across four sites and the Just Home proposal to house medically frail formerly incarcerated on the Jacobi Hospital campus as a rallying cry, while supporters of the projects have viewed the pushback as NIMBY dissent.

Velázquez stood firmly against the Bruckner project dating back to its public unveiling in 2021, but had a sudden change of heart before it was unanimously passed by the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and Land Use Committee last October.

Nastasio told the Bronx Times that Velázquez’s handling of the Bruckner upzoning has left a sour taste in constituents’ mouths, one that may not be forgotten come November.

Marjorie Velázquez, the District 13 councilmember, has several challengers gunning for her seat this political cycle. Photo courtesy New York City Council

Although Velázquez was soundly criticized by segments of the Throggs Neck community following her Bruckner vote, Nastasio said that Velázquez’s lack of transparency only magnified the situation.

“You have to be open (to talking to the constituents and the media). You have to be truthful, and she was telling the community, ‘I stand with you on Bruckner’ and then she turned around and voted against it, without giving us notice,” said Nastasio. “She wasn’t answering anybody, and quite honestly, I don’t believe that constituents called her office saying they were in favor of it. She wasn’t transparent about her decision-making throughout this process, and it hurt a lot of people.”

Velázquez campaign spokesperson Aaron Hecht told the Bronx Times Wednesday that East Bronx voters have always elected common-sense Democrats and rejected extremism.

“While each of the Republican challengers focus on promoting themselves to represent an anti-democratic, anti-choice, pro-gun radical party that doesn’t provide for working families, Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez will remain committed to delivering on the issues that matter to all voters in her district — safer streets, better schools, and helping our small businesses and communities recover,”Hecht added.

But Nastasio, a quality-of-life candidate, points to her appeal with both Republican and Democrats, has previously secured endorsements from the Northwest Bronx Democrats and ex-NYC Councilmember Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., conservative Democrat, in her state Assembly bid last November.

She says the local scale of City Council politics gives her the opportunity to unite the community on hyperlocal needs like a community center, a new school in the district and increased support for police and fire agencies to combat crime concerns.

Nastasio isn’t just chasing Velázquez but history itself. If she wins the general election, Nastasio could be the first women on the Republican ballot to hold Bronx office. And that’s not lost on the 57 year old.

“I’m getting really good feedback from people on both sides, Republican and Democrats, because they know me. They know I’m not a radical one way or the other, and they know I will fight for the community,” she said. “When it comes down to it, this district wants what every other district wants, and I’m the person who can work with others to get them that.”

City Council primaries will take place on June 27, with the general election scheduled for Nov. 7. Councilmembers are elected to four-year terms, making a base salary of $148,500 a year, although committee heads can receive more.

This article was updated on Jan. 25 at 2:27 p.m. to reflect Phyllis Nastasio’s correct age and comments from Marjorie Velázquez’s campaign. 

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

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