Vanessa Gibson’s rise in local politics — a journey that started when she succeeded her late mentor Aurelia Greene as a state assemblywoman in 2009 followed by a run as a city councilwoman beginning in 2013 — continued Tuesday as she scored a historic win on election night to become the first female and first Black Bronx borough president.
Gibson, the incumbent District 16 NYC councilwoman, received 79% of the vote while cruising by her nearest challenger Republican Janelle King’s 13% — with 96% percent of scanners reporting — according to the city Board of Elections, just after midnight Wednesday morning. Gibson, a Democrat, said her substantial margin of victory is humbling and a sign of how far women of color have come in making an impact in local politics.
“Women of color are smashing ceilings in (politics), and every time we’re winning seats that weren’t meant for us,“ Gibson said. “So each win means that Blacks girls, Latina girls, Black and brown kings can aspire and hope to run for any office they set their mind to.”
Gibson will take over for three-term Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and is the first non-Latino borough president in 35 years. She said that her administration hopes to amplify the “hidden gems” of the northernmost borough while making strides to improve the lives of all Bronxites no matter their identity or orientation.
“The Bronx can expect us to lead with commitment, action, consistency and dedication, and that we expand on existing offices like (Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation),” said Gibson, who added that she wants to also create Bronx-based offices for immigration services and public safety. “We’re also going to look at new opportunities to build on our infrastructure, which is aging, and deal with resiliency issue to make sure the Bronx is booming like never before.”
The role of borough president is largely a symbolic one, having little binding power in city government.
However, Gibson is expected to provide input on both the city’s annual budget and local land use initiatives and will be tasked with appointing members to community boards, Community Education Councils, the city Planning Commission, and the Panel for Educational Policy. Other roles for borough president include the ability to co-sponsor City Council legislation and have a budget to allocate money to local nonprofit organizations and capital projects.
Gibson’s campaign focused on affordable housing development, violence prevention and intervention, and police accountability.
On her website, a laundry list of goals for a Gibson administration include fostering Community Land Trusts to create new homeownership opportunities and prioritize developments intended for vulnerable residents including the elderly, young people aging out of foster care, grandparents raising grandchildren, and LGBTQ residents.
She said she also wants to ensure that new developments are built sustainably and has pushed for more city Housing Authority funding and bolstered public housing tenants’ rights, while advocating on a federal level for altered cost of living and area median income estimates that reflect the “reality of living in the Bronx.”
In her own words on Tuesday night, Gibson is looking forward to working with all Bronx elected officials — all Democratic city and state lawmakers split between moderate and progressive camps — to face the challenges of being borough president of a borough that is facing severe inequities in housing, food access and socioeconomic stability.
“We are going to lead this borough to the next chapter,” she said. “We don’t want to divide this borough. We want to build up and unify the Bronx. We want our fair share and get the attention and priority that we deserve.”
Gibson was one of three sitting city councilmembers to be elected to a higher post on Tuesday night, as Democrats Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso won their bids for Manhattan and Brooklyn borough president, respectively. Gibson’s District 16 City Council seat, which includes the neighborhoods of Concourse, Morrisania, Highbridge, Morris Heights and Tremont, will be occupied by Democrat Althea Stevens, who was also elected on Tuesday night.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.