City Council District 13 candidates Marjorie Velázquez, the Democratic incumbent, and her Republican challenger Kristy Marmorato went after each other in the closing minutes of their televised BronxNet debate that aired Tuesday night — sparring the network says it has never seen before.
“In the 95 debates I’ve moderated on BronxTalk over the last three decades there have been some startling moments, but we’ve never had two candidates, right at the end of the program, go at each other personally like that,” said Gary Axelbank, the host of BronxTalk who moderated the debate. “It was eye-opening to say the least.”
While the two had a few spats throughout the 30-minute program on Halloween — namely over their different philosophies on the Bruckner Boulevard rezoning and crime management in the district — the jabs escalated in the last few minutes of the debate. Axelbank told the Bronx Times on Wednesday that the sparring continued even after the show wrapped, with the candidates continuing to “argue in the studio at high volume after the program ended.”
During her closing statement, Velázquez, 42, criticized Marmorato for accepting donations from employees of the city Board of Elections (BOE), where the challenger’s husband Gino Marmorato works as a GOP commissioner. Velázquez was referring to an October Daily News article where she alluded to the possibility that Marmorato’s husband peddled his influence at the BOE to encourage subordinates to donate to his wife’s campaign.
“Yeah, well watch what’s going to come out in the Daily News next,” Marmorato, 45, said during Velázquez’s closing statement without providing any specifics. “How dare you? You are such a snake. You are more than a snake.”
Marmorato’s connections to the Republican Party and Board of Elections have been called into question throughout the duration of her campaign. Apart from her husband at the BOE — critics, including Velázquez, have chastised her endorsement from the Bronx GOP, where her brother Michael Rendino serves as the county chair.
“It is indeed disappointing to have been a witness to a situation where my opponent, who claims to stand against divisiveness, chose to take political discourse to a new low by resorting to personal attacks,” Marmorato told the Bronx Times in a statement Wednesday. “I want to make it unequivocally clear that I do not stand for lies, false accusations, or hurtful comments about anyone, particularly when it comes to family. Such behavior has no place in our political discourse, regardless of difference in opinions.”
But Velázquez, who is running for a second term in the East Bronx as the Council District 13 representative, isn’t washed clean of criticism over her connections either.
After the incumbent told viewers she didn’t win her seat “because my brother is there, or because my husband wanted me to,” Marmorato responded, slamming Velázquez’s political access through the Democrat’s husband Jeff Lynch — who used to be a first deputy commission for the NYC Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit from 2017-2018 under Bill de Blasio, and the director for the NYC Mayor’s Office of City Legislative Affairs from 2018-2020. Lynch was also a longtime chief of staff and strategist of former CD-13 Council Member Jimmy Vacca, who term-limited out in 2017 — the same election cycle Velázquez lost her first bid for the seat.
The incumbent’s husband now serves as a deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), according to his LinkedIn profile. Velázquez disclosed her husband’s position with the DEP on the record during a June 2022 council meeting when voting to allocate city funds to the department, according to meeting transcript. During the same meeting, she also voted to give city money to the Samaritans of New York, which Velázquez said her brother is a board member of.
“When you have no accomplishments, the only thing left to do is attack your opponent’s record,” Velázquez’s campaign manager JT Ennis told the Bronx Times in a statement Wednesday. “All folks know about Kristy Marmorato is her ties to Proud Boys, George Santos, questionable campaign contributions, and well documented cronyism.”
Marmorato launched her council bid with Nancy Marks as treasurer — the former campaign manager for the twice-indicted U.S. Rep. George Santos who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in federal court last month. Marmorato told The Bronx Times in a previous interview that she was ready to cut ties once news broke about Marks in late January, but that it took time to find a replacement. The Republican also refuted allegations about ties to the Proud Boys and Jan. 6 Capitol insurrectionists during the BronxNet debate.
Before all the intense back-and-forth at the end of the debate, the candidates discussed an array of district-specific issues — including homelessness and development, crime and bail reform, and transit.
During a question about the Bruckner Boulevard rezoning — a controversial plan to bring 348 new apartments to Throggs Neck, including some specifically reserved for seniors and veterans — Veláquez once again defended the deal she cut for the project. Upzoning opponents — including Marmorato, who said during the debate that the incumbent “lied” to the community — have held Bruckner over Velázquez’s head since she unexpectedly changed her stance last year and urged the full council to give the project the green light.
“Certainly people want to control the narrative saying that I flipped, but the reality is that I was continuous in my opposition because it never reflected the community until the last presentation,” Velázquez said during the debate. “Let’s not discuss and dismiss the various voices that call me every day, like seniors, asking for housing and thanking me for that. Let’s not dismiss the voices of Black and brown (people) in my community who have been asking me for home ownership opportunities.”
The candidates were able to find some middle ground, however. Both joined together in their opposition of congestion pricing — a plan meant to limit traffic and reduce emissions by charging drivers a toll to enter Manhattan below 60th Street. The two candidates also stated that they don’t think City Island is the best spot for another ferry terminal, agreeing that Orchard Beach would be a better location.
The BronxNet debate is the third time Velázquez and Marmorato have gone head-to-head in the last four weeks. The duo also held court earlier this month on Oct. 4 at a Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance candidate forum, as well as the Oct. 24 City Island Civic Association’s candidate forum. At the latter, the duo’s participation was passive and they agreed on most City Island-specific prompts.
A Republican has not been elected to public office in the Bronx since 2004. Council District 13 includes the neighborhoods of Throggs Neck, Allerton, Morris Park, City Island and Pelham Parkway.
Other City Council incumbents facing challengers in the Nov. 7 General Election include District 12 City Council Member Kevin Riley, District 15 Council Member Oswald Feliz, District 16 Council Member Althea Stevens, District 17 Council Member Rafael Salamanca and District 18 Council Member Amanda Farías. None of those races are expected to be close contests, however.
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes