Zaccaro Jr. wins open Assembly seat, hopes to make housing breakthroughs in District 80

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John Zaccaro Jr., with 14 years of local government experience, defeated his Republican challenger Phyllis Nastasio Tuesday night with nearly 70% of the total vote.
Photo Aliya Schneider

As the Bronx precincts whittled down to its final reporting numbers on Tuesday, John Zaccaro Jr. — chief of staff to NYC Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr. — was filled with exhaustion on Tuesday night.

When Nathalia Fernandez announced her plan in June to run for the open Senate District 34 seat, Zaccaro Jr.’s name surfaced as a potential successor, ultimately becoming the Bronx Democratic Party nominee to fill her Assembly District 80 seat. And on Tuesday, Zaccaro Jr. took that vote of confidence and edged Republican challenger Phyllis Nastasio, claiming one of the Bronx’s three open state seats by a 69%-30% margin, according to data Wednesday morning from the NYC Board of Elections.

Zaccaro Jr., 33, with 14 years of local government experience under his belt, told the Bronx Times he’s heading to Albany with a renewed vigor and a focus on affordable housing in the district that spans the neighborhoods of Morris Park, Pelham Gardens and Allerton.

“We have an aging population in our community, and there’s a lot of seniors that we need to make sure can maintain those folks to stay in their communities, but be able to live in a decent quality housing that they can afford,” said Zaccaro Jr. “A lot of them are on fixed incomes and a lot of these folks are people who been in our community 30 and 40 years … We also need to make sure that we’re addressing issues of the future, and children like mine who we want to go out there and get a good education, work hard, get a good paying job, but then they come back and can’t afford to live in the communities that they grew up in.”

Within the confines of the 80th district, affordable housing proposals such as Jacobi’s Just Home project in Morris Park’s Indian Village has run up against NIMBY sentiments from residents, and Zaccaro Jr., who expressed concerns with the Just Home project on Tuesday night, hopes to pave a better method for introduction of new housing projects to the district’s more skeptical neighborhoods.

“What we need to understand is that when we are having dialogue, and we’re approaching projects that are new to people, this community often is not someone that deals with these types of programs and projects that come to these communities and so they’re skeptical,” he said. “The community board is an important part of that process. The neighborhood associations, the civic associations are all important parts of that process, not just the very small people that come to these meetings and disrupt anyone that doesn’t align with them.”

 the city Department of Education, and got his start at the age of 20 working closely with former Councilmember Fernando Cabrera during his City Council tenure. Zaccaro Jr. made a bid for the 80th Assembly district leader post in 2020, with the endorsement of the Bronx Dems, but lost to Marcos Sierra, who had previously relinquished the position in 2017.
Nastasio, a longtime educator was able to secure endorsements from a range of local Democrats and a Northwest Democrat group as a “quality-of-life” candidate.
“The biggest takeaway that I received from the voters, was their concern about crime and quality of life issues in general,” said Nastasio to the Times on Thursday. “My hope is that John will start to attend our community meetings and learn about these issues for himself, and that he actually listens to his whole community.”

Education is also a major tenant of the assemblymember-elect’s first-term goal, hoping to improve the district’s educational infrastructure — particularly through school creation — and is willing to entertain a multitude of ideas from lifting the charter school cap to increased investment in Bronx public schools.

“I’m a product of the public school system and I support the public schools 100%. But we need to start giving parents options and if that’s looking at raising the charter cap and we’re bringing high quality schools into our communities, you got me there” he said. “We need to start looking at this in a bigger way where we’re adding the infrastructure needed to be able to sustain the families that we’re bringing in into communities. That means more schools, that means creating more access to community programs and community spaces.”

Zaccaro Jr. will take office on Jan. 1, 2023 and serve a two-year term in the state Assembly with an annual salary of $110,000 plus per diem.

— Aliya Schneider contributed to this report.

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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