Despite a setback from a court ruling earlier in the day, a breakaway group of Bronx elected officials seeking the ouster of Bronx Democratic County Chairman Jose Rivera showcased their power.
Though a judge ruled that the Bronx County Committee couldn’t convene to vote, renegade Bronx officials — dubbed the Rainbow Rebellion — brought contingents by the busload to the site of the cancelled meeting in Co-Op City last night to amplify their cry for change.
“Enough is enough,” declared Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene to about 500 committee members, who at times broke into a chant of “No Way, Jose.”
“All this does is prolong the inevitable and what we have here is an ailing patient and the doctor just gave them five extra days,” said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr. “When you look at the folks that are coming into this room, you will see that there’s a cross section from everyone in the Bronx who believes there should be new leadership.”
There had been some confusion over the date and venue of the official Bronx Democratic County Committee meeting. Assemblyman Carl Heastie, chairman of the committee meeting, called for last night’s session in Co-Op City with the support of one-fourth of the committee members. Chairman Rivera, however, sent out conflicting mailings –- one claiming that the meeting called by Heastie was cancelled before a judge even rendered a ruling, the other calling for one this Sunday, September 28th at the Loews Paradise Theatre on the Grand Concourse. That meeting will now go on at Rivera’s venue.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a vocal rebel, questioned Rivera’s choice of date and time, since it poses the threat of disenfranchising Jewish participants who will be preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Christian participants who dedicate Sunday to church. “It seems almost as if it were a calculation to keep attendance down when in fact they should be including as many people as possible,” he said.
Chairman Rivera, an assemblyman, has led the Bronx Democratic Party since 2002. Rainbow Rebellion members have lamented many of his choices -– particularly his decision to run Maria Matos, a Latina law clerk, against Elizabeth Taylor, an African-American law clerk, for civil court judge. (Taylor, the Rebel candidate, prevailed at the polls.) Assemblywoman Green told the crowd that Rivera reneged on a deal to run a black candidate for that judicial position.
Some also expressed disgust with a letter Rivera sent out in a pitch to divide voters on racial lines, asking Latino voters to pull the lever for Sigfredo Gonalez over incumbent and rebel Michael Benjamin, an African American.
Detractors also criticized the Rivera family “dynasty.” Chairman Rivera’s son Joel Rivera is the Majority Leader of the City Council and his daughter is an assemblywoman. Others with family ties are employed in various government positions.
“The people of the Bronx are beginning to realize that when you have a man who makes a City employment chart look like a family tree -– that’s something the people are not going to stand for,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto.
At the end of the evening, the Rebels displayed their confidence in a Sunday win, calling 14 of the borough’s 24 district leaders up to the stage. The district leaders play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the election, since they vote with the county committee officers on the borough’s new leader.
After the meeting, as people waited on the for chartered buses to take them back to their corners of the Bronx, we heard from one of the Rebels’ opponents: Michael Nieves, a spokesperson and confidant of Chairman Rivera. Standing outside the meeting hall, Nieves looked toward the Sunday vote optimistically, and took issue with the Rebel’s claim of Rivera as a divisive party boss.
“He’s managed to elect white assembly people, black assembly people,and Latino assembly people,” Nieves said of Rivera. “How could that not be inclusive? If it’s selective memory, than it’s selective memory, but no one who knows Jose’s 30 years of struggle in this borough can call him not inclusive.”
As for Sunday. “I think we’ll win,” said Nieves. His was a minority opinion at Co-Op City last night. Stanley Schlein, a former Rivera ally and current Rainbow Rebellion attorney reflected, “I think the conclusion was simply as Mr. Heastie said. Whenever, wherever this meeting is held –- it’ll be held someday –- this group will precipitate the change that is long overdue.”