photos by Candice M. Giove
The Bronx Democratic County Committee gathering last night began with a circus: elected officials aligned with party boss Jose Rivera — and various persons unknown — commandeered control of the election, re-anointed Rivera as county leader, and bolted out of the auditorium at the Utopia Paradise Theatre on the Grand Concourse.
Then the Bronx Rainbow Rebellion leaders, who have been working to wrest control of the Party from Rivera, declared that election a sham and held a meeting of their own that elected Assemblyman Carl Heastie as party boss.
“This was a schizophrenic evening,” said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. “Unfortunately the first meeting was more of a show of buffoonery and they really made a mockery of the democratic system.”
As Rivera (pictured above right, with District Leader Eric Stevenson) walked down the aisle of the Utopia Paradise, his supporters crowded the auditorium, waved signs and drowned the place in cheers. It remains unclear how many of them were legitimate members of the county committee.
During the Rivera session people voted by cheering “aye” or “nay” — though there was no way to distinguish the voices of the voting members from the others.
“They tried through mob rule to try to retain control of the county organization — even though they had the support of a small minority — by bringing in hundreds of people who aren’t eligible to vote here because they were not county committee members,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.
Each committee member signed his or her name into a book, and received a yellow wristband to show his or her status as a person eligible to vote. Dinowitz’s glasses were scuffed by Rivera supporters who unsuccessfully tried to wrest those rolls from people overseeing the 11 sign-in tables. “I guess they wanted to destroy the legitimate records of the legitimate meeting and so they wanted to grab the books,” Dinowitz said.
As Rivera’s allies began their meeting and election, a swarm of committee members were still outside of the auditorium. Councilwoman Maria Baez, a longtime Rivera friend, jumped in to lead the Rivera meeting without them –- and plowed through it with disregard for committee members who piped up a “nay” to her requests.
“She was not authorized according to the rules to conduct a meeting,” said Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene, referring to Judge Robert Seewald’s opinion which makes clear that Assemblyman Carl Heastie, as the executive committee’s chairman, would run the election. “The chairman was present. The court ruled that he was supposed to run the meeting.”
Before the show was over, Assemblyman Rivera took his spot on stage. “They wanted to have a party?” he yelled. “We are having a party.”
With that, Rivera’s supporters and Rivera-aligned elected officials rushed out of the doors. They took the microphones with them.
“He had a chance to leave with dignity and he chose just the opposite,” said Rebel Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. “It’s very sad.”
When the pandemonium ended, Assemblyman Heastie (pictured above) began a more civilized meeting. The Rebels followed rules carefully. First, county committee members elected an executive slate. That slate, along with 14 of the Bronx’s 24 district leaders, voted for Heastie to take the party reins.
Assemblyman Heastie said the results of that election would be delivered today to the Board of Elections.
The evening put the intense fracture in Bronx politics on display. What began as a battle over a civil court judge led to this major division of the party, and patching things up will be on Assemblyman Heastie’s agenda. “It’s going to be a tough task, but from what we witnessed tonight it may be a little tougher than I first thought.”
Following the vote, the multi-ethnic mass of committee members filed out onto the Grand Concourse and waited to get on chartered buses to their respective sections of the borough.
Assemblyman Michael Benjamin stood outside with them, and said that now the party could move in a new direction. “We want to show that the new Bronx Democratic Party is going to serve all communities and will not be about self and family and close friends,” he said. “It’s about democracy in our borough.”
Rebels said that the evening’s election would most likely wind up in court.
Michael Nieves, a spokesman for Jose Rivera, doesn’t see a need for legal action. “As far as I’m concerned we conducted a meeting and we won,” he said. “If they disagree because they conducted a meeting after ours they need to go to court.”