Cabrera rocks the mic. Photos by Candice M. Giove.
In the still-simmering power struggle between Bronx Democratic factions, observers cast yesterday’s contest against a former county chairman’s ally — incumbent councilmember Maria Baez — as a political test for new Bronx Democratic Chairman Assemblyman Carl Heastie.
“He passed the test with flying colors,” said assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz at the Bronx Democratic County Committee party last night, where Baez challenger Fernando Cabrera declared victory.
At this writing, Cabrera leads by 90 votes, though absentee ballots must still be counted. Most expect Baez to challenge the results today.
But that wasn’t on Cabrera’s mind last night as he claimed a win for himself and for the party while emphatically delivering a speech at Maestro’s over the din of cheers and someone beating on a drum.
“The party is alive,” he yelled.
Press accounts had portrayed the race as another round in the battle between Bronx Democratic county chairman Heastie and the party’s former chairman, assemblyman Jose Rivera, who propelled Baez into her council seat. Baez also led the proceedings at the now-infamous spectacle of a party election held at the Loewe’s Paradise Theatre in 2008, where his supporters attempted to renew his leadership through a raucous voice vote. (A court later decided that Heastie won the party’s top post after his faction reconvened to elect him. Rivera has refused to throw in the towel and appeal to the judge’s ruling is still pending.)
Should Cabrera’s lead hold, it would help put to rest the question of Chairman Heastie’s strength. “From this moment forward people are going to bow to your leadership,” Cabrera said as he thanked him.
But the outcome of the three-way race was less of a referendum on the organization and more of one on the incumbent candidate. “For so many years they were lacking some leadership over there,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.
During the course of the campaign, Baez’s two opponents, Cabrera and perennial office seeker Yudelka Tapia, hammered her for having the worst attendance record in the council.
Assemblyman Dinowitz said the people in the 14th council district were fortunate. “It’s a twofer,” he said. “We get a new councilmember and we eliminate an absentee councilmember.”
While many see this as Rivera’s last gasp, Chairman Heastie modestly said this heavily-scrutinized race was only about the people. “I don’t think that I’m the king of the world,” he said, “and I don’t think that I would have been in trouble on any results of this race.”