Joel R. Rivera’s campaign for the Bronx’s 15th Council District seat was strange from the start: The man he sought to replace, a termed-out incumbent, is also named Joel Rivera. And in an effort to keep the challenger from riding a wave of faux-name recognition, his opponents began to refer to him as “The Fake Joel Rivera.” On top of that, one of Rivera’s opponents, William Rivera, shared his last name, and another, Joel Bauza, shared his first name.
Well, several weeks ago, William Rivera dropped out. And now Joel R. Rivera is trying to become the only Joel on the ballot, too. Last week he challenged Bauza’s petition signatures in state Supreme Court in the Bronx.
Rivera, founder of the nonprofit Servicing Our Youth and vice chair of the Bronx Democratic Committee, is challenging 1,069 of Bauza’s 1,350 signatures. The 281 remaining, of course, would not meet the 450-signature requirement.
He had also filed the objections with the NYC Board of Elections, which is currently reviewing the signatures.
If the Board of Elections “refuses to examine the specifications and rule of the line by line objections,” the court document read, “I am filing this petition as an aggrieved candidate to protect my right for the Court to determine on a line by line examination of the specific objections.”
Bauza, the senior pastor at Calvary Church on East 174th Street, gained the endorsement of Bronx Public School 77. He has raised more than $50,000 in private funds, the second most among the race’s seven candidates. He is also the only candidate who has not requested public funds. While Rivera has raised half as much private funds as Bauza, public money has pushed his war chest close to $100,000, which is the third-most in the race.
Even beyond Rivera’s name situation, the race for the 15th District, which covers Belmont, Bathgate, East Tremont, Fordham, and the zoo, has been unique. An openly gay person has never served as a Bronx legislator. On this ballot, though, there will be three openly gay candidates, including the current frontrunner Ritchie Torres.
Torres, who is 24, has worked as housing director for 13th District Councilman Jimmy Vacca. He’s raised the most money and been endorsed by just about every union, as well as a dozen or so community groups.