Mayor Bill de Blasio has scheduled special elections for two New York City Council seats in the Bronx's 11th and 15th Council districts for March 23rd, and a total of 15 candidates are already vying for spots that cover the northern and central portions of the borough.
"This date, within the window allowed by the City Charter, will give residents the chance to make thoughtful and informed decisions about their representation," de Blasio said.
The contests will also be among the first to be decided through ranked choice voting, which allow voters to rank the order of their preferred candidates to avoid a costly runoff election.
For candidates competing for these seats, the election merely sped up their campaign plans, since the departing council members were term-limited this year, triggering a June primary. Candidates have mere weeks to obtain the 450 signatures required to be on the ballot for each special election. As is standard for special elections, candidates will not be running on a major party line.
In the central Bronx, eight candidates have eyes on the 15th Council District, which covers a spectrum of diverse neighborhoods that includes Belmont, Crotona Park, Fordham, Van Nest, and the west side of Bedford Park. The seat was left vacant by Ritchie Torres, a Democrat who went on to win the 15th Congressional District seat in the South Bronx after representing the council district for seven years. Torres was sworn into office on January 1st.
The eight candidates who've opened campaign committees include Kenny Agosto, Bronx Community Board 7 district manager Ischia Bravo, Bronx Community Board 6 district manager John Sanchez, state committeeman Oswald Feliz, Bronx Borough President education liaison Elisa Crespo, transportation advocate Latchmi Gopal, NYCHA tenant advocate Lilithe Lozano, and Altagracia Soldevilla. So far, Sanchez, Bravo, Gopal, Feliz, and Crespo have announced they will indeed take part in the special election race. The rest did not immediately respond to inquiries from Gothamist.
Crespo is running "full steam ahead," presenting a platform that looks to revamp the public review process for construction projects, deeper affordable housing, and further modernizing the city's transportation network. Sanchez told Gothamist he looks to prioritize the renovation of the old public library off Fordham Road and Tremont Park, a recreation center, and deliver universal broadband across the city to bridge the digital divide. Bravo said she wants to address over-development in the borough she was born and raised in, and Gopal is another Bronx native who seeks to make higher education free, desegregate schools, and press on for a Green New Deal.
"Our community's at a turning point and we need to make sure we have somebody who knows the community," Bravo told Gothamist.
The 15th Council District abuts the 11th Council District, where seven candidates have their sights set on the seat that covers Norwood, the east side of Bedford Park, Riverdale, Fieldston, Woodlawn, and Marble Hill. The district—home to largely working and middle class residents with typically high voter turnout—has in recent years faced a swell of development.
Andy Cohen had represented the seat since 2014, but vacated it on December 31st, 2020 after winning a judgeship in November through protracted political wrangling. The machinations—orchestrated by the Bronx Democratic Party—placed Cohen on the November ballot to fill a vacancy in Bronx Supreme Court without really campaigning for it.
Since 2018, rumors had swirled that Cohen—a Riverdale resident who worked as a court attorney at Bronx Supreme Court—would be nominated to the bench, prompting a slew of candidates to announce their intentions to run. Those candidates, who include attorney Daniel Padernacht and school teacher Eric Dinowitz, are now joined by retired NYPD detective Carlton Berkley, and Jessica Haller, executive director at People's Theatre Project Mino Lora, in the race for the north Bronx seat. Candidates Abigail Martin and Marcos Sierra, a district leader for the 80th Assembly District, will not be running in the special election, according to separate tweets they posted to Twitter on Tuesday. It's not clear if Berkley, and Lora will run for office. They did not immediately respond to inquiries from Gothamist.
Padernacht, a longtime member of Bronx Community Board 8 who unsuccessfully ran for state senate in 2010, said that if elected he intends to strengthen housing stability, educational support for children, and reduce food insecurity. A spokesperson confirmed Dinowitz, the son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, will run for the special election seat. He's already received the endorsement from the United Federation of Teachers union. Haller's platform is focused on the climate crisis, which she see as interconnected with housing, education, and transportation.
Candidates who win the respective seats will automatically fill the vacancies, though they will have to run again in the June primary, and once again in November if they win the primary. The winner of the special election will still retain their seat at the end of the year to fill out the term even if they don't win the primary.
Candidates running in the special election race will also be able to qualify for the city Campaign Finance Board's 8 to 1 matching funds program, where candidates must raise $5,000 and receive contributions from a minimum of 75 donors to be eligible.
"Eligible Bronx voters can participate with early voting, in-person voting, or by returning an absentee ballot, and I encourage everyone to make their voices heard in these special elections,” de Blasio said.