For the first time since 1978, a person outside the Foster family political dynasty will represent Bronx Council District 16: Vanessa Gibson, an Assembly member whose endorsements and fundraising had clearly made her the frontrunner in a crowded field.
Just 4,995 voters casted their vote in the 2009 primary in the district, which covers Highbridge, Melrose, Morrisania and other neighborhoods. Early results from NY1, covering fewer than half the precincts in the district, showed nearly 4,300 votes cast in yesterday’s primary—suggesting that when all ballots are tallied, turnout will be somewhat higher. Those early returns showed Gibson with a solid 40 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates.
Turnout also seemed modestly higher in district 11, covering Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Norwood, Woodlawn and parts of Wakefield. There, attorney Andrew Cohen—who had overwhelming institutional support and backing from the Jobs for New York PAC—looks to have secured a solid win over businessman Cliff Stanton in the race for the seat now held by the term-limited Oliver Koppell.
Elsewhere in the Bronx, incumbents survived with little drama. Council members Andrew King, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Annabel Palma prevailed over spirited opposition. Councilman James Vacca faced no opponent. In the other open-seat race in the borough, for the Fordham-Belmont seat held by the term-limited Joel Rivera, Vacca aide Ritchie Torres prevailed over five opponents with 36 percent of the vote according to early returns. Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., easily turned back a challenge from Mark Escoffery-Bey.
Interviews with poll workers echoed the early returns: turnout was up. At 8:15 p.m. almost 1,000 people had cast a vote at the Concourse Village polling station, one of 35 in the district.
“Usually primaries are slow but this is heavy,” said Joanne Belfast, election inspector at Walker Memorial Baptist, amid the voting. “Maybe it’s the candidates who are running.”
A diverse field of six candidates ran against Gibson: Bola Omotosho, a Nigerian community leader and doctor; Naaimat Muhammed, the muslim daughter of Ghanaian immigrants; Carlos Sierra, a Dominican immigrant who ran against Foster in 2009; Pedro Alvarez, a successful businessman and Dominican immigrant; Daryl Johnson, a housing-rights advocate; and Carlton Berkeley, a former NYPD officer.
“I’m proud to experience a moment where I will see Africans in the political front,” said Mamoud Sylla, a volunteer for Niaamat Muhammed on Primary Day. “I have the opportunity to vote for an African candidate.”
Gibson’s campaign manager Benny Catala had predicted that only 3,500 to 5,000 would vote from the district. Gibson said that regular voters were starting to feel disenfranchised from government because of scandals. Some voters—and non-voters—agreed. “I only voted for when it was that whole Obama thing,” said Dominique Mohammed, who said she did not vote in this year’s primary. “I can’t tell between the truth and the lies.”
Just down the hill from polling site Walker Memorial at the corner of Walton Avenue and East 169th Street, 20 volunteers from the campaigns of Carlos Sierra, Bola Omotosha, and Pedro Alvarez competed for the attention of passersby with speakerphones, posters, bright shirts and even a Shrek costume.
Problems and pluses
Research suggests that much of the increased voter turnout could be attributed to the diverse field of candidates, who each tapped into a different constituency within the district. The mayoral primary probably also helped: Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn made last-minute stops in the Bronx hunting for votes, and Bill Thompson had a solid get-out-the-vote effort there.
There was a last minute push for votes near Camaguey restaurant in Mott Haven, where City Limits has been focusing its “Five Borough Ballot” election reporting. People waving yellow “Latinos for de Blasio” signs rode on a flatbed truck blaring music and making its way on 138th street around 6 p.m.
In recent weeks, sings for Anthony Weiner and Adolfo Carrion have appeared on some storefronts in the area. Camaguey’s window boasted both candidates’ literature. Awilda Cordero, who said her boyfriend is an owner of the barbershop across the street from 445 east 138th (which not only had stickers but also a guy handing out flyers Tuesday), said and that she continued to volunteer for Weiner despite his second round of indiscretions and that she gotten a very positive reception in the area. That seemed to be true outside of the polling place, where people people who said that voted for Weiner affectionately referred to him as “Anthony.”
Primary Day in the Bronx also saw frequent reports of problems at the polls, from lever machines breaking down to voters being left of the list to confusion over changed voting sites. But other parts of the system seemed to work well, and to reflect the borough’s diversity, as at P.S. 102 in Parkchester, where translators said they had helped a dozen or so Bengali speakers and 25 Spanish speakers cast their votes.
-with reporting by Kiratiara Freelon, Kate Pastor and María Villaseñor