A Million-Dollar Council Race, in the Bronx

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Jim Henderson

The view from City Island, a small but distinctive part of Council District 13.


Chances are, when you think of the Bronx, you do not picture many of the neighborhoods that comprise Council District 13, where one of the more interesting races in the northern borough will take place on Primary Day, September 12. Not only does the district include the Bronx’s seaport, City Island, and the seaside communities of Edgewater Park and Silver Beach, it also encompasses the suburban-style blocks of Morris Park and the affluence of Country Club.

Allerton, Ferry Point, Locust Point, Pelham Bay, Pelham Gardens, Pelham Parkway, Schuylerville, Spencer Estates, Throggs Neck, Van Nest, Waterbury LaSalle, Westchester Square and Zerega are also part of the sprawling district. Some of those neighborhoods do boast the tan-bricked, six-story apartment buildings that characterize the rest of the Bronx. And architecture isn’t the only feature that distinguishes the area. Bronx Community Board 10, which makes up most of the Council District, is 32 percent white and Community Board 11, which makes up the rest of the Council district, is 21 percent white. Overall, whites make up only 10 percent of the Bronx.

The area is changing, however. Community boards 10 and 11 saw their white population share fall by 17 and 15 points, respectively, over the first 15 years of the 21st Century. (That reflected the pattern borough wide. The white share of Bronx population fell by nearly one third from 2000 to 2015 and, over that time, only two of the 11 statistical areas in the borough saw an increase in whites’ presence — the most significant was in Highbridge, where the white population share leaped from 1.5 percent to a still puny 2.4 percent.)

The field in this year’s Democratic primary for City Council is less diverse than the district. The ballot includes three white males—Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, businessman and advocate Egidio Sementelli and political operative John Doyle—and one Latina, Marjorie Velazquez. The current occupant of the office, James Vacca, is term-limited out.

The race has generated more fundraising and more spending than any other Council race in the city so far, with more than $1 million raised and spent. Nearly three-quarters of the money is Gjonaj’s, who has spent $716,000, leaving him with just $28,000 on hand at last report—less than Doyle or Velazquez, even though they didn’t raise nearly as much in donations as Gjonaj did ($692,000) or loan their campaign $50,000, as Gjonaj did in mid-August. About a third of Gjonaj’s spending has been on campaign staff, consultants and lawyers.

As City Limits reported last month, Gjonaj’s opponents have raised questions about his campaign finances—how much of his money comes from out of state and the presence of donations from controversial landlords. That hasn’t stopped the Democratic state legislator from snatching up big endorsements: The Uniformed Fire Officers Association backed him last week. The question is why would someone with so much institutional support and the best name recognition in the race by far need to spend so much dough: Only mayoral candidates Michael Tolkin, Paul Massey, Bill De Blasio and Bo Dietl, along with Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., have spent more than Gjonaj this year.

Here are a few more numbers about the 13th:

Party affiliation

Democrat 49,911 62.92%
Republican 12,578 15.86%
Conservative 918 1.16%
Green 105 0.13%
Working Family 275 0.35%
Independence 2,151 2.71%
Women Equality 29 0.04%
Reform 1 0.00%
Other 21 0.03%
Blank 13,336 16.81%
Total 79,325

Election results
2013 General Election

James Vacca (DEMOCRATIC) 13,793 83.23%
William E. Britt (REPUBLICAN/CONSERVATIVE) 2,768 16.70%
Total Votes 16,572

2005 Primary Election (the last contested one)

James Vacca 3,559 38.47%
Stephen B Kaufman 2,443 26.41%
Joseph McManus 1,913 20.68%
Ismael Betancourt Jr. 861 9.31%
Egidio Sementilli 464 5.02%
Total Votes 9,251

Distant Donors
About $378,000 of the roughly $700,000 Mark Gjonaj has raised came from outside New York City, though that vast majority came from within New York State.


Here are the top 10 cities of origin for Gjonaj’s New York State donations from outside the city:

Yonkers $36,965
Scarsdale $13,225
Mahopac $12,400
Yorktown Heights $11,165
Eastchester $11,050
Bronxville $10,615
Greenwich $8,000
Armonk $7,458
New Rochelle $6,900
White Plains $6,790


3 thoughts on “A Million-Dollar Council Race, in the Bronx

  1. oretty detailed piece just on Gjonaj. I wonder why the other candidates weren’t listed even though they also have out of state donations? Hmmmmm.

    • Well, The focus on Gjonaj is on account of he’s raised a hell of a lot of more money and a tremendous amont of it has come from outside the city. Here’s the breakdown

      Mark Gjonaj
      Total donations: $695,303.40
      Out of city donations: $377,888.15
      Share of donations from outside of NYC: 54%

      Marjorie Velazquez
      Total donations: $115,648.89
      Out of city donations:$19,583.33
      Share of donations from outside of NYC: 17%

      John Doyle
      Total donations: $87,337.96
      Out of city donations: $11,052.31
      Share of donations from outside of NYC: 13%

      Egidio Sementilli
      Total donations: $11,390.00
      Out of city donations: $2,000.00
      Share of donations from outside of NYC: 18%

  2. Pingback: Despite His Million Dollar Campaign, Gjonaj’s City Council Race Is Worst Performing Race in City | Welcome2TheBronx™

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