Adi Talwar

At least one shopkeeper in Norwood, part of the 80th Assembly district where one of two special elections in the Bronx will take place on April 24, is hedging his bets between the leading candidates.

This story is a product of the City Limits Accountability Reporting Initiative For Youth (CLARIFY), supported by the Pinkerton Foundation. Janiya Taylor, Rickie Quansah, Mame Diarra Niang and Wislady Corcino contributed reporting and research.

A special election on April 24 will determine who fills New York’s 11 vacant legislative seats, including two in the Bronx: one in the 32nd State Senate District and the other in the Assembly District 80, both of which have sat empty since their former lawmakers left to take posts in the New York City Council earlier this year.

Of the five people on the ballot in the two Bronx races, just three candidates have filed campaign finance disclosure reports with the State’s Board of Elections as of April 13, collectively raising more than $126,000, records show. The special election winners in each district will take office right away, then compete again in another election this fall.

Here’s an overview of who’s raising money to fill these two vacant Bronx seats, how much they’ve collected, and who their biggest donors are.

State Senate District 32

The 32nd senatorial district includes the neighborhoods of Morrisania, West Farms, Parkchester and Soundview. For years, it was represented by Ruben Diaz Sr., who vacated the post after being elected to the New York City Council last year.

Democrat Luis Sepulveda, currently a member of the Assembly representing the 87th district in the Bronx, is the front-runner in the race. He’s facing off against Republican educator Patrick Delices and Reform Party candidate Pamela Stewart-Martinez

As of 32 days before the election, Sepulveda’s state senate fundraising committee, Friends of Luis R. Sepulveda, received $61,305 in donations, state BOE records show. He had a total of $257,394.54 in his coffers, including a $200,000 loan the lawmaker received in July of 2017 from a Long Island orthodontist whom he identified as a close friend.

Sepulveda’s Top Donors 32 Days Before the Special Election

Donor’s Name Amount Donated Occupation/Industry
YOUNGIK YOON $6,050 Lawyer at Yoon & Hong
HYONG SON HONG $5,050 Lawyer at Yoon & Hong
VINCENT PACIFICO $3,500 Owner of Vista Food Exchange
EMPIRE DENTAL POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE $2,000 PAC of the New York State Dental Association
GREAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS PAC $2,000 PAC started by Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy Charter schools
NO BAD APPLES PAC $2,000 PAC started by State Sen. Liz Krueger
LAWPAC OF NEW YORK $1,500 PAC run by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association

Sepulveda — a lawyer himself — received a number of donations from fellow attorneys and legal groups. The candidate’s largest contributions came from Hyong Son Hong and Youngik Yoon, a pair of attorneys who run a law firm together in Elmhurst, Queens.

“I know Luis for many, many years, even before he become a politician,” Hong told City Limits.

While he lives in Queens, his law partner Yoon lives in Sepulveda’s Bronx district, and Hong said he’s seen how committed the assemblyman is to the needs of his continents.

“He’s very concerned about his community and the people,” he said. “He’s a very capable person that brings changes to a community, and I’ve seen it.”

LAWPAC, a political action committee run by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, also gave $1,500 to Sepulveda’s campaign (a spokesman for the group declined to comment on the contribution.)

“I’ve been a practicing attorney for 26 years now, so invariably you’re going to make friends,” Sepulveda said. “I also believe it’s because [of] some of the stuff that we stand for.”

The lawmaker says he expects to pull in an even heftier campaign haul by the time the special election is over, anticipating that he’ll have raised about $150,000 total by then.

“The only issue is that a lot of the contributors — the unions and all that — are spending more money on Shelley Mayer, and rightfully, because Shelley has a tougher race admittedly,” Sepulveda said, referring to Democratic Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, who’s running in the special election for a vacant State Senate seat in Westchester County that’s considered a swing district.

Sepulveda’s rival candidates, Delices and Stewart-Martinez, had no campaign finance reports published on the BOE’s database as of press time.

Stewart-Martinez told City Limits that fundraising for the special election was difficult since candidates had only a short amount of time to campaign — Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t officially announce the date for the election until the start of February. 

“Quite honestly my campaign is going to be running mainly on word of mouth, and constantly reaching out to the people and engaging people,” said Stewart-Martinez. “My campaign is more grassroots and more people-oriented.”

If elected, the mother of seven says she plans to tackle a number of issues, including correcting ongoing problems in NYCHA housing, rolling back mayoral control of schools and stronger enforcement against landlords who refuse to accept Section 8 housing vouchers from tenants, to name a few.

“All of these small little things add up to a better quality of life, and that’s what these elected officials should be focused on and not worried about campaign funding,” Stewart-Martinez said. “It should be: how much have I really listened to what the needs of my community are?”

Republican candidate Delices told City Limits he wants to “bring more resources to the people of the South Bronx,” including improving parks in the district, and opposing the city’s plan to build a new jail in Mott Haven.

He said he’s relying on his own funds to run for office, saying that many voters in his district have other financial priorities than donating to politics.

“I’m using my own money to run this campaign,” he said.

Assembly District 80

The 80th Assembly District includes the Bronx neighborhoods of Allerton, Morris Park, Pelham Gardens and parts of Norwood. It was previously represented by Mark Gjonaj, who left the Assembly after he was elected to represent City Council District 13.

One of two candidates vying to fill his place is Gjonaj’s former chief of staff, Nathalia Fernandez, who’s gotten a financial boost from donors associated with her former boss: Gjonaj’s brother and mother each donated $1,000 to her campaign.

Two companies connected to the Gjonaj family — Gjonaj Management LLC and Gio Gjo Realty LLC, which are run by members of Gjonaj’s extended family, according to the councilman — also donated a combined $3,000 to Fernandez, BOE records show.

“I do have a very large family,” said Gjonaj, who hailed Fernandez as being “completely in tune with the community, the needs of the community, the issues.”

“I encourage everyone to support her financially and as a volunteer,” the councilman said. “She’s well deserving of it.”

Fernandez’s fundraising committee, Fernandez for New York, has raised $51,750, and had $21,593.85 on hand 11 days before the election, disclosure reports show.

“Nathalia Fernandez is proud of the support she has received from family, friends, community leaders, and constituents from across the Bronx,” Fernandez’s campaign spokesman, Dylan Tragni, said in a statement. *

“She has enjoyed a spirited campaign thus far and looks forward to continuing her campaign to win the hearts and minds of voters.”

Fernandez’s Top Donors 11 Days Before the Special Election

Donor’s Name Amount Donated Occupation/Industry
2622 LLC $4,400 Affiliate of DJ Ambulette Service
WILLIAM FERNANDEZ $4,400 Principal at Genesis Realty Group
JAC ZADRIMA $4,400 Principal at Genesis Realty Group
DANIEL V. DURANTE $2,000 Employee of RY Management
1199 SEIU – NYS POLITICAL ACTION FUND $2,000 Healthcare Workers Union
ANDREW COHEN $1,000 New York City Council Member
GIO GJO REALTY LLC $1,000 Real Estate
PAUL GJONAJ $1,000 Mark Gjonaj’s brother
ROZA GJONAJ $1,000 Mark Gjonaj’s mother
METRO OPTICS EYEWEAR INC. $1,000 Optometrist
SPEAKER HEASTIE PAC $1,000 PAC founded by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

Fernandez is running against Republican candidate Gene DeFrancis, founder of the Allerton International Merchants Association. His campaign committee, Friends of DeFrancis, had raised a more modest sum — $7,554.47 in total — with $2,266.91 still in its coffers 11 days before the election.

“Big donors in our area…they’re going to go with the same horses,” DeFrancis said, saying the majority of his donations were small contributions from neighbors.

“That’s been the most humbling thing,” he said. “People that are struggling, to be candid and honest, are coming out of pocket and saying, ‘We believe in you.'”

DeFrancis’ Top Donors 11 Days Before the Special Election

Donor’s Name Amount Donated Occupation/Industry
BLERIM HAXHIA $1,000 Real Estate Salesperson at Exit Realty Group
JOSEPH THOMPSON $200 Director of the White Plains Road BID
JOHN PROVETTO $200 Community volunteer and head of COP-SHOT program

John Provetto, a retired MTA worker and community volunteer who organizes graffiti removal events, was among those to donate to DeFrancis despite the fact that he lives outside of the district the candidate is running for.

“He’s not really a politician, he’s more of a communtiy activist and that’s why I donated to him,” said Provetto, saying he’s worked with DeFrancis on a number of neighborhood cleanups. “When I saw how active he was in the community I thought he would be a great person for the job.”

The special election will take place on April 24. 

*This story was updated to include a statement from Nathalia Fernandez’s campaign. 

One thought on “Special Election By the Numbers: Who’s Funding the 2 Bronx Races

  1. DeFrancis has my vote purely because he has worked on neighborhood cleanups. Most Bronx politicians don’t understand the need to address the filth in the Bronx.

    Jimmy Vacca once came to my door seeking my vote and when I asked what he would do to clean up the neighborhood he said that was not for politicians. As we talked his aide put our several cigarettes and was going to leave the butts on my stoop. I pointed that out with the comment that Vacca clearly did not understand the problem with filth and litter in the Bronx, and asked the aide to start the cleanup by removing his butts from my stoop.

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