The Assembly aide will replace Andy King, who was ousted from the Council in October, to represent District 12 in the Bronx.

Riley for the Bronx

Riley supporters in October. An aide to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Riley rode the backing of the Bronx Democratic organization and a large financial advantage to victory in a low-turnout race.

In the last contest of a tumultuous 2020 and the first in a series of races that will reshape the City Council next year, Kevin Riley appears to have easily won Tuesday’s special election for District 12 in the Bronx.

Unofficial results had Riley, an aide to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, with 65 percent of the vote to nonprofit executive Pamela Hamilton-Johnson’s 23 percent. Another 8 percent went to write-in candidates, while defense lawyer Neville Mitchell received 3 percent. It was unclear how many absentee or military ballots were outstanding in the race. 

The 6,243 votes tallied so far is about half as many ballots as were cast in the 2017 Democratic primary in the district, and comprise about 8 percent of the district’s active Democratic voters.

In a tweet on Tuesday night, Riley declared victory. “Thank you to my mother, my fiancé, my daughters, Elected Officials, Labor, volunteers and all of the 12th District’s community members,” he wrote. “My work is not done and rather is just beginning. Representing the community that raised me and made me the man I am today, is truly humbling.”

He added: “City Hall, get ready, because here we come!”

In an email to City Limits, Mitchell wrote, “The results of the election are in. Congratulations to Kevin C. Riley on a dignified victory and Pamela Hamilton-Johnson on a race well run; sister’s morals and conviction are above reproach. To the write-in candidates: Keep On!”

Hamilton-Johnson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The result fills the vacancy created in October when the Council expelled Andrew King on charges that he had harassed employees and misused funds. King came to power in 2012 after predecessor Larry Seabrook was convicted on federal corruption charges. District 12 covers the northeast corner of the Bronx, encompassing Woodlawn, Williamsbridge, Wakefield, Co-op City, Baychester and Eastchester.

The special election was the first of five Council contests to take place over the next few months. There will be a special election Feb. 2 to replace Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman, who departed in November for a job in the Cuomo administration, and another on Feb. 23 to fill the Council seat that Queens’ Donovan Richards is vacating to become borough president.

Two councilmembers who moved on to other jobs—Andrew Cohen to a judgeship and Ritchie Torres to Congress—will be replaced later in the winter. Special elections must be held within 80 days of a vacancy occurring.

While seven people raised money to contest the special election for King’s seat, only Riley, Hamilton-Johnson and Mitchell made the ballot. A few other candidates mounted write-in campaigns. Public matching funds injected a healthy amount of cash into the race: Riley augmented his $48,700 in private fundraising with $141,425 from the Campaign Finance Board, while Hamilton-Johnson leverage around $7,000 in donations to generate just under $49,000 in matching funds.

Tuesday’s election was likely the last special election in the city not to feature ranked-choice voting, which will be in place for special elections and primaries in 2021 and beyond.

Like the other special elections, the contest on Tuesday in District 12 only fills the seat through 2021. A June primary and November general election will determine who holds the seat for the next term, which runs from 2022 through 2025. The 2021 elections will substantially remake the Council, with many incumbents forced out by term limits.

In addition to serving as the Heastie’s director of community relations, Riley founded The Dad Gang, which he describes as a “nationwide organization aimed at changing the narrative on black fatherhood,” and has also started the initiatives Music Over Violence and Her Story Her Space.

As soon as he is sworn in, Riley will be the new kid on the block, but if he wins re-election in 2021 and 2025, he will be among the longest tenured City Councilmembers, along with Brooklyn’s Darma Diaz (elected in November) and Farrah Louis (who joined the Council last year). 

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