Bronx special election could establish new political dynasty
Of the five candidates vying for victory in the Bronx 11th District special election this month, Eric Dinowitz has the most to gain.
For Dinowitz, one of the top contenders, his prospect of winning the seat is bolstered by recognition of the local name – his father, Jeff Dinowitz, is a member of the Assembly’s 81st District Assembly. Elder Dinowitz has represented the 81st for over 20 years and remains active in the local Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, where Eric is a de facto member given his own post as Chief of the 81st District Assembly. The two already wield considerable influence in the Riverdale neighborhood, which is home to their political base.
If young Dinowitz wins, he and his father will establish a new political dynasty in a district where the era of political families has eroded. Such a result has raised questions as to whether father and son can legislate independently of each other since the district Eric seeks to represent largely overlaps that of his father.
READ MORE: Special election for Bronx 11th and 15th Council seats
“I’m afraid they might think the same,” said Jessica Haller, another challenger in the race who has been outspoken about political families. “Jeff and Eric are ideologically almost identical, live close to each other, are engaged with each other almost all the time. And I’m very scared of the script.”
The heyday of Bronx political families faded over the years, where the clans had carved out a slice of the pie. Those golden years began in the late 1990s when the current Borough President of the Bronx, Ruben Diaz Jr., was sworn in as a member of the Assembly. His father, the controversial council member Ruben Diaz Sr., eventually joined him in public service, as a state senator before being elected to the council. Both lawmakers have announced they will step down from politics this year.
Prior to the Diaz dynasty, disgraced former State Senator Pedro Espada Sr. brought his son, former Assembly Member Pedro G. Espada, into politics in 1996. The formation of these political families took place continued in the 2000s with former Representative Jose Serrano inspiring his son, State Senator Jose M. Serrano, to successfully run for office. While the oldest retired from politics last year, the son remains in office. Other Bronx political families included Assembly member Carmen Arroyo and her daughter Maria, who served on the council, and the Rivera family, made up of current Assembly member Jose Rivera and his children, former Council Member Joel Rivera and former Assembly Member Naomi Rivera.
The elder Rivera, who served as chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party, is arguably the biggest reason political families have gained a bad reputation in the Bronx, with accusations he treated the county party like a mill. nepotism, while turning the party leaders in pulling the political levers so that his son Joel is the majority leader of the Council.
Michael Benjamin, former member of the Bronx Assembly and member of the editorial board of the New York Post, testified to the reign of these political families, which had angered the younger members of the party. Joel and Naomi are no longer in office, the latter leaving in disgrace.
“They worked hard for the party for years,” Benjamin said of party supporters. “And now to see these kids coming up, who hadn’t worked in the trenches, it annoyed them.”
Bob Kappstatter, a former editor of the Bronx Bureau of the Daily News, found this to be common practice. Much of this was driven by the party’s long-established rule of supporting the wishes of incumbents. Kappstatter is now a political consultant for Daniel Padernacht, another challenger in the race.
“With incumbents leading their children with party support and the endorsements that support brings, other aspiring candidates are discouraged from throwing their hats in the ring,” Kappstatter said. “Tell me which party is going to deny one of its incumbents to support even a poorly qualified son or daughter for an open seat?” “