|Written by Administrator|
|Friday, September 18, 2009|
For Rodriguez, third time's the charm in winning City Council race
by Daniel P. Bader
(See correction at end of article)
According to preliminary results of the Sep. 15 Democratic Primary, school teacher and neighborhood activist Ydanis Rodriguez is Northern Manhattan's newest City Council member, winning in his third bid to represent the district that includes the eastern side of Washington Heights and Inwood as well as Marble Hill in the Bronx.
About 200 friends, family and supporters packed St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church on Wadsworth Avenue near W. 179th Street to celebrate what became a landslide as Rodriguez captured 60 percent of the vote split between eight candidates.
Despite the jubilation, there was a note of sadness to the evening as the candidate didn't arrive until long after being declared the victor because he was with his father, Hidanis, who had been hospitalized because of a stroke.
During a speech that was conducted mostly in Spanish, and after overcoming technical difficulties, Rodriguez thanked his supporters, “everyone who believed in the [campaign], not just in 2009 but in 2001,” he said, referring to his first run for office.
Touchingly, he was joined on stage by his mother, Lidia, wife, Cristina Melendez, and daughter Yarisa and said that his father was proud of him.
“I’m the product of a family who cares a lot about honesty, dignity and transparency,” he said after his victory speech, summing up his campaign themes. “I learned that from my mother, father and community.”
Rodriguez, who helped create Gregorio Luperon High School, replaces the fallen Miguel Martinez, who resigned on July 14 and two days later pleaded guilty to three felony counts for stealing over $100,000 in taxpayer dollars. Because of the vacancy, Rodriguez is expected to take office Nov. 4, the day after the general election. There are no Republican challengers.
Rodriguez, who lost to Martinez in both 2001 and 2003, enjoyed the unified support of Northern Manhattan’s elected leaders as well as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat took a particularly prominent role campaigning by his side.
Espaillat introduced Rodriguez before his victory speech and the new City Council member pledged to support two of the Assembly member’s projects, Casa Duarte Cultural & Performing Arts Center and We Remain/Nos Quedamos, which focuses on housing issues.
The biggest election night surprise was the runner-up, the low-key and low-profile Richard Realmuto, an attorney whose largest local claim to fame was helping to make improvements to J. Hood Wright Park at Fort Washington Avenue and W. 175th Street.
Realmuto garnered 1,189 votes – almost as many as the remaining six candidates combined. That total was close to the number of signatures he got on his petitions to run, which he personally collected by knocking on doors.
Realmuto spent primary night at his home. He and his wife and treasurer Wendy invited his entire mailing list of supporters and ordered a six-foot sub to share.
“Apparently some of my message got through,” said Realmuto, though he was disappointed that he didn’t win. “I thought that the other candidates would have drawn off [Rodriguez’] strength,” he said. Before Martinez resigned, Realmuto expected the incumbent and Rodriguez to split their base of supporters, allowing him to finish even better than he did.
Realmuto believes that voters were energized by his idea of bringing more charter schools to the neighborhood and that many had become disenchanted with the recent Dominican leadership.
“I think they were embarrassed by their leaders,” he said.
The only non-Hispanic candidate in the race, Realmuto said during the campaign he had downplayed ethnicity and stuck to his message. He encouraged Rodriguez to adopt some of his platform.
“If the amount of votes I got is any indication, he should look at getting charter schools in the area,” Realmuto said.
In third place was Manny Velazquez, a dean at I.S. 52 in Inwood and chair of Community Board 12, whose grass roots campaign pulled in 9.9 percent of the vote.
Overmatched by the size of Rodriguez' operation, Velazquez, a first-time candidate, focused on mining his strength in Inwood and Marble Hill, at the expense of making deeper inroads with Washington Heights voters.
Gathered with his supporters at his Ninth Avenue headquarters on election night, Velazquez said, “There were a lot of emotions in this race,” adding, “Me siento orgulloso [I feel proud].”
The other five candidates included Ruben Dario Vargas, an evidence and property specialist at the NYPD (5.3%); Francesca Castellanos (3.4%); Cleofis Sarete, a school teacher (2.6%); Francisco Spies (2%); and Luis Facundo, an architect and urban planner (1.9%).
Last month the 44-year-old Marble Hill resident told the Manhattan Times that if elected two of his first priorities would be urging the Administration for Children’s Services to increase funding for additional daycare programs and drafting resolutions to recommend that the Rent Guidelines Board abstain from passing rent increases for rent-stabilized apartments.
Rodriguez also said the neighborhood needs to create a vocational school and that he hopes to use the union support he enjoyed during the campaign to help train students in “green” jobs.
In the 7th Council District representing the western side of Washington Heights and Inwood as well as Hamilton Heights and West Harlem, voters overwhelmingly re-elected City Council Member Robert Jackson for a third term Tuesday. He won with 65.3 percent of the vote followed by Manuel Lantigua (18.1%), Victor Bernace (11.1%), and Fred Masson (5.4%).
In the hyper local races for the 72nd Assembly District, Manny de Los Santos defeated Rafael Escaño 941 to 577 for male district leader, and seven judicial delegates (Manny Del Los Santos, Evelyn Linares, Mercedes Velasquez, Rolando Rodriguez, Martin Collins, Albania Lopez, Maria Garcia) and seven alternates (Elizabeth Batista, Theresa Stevens, Fernando Batista, Martha Pepin, Lesly Almanzar, Rafael Escano, Laura Acosta) were voted in.
With the official end of the City Council races still a few weeks away as the Board of Elections certifies the count, one of the more exciting local campaigns in recent memory comes to a close.
It began with City Council voting itself an additional term last year that threw into chaos the plans of would-be candidates who had to decide whether to oppose the incumbent Martinez.
Then before he resigned in July, Martinez' three-person vacancy committee handed the 5,000-plus voter signatures backing his re-election to Guillermo Linares, a former City Council member who was term limited out of office in 2001, the year Martinez was elected.
Just as Linares ramped up his operation the Rodriguez campaign succeeded in knocking him off the ballot by challenging the transition paperwork filed by Martinez's camp, which was erroneously filled out.
But despite these twists and turns that left political junkies breathless, the excitement was largely lost on the general public. Like rest of the city, voter turnout for the primary was low in Northern Manhattan with a total of 7,977 votes cast for the eight District 10 candidates.
That compares to 8,476 votes in 2005, 9,429 in 2003 and whopping 14,869 in 2001, which were all elections won by Martinez. In both 2001 and 2005, compelling races to be the Democrat’s choice for mayor helped drive traffic at the polls.
In Tuesday’s city and borough wide elections, as expected current Comptroller William Thompson trounced his opponent Tony Avella to head the Democratic ticket for mayor, and will face Michael Bloomberg in November’s general election. Neither of the other city wide races were settled because no candidate won at least 40 percent of the vote. Run offs are scheduled in two weeks between the top vote getters for comptroller, John Liu and David Yassky, and public advocate, Bill de Blasio and Mark Green. Cy Vance was elected to replace Robert Morgenthau as Manhattan district attorney. That could mean that Washington Heights will get a newly created satellite office of the district attorney, if Vance follows through on his campaign promise.
Preliminary results from Tuesday's Democratic Primary:
Ydanis Rodriguez 60% 4,785 votes
Richard Realmuto 14.9% 1,189 votes
Manny Velazquez 9.9% 788 votes
Ruben Dario Vargas 5.3% 421 votes
Francesca Castellanos 3.4% 271 votes
Cleofis Sarete 2.6% 206 votes
Francisco Spies 2.0% 162 votes
Luis Facundo 1.9% 155 votes
Robert Jackson 65.3% 6,215 votes
Manuel Lantigua 18.1% 1,724 votes
Victor Bernace 11.1% 1,057 votes
Fred Masson 5.4% 517 votes
An article last week about the Democratic Primary (“For Rodriguez, third time’s the charm in winning City Council race,” September 17, 2009) misidentified the duration of the new City Council term. It is four years, not two.
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.