By Caroline Linton
The Bronx Borough President’s race is all about the numbers: 21; two; $200; $270,00; three and 149.
Twenty-one is April 21, the date of the special election to replace Adolfo Carrión, Jr., now a member of the Obama administration.
Two is the number of candidates in what was once expected to be a crowded , competitive contest, but has turned out to be a one-sided match between Democratic Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Republican Anthony Ribustello, a Board of Elections employee.
Two hundred is the mere $200 the Ribustello campaign had in its warchest, while $270,00 is the amount Diaz has raised.
Three is Third Avenue in Mott Haven, which Diaz singles out as a model for the rest of the neighborhood’s development.
And 149 is the Mott Haven connection: “I went to Clark Junior High School 149,” Diaz said. “Mott Haven has bounced back well. I think Mott Haven is going to be in pretty good shape.”
Diaz, a 13-year veteran of the New York State Assembly, and Ribustello, who is also know for his role as Dante Greco on “The Sopranos,” each spoke separately in interviews with the Mott Haven Herald.
Both said improved schools are a top priority for the incoming Bronx Borough President. As a member of the Assembly’s education committee, Diaz said he understands how important education funding is, and he said he will use more of the money at his disposal for education projects.
Diaz’s emphasis on schools would mark a policy change from Carrión, who in this year’s budget had $50 million at his disposal and used half of it for housing initiatives.
“Affordable housing is important, and we will continue to do that, but we are also going to look into the school system,” Diaz said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t advocate for the city and state to do what they need for Bronx schools,” he added.
Both Diaz and Ribustello said they wanted to increase the number of computers in schools, and to continue funding what they called the little things that can make a big difference. Diaz cited projects such as rehabilitating the auditorium at Junior High School 123 in Soundview and the cinematography lab at Fanny Lou Hamer High School in Morrisania as the sorts of projects he would like to fund in the future.
Another top priority, Diaz said, is to put more money into community centers, so they can become job opportunity centers.
“We are going to teach folks how to prepare themselves and how to be job ready,” he said. “We’re going to work with elected officials at all levels of government and where we can partner up, we will.”
Diaz said he also wants to encourage environmentally-sound development, especially in Mott Haven, which has been slated by city planners for new high-rise apartments buildings and business development.
“I want to make sure the money that we use, when we speak to developers, is used so that they want to have green buildings,” Diaz said.
As a veteran member of the Assembly and the son of State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., Diaz said his legislative experience would be valuable for the Borough President’s office, since he has built up relationships with elected officials in Albany, including Gov. David Paterson.
Diaz announced his candidacy on the steps of Borough hall, only a few months after a bitter fight within the Democratic Party ousted longtime leader José Rivera.
Diaz played an important role in the coalition that toppled Rivera and replaced him at the helm of the Bronx Democratic Party with Assemblyman Carl Heastie. One of the consequences of the coup was to weaken Rivera’s son, Councilman Joel Rivera, who had been gearing-up to run for borough president, but chose instead to sit the race out.
In the Bronx, electoral contests between Democrats, rather than between a Democrat and a Republican, are decisive. With no Democratic opponents in this race, Diaz is all but guaranteed the seat at the April 21 special election.
Ribustello, the Republican standard-bearer, has so few resources he did not have a campaign photo to provide. Nevertheless, he said, “I had to take a leave from my job at the Board of Elections. I was willing to do that, I didn’t care, because I believe wholeheartedly in the two-party system.”
He said fostering the artists’ community in Mott Haven—long a pet project of Carrión’s—is also an important cause for him.
“I am an artist myself,” he said. “I believe the community of artists is one of the most compassionate communities.”
Ribustello said that while he is not familiar with the specifics of the Lower Concourse rezoning proposal, he supports making the area more aesthetically pleasing. He said one his hopes for the Bronx would be to have “Westchester-type” town squares in every neighborhood.
“I believe in the Bronx,” he said. “I love the Bronx, I believe the Bronx is a great place.”
A confident Diaz, meanwhile, said he plans to run again in November for the regular four-year term. He said he wants to guide the area through the difficult times ahead.
“Bronxites are resilient; we know how to make a dollar out of 15 cents,” he said. “This was the borough where the crack epidemic was often highlighted; this was the borough that was often stepped on in the past. We’ve had dark clouds over our heads before, and look where we are now.”