Melissa Mark-Viverito addresses a constituent at Lounge 108 in East Harlem.
Melissa Mark-Viverito listens to a constituent at Lounge 108 in East Harlem during the primary election campaign results party.

Much bigger part of Mott Haven now in the district

Incumbent Melissa Mark-Viverito topped a crowded field in the Democratic Primary for City Council, despite competing in a new district that reduced the size of her East Harlem stronghold and added a substantial portion of Mott Haven.

She immediately staked a claim to succeeding Christine Quinn as Speaker of the City Council, the second most powerful political post in the city.

Mark-Viverito won twice as many votes as her nearest competitor, Mott Haven resident Ralina Cardona and more than Cardona and third-place finisher Ed Santos combined.

Although she noted in a statement celebrating her victory that the district lines were “politically engineered to split up and disenfranchise our neighborhoods and communities of interest,” in an election-night interview she said, “I have embraced my district and am working aggressively with the borough president to establish a strong partnership.”

Cardona, an ally of Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo and of Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who represents the district next door to Mark-Viverito’s in the City Council, had hoped to capitalize on the newly-drawn lines, which place about half the district voters in the Bronx. She is the Republican nominee, and will face Mark-Viverito again in November.

The key plank in Cardona’s platform called for tenants to run subsidized and public housing, saying they would end the cycle of disrepair that afflicts Housing Authority projects and would build economic growth.

Santos, who finished just behind Cardona, was seeking to become the first Filipino-American to hold city office. He, too, called for new affordable housing, and also said he would push the construction of new neighborhood schools.

Three more candidates trailed far behind.

Improving schools was high on the list of concerns expressed when voters left the polls, along with jobs and the way the police treat residents.

But many voters interviewed confessed that they were not familiar with many of the candidates, and said they pulled the lever next to a familiar name.

“Basically, I voted for the one I normally know as far as helping the communities, and the others I don’t know that much about,” said Mott Haven resident D. Jackson.

Gwen Goodwin, who finished last among the six candidates after a campaign in which she hurled accusations at Mark-Viverito, campaigned until the last minute, stationing herself and her husband outside East Side House Settlement on Alexander Avenue to shake hands and continue to criticize her opponent.  Most voters heading to the polls at the settlement house said they didn’t know who she was, but one, Henry Brown, said, “I like that she came up here.  Hope she can do something for the neighborhood.  Get money up here for healthcare and education.”

Francisco and Lourdes Allende said they supported Santos because he “shows his work and enthusiasm for the community, unlike others.”

After the polls closed, Cardona sat with family at a backyard barbecue behind her Alexander Avenue headquarters while watching the voting results on Bronx 12. She remained insistent that she was the candidate best equipped to represent the neighborhood, stressing that the concerns some have expressed that Mark-Viverito’s focus will remain centered on Manhattan are valid.

“The district came around me. It’s not like I moved into the district to run,” Cardona said.

She called the South Bronx the heart of the Puerto Rican community.

Jose Ortega, 55, said he voted for Cardona “because she’s from the Bronx and all the other candidates she’s running against is from Manhattan.”

His main concern, he said was: “The youth. They have no place to go to.”

In her victory message, Mark-Viverito singled out the voters in the new Mott Haven portion of her district, saying she would soon be bringing them into her effort to involve residents in deciding how city funds should be spent. Called “participatory budgeting,” the program allots part of the money Council members spend on local projects to proposals from constituents who hold meetings to refine their plans.

As the numbers were being tallied on Election Night, Mark-Viverito supporters were poised for a celebration.  One of her backers, William Gerena-Rochet, who has known Mark-Viverito for 10 years, said he was proud to support her because she was “a dedicated elected official and wants to leave a legacy of having integrity.”

Reporting by Natalie Abruzzo and Kate Pastor.

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