By MICHAEL HOROWITZ
José Padilla Jr., one of nine candidates seeking office in the District 15 City Council special election race, said he is someone who offers pragmatic solutions to problems, rather than ones that stress ideological approaches to issues. The special election takes place on Tuesday, March 23.
Speaking with the Norwood News by phone, Padilla said the district desperately needs someone who will focus on the community’s needs, rather than special interests. The candidate said that the district has been victimized by corrupt, elected officials in the past, citing as examples, former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson Jr., former Assemblywoman Gloria Davis, former State Sen. Efrain Gonzalez and former State Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. Norwood News and other outlets have reported previously on these stories.
Although he is a registered Democrat, Padilla ran as the Independence Party nominee for the 79th Assembly District in 2012 and in the 33rd State Senatorial race in 2014. He was defeated both times, in 2012 by Stevenson Jr., and in 2014 by State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who still holds his seat.
Padilla, who lives in the Belmont area of the Bronx, stressed that District 15 desperately needs a council member who will seek innovative approaches to fighting crime, and who will bring improvements to the overall quality of life for all constituents. As reported by Norwood News, it is true that gun violence and crime generally rose across the borough throughout 2020, and unacceptable levels of noise, particularly during periods of milder weather, have also long plagued The Bronx.
In District 15, in the 43rd precinct, year-to-date crimes are down compared to 2020, except for grand larceny auto, while in the last 28 days, rape, grand larceny auto and burglaries are up. In the 46th precinct, year-to date crimes overall are also down versus last year, but in the last 28 days, rapes are up by 50 precent. In the 47th precinct, year-to-date crime is down except for robbery and grand larceny auto which are up versus last year, and the same trends are true for crimes which occurred in the last 28 days.
In the 48th precinct, year-to-date crime is down, except for felony assault, grand larceny auto and burglaries which are up, and in the last 28 days, crime is also down, except for felony assault and grand larceny auto. Meanwhile, according to CouncilStat, an application used by many council district offices to enter and track constituent issues, the top issue logged in the system and affecting constituents in District 15 is assistance with tax preparation.
“There are no Democratic or Republican solutions to crime in our district, or elsewhere in our city,” said Padilla, a retired state corrections officer, and licensed private investigator. “The way things are now, police officers are reactive, rather than proactive. “We rarely see the police the way we used to,” he added, seeming to echo views on policing shared by fellow District 15 City Council candidate, Bernadette Ferrara and District 11 City Council candidate, Kevin Pazmino.
“That’s because the NYPD doesn’t seem to have the resources to prevent crimes from occurring,” Padilla said, a subtle reference, perhaps, to prior debates and budget renegotiations held last year amid calls to defund the NYPD. He added that in his estimation, it was not feasible, currently, to expect police to be on foot patrol and get to know people in neighborhoods.
Padilla said he’s offering voters safe and stable leadership that he said he is in a position to provide because of his background and life experiences. “As a graduate of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I know the theories on which effective crime-fighting is based, and as a law-enforcement professional, I know practical approaches to crime that are tried and tested.” he said. “These are the kinds of experiences that can be of tremendous benefit, as we struggle to fight crime in our communities.”
Turning to matters of the economy, Padilla said if elected as the District’s councilman, he would fight for small businesses and impoverished constituents who have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I like to say that in the 15th Councilmanic District, we have a struggling economic class,” Padilla said. “We have a struggling class of business owners, some of whom were struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic, and we also have poor constituents who are just struggling to survive altogether.”
The candidate added, “Under the circumstances, we can’t afford to have a corrupt council member, or a council member who will fight for special interests. We can’t afford to have a council member who will fight for constituents from only one racial or ethnic group.” He said the district needed someone who would fight for the interests of all its constituents and speak for the entire district.
In terms of education, Padilla said District 15 has been victimized by over-development in many areas, a lack of sufficient affordable housing, and overcrowding in its public schools. “We need the right kinds of housing in our neighborhoods – decent housing that the people in the area can afford,” he said. “We need a member of the Council who will fight for the interests of a struggling middle class that, in many cases, is teetering on the brink of poverty, who will find solutions to problems, whether they come from Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, or independent voters.”
Padilla added that students in the district had already been falling behind ever before the pandemic struck. “Now, the situation is much, much worse,” he said. “At this point, it is hard to quantify exactly how far behind students are. We are just returning to in-person learning, and we know that students in our district are falling further and further behind in terms of meeting acceptable state education standards.”
He said, in many cases, students, this year, will only be getting pass/fail grades, and that SATs have been eliminated as measurements of student performance. “You have to wonder what students who want to go on to higher education are going to do,” Padilla added.
Meanwhile, when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, the candidate said that District 15 constituents have been underserved, partly because seniors don’t make up the lion’s share of the district. “Vaccinations, to date, have been restricted largely to senior citizens,” Padilla said. “This means that our district, which has one of the city’s higher rates of COVID, has been underserved.” If elected, he vowed to ensure that the neighborhoods hardest hit by the virus, and the constituents most in need of the vaccine would receive it quickly.
Padilla also spoke about shelters for the homeless in District 15, saying it had more than its fair share of them because city officials tended to place what he called “crime-causing housing” in areas where “constituents complain the least.” Returning again to the topic of crime, the candidate said, “We need the police to help us fight against crime, but I will be the first one to complain when the police go too far,” he said. “As one example, I was one of the first ones to complain when the police went too far with the City’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy.”
In addition to Padilla, who is a former Democratic male district leader for the 79th Assembly District, and Ferrara, the president of the Van Next Neighborhood Alliance, according to the New York City Board of Elections and Ballotpedia, eight other candidates are running in the hotly contested District 15 race, all of whom are aiming to fill the seat of former Councilman and now Congressman, Ritchie Torres, who was elected to Congress in November 2020. The winner will fill the remainder of the former councilman’s term in office.
The other eight are Kenny Agosto, district director to New York State Senator Jamaal T. Bailey, Ischia Bravo, district manager of Community Board 7, Elisa Crespo, an education liaison for Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, Oswald Feliz, tenant lawyer and adjunct professor at Hostos Community College, Latchmi Gopal, a community organizer and former staffer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ariel A. Rivera-Diaz, a former finance clerk with the City’s Board of Elections and former official at the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, and Bronx Community Board 6 District Manager, John Sanchez.
Candidates were required to gather a minimum number of signatures from local residents in order to qualify for the ballot in the special election. As reported by the Norwood News, that minimum had been 450 signatures until Gov. Andrew Cuomo, announced on Jan. 7 that he was reducing the threshold to 315 signatures.
A Board of Elections public hearing was held on Feb. 4 to assess which District 15 candidates had collated the minimum number of signatures needed to proceed. Troy Blackwell, a former White House and Obama administration aide, and Lilithe L. Lozano, a former district chair of NYCHA’s Bronx North council, did not make the ballot according to the Board of Elections. Julian Sepulveda, an official at the Department of Education, had suspended his campaign in November, endorsing Crespo as he did so.
District 15, which has seen a major influx of immigrants from the Dominican Republic in recent years, straddles Fordham Road and encompasses the neighborhoods of Belmont, Tremont, Parkchester, West Farms, Williamsbridge and Fordham.
A District 15 candidate’s forum with six of the ten candidates in the District 15 special election race was held on Saturday, Feb. 13, hosted by Little Africa Bronx News, a “Social Impact Strategies” project, an intersection of community relations, issue advocacy and public policy. The forum can be viewed here. Mona Davids, founder and publisher, issued a Facebook statement following the event, explaining that only viable candidates had been invited to participate in the forum.
A District 15 debate among nine of the candidates was subsequently organized in partnership between the League of Women’s Voters of New York City and BronxNet with co-sponsors, Dominicanos USA, NALEO Educational Fund, The Bronx Times, The James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center, and The Riverdale Press. It was hosted by Gary Axelbank, and will be broadcast on Monday, March 15, at 9 p.m. on Optimum 67, Fios 2133, and can also be watched on BronxNet’s YouTube channel here. Soldevilla communicated to BronxNet that she was unable to make the debate.
A further candidates forum was organized by the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance on March 8. This can be viewed here.
The District 15 race is one of the first two elections in the Bronx which will incorporate the new method of RCV, the other being District 11. RCV is a voting method whereby voters can, but are not obliged to, rank up to five candidates in order of preference, instead of choosing just one, and irrespective of the number of candidates on the ballot. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, that candidate is the winner. If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, then counting will continue in rounds. At the end of each round, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated.
If a voter ranked the eliminated candidate first, then the next highest ranked candidate on the voter’s ballot will be taken into account in the next round of counting. The process continues as such until there are two candidates left. The candidate with the most votes wins.
Important dates relating to the March 23 special elections for District 15 [and District 11] are outlined below.
The Bronx Board of Elections confirmed that it is accepting applications for absentee ballots from voters in District 15 (and in District 11) who wish to vote by mail. Further information can be found here or by calling the Bronx Board of Elections at (718) 299-9017 and selecting Ext. 1875.
Polls are open on election day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Early Voting Period is from March 13, 2021 to March 21, 2021. Voters must vote at their assigned early voting site.
Early Voting Hours
|Saturday||March 13, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
|Sunday||March 14, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
|Monday||March 15, 2021||7:00 AM to 3:00 PM|
|Tuesday||March 16, 2021||12:00 PM to 8:00 PM|
|Wednesday||March 17, 2021||12:00 PM to 8:00 PM|
|Thursday||March 18, 2021||10:00 AM to 6:00 PM|
|Friday||March 19, 2021||7:00 AM to 3:00 PM|
|Saturday||March 20, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
|Sunday||March 21, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
For official information on ranked choice voting, go to the NYC Campaign Finance Board FAQ page or the New York City Board of Elections website.
The Bronx Democratic Party hosted an informational session on Ranked Choice Voting which can be viewed here in conjunction with the group, Rank the Vote NYC. Norwood News checked with the City’s Campaign Finance Board about the expertise of Rank the Vote NYC and were advised that the group is a reputable source on the topic and is a voter education campaign that is run by Common Cause NY.
Find your poll site and view a sample ballot here: https://findmypollsite.vote.nyc/.
Whoever wins the March 23 special, nonpartisan election will serve until Dec. 31, 2021. Future representation in the District beyond that point will likely be determined via a June 2021 primary and a November 2021 general election.
*Síle Moloney contributed to this story.