State Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: New York State Senate Media Services)
Bronx State Sen. Gustavo Rivera is no stranger to controversial campaigns, but his bid this year for a seventh term has been exceptionally so.
Rivera, a hero of New York’s progressive left known for his independence and outspokenness, recently survived a tough Democratic primary race by a narrow margin — just 506 votes. The particularly competitive and at times nasty primary was in part the result of a messy redistricting process, but also showed both the interest of many local political figures in ousting Rivera and the strength of his support among allies.
“There are people who know me and my work, certainly the districts I’ve represented for 11 years…but you have people who don’t know you and then the first thing they hear about you, it’s that you’ I’m just a crazy radical…it’s going to impact some people,” Rivera said of the nature of the campaign during his hard-fought primary victory in a significantly changed district, during a recent appearance on Gotham Gazette’s Max Politics podcast.
Now that he’s finished the primary, Rivera is almost certain to remain in the state Senate in January, when the new class of lawmakers are seated, given the district’s immense Democratic tilt.
In the August primary, Rivera, who has represented the 33rd district since 2011, defeated Miguelina Camilo by only about 4.6 percent of the vote. Camilo, backed by the Bronx Democratic Party and a number of prominent elected officials, found herself in the same district as Rivera after redrawing the West Bronx neighborhoods into much of what is now the 33rd District, areas where she had planned to run for the state senate in what she had thought would be part of a new 34th precinct, including her home, with no incumbent in the race.
But the primary has turned into one of the last battles between the ‘progressives’ on one side with Rivera and the ‘establishment’ on the other with Camilo, while also involving a number of other political rivalries. , some of ambition and others of politics.
“The newly drawn 33rd represents approximately 50% of the district I currently represent, so the one I have represented for over 11 years, including my district offices within it,” Rivera told podcast host Ben Max, editor of Gotham Gazette. “There are a few neighborhoods that have come back, namely Norwood, Tracy Towers and Scott Tower, the ones I represented very briefly in 2010 when I was first elected. I’ve been here long enough to survive two of these redrawing messes. And so between those two, it’s about 70% of a district that I’ve represented before. Rivera added that the southern part of his current district has been “cut”, but his constituency now includes Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil to the Yonkers line, parts of Allerton and more of Van Nest and Morris Park.
Rivera’s personal residence is no longer part of the neighborhood, he said, meaning he’ll have to give up his longtime rent-stabilized home next year. “I’m looking forward to continuing to represent this district and doing more work in Albany. But this part, I’m not looking forward to,” he said of the move.
The new 33rd state Senate district in the Bronx is 13% whiter and 11% less Hispanic than the current 33rd, according to Redistricting and You: New York from the CUNY mapping service, adding some wealthier areas of the northwest Bronx — communities that largely supported the more moderate Camilo in the primary.
Rivera said the new district doesn’t necessarily mean a change in her policy. A progressive, he supported policies such as the New York Health Act, a bill to create single-payer health care in New York City. As chairman of the Senate health committee since Democrats won a majority in the upper house of the Legislative Assembly in 2019, Rivera has sought to find a way forward on the controversial legislation.
“I don’t think my positions are radical. I don’t think fighting for universal health is a crazy, radical thing. I don’t think fighting for a fair housing policy is a crazy, radical thing. I don’t think fighting for full funding for public schools is a crazy thing,” Rivera said on the podcast, when asked if he should tone down some of his positions given his likely new voters. He pledged to continue working on the New York Health Act during the next session of the Legislative Assembly.
During the Democratic primary, Rivera’s campaign was endorsed by several prominent unions, including the New York State Nurses Association, New York City Central Labor Council, Transport Workers Union Local 100 and 1199 health care workers in the SEIU. He had the support of prominent elected officials, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, City Comptroller Brad Lander, several of his Senate colleagues, including Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Alessandra Biaggi and others. He also had the support of many progressive groups, including the Working Families Party.
In addition to the Bronx Democratic Party and its chairman, State Senator Jamaal Bailey, Camilo has been endorsed by several other prominent officials and unions, including Congressional Representatives Adriano Espaillat and Ritchie Torres, the Borough President of the Bronx. Bronx Vanessa Gibson, Bronx Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and others, as well as the Carpenters Union, District Council 37, which is the city’s largest municipal union, and 32BJ SEIU, the workers’ union in building.
Rivera won by the narrowest margin of his career as a state senator. While highlighting his victory, Rivera attributes his near loss to the “enormous amount of money and resources” spent on him, including promoting misinformation about his record.
Much of that speech centered on Rivera’s stance on BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanction movement from Israel, he said. For example, an Aug. 11 advertisement in Riverdale Press stated, “Gustavo Rivera supports anti-Semitic BDS agenda.” Rivera told the Gotham Gazette that this false claim was particularly perpetuated by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat who represents District 81 in the West Bronx and whom Rivera has feuded with for years.
“He took a community that Israel is an incredibly important and essential issue for many people who have direct ties to people in Israel, and then started saying that I support people who don’t want Israel to exist” , Rivera said of Dinowitz.
In 2014, Rivera voted against a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx that would have barred CUNY and SUNY campuses involved in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions from accessing state funding. Rivera argues that Dinowitz spread false information about that vote.
In JulyDinowitz told NY1 that Rivera “supports BDS,” a claim Rivera has refuted.
“Instead of qualifying what that vote was, he was saying over and over, ‘oh, he supports BDS’, which is not true. No. But I believe we shouldn’t criminalize it,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette.
Rivera believes Dinowitz targeted residents of the new 33rd Precinct who were not previously part of his constituency.
“The incredible amount of money that has been spent on lying…again and again and again, aided and abetted especially by Jeff Dinowitz…that’s the kind of thing that’s going to do when you have people who don’t know you,” Rivera said.
Rivera also faced opposition around his education policy, where he opposed the expansion of charter schools and focused on increasing state funding to public schools. traditions of the city and the state. Camilo and many of his supporters are more supportive of charter schools, which are privately run and mostly non-union, and raising the state’s cap on new charter schools in the hit city. . Rivera supports keeping the cap in place.
In the weeks leading up to the primary, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a pro-charter school super PAC funded by prominent conservative Wall Street figures who have often been involved in New York politics, would have spent more than $200,000 in efforts to overthrow Rivera and Robert Jackson, the state senator from the 31st district covering parts of Manhattan and the Bronx, who also criticized charter schools.
“As I have told parents and teachers who work for charter schools, if you are a charter school in my district, I definitely want you to succeed and I want the students in your class to succeed,” said said Rivera, noting that his priorities lie in traditional public schools, where the “overwhelming majority” of students in both his district and New York City as a whole receive their education.
A Bronx attorney, Camilo supports New York’s health care law, as well as increased funding for public education and civil rights advocacy for groups like immigrants and LGBTQ+ people.
“I want to be the first Dominican woman to represent the Bronx in the New York State Senate,” Camilo wrote in a tweet announcing her campaign to represent communities home to many Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, including in the heavily Latino neighborhood. .
According to Rivera, who is Puerto Rican, the state’s 33rd Senate District is home to the most Dominican residents of any state legislative seat in the country.
Rivera, who mentioned he had just traveled to the Dominican Republic on state business, said his ethnic identity and those of his opponents and fellow senators could only come into play in shaping policy and campaigns.
“There is definitely going to be a dynamic of different Latino groups. When it comes to Latino leaders, you know, there will be different dynamics that play out,” he said, noting that his supporters cut across demographic divides, in response to a question about whether there was something thing of a Dominican-Puerto Rican split in the first support given by Rep. Espaillat, who is Dominican, and others for Camilo.
As Rivera moves toward a near-guaranteed victory in the fall general election, he’s coming out of what Politico’s Bill Mahoney described as “the messier primary involving a Senate incumbent since Democrats won a majority in 2018.” On the podcast, Rivera repeatedly emphasized that he was enthusiastic and ready to serve all of his constituents, including working with the individuals and groups who supported his opponent.
“I would just like to point out to anyone hearing this who lives in the newly drawn 33rd who did not vote for me, I can’t wait to get to know you, I can’t wait to meet you, I have look forward to hearing your concerns. And again, whether you voted for me or not, I work for you and that has always been and always will be what my focus is on,” he said. job is to serve people. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. I look forward to continuing to do so, at least two more years.
[LISTEN to the full conversation: Max Politics Podcast: Senator Gustavo Rivera on Surviving a Major Primary Challenge]