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A Rift Among Bronx Democrats at Annual Dinner

 

A Rift Among Bronx Democrats at Annual Dinner

In many ways, Thursday night’s Bronx Democratic County dinner at the Marina Del Rey waterfront catering hall was typical. The powerful figures of Albany — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo — were there to honor the party chairman, Assemblyman Jose Rivera. Various aspirants for citywide office were there, too.

But the dinner was as notable for who didn’t attend as for who did — exposing a deep rift in the Bronx party.

Among those who declined to appear were State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. and his son, Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. Also absent were Assemblymen Carl Heastie and Michael Benjamin as well as City Councilwoman Helen Foster.

Many dissidents fault the leadership of the 72-year-old Mr. Rivera, explaining that they are upset he chose to endorse Maria Matos for a Civil Court judgeship, selecting her over their choice, Elizabeth Taylor. Another point of tension is Assemblyman Diaz’s plan to run for Bronx borough president next year — with his strongest competitor being Mr. Rivera’s son, City Councilman Joel Rivera.

That race is viewed as the one to watch in the Bronx next year (the two men have been friends since childhood). Both men are raising money, and though tensions appear to be growing, both are speaking only in general terms about the race. The younger Mr. Diaz also faces a re-election contest this year for his Assembly seat.

Mr. Rivera will almost surely have the support of the Democratic organization. But Mr. Diaz has proven himself over the years to be command a strong following of voters and political fans.

The dinner is widely considered one of the stations-of-the-cross events for Bronx officials –- and for those outside the Bronx who want the organization’s political support. Even some who in the past had distanced themselves from the organization (City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell and Larry B. Seabrook, for example) both attended on Thursday night.

Candidates for city comptroller — City Councilman David Weprin of Queens and Adolfo Carrion Jr., the Bronx borough president — were there. City Councilman John Liu was also there, although he has said little more about his political aspirations for citywide office. City Councilman Eric N. Gioia of Queens was there to gain support for his race for public advocate.

Although Mr. Diaz and his father stayed away from the dinner, they didn’t avoid Marina Del Rey. They managed to attend a reception saluting participants in the Dominican Parade, an event just down the hall from the Democratic dinner. (That reception drew all the political candidates as well as John Catsimatidis, the billionaire businessman who is considering running for mayor on the Republican line.)

The younger Mr. Diaz said that no particular significance should be attached to his decision not to attend the party dinner. He said that he wanted to be a part of the celebration of Dominican culture, “an important, vibrant and growing community in the Bronx.”

His father, the state senator, was slightly more pointed, however. “We have no business at all in there,” said the elder Mr. Diaz when asked why he was not attending the Democratic dinner in the adjacent ballroom. “We are here celebrating with the Dominican community. This is the place to be.”

Meanwhile, back at the Democratic event, many officials lamented the rift in the organization. “Whenever a leader has been around for some time there will always be people who are dissatisfied,” said State Senator Jeffrey Klein, who was honored at the dinner. “The strength of the Democratic Party in the Bronx is that we are a rainbow country and that we accept everyone who wants to work for this borough. Hopefully we will be one again.”

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