The Year of the Woman was a popular label attached to 1992 after the election of a number of female Senators in the United States. It also has been thrown around a lot over the pass few years, with many women breaking the glass ceiling in local, county, state and national politics. In 2021, in the race for Bronx Borough President, two women, would like to be the one to continue that tradition. Nathalia Fernandez and Venessa Gibson are each vying to make history in the race for borough presidency in the Bronx. Fernandez is attempting to be the first Latina Bronx Borough President and Gibson is vying to make history as the first African-American to hold the position. But to get these women will have to face each other and two other opponents in the June 22nd Democratic Primary.
The race to become the 14th Bronx Borough President started out with five candidates who were hoping to restore gains made in the borough in the last decade under Ruben Diaz Jr., who first elected in April 2009 and reelected in 2013 and 2017. According to Economic Research while unemployment rate stood at 4% in December 2019, it has skyrocketed as high as 24% during the pandemic, leaving scores of Bronx residents jobless. Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who was the perceived front-runner in the race, announced he was withdrawing his name, in mid January, and then there were four. Council Member Fernando Cabrera, 56, – now leads with the most campaign donations at $155,000, with Salamanca Jr. no longer in the race, Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez, 32, – the youngest candidate in the race, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, 41, a term-limited Council Member for the 16th District, and community activist and retired NYPD lieutenant, Samuel “Sammy” Ravelo, 52 are the contenders who hope to lead the Bronx and make their borough a top priority for the city.
Until 1965 the position of Bronx Borough President was held by 7 white men. Louis F. Haffen was the first Bronx Borough President in 1854. He won a four-year term, followed by two (2) two-year terms, and another four-year term. John F. Murray, Cyrus C. Miller, Douglas Mathewson, Henry Bruckner, James J. Lyons, Joseph F. Periconi followed. Herman Badillo became the first Hispanic elected to run the Bronx. Badillo served one term and did not run for re-election. He ran for mayor instead and lost in the Democratic Primary. Robert Abrams (January 1, 1970–December 31, 1978), Stanley Simon (January 5, 1979–March 11, 1987), Fernando Ferrer (April 15, 1987 – December 31, 2001), Adolfo Carrión, Jr. (January 1, 2002–February 19, 2009), and Ruben Diaz, Jr. (May 21, 2009– current) followed. Up to this point, the position has never been held by a woman or an African-American, something Fernandez or Gibson hope to change if victorious in the June 22nd Democratic Primary.
Meet The Women Who Are Vying To Be The Next Bronx Borough President And Make History Doing It
Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez, who currently represents the 80th Assembly District that spans Morris Park, Allerton, and Norwood neighborhoods of the Bronx, since 2018. It’s a district whose voters lean Democrat but tend to be more socially conservative. At the age of 32, Fernandez is the youngest candidate in the race, who is Fernandez presented herself as the “bridge” between the old and new ways of politicking in her campaign for New York State Assembly. Since 2012, Fernandez has risen from campaign volunteer, office manager, and chief of staff for her then-boss, former Assembly Member turned Council Member Mark Gjonaj, whose district she now represents.
As a candidate, Fernandez supports revisions to the Area Median Income formula that helps guide rent prices in affordable housing residences, changing it to only include current incomes of Bronx residents and exclude those in wealthier Westchester and Rockland counties. Fernandez also supports a green jobs program that would employ Bronx residents to build environmentally-friendly infrastructure projects. Fernandez is also a proponent of police reform, and has advocated for a pilot program in which communities are given a chance to resolve their differences before the police are called.
Fernandez’s endorsements include the Latino Victory Fund; “Nathalia is running to serve her community because she has seen the impact that a dedicated Borough President can have on the Bronx. If elected, she will be the first Latina ever elected as Bronx Borough President and the first Latina ever elected to a borough-wide office!”
Other endorsements include Assembly Member Chantel Jackson (AD 79), Assembly Member Kenny Burgos (AD 85), Assembly Member Michael Blake (79AD), District Leader John Doyle – 82nd Assembly District Part B, and State Senator Julia Salazar.
Colleague and fellow Bronxite Assemblyman Michael Blake touted Assemblywoman Fernández’s borough-wide experience as the Bronx regional representative for the Governor and her work building a diverse coalition of Bronxites to fight for criminal justice reform, equal housing opportunity and increased protections for the most vulnerable.
“The COVID pandemic, coupled with rising economic inequity, health disparities, racial injustice and educational inequality, creates an urgent need to unify Bronx leadership if we hope to successfully recover and reimagine. We must elect a borough president with a vision focused on creating equity and justice, the experience to build racial and cultural bridges, and a concrete plan to achieve her goals. I firmly believe Nathalia Fernandez is that person,” Blake shared.
City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, 41, is vying to make history as the first African-American and first Woman Bronx Borough President. Gibson has proudly represents the Bronx’s 16th Council District includes Claremont Village, Concourse, Concourse Village, Crotona Park, Highbridge, Longwood, Melrose, Morris Heights, Morrisania, Mount Eden and University Heights in The Bronx, siunce 2014. Her platform is largely focused on implementing a jobs program for Bronx residents reeling from the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. Gibson has also touted her critical vote in approving the Jerome Avenue rezoning effort, which came after securing a legally binding community benefits agreement.
On her campaign website, Gibson is pushing to invest in the aging transit system, pushing for the creation of community schools that provide holistic services to students, and expanding the city’s Health Bucks initiative, which provides low-income New Yorkers with gift certificates for purchasing produce. Before declaring a run, Gibson touted her experience working on the state level as an Assembly Member to help steer greater resources to the Bronx. Gibson also believes in greater investments for youths, such as the Summer Youth Employment Program and re-entry programs intended to keep kids from getting caught up in a cycle of crime.
Gibson was endorsed by a number of faith leaders during a press conference on Wednesday, April 28, at Bronx Borough Hall. The group included Rev. Torrence Robinson of Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Zoleka Adams, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Elder Shelia Moses, Cathedral United Baptist Church, Rev. Edwrin Sutton, Caldwell AME Zion Church, Rev. Frederick Crawford, Union Grove Baptist Church, Rev. Jay Gooding, Miracle Revival Temple, Fellowship Tabernacle & president of the 49th Precinct Council, Min. Larae Shabaka, Bethesda Baptist Church, Rev. Torrence Robinson, Gethsemane Baptist, Bishop Shelvis Green, Greater Holy Tabernacle, Rev. James Duckett, Fort Mott Baptist Church, Rev. Lerone Crawford, Day Spring Baptist Church and Rev. Helen Wingate, Greater Faith Baptist Church.
The 1199 SEIU union of healthcare workers also announced their endorsement of Gibson, Thursday, April 22nd.
“Vanessa’s leadership has kept working people in their homes and young people in school and jobs. She’s stepped up to bring food, PPE and other resources to the Bronx during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gabby Seay, political director of the 200,000-strong union, said in a Thursday statement. “As borough president, she’ll keep addressing inequities and making the Bronx a better place to live and work for our healthcare heroes and every working family.”
The borough president proposes legislation, zoning changes, city-wide budget recommendations, and direction for land-use in the borough. Borough presidents appoint members to the New York City Planning Commission, and members to other local boards.
Fernandez and Gibson are each vying to make history, but they will have to face each other to do so. In addition to Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. and community activist and retired NYPD lieutenant Sammy Ravelo who also stand in their way in the June 22nd Democratic Primary.