The next round of the never-ending election cycle is finally here. On Sept. 12, the three Democrats running to represent the 14th District in city council finally face off in the citywide primary.
In New York City, Democratic primaries are almost always more important than general elections, simply because the sheer number of liberals versus Republicans almost makes the winner of a Democratic primary the victor by default in November.
But that case is especially true in the 14th this year where, according to the city’s campaign finance board, there are no active Republican participants in the race. That means whoever comes out on top in Tuesday’s primary —Randy Abreu, Felix Perdomo or incumbent councilman Fernando Cabrera — is the de facto winner of the seat even before the November election makes it official.
Cabrera knows how high the stakes are as he aims to secure a third and final four-year term in city council. That much is clear by the way he seems to have taken off the kid gloves when he discusses his challenger and staunch critic Randy Abreu.
The 28-year-old Abreu was born and raised in the Bronx before leaving for college and law school, eventually working as an Obama appointee in Washington for the energy department. Yet since his return home, Abreu has raised more than $64,500 to oppose Cabrera.
“The clearest difference between Fernando and myself are who we side with,” Abreu said. “He is friendly with the real estate lobby. He’ll side with corporate America. I’ll side with the people.”
But the incumbent disagrees. Cabrera has made it clear despite Abreu’s roots in the 14th District, he views him as an outsider who has not lived in the area for a decade. A limitation, he says, that keeps Abreu from seeing the improvements Cabrera has fostered while he has been in office.
“Our community has responded with overwhelming support to my re-election,” Cabrera said.
But the fierceness of their rivalry has grown over the course of the race, which came to a head in July when Abreu’s campaign began circulating an excerpt from one of Cabrera’s sermons at New Life Outreach International Church, where he is the pastor.
In the video, Cabrera seems to suggest the rich “face more pressure” in life than the poor.
“Do you know it’s harder being rich than being poor?” Cabrera said to a church congregation in a video obtained by Paste magazine. “Millionaire people, they have a lot of stuff to worry about, more stuff to manage. It’s really they got there because of their ability to handle more pressure.”
Despite Cabrera’s past remarks regarding liberal issues most people are fervently concerned about while speaking at or for his church — like a video that surfaced in 2014 that seemed to show Cabrera praise repressive laws against homosexuality and the LGBTQ community in Uganda — Abreu said it wasn’t until he saw that video from Paste that he decided to make Cabrera’s personal politics a talking point.
“How do you represent the poorest community, and tell them it is harder to be rich than to be poor?” Abreu said.
Cabrera not only has maintained the video was taken out of context, but he’s attacked Abreu’s circulation of the video as a “low blow,” one Cabrera says left him and many of his congregants “disturbed.”
The idea that he does not care for the poor is an outlandish one, Cabrera said, and one that he would not entertain.
“People sometimes, it’s sad, but sometimes they choke on their personal and political ambition,” Cabrera said. “My track record shows that I have helped those in the most economic and dire need. It’s sad that he would do that, and very shameful.”
But Abreu isn’t the only person in the race who has questioned the incumbent’s concern for his constituents. For Perdomo, an educator who decided to run for city council after seeing the economic hardships of his students, that much is clear when driving around the 14th District, or in its parks.
Take Grand Playground, for example, where Perdomo said he went to film a campaign ad in conditions that shocked even his film crew.
“I was driving around with someone who was helping me shoot a commercial,” he said. “He told me, ‘I can’t believe a place like this exists in the United States.’ If we were in a third world country, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Perdomo, who has the least political experience in the race and has raised the least amount of money, says he’s been counted out of contention since the beginning of the race. However, he still thinks he’ll shock Cabrera.
“We are killing the seed of new ideas,” Perdomo said. “Being a Democrat is about creating opportunities for change. We have to start fresh.”
Cabrera is confident he’ll walk away from Tuesday’s election with a win, saying he’s focused on ensuring the coming lawmaking session is successful for the 14th District.
“I want to come to come back because there is a lot more that I want to accomplish,” Cabrera said. “My focus right now is really to bring the district to a better place. I’m just going to follow the river wherever it takes me.”