Democrats face off in election over values

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Religion is on the ballot in the 33rd State Senate District.

Manny Tavarez, who is challenging freshman state Sen. Gustavo Rivera in the Democratic primary on Thursday, Sept. 13, says the district needs a representative who shares the Christian values of its constituents, namely on gay marriage, abortion rights and religion’s role in politics.

The ideological battle is a rarity for the Bronx, one of the most Democratic counties in the nation, where primary candidates hardly ever disagree on any significant ideology. 

Mr. Tavarez, a 33-year-old baseball agent who worked for former District Leader Hector Ramirez, is pro-life, anti-gay marriage and thinks religion should play a role in politics.

“It’s time to have more elected officials that share Christian values,” he said in a recent interview.

He’s taking on a well-liked and well-respected first termer, but said he thinks he can win if he gets the churches out to vote.

Religion has not played a role in the short political career of Mr. Rivera, who said he was raised Catholic. 

A political science professor who worked for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and President Barack Obama’s campaign in Florida, Mr. Rivera is best known for beating then-indicted and now-convicted state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. in a primary in 2010. During that campaign, Mr. Rivera had the backing of most elected officials, which is also true this time around.

In his first term in office, Mr. Rivera had two pieces of legislation pass — a smoking ban near schools and a law that will allow charitable organizations post bail. He also created the Bronx CAN Health Initiative with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

On the issues that Mr. Tavarez has placed at the forefront of his campaign, Mr. Rivera could not disagree more.

Mr. Rivera is the founding member of the Bipartisan Pro-Choice Legislative Caucus in the Senate and was a vocal gay rights advocate who voted for same-sex marriage.

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