Unless something changes between now and 2021, the city council race to replace Andrew Cohen could be the longest in city history, maybe even among the longest in American history.
Dan Padernacht — a third generation resident of Shalom Aleichem Houses off Sedgwick Avenue and a local real estate attorney — first entered the council race in July 2018. He was soon followed by schoolteacher Eric Dinowitz, son of longtime Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.
It was an open secret at that point that the Bronx Democratic politi-cal machine was going to hand judge’s robes to Cohen, opening his seat to a special election.
But then Alessandra Biaggi happened. The young lawyer with a strong political pedigree upended state senate mainstay Jeffrey Klein, leaving the Democratic rebel out
in the cold.
When rumors surfaced that Klein could end up on the bench alongside Cohen, the public backlash was so fierce that not only was Klein not offered a chance to be a judge, but neither was Cohen.
That has left Dinowitz and Padernacht in a sort of political purgatory. Both are still running — as well as political newcomer Dionel Then — but there isn’t much to do over the next 18 months.
Except, of course, to allow their campaign battle to spill over into their work with Community Board 8. There, Dinowitz is following the election path of Andrew Cohen as chair of CB8’s aging committee. Padernacht, who chaired all of CB8 before Rosemary Ginty, leads the attention-grabbing traffic and transportation committee.
And when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided in October it would make significant cuts to express bus service connecting the Bronx with Manhattan, it seemed Padernacht’s traffic and transportation committee would really take the spotlight as 2019 drew to a close.
Except Dinowitz wasn’t ready to concede. On Nov. 8, his campaign issued a news release blasting the express bus service cuts, saying it will severely hurt senior citizens, who depend on the bus to get into Manhattan for doctor’s appointments and shopping.
Less than a week later, he popped on his CB8 chairman’s hat, and was pushing for his aging committee to pass a resolution more or less concurring with his campaign statement.
Dinowitz did all of this despite announcements the MTA would visit Padernacht’s traffic and transportation committee in December, with the hopes of convincing the transit authority to soften its changes to express buses.
Dinowitz described his actions as simply doing his job. Padernacht, however, fears Dinowitz is blurring the lines between his CB8 responsibilities and his campaign.
“For me, I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m both a city council candidate and chair of the traffic and transportation committee,” Padernacht said. “And I do my best to separate the two.”
For example, Padernacht says he has very strong opinions about the proposed bus route changes in the Bronx, and has expressed them at various CB8 meetings. But as far as his campaign is concerned, he’s been silent.
“The community board and my role in the community board will go first,” Padernacht said. “After the community board chooses to take a position, or chooses not to take a position, I will then make a statement as a candidate, sharing my thoughts.”
The express bus service cuts are so explosive, however, the issue goes beyond city council races, community boards, or anything like that, Dinowitz said.
“This is an issue that is very important to everyone in our community, particularly seniors,” Dinowitz said. “This is an issue that everyone is speaking up about.
“I am very cognizant and aware of my role in the community and as a city council candidate, and there is nothing in my press release that references a resolution by the aging committee.”
And it’s no surprise an issue this big would touch more than one committee, Dinowitz added.
It happens a lot, and when it does, different committees might take that issue up.
One example is the proposal the city’s transportation department made last fall to add a dedicated bus lane to the southbound side of Broadway through Marble Hill. While streets and roads lie within the purview of Padernacht’s traffic and transportation committee, such a lane could impact parking, which could cause surrounding businesses to suffer.
That particular proposal did get the attention of economic development committee chair Sergio Villaverde. Yet, Villaverde didn’t go off on his own to address the issue before traffic and transportation, Padernacht said. Instead, Villaverde met with many of the business owners, and then attended Padernacht’s committee to express those views as chair of economic development.
“Committee chairs have to work together,” Padernacht said. “They all have a common goal of representing the community, and so we’re aware of what each other are doing before anyone, and we try to get on the same page in advance.”
Dinowitz did not reach out to him ahead of time, Padernacht said. In fact, the first time he saw Dinowitz’s resolution was during his aging committee meeting in November, which Padernacht also happens to be a member of.
“People on the committee were very excited that we passed a resolution. It’s not something we do often,” Dinowitz said. “This issue is something that speaks to the needs of seniors. It’s going to disproportionately affect a vulnerable population.”
Padernacht aired his concerns about Dinowitz’s seemingly unorthodox approach to dealing with the issue during last week’s CB8 executive committee meeting attended by other committee chairs. While there was concern about competing positions coming from such approaches, the general consensus of the committee was to support Dinowitz’s approach.
Padernacht is still set to welcome MTA officials to his 7 p.m., committee meeting Dec. 19 at The Riverdale Y. And even with a lack of rebuke from his peers, Padernacht says he hopes Dinowitz will find ways to grow into his position on the community board, while leaving politics at the door.
“This is a learning experience for a newer chair,” Padernacht said of Dinowitz. “Being successful at this is all about extending cooperation and courtesy, and being fair. Not just to us, but to the MTA. We’re not always going to agree with the MTA, but we have to work with them. We have to be fair.
“Otherwise, these agencies are not going to be so forthcoming to work with us on everyday issues that we have.”