Alessandra Biaggi has a novel approach when it comes to elections: Just because she supports one candidate, doesn’t mean she opposes another.
Except the state senator’s approach shouldn’t be so novel.
If you’re a Democrat and are paying close attention to the presidential race, there are still a number of good candidates still standing that one could back. But does supporting Elizabeth Warren — as Biaggi does — mean she could never back Bernie Sanders? Or Joe Biden? Or Amy Klobuchar? Does supporting one candidate have to mean never supporting any others, even if many of their values align with your own?
That’s the question facing local Democrats as, next week, members of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club are set to decide whether to keep Michael Heller as its president, or install Morgan Evers in his place.
Heller has the backing of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who has been the not-so-behind-the-scenes guiding hand of the Ben Franklin Club for many years. Evans, however, has the endorsement not only of Alessandra Biaggi, but also state Sen. Gustavo Rivera — who, after informing Dinowitz he was backing a different slate for club leadership, barely held on to earn the Ben Franklin Club’s endorsement, despite not having any primary challengers.
Besides the timing, there was little to connect Rivera’s near-endorsement loss and his “confession” to Dinowitz. That is until Ben Franklin Club past president Bruce Feld openly questioned to the editor of this newspaper how Rivera could be so disloyal to a club that has endorsed him for nearly a decade for his senate seat.
Disloyal? In what way? Feld himself repeated multiple times at a Ben Franklin Club meeting last week that the upcoming elections were open, and that any member in good standing could run.
Sure, a nominating committee — stacked with employees, former employees and even children of Dinowitz — put together who it felt should lead the club, but in the end, if you pay your dues and fulfill your responsibilities as a member of the Ben Franklin Club, you have every right to ask the membership for their votes in allowing you to become part of its leadership.
That’s what Evers and her slate of candidates did. They are all members in good standing, as far as we can tell, and when the members of the Ben Franklin Club consider whom they should cast a ballot for, they simply want to be one of the choices.
The Ben Franklin Club is an organization whose primary goal is to get Democrats into office, and keep them there. Members are tasked to work on campaigns of endorsed candidates by writing letters, making phone calls, knocking on doors, collecting signatures on petitions — anything to ensure the candidates the club members want in office win on election day.
People like Evers believe the club is leaving some good volunteers behind. Joining the club is complicated (despite the only real requirement is being a registered Democrat), and anyone who strays from the narrow path laid out by leadership is tossed aside as an outcast.
These are similar to concerns voiced more than a decade ago at the county level. Jose Rivera ran the Bronx Democrats, and there were some like Ruben Diaz Jr., Carl Heastie and Michael Benjamin who had grown tired of Rivera closing down ranks, and only ensuring people who supported him worked in key positions or earned coveted nominations from the county committee.
“I think the Bronx is a borough that can thrive better if there is a diverse coalition of political leaders making things happen, and that means in all the districts,” said one of the rabble-rousers. “There are many people who feel closed out by the county organization.”
That “troublemaker,” by the way, was none other than Jeffrey Dinowitz on the eve of what would become known as the “Rainbow Revolution” in 2008.
But now Dinowitz appears to be on the other side. Locally, his son Eric Dinowitz is the male district leader, while his chief of staff Randi Martos is the female district leader.
A much different Rivera, one with the first name of Gustavo who also happens to be a state senator, had simply paid Dinowitz a courtesy to let him know he was backing a different leadership slate. Two days later, there were 36 people out of nowhere deciding it would be better for there to be no endorsed candidate for Rivera’s senate district than endorsing Rivera.
That’s significant, by the way, because club members would not be credited for work with candidates who have not been endorsed. Rivera would be left without the help of one of the Bronx’s largest political clubs.
The Rainbow Revolutionaries made it clear they didn’t want a war when it came to seeking control of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. But at the same time, Jose Rivera didn’t seem interested in simply putting it up to a fair vote and to let committee members decide.
The Grand Concourse’s Utopia Paradise Theater — which is now, interestingly, a church — ended up a battleground in that war, with two competing meetings, an accosted Riverdale Press reporter, and a mess so convoluted, the courts were needed to untangle it.
Who knows? If Rivera had simply campaigned to keep his job and ran a fair and transparent election, it wouldn’t have turned to that. And he might have found a way to win enough support to stave off the “revolution.”
Why can’t the Ben Franklin Club do the same thing? Just let people run for the jobs, be happy there’s enough interest that there’s actually a choice, and let the best candidate win?
As Biaggi said, if someone votes for Heller, that doesn’t mean they don’t like Evers. And the same is true the other way — just because someone votes for Evers, it doesn’t mean they don’t like Heller.
Because in the end, it’s not about the internal politics of who is president, who is vice president, and who is on the executive committee. It’s about fighting to ensure the candidates your club supports for a variety of elected offices are getting the votes they need, so they can represent everyone’s interests at the city level, the state level, and even at the federal level.
The Bronx doesn’t need another Rainbow Revolution so soon after the last one. But then again, that’s not what this is. Supporting democracy is supporting the will of the people, and the only way we learn the will of the people is at the ballot box through a fair and honest election.
Let the people — in this case, members of the Ben Franklin Club — decide.