With month till primary, council campaign in full swing

Mino Lora is confident about June, while Dan Padernacht tries to rebuild

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A few voters here just made their choice for who should represent them on the city council. But now they’ll have to choose again. 

The June 22 Democratic primary is only a month away, and it’s there voters will decide whether Councilman Eric Dinowitz gets to keep the seat he literally just won for another two years, or if his time at City Hall will be a brief one.

Dinowitz won the March 23 special election triggered when Andrew Cohen was nominated — and ultimately was elected — to the Bronx Supreme Court bench last year. 

But the special election only guaranteed Dinowitz’s spot on the council through the end of this year, completing the final year on Cohen’s term. In order to keep his job, Dinowitz — a former teacher and son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — will face some stiff competition against five rivals, including three who ran against him in the special. 

Also, the primary could have a much different dynamic, especially if turnout is higher than the dismal 10 percent of voters who showed up at the polls in March. Turnout could get a boost since Democrats also will pick their candidates for mayor, comptroller and public advocate.

Perhaps Dinowitz’s foremost competitor is Spuyten Duyvil non-profit executive director Mino Lora, who finished second in the special. Although Lora didn’t win in March, she believes that race still helped get her name out there in the community.

“People know who I am, they are excited when I knock on the door,” Lora said. They’re “like, ‘I’ve seen your face,’ and (are) excited to have a conversation. So, that’s why we knew that participating in the special was so important. It puts us in a very strong place for now, continuing the story into June.”

Lora finished with 33 percent of the vote in the special election after all of the ranked-choice counting and elimination rounds were completed. Dinowitz captured 58 percent.

One big difference between the special and the primary, however, is Lora says she can now campaign in-person. The special took place mostly in the winter when coronavirus infection rates were high across the district, so most campaigning was either socially distanced or virtual.

However, as more people have been vaccinated over the past few months, knocking on doors and other kinds of in-person campaigning have become safer again. And Lora says she loves that physical greeting with voters, instead of seeing them through a computer screen.

“I much more prefer having interactions with neighbors across the district who’ve said, ‘You’re the first person who’s ever knocked on my door,’” Lora said. “People who have lived here for 50 years and 60 years — in Bedford Park, in Riverdale, in Spuyten Duyvil — I’ve gotten these statements and (they’re) very excited to have a conversation (with) me. So, it’s been really wonderful.”

All of this is paying off for Lora — literally. Her campaign has met its internal fundraising threshold, she said, and they’re still collecting donations. Lora expects to receive the full amount of public matching funds from the city by the June 7 financial disclosure deadline. 

Because of city campaign finance board rules, candidates who ran in the special weren’t allowed to transfer leftover money for the primary. Having to fundraise from scratch was a challenge for Kingsbridge Heights attorney Dan Padernacht — especially because he started off April sick.

“I’m literally like starting over,” he said. “It’s certainly a challenge that we’re making our way through.”

Padernacht said he had roughly $30,000 left over from the special election, where he finished fourth behind Dinowitz, Lora and Jessica Haller, who is not running in the primary. It’s money he hoped the Campaign Finance Board would let him use for the primary, although that’s quite unlikely.

While the other candidates had to start from zero, Riverdale social worker Abigail Martin is exactly where she wants to be with fundraising. According to her last financial disclosure in March, Martin already had $41,000 in the bank before getting a matching funds check from the city for more than $160,000. While the first financial filing deadline for the June primary is this week, Martin doesn’t expect voters will see too many surprises coming from her camp.

Martin’s flush war chest was all thanks to her decision to stay out of the special — allowing her to use all the money she raised over the past year just for June. 

“We’ve been focused on the primary from the get-go,” Martin said. “We were able to have a fully funded campaign. We were able to hit the ground running, and that’s what we’ve been doing since the special.” 

As the incumbent, Dinowitz is confident about where he stands in the race because he says his constituents can actually see him working for them in the council over the past month. It’s that work he says is a reflection of his values and what he’s running on.

“When I say I’m going to go to City Hall to fight for people with disabilities, it means that I joined the committee of mental health, disabilities and addiction,” Dinowitz said. “And it means that when I pass legislation — like the (plastic) straw ban — it takes into account the needs of people with disabilities.”

Dinowitz was referencing the exception made in the council’s recent ban on plastic straws in restaurants and bars, allowing people who specifically request a plastic straw to still get one.

Joining all of the candidates is Norwood political activist Marcos Sierra — who also sat out of the special — and Carlton Berkley, a retired New York Police Department detective.

After placing last in the special, Berkley said he’s still running in the primary, but not trying very hard. As a Wakefield resident, Berkley said he feels defeated because he doesn’t think Riverdale residents would vote for a candidate from the other side of the district.

“I’m not the type of person that’s going to give up, but I also know what time of day it is,” he said. “I could be campaigning the hardest out of everyone, it still doesn’t mean (I’d win). Because Riverdale is never going to go for somebody outside of Riverdale.”

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