Progressive Latina Leaders Succeed Conservative Councilmen in Bronx Power Shift
BY, The City
In an election that brought women 29 of the City Council’s 51 seats — the first-ever female majority — three Bronx Latinas are poised to transform what leadership in their districts looks like.
Pierina Sánchez, Amanda Farías and Marjorie Velázquez, all Democrats, ran for open seats in Nov. 2 contests after their male predecessors became term-limited or chose not to run again.
Each of the women identifies as a progressive — and each will replace a Council member with roots in the borough’s evangelical Christian or business communities: Council members Fernando Cabrera, Ruben Díaz Sr. and Mark Gjonaj. Cabrera was term-limited, while Díaz and Gjonaj chose not to run again.
The political climate change is already gusting through Bronx politics. This week, another Latina aspiring politician, Democrat Jessica Altagracia Woolford, announced a run against longtime Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-The Bronx).
“I think almost 30 years of anybody in elected office, it just doesn’t reflect the growth and the change that happens in the community,” Woolford, who is of Dominican descent, told THE CITY.
The former communications staffer for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she relishes “the chance to really show someone from Kingsbridge and to show kids from Kingsbridge that you can grow up and be a lawmaker.”
Reflecting The Bronx
Women are now set to hold five of The Bronx’s nine Council seats, up from two — four of them Latina. One of those current two Council members is term-limited Democrat Vanessa Gibson, who just elected to be the first woman to serve as Bronx borough president.
The new leadership more closely reflects the population of the Bronx, where nearly 53% of residents are women and more than half identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the latest census data.
“Latina representation of City Council members in The Bronx is really important, especially with the lack of Latino representation that we’re seeing in citywide or statewide office,” said Farías, 32, who was elected in the 18th Council District, representing Parkchester and Castle Hill.
She promised “a very different leadership style” for her constituents than the brand practiced by her predecessor, Díaz — a minister who courted evangelical voters and gained national notoriety for anti-gay comments that included a claim that the Council is “controlled by the homosexual community.”
Farías, who campaigned on issues of environmental and transit equity, promises to channel concerns from a broad range of constituents.
“I’m actually really excited about having a majority-women Council,” she said. “I think we bring a different type of intentionality to our policymaking. I think women are more in tune with being solution-oriented and at creating the steps to make sure things are successful.”
While the Board of Elections won’t certify the election until Nov. 30, after all absentee ballots are counted, Velázquez is the presumed winner in the 13th City Council District, leading in-person votes by 10 points in the borough’s closest race.
She is all but set to represent City Island and Throgs Neck — areas where Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa prevailed in many election districts despite losing citywide. Democrats represent 61% of registered voters in the district, lower than the city’s 68% average.
“This district has never seen a person like me before, and now to be representing them in this fashion is huge,” Velázquez told THE CITY. Her immediate predecessors were Gjonaj, a local businessman, and before him James Vacca, both centrist Democrats.
She challenged Gjonaj in 2017 in the Democratic primary and lost by just 400 votes. Velázquez ran in the general election that year as the candidate of the labor-aligned Working Families Party.
Her chance to finally win the seat came when Gjonaj decided not to run for reelection this year. She received endorsements from leading Bronx Democrats, including Rep. Ritchie Torres, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr.
Velázquez, 40, is a local Democratic Party district leader and longtime Bronx Community Board 10 member with a background in corporate finance and accounting. She previously worked on successful campaigns to elect Torres to City Council and Darcel Clark as Bronx district attorney.
She had reservations about running a second time, until an encounter through her mutual aid network in Throgs Neck with a woman experiencing hunger, she said, inspired her to join the race.
“I showed up, I brought her bag, and she was very grateful,” Velázquez said. “But then afterwards, she texted me and she was like, ‘You don’t know how much this means to me. This was the only food that me and my husband would have for the entire week. We had nothing to eat tonight.’”
She called the exchange her “turning point.”
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