Ruben Diaz Sr. and Ruben Diaz Jr. pose before Ruben Diaz Sr. receives COVID-19 vaccine at Doctor Medical Urgent Care. – New York, NY – February 23, 2021 (Shutterstock)
By Daniel Parra, City Limits
The race for the 18th City Council District seat, which covers Soundview, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point and Harding Park neighborhoods in the Bronx, has a little bit of everything: familiar faces and newcomers, a significant amount of cash — with more than $800,000 in contributions — and eight Democratic candidates to choose from.
The eight Democratic candidates are Michael Beltzer, Amanda Farías, Darlene Jackson, Eliú Lara, William Moore, Mohammed Mujumder, Mirza Rashid, and William Rivera. Lara and Mujumder have donated to past campaigns by the outgoing incumbent, Ruben Díaz Sr., who has represented the Bronx in the City Council and state legislature for nearly two decades. Rivera has donated previously to Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr., the current councilman’s son, who has served as beep since 2009 and ran for mayor before dropping out of the race in August.
Both Díaz Sr. and Díaz Jr. have said they are retiring from politics after their current terms end later this year.
Familiar faces and newcomers
Of the candidates running in the June primary, five have run before for local state or city posts in previous election cycles.
In 2017 for example, Beltzer, Farías and Moore competed to be the Democratic candidate for the 18th District but that year Ruben Díaz Sr. swept the race that year, with 42 percent of the vote during the primaries, and 78 percent of the vote in the general election. Beltzer competed in the primary election and then in the general election as a candidate for the liberal party and both times he obtained almost exactly the same results: 1,282 votes and 1,292 votes respectively.
Another candidate who competed in both elections that year was Moore, who in the primary got 842 votes and in the general election ran for the Reform Party but only received 685 votes.
The only candidate who was positioned as a possible contender in 2017 was Farías, who placed second in the primaries taking 20.88 percent of votes.
Other candidates who have run for past elections are Mujumder and Rashid. In 2020 Mujumder ran to be the leader of the Bronx’s Assembly District 87—portions of which overlap with Council District 18—but did not make the ballot.
Rashid has served as Judicial Delegate in the 87th Assembly and has worked as a real estate consultant for companies such as Land Quest Realty in the Bronx and Century 21 Future Homes Realty.
Among those running for office for the first time are Jackson, Lara, and Rivera.
Jackson is a local organizer who has worked for the early childhood education organization SCO Family of Services, the civil rights organization Just Leadership USA and is a member of Bronx Community Board 9, where also Mujumder is first vice-chair and Rivera currently serves as the board’s district manager.
Lara is from the Dominican Republic, has worked as a teacher for the city’s education department, is a representative of the United Federation of Teachers (the union that represents most of the city’s public school teachers), and a Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church pastor in Yonkers.
Lara, Rashid, and Rivera — the candidate with the most resources — do not offer details in their platforms about their ideas or plans for the Council, nor did they provide details to City Limits.
Rivera has raised the most money with $60,379, and his major contributors include those from the real estate, transportation, and construction industries. Top donors include Hasan Biberaj, a tycoon who has emerged from New York’s Albanian community and a real estate investor who owns several apartment buildings in the Bronx; John Kalafatis, CEO of Andromeda Advantage; Lieblich Gerald, corporate broker; Jeff Olson, CEO of Urban Edge Properties and Mark Tabak CEO of MultiPlan, Inc. All in all, Rivera — who has long-standing relationships with both Diaz Sr. and Jr. — is the candidate with the highest number of large contributions.
As of May 19, the Farías campaign reports to City Limits that it had raised $60,594, putting her a few dollars ahead of Rivera’s last report. As of May 20, Mujumder reported to City Limits as having raised $40,000, slightly more than the $38,737 listed in New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB) records.
Beltzer, Jackson, Lara, and Rashid have each raised less than $20,000, and Moore is not part of the city’s public matching program. Beltzer reports to City Limits raising $12,000 (NYCCFB shows $9,301), Lara has $16,112, Jackson reports $11,227, and Rashid $9,930.
As contributors to past campaigns, Mujumder has been the most generous donor (having given over $3,043 to Ruben Diaz Jr. in 2009, and over $1,000 to Ruben Diaz Sr. in 2017), the most consistent (as he has donated since 2009), and motley, since he has contributed to the campaigns of competitors like Rivera and Jackson. Mujumder has also appeared at public events alongside Diaz Sr. since 2013.
In this election cycle, Rivera also has donated to other candidates such as Jackson and Mujumder, and in turn, Jackson has also donated to both Rivera and Mujumder. Lara has also donated to Rivera’s campaign.
Mujumder is from Bangladesh, where he studied undergraduate and graduate law and in the late 1980s traveled to the United States. In 2006 he received a Master’s degree in law from Touro Law School in New York.
In New York City he has worked as a court interpreter in the 1990s and as a caseworker for the city’s Human Resources Administration. He is the president of the Bangladeshi-American Community Council (BACC) and is the managing director of Parkchester Tax Immigration and Legal Services.
Mujumder’s proposals include preserving the New York Housing Authority (NYCHA), advocating for lower property taxes as well as eliminating taxes for people over 65 who do not receive a pension. With the discretionary funds the city allocates to councilmembers, he plans to create a welcome/community center in the district to provide information on government resources and programs available to both immigrants and citizens.
Farías is Afro-Latino of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, and grew up in Soundview. She worked in the City Council for several years and is a co-founder of the political organization Women of Color for Progress. She proposes a two-pronged approach to representing the district: one at the hyper-local level, and the other at the city-centered level.
In the district, she proposes to eliminate the two-fare transit zones (where an additional $2.75 per transfer is paid to go from the subway to the bus or vice versa) and to include access to other transportation options such as ferry transfers for a more integrated transit system.
Farías also proposes providing more support for community re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated individuals. To defend NYCHA citywide, Farías would want to create new targeted funding streams and curb privatization efforts. In public education, Farías is betting on approaches such as “community schooling,” where schools are centers of the community and address needs such as primary health, mental health, and dental care for students.
In addition, she plans to use resources from the Police Department’s budget to reinvest in community programs. On this point, she agrees with Jackson, who proposes a divestment from excessive policing and a reinvestment in preventive services to address the root causes of inequality.
As has been proposed by candidates running in other City Council races, Jackson wants to change the way the city calculates the Area Median Income (AMI) on which affordable housing rents are based and make them more expensive.
In education, Jackson would like to expand the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) so that it becomes “an opportunity to create revenue and jobs for our youth to work in the community,” she told City Limits in an email. On this, she agrees with Beltzer, who believes the SYEP program should be available year-round.
Beltzer is a founder of the Southeast Bronx Community Council, has been part of the restoration of the Soundview Senior Center, has worked for State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, and has been a financial analyst for the New York City Comptroller’s Office.
He advocates for “raising the minimum wage to $20,” Beltzer says in an email, and “public banking and public internet.” On education, Beltzer proposes making CUNY free, eliminating the police from the schools and desegregation.
The question that will be resolved after the polls close on June 22nd and the necessary rounds of ranked-choice voting are completed, is how the electorate that chose Díaz Sr. will be distributed among the candidates who have been close to him to a greater or lesser extent, and whether the Diaz influence ultimately ends or continues in the district.
So far, Farías is the candidate with the highest number of political endorsements from organizations and unions, with more than 45 to her credit and the endorsement of 25 current and former New York representatives.