By SÍLE MOLONEY
On Wednesday, March 10, the Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802, AFM announced its endorsement of Eric Dinowitz, teacher and Democratic male district leader for the 81st Assembly District, who is running for City Council in the 11th District, for which a special election is being held on March 23.
Local 802 is the largest local union of professional musicians in the world. “We are proud to support Eric Dinowitz for City Council District 11,” union representatives wrote as part of the announcement. “A native of the Bronx, he [Dinowitz] received a degree in music and went on to teach choir and special education classes in Bronx public schools,” the statement read. “He served as the chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers, and currently sits on Community Board 8 as chair of the Aging Committee.”
The statement went on to say that Dinowitz’s background and community activism give him a holistic perspective of the northwest Bronx, citing his advocacy for both the elderly and for children from all parts of the district to receive the education they need to flourish. “Most of all, he understands that his district thrives when workers have strong union protections. This means standing in solidarity with local workers picketing their job site for unfair labor practices, supporting the fight for $15 [minimum wage], and expanding paid family leave.”
The representatives added that Dinowitz’s drive and compassion were hallmark characteristics of a musician. “His priorities as a candidate will benefit not only the constituents of his district, but his policies serve as a model from which to build our city into an equitable place for all,” they said.
Reacting to the announcement, Dinowitz said he was thrilled to be endorsed by the union. “As a musician myself, I am dedicated to ensuring our city’s musicians have fair wages and protections on the job,” he said. “If we want New York to thrive, this industry must thrive as well, and I will make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help not just the venues and halls, but the workers and artists who work within them, so that they can live, work, and raise their families here.”
On Feb. 18, Norwood News reported that 32BJ SEIU, DC37, and Hotel Trades Council (HTC) had endorsed Dinowitz. We also reported that the District 11 candidate had previously been endorsed by Congressman Adriano Espaillat, the United Federation of Teachers, by both U.S. Congressman Ritchie Torres and Bronx Democratic Chairperson, State Sen. Jamaal T. Bailey, as well as by Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) of Greater New York-FDNY and Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics, and Fire Inspectors Local 2507.
The district leader, who is the son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who represents the 81st Assembly District in the Northwest Bronx, had also previously received the backing of New York State Assembly Member Chantel Jackson, New York City Council Members Danny Dromm and Mark Treyger, the Bronx Democratic Party, Central Labor Council, the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC, and amid some controversy, the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club.
Dinowitz’s opponents charge that he is part of the “Democratic Party machine,” a group of officials or “the establishment” who control the Bronx Democratic Party. A review of the various campaign donations to Dinowitz’s campaign shows that he has received a number of donations from various elected officials, and while none of this illegal, and the amounts involved are not enormous, it begs the question as to whether the district leader would have made those connections had it not been for his father’s long-established ties through his political career.
They include NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, New York City Councilman from the 14th City Council District in the Bronx, Fernando Cabrera, former Congressman for the 15th congressional district, Eliot Engel, New York State Assembly Member Amy Paulin, who represents parts of upstate New York, New York State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, representing the Upper East Side of Manhattan, William Weitz, former chief of staff at the U.S. House of Representatives to former U.S. Rep. Engel, City Council Member Justin Brannan, and former City Council Member and Bronx District 11 incumbent, Andrew Cohen.
They also include New York State Assembly Member, Richard Gottfried, DOT borough commissioner, Nivardo Lopez, New York State Assembly Member Dan Quart, New York State Assembly Legislator, Aravell Simotas, New York State Assembly Member David Weprin, New York State Assembly Member Sandra Galef, director of intergovernmental relations at the New York State Attorney General’s office, Timothy Tapia and executive director of the Bronx Democratic Party, Ariana Collado.
Dinowitz’s campaign has shot back at his critics saying, “While other candidates may be focused on mudslinging, Eric Dinowitz is focused on helping working families and seniors recover. Eric supported efforts to elect a Democratic Majority in the State Senate and make Andrea Stewart-Cousins the Majority Leader, a position where she continues to lead our state forward, and Eric supported Ranked Choice Voting and numerous reforms to make voting easier.”
The statement continued, “Voters are smart, and Eric has faith that the nonpartisan special election system will allow the Northwest Bronx to pick the best representative for the City Council.”
On Feb. 23, Dinowitz received further support from recently elected City Councilman Kevin Riley representing the 12th City Council District in the Bronx. “The people of the Northwest Bronx deserve the best representation possible, which is why I’m excited to announce my endorsement of Eric Dinowitz for City Council in the March 23rd special election,” said Riley.
He went on to say that Dinowitz had served his community well as district leader, and would be a champion for progressive values in the council. “His record of public service speaks for itself. I believe that a public school special education teacher in the City Council would give the working families of the Bronx a voice in government, and Eric will be ready on day one to fight for them,” added Riley. “As one of the newest members of the Council, I look forward to working with him to deliver for Bronx seniors and working families.”
Meanwhile, Dinowitz said he shared a common vision for a better Bronx with Riley, and that he was excited about the possibility of working with Riley in the City Council. “I know he will be a great partner on getting the vaccine to our community and prioritizing our recovery. This endorsement from a new voice in our government is meaningful to me,” Dinowitz said.
On March 3, it was announced that district leader had also received the backing of UAW Region 9, LiUNA/ Mason Tenders, BAC Local 1 and 7, and SEIU NYC Local 246. Beverley Brakeman is regional director of United Auto Workers Region 9A regional director and said Dinowitz had proven time and again that he’ll fight for workers. “As a former labor leader himself, we know that Eric has a deep commitment to protecting union jobs, securing livable wages and combating efforts to strip workers of their rights,” Brakeman said. “We’re proud to endorse Eric and share his vision for a just recovery from the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, according to Dinowitz’s campaign, in a letter written by LiUNA to Dinowitz, union representatives wrote, “Our process was held jointly by the New York State Laborers PAC and the Mason Tenders District Council PAC.” They added, “Together, these two entities make up what is now LIUNA-NY, and represent more than 40,000 members across the state. An endorsement from LIUNA-NY reflects your support of workers and their families.”
BAC Local 1 and 7; Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers; and SEIU NYC Local 246, represents 1,350 active and 900 retired members who maintain and repair vehicles for several agencies throughout the city.
On March 8, Dinowitz got an additional nod of approval from former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Holtzman, who has also served as the Kings County District Attorney and New York City Comptroller. Holtzman said Dinowitz is ready to fight to get the vaccine to underserved communities, help small businesses get relief, and make sure older adults have the resources they need.
“Eric has real plans to help the Northwest Bronx and its recovery,” she said. “He has shown a deep commitment to his community through his years of service as a public school special education teacher, a Democratic district leader, and chair of Community Board 8’s aging committee. I stand with Eric, and know he will be an energetic and effective leader for us.”
Dinowitz acknowledged the endorsement, saying Holtzman had an incredible career in public service at the city, county, and federal levels. “I am honored that she has confidence in my ability to lead my district in the City Council, and I will emulate her dedication to New Yorkers when I get to City Hall,” he said.
On March 9, another union, TWU Local 100, also endorsed the special education teacher. The union represents essential workers and their president is Tony Utano, who said the city’s transit workers have a friend in Dinowitz. “I know he will support us as our city recovers from the pandemic. He has been a longtime labor and community activist that has brought needed change to the Northwest Bronx, including fighting for accessible transportation,” Utano said.
“Our essential workers have risked their lives to keep our city moving this past year, and we know that Eric has our back as we fight for safe working conditions and dignity on the job,” he added.
For this part, Dinowitz said transit workers had risked their lives to stay on the job throughout the pandemic, and he was proud that TWU Local 100 had given him their support. “One of my top priorities is expanding accessibility for our transportation system, and I stand with our bus and subway operators that have dedicated their careers to getting people where they need to go,” he said. “I am excited to get the endorsement of this union that stands up for essential workers.”
Dinowitz, who was previously profiled by the Norwood News, is a father of twins, and the Chair of Bronx Community Board 8’s Aging Committee. According to his campaign, he has lived in the Northwest Bronx his entire life and is raising his family there.
Candidates in the District 11 special election race were required to gather a minimum number of signatures from local residents in order to qualify for the ballot in the special election. As reported by the Norwood News, that minimum had been 450 signatures until Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Jan. 7 that he was reducing it to 315.
Some candidates had raised concerns about the impact of the signature collection process on people’s health, and had called for for the minimum signature requirement to be waived amid fears of exacerbating the spread of the coronavirus through mass person-to-person contact. District 11 special election candidates, Mino Lora, and Jessica Haller, each announced at separate stages that they had each previously contracted the virus.
Meanwhile, social worker and adjunct Columbia professor, Abigail Martin, and district leader in the 80th Assembly District, Marcos Sierra, announced in January that they had dropped out of the March special election, citing health related risks linked to the coronavirus, but said they still plan to participate in the June primary.
A Board of Elections public hearing was held on Feb. 4 to assess which candidates had collated the minimum number of signatures needed to proceed. Besides Dinowitz, according to the New York City Board of Elections, there are five other candidates in the District 11 special election race.
These are retired NYPD detective, Carlton Berkley, environmentalist and tech entrepreneur, Haller, executive director and founder of the People’s Theater Project, Lora, lawyer & Bronx CB 8 Traffic and Transportation Committee Chair, Dan Padernacht, and freelance filmmaker, Kevin Pazmino. Dionel Then dropped out of the race last August, endorsing Padernacht, as he did so.
In terms of the latest campaign contribution filings in the special election race, according to the New York City CFB, Haller leads in contributions with $79,117, followed by Dinowitz with $72,062, Padernacht with $42,446, Lora with $35,910, and Berkley with $10,301. For the District 11 special election, the most recent disclosure period ran from “Beginning of Fundraising” to Jan. 11, 2021. There was no information available for Kevin Pazmino on campaign contribution filings with the CFB.
In accordance with the matching funds program, each dollar raised between $10 and $175 from New York City residents is matched 8 times using public funds. For the special election, the maximum payout from the matching funds program is $142,500, and spending is capped at $190,000.
The nonpartisan special election in District 11 was called by the mayor on Jan. 4 to find a replacement for former District 11 City Councilman, Andrew Cohen, who was elected as a judge to the Bronx Supreme Court in November and resigned from his City Council seat on Dec. 31.
BronxNet aired the first of a series of debates between the District 11 City Council candidates on Feb. 2, and that debate can be viewed online here. The Norwood News later provided a brief recap of the debate.
Northwest Bronx Indivisible and Riverdale Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture hosted a further virtual debate among the candidates on Feb. 7. That debate can be viewed here.
Another debate was hosted by the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition in conjunction with LAAL, a nonprofit supporting Bengali women in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Feb. 10. That debate can be viewed here.
A further debate hosted by City Limits was held on Feb. 14. That debate can be viewed here. A Woodlawn Candidate’s Forum was held on Feb. 15, moderated by BronxNet’s Gary Axelbank. That forum can be viewed here.
A City Council Town Hall, presented by the SAR High School EPG Club, based in Riverdale in the Northwest Bronx, was held on Feb. 17 and can be viewed here.
A further District 11 City Council candidates’ forum was held on Feb. 22, hosted by the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association. This can be viewed here.
Riverdale Nature Preservancy has also hosted a virtual conversation with the District 11 special election candidates. We have reached out to the organization for a link to the forum and will update this story, upon receipt of same.
The District 11 race is one of the first two elections in the Bronx which will incorporate the new method of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), the other being District 15. RCV is a voting method whereby voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference, instead of choosing just one. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, that candidate is the winner. If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, then counting will continue in rounds. At the end of each round, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated.
If a voter ranked the eliminated candidate first, then the next highest ranked candidate on the voter’s ballot will be taken into account in the next round of counting. The process continues as such until there are two candidates left. The candidate with the most votes wins. For official information on ranked choice voting, go to the NYC Campaign Finance Board FAQ page or the New York City Board of Elections website.
The Bronx Democratic Party hosted an informational session on Ranked Choice Voting which can be viewed here in conjunction with the group, Rank the Vote NYC. Norwood News checked with the City’s Campaign Finance Board about the expertise of Rank the Vote NYC and were advised that the group is a reputable source on the topic and is a voter education campaign that is run by Common Cause NY.
Important dates relating to the March 23 special elections for District 11 [and District 15] are outlined below.
The Bronx Board of Elections confirmed that it is accepting applications for absentee ballots from voters in District 11 (and in District 15) who wish to vote by mail. Further information can be found here or by calling the Bronx Board of Elections at (718) 299-9017 and selecting Ext. 1875. Polls are open on election day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Early Voting Period is from March 13, 2021 to March 21, 2021. Voters must vote at their assigned early voting site.
Early Voting Hours
|Saturday||March 13, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
|Sunday||March 14, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
|Monday||March 15, 2021||7:00 AM to 3:00 PM|
|Tuesday||March 16, 2021||12:00 PM to 8:00 PM|
|Wednesday||March 17, 2021||12:00 PM to 8:00 PM|
|Thursday||March 18, 2021||10:00 AM to 6:00 PM|
|Friday||March 19, 2021||7:00 AM to 3:00 PM|
|Saturday||March 20, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
|Sunday||March 21, 2021||10:00 AM to 4:00 PM|
District 11 includes Kingsbridge, Norwood, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield, Riverdale, Woodlawn Heights and part of Bedford Park. Whoever wins the March 23 special, nonpartisan election will serve until Dec. 31, 2021. Future representation in the District beyond that point will likely be determined via a June 2021 primary and a November 2021 general election.