Rookie legislator prepares re represent Hunts Point in Albany
The small crowd that had gathered at the back of Patsy’s Pizzeria in Morris Park erupted in screams as soon as the unsurprising results of the general election flash on the screen: with 75 percent of the total vote, insurgent Democrat Alessandra Biaggi had handily won a seat to represent parts of the Bronx, including Hunts Point, in the State Senate.
A campaign worker cupped his hands over his face and in a booming voice, told the crowd to make some noise. “She’s here!”
Beaming and exuding energy, the 32-year-old upstart had arrived. As she made her way to the back of the restaurant, she stopped to hug each volunteer and supporter.
All of the Biaggi supporters who had convened were veterans of her nearly year-long campaign to oust JeffreyKlein, the incumbent of 14 years and one of the most powerful figures in Albany, and then to finish the task by running against a Republican opponent in the general election on Nov. 6. Biaggi first edged Klein in a tight September primary in which she garnered 55 percent of the vote in the 34th State Senate district, which includes a sliver of the peninsula, as well as parts of the west Bronx.
An informal survey of the room revealed that Klein’s perceived conservative record was a central motivator for many of the volunteers to get behind Biaggi.
“I’ve been trying to get rid of Jeff Klein since I moved up here,” said Marcia G. Yerman, a writer, artist and activist who works with the activist group Indivisible NYCD-16. “We knew he had to go.”
Fellow volunteer Francois Silatchom, a professor at Queens College, agreed. “It’s dishonesty at its best; running as a Democrat when [Klein] was more like a Republican. It’s like an insult.”
Klein raised the ire of Democrats around the state when he founded the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), the breakaway group of eight Democrats who caucused with the Republicans. The IDC was blamed for stifling a progressive legislative agenda that Biaggi has promised to revive.
That hoped-for agenda was at the fore of the speech Biaggi gave to her supporters at the pizzeria. She promised to fight for the Reproductive Health Act, which seeks to ensure state-wide abortion rights, as well as robust protection of the environment in the face of climate change.
The victor also reaffirmed a desire to “clean up Albany,” and make life easier for renters facing gentrification.
“I don’t know what to do with myself now, I just want to knock on more doors,” said volunteer Lorraine Moneypenny, laughing.
Biaggi’s victory was part of a broader wave of voter disenchantment across the state, against Republican and IDC leadership in the State Senate, where Democrats won a decisive majority after years in the minority.
After his defeat in the September primary, Klein was quiet, but later reappeared on the ballot to run as an independent against Biaggi and Republican Richard Ribustello. But voters weren’t swayed. He won just 7.5 percent of the vote this time around in the general election.
Days before the general election, Biaggi told the Express that she will serve Hunts Point residents more conscientiously than Klein did, and downplayed the incumbent’s popularity among some in the peninsula who saw him as a benefactor in Albany.
“[Hunts Point] is a Klein stronghold predominantly because of his name recognition,” said Biaggi. “I don’t think he did anything special for that area.”
Biaggi said that she reached out to local residents and business owners during the weeks between the primary and the general election, touring the neighborhood with Councilman Raphael Salamanca, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood and a rising star among Bronx Democrats. Biaggi says she had a crash course in issues facing the area. She said she wants to foster entrepreneurship in her district, and address the twin crises of “overdevelopment and affordability.” That lesson, she said, was reinforced during a visit to Grady’s Cold Brew, a coffee manufacturer that employs 25 people in a 15,000-square-foot Hunts Point factory. Company president Grady Laird said that he told the then-candidate that he fears being priced out.
Biaggi said that she is getting up to speed on the state’s plan to redevelop the area around the Sheridan Expressway, adding that residents’ wishes have been ignored in the state’s push to invest nearly $2 billion to spruce up the area.
“I’d be a little more thoughtful about how the surrounding area was being affected, as well as [pay attention] to community input,” she said. If she decides to back the state’s existing plan to build ramps between the Sheridan and Edgewater Road, she will be in powerful company. Salamanca has said he supports the plan, and State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda told the Express that he is “leaning towards favoring the program.”
But if Biaggi does, she may run afoul of advocates like Adam Green, executive director of the youth education nonprofit Rocking the Boat, who vehemently opposes the state’s current plan because, they contend, building ramps there would endanger pedestrians and contribute to traffic headaches. He and other opponents want to see the ramps constructed on the more industrial Oak Point Avenue, instead of in front of Rocking the Boat’s campus, alongside Hunts Point Riverside Park.
“Anything that inhibits access of people to the Bronx River is a major blow to the health of the community,” said Green.