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SPECIAL ELECTION COVERAGE: Joel R. Rivera: I’m the ‘Community’s Candidate’

May 29, 2009

Joel R. Rivera thinks he stands a good chance of winning the June 2 special election for the 77th Assembly seat.  Although a Democrat, he is running as a Conservative because he says he was only informed a few days before the May 13 deadline that he needed 1,500 signatures in order to be placed on the ballot as a Democrat.

Many consider Vanessa Gibson, whom the Bronx Democratic Party is supporting, the stronger candidate, but Rivera is undaunted. He says that he’s the “community’s candidate” not the “machine’s candidate” and that it is “harder to forget about the community when you’ve come from, bled, organized, and rallied with the community.”


The seat is available because Aurelia Greene, who has sat in the Assembly since 1982, has resigned so she can take a job as Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.’s deputy.

Rivera (no relation to City Councilman Joel Rivera) believes his roots in the Bronx, where he grew up, and his history of service and activism will help him to win votes. He has lived in Highbridge for the last thirteen years and his father, Reverend Ray Rivera, has served as a religious and community leader since 1964. Reverend Rivera founded the Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC) in 1992, a social services organization that began as a division of New York City Mission Society.

Rivera said he has the support of various churches and community organizations and has been endorsed by Assemblyman Nelson Castro, Bishop Ronald Bailey of Love Gospel Assembly Church on the Grand Concourse, and Bishop Timothy Berkett  of Church of Life on Findley Avenue. He has raised $16,930 according to the New York State Board of Elections Web site, which was last updated in mid-May.

Rivera originally ran for City Council in the 16th Council District but dropped out of the race when the current office holder, Councilwoman Helen Foster, informed him she would be running for a third term.  “The heart of my campaign is about uniting the community,” he said, “and running against Foster [who's black] would divide the black and Latino vote.” Furthermore, his and Foster’s father are longtime friends.

If Rivera, though, was after Foster’s support for his assembly campaign, it hasn’t been forthcoming, at least not publically. And in Gibson he’s up against another African-American. (More on Gibson here.)

One of Rivera’s core interests is education. Through LPAC, he founded SOY (Servicing Our Youth), a non-profit aimed at engaging teenagers in civil service by teaching them about their local government. His experiences have taught him that some youngsters, those who have fallen into gang violence and drug abuse, feel they have no hope. “These are people who if I or my dad don’t tell them we love them, no one will,” Rivera said.

If elected, Rivera wants to engage young people in politics and offer civics and vocation training at the high school level for students who do not plan to attend college.

Rivera studied sociology at George Washington University from 1996 to 2000 but is eight credits shy of a degree. He cited financial reasons for not completing college. During his time as a student, he served as a community liaison for then Councilman Adolfo Carrion and as the director of the Youth Career Initiative Program for the Bronx Council for Economic Development, where he recruited youth for education and career training workshops.

In addition to his current position as director and founder of SOY, Rivera is an active community organizer. Rivera marched with several labor groups last year to fight for the renewal of their contracts; supported workers at the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center who had lost their healthcare; lobbied for fair share tax reform in Albany; and helped coordinate a protest in Highbridge in April 2008, to bring attention to what he considered the unjust acquittal of the police officers who killed Sean Bell.

Recently, Rivera has been fighting to have New York State’s vacancy decontrol laws repealed. Under the current law, landlords who own rent-regulated buildings are able to deregulate individual apartments if there’s a vacancy and the monthly rent is above $2,000.

If elected, Rivera said he would continue to fight for education, healthcare, housing, and workers’ rights. “I’m not just talking about what I’ll do, it’s what I’ve already been doing,” he said. 

UPDATE: According to Chance Haywood, president of the Bronx County Young Republican Club, the Republican candidate is Barbara Bowland.  Bowland doesn’t appear to have done much fund-raising or campaigning, however.


Editor’s note: Visit Rivera’s campaign Web site here.


3 Responses to “SPECIAL ELECTION COVERAGE: Joel R. Rivera: I’m the ‘Community’s Candidate’”

  1. SPECIAL ELECTION COVERAGE: Vanessa Gibson Touts her Experience in Albany : Mount Hope Monitor on May 29th, 2009 6:50 pm

    [...] According to the latest campaign filings, Gibson’s campaign had raised $11,100, as of mid-May. Speaking earlier this week, she’s now puts it “close to 15.” Interestingly, Joel R. Rivera, Gibson’s chief opponent in the race, has raised more. Rivera, though, was forced to run as a Conservative, which could hurt him next Tuesday. (More on Rivera here.) [...]

  2. Joel J. Rivera for NY State Assembly: Special Election Tomorrow | Away with Words: In Pursuit of Authenticity on June 1st, 2009 12:12 pm

    [...] my friend Joel R. Rivera confronts underdog status as the community candidate rather than “the machine candidate” in a special election for the New York State [...]

  3. Tues, June 2nd: Special Elections in the Bronx « OntheWilderSide on June 1st, 2009 8:42 pm

    [...] for the NY State Assembly covers Highbridge, Morris Heights, and Morrisania. The candidates are: Joel R. Rivera and Vanessa [...]

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