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Cabrera Takes Primary by 75 Votes

October 1, 2009


Fernando Cabrera, a 45-year-old pastor and college professor who, a little more than a year ago switched political parties and moved to the Bronx, is poised to become the new City Council representative for the 14th District.

In the Sept. 15 primary Cabrera narrowly defeated incumbent Maria Baez by 75 votes to secure the district’s Democratic nomination in the upcoming general election on Nov. 3.

Cabrera may face a token Republican challenger in November, but the Board of Elections could not confirm whether or not anyone had made the ballot. Regardless, in the heavily Democratic 14th District, which includes parts of Kingsbridge, University Heights and Mount Hope, Cabrera is all but assured of filling Baez’s Council seat come January.

Cabrera had 2,108 votes (39 percent) to Baez’s 2,033 (37 percent). City auditor and community activist Yudelka Tapia finished third with 1,330 votes (24 percent).

 ”You did it and God did it,” Cabrera told a spirited group of around 100 supporters during his victory speech at a primary night party inside Maestro’s catering hall in Morris Park.

“Some people questioned whether this was going to happen,” Cabrera said. “I’m here to tell you that not only was it going to happen, it did happen!”

Soon after the results were announced, two young women, volunteers with the campaign, embraced and started rocking back and forth, smiling. “We did it,” one of them said.

Ferrer and Baez

Across the borough, inside the Monte Carlo nightclub on Jerome Avenue near Kingsbridge Road, the Baez camp was decidedly less cheerful. There were about 30 supporters, many of them paid campaign workers, milling about, watching the results on television.

Primary night ended with Baez trailing Cabrera by a mere 90 votes. Though obviously sullen, she attempted to strike a defiant tone as she addressed her team.

“This is not over,” she told the small crowd, which included Assemblyman Jose Rivera as well as Council colleague (and Jose’s son) Joel Rivera. “I see everyone, like, sad. We’re not sad, we’re happy. It’s one percent [of the vote] so lets just relax.”

Later, Baez said, “It’s not over, they say, until the fat lady sings, and this fat lady ain’t singing.”

There was also a hint of resignation and reflection in her remarks. “It’s been an honor for me, I never would have imagined that I would have been a member of the Council,” she said.

The following week the machine ballots were recounted and there was a tallying of all absentee and any other paper ballots. Afterwards, Baez still trailed by 75 votes, according to the final certified results from the Board of Elections.

Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party who took over the position from Jose Rivera following an ugly power struggle and threw tremendous support and resources behind the winning campaign campaign, said Cabrera would inject “fresh blood and new energy” into the Council.

Tapia fan

“Cabrera has a tremendous background,” Heastie said. “He’s a pastor and a counselor, so he can relate to the struggles that families here are going through.”

Assemblyman Rivera, Baez’s political mentor, said he was “proud of Maria, she took to the streets, it was a very grassroots operation.” He said the support of the Working Families Party, 1199 SEIU (the healthcare workers union) and the Bronx County Democratic Party tipped the race in Cabrera’s favor, assuming the result stands. “I know what County can do,” the former County boss said.

Because of her atrocious attendance record and other criticism for running up exorbitant cell phone bills, funding questionable organizations, backing pro-landlord legislation and supporting the extension of term limits, Baez was seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election.

At one point, as many as seven Democratic challengers had announced their intention to run against Baez in the primary. Early this summer, Cabrera, who is off Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, emerged as the leading contender after picking up the County endorsement, which snowballed into a slew of other party and union support. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. put his name and words behind Cabrera as well.

That institutional support was compounded by the near fanatical energy of Cabrera’s campaign volunteers, most of them young members of New Life Outreach International, the edgy new wave church Cabrera founded in the northwest Bronx 20 years ago.

The campaign ran into a snag after it became public that Cabrera had only moved into the district last August and had voted as a Republican in the last presidential primary.

But it didn’t prove to be his undoing.

At Maestro’s, Cabrera’s camp began celebrating even before the results were finally tallied. A mob of supporters rushed the stage earlier in the night before their candidate had even made an appearance. Banging on hand drums and dancing, dozens of Cabrera supporters began chanting in Spanish: “The Cabrera Era has begun!”

Later, Cabrera echoed that sentiment in his victory speech, saying, “We’re going to start a new era of leadership in the Bronx and the best is yet to come!”


A version of this article first appeared in the Norwood News.




One Response to “Cabrera Takes Primary by 75 Votes”

  1. Year in Review: Fernando Cabrera Unseats Maria Baez : Mount Hope Monitor on January 8th, 2010 8:33 pm

    [...] been a long journey in a short period of time for Cabrera who defeated incumbent Maria Baez by just 70 votes in the September Democratic primary after emerging from a crowded field of [...]

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