Candidates Spar in Sixth Debate for 13th Council District Seat

Candidates Spar in Sixth Debate for 13th Council District Seat
THE CANDIDATES FOR the 13th Council District include (l-r) Norwood Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, 82nd Assembly District Leader Marjorie Velazquez, community activist John Doyle, and community activist Egidio Sementelli.
Photo by David Cruz

For nearly an hour, Norwood Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj bore the brunt of criticism by his fellow Democratic rivals in the latest debate for the 13th Council District seat, one of the more active political races in the Bronx election cycle this year.

The candidates lobbed much of the mud at Gjonaj, pegging him as an established politician with heavy financial backing from the real estate sector. Even so, Gjonaj, the presumed frontrunner, stood stoic as he was needled by the candidates, which include community activist John Doyle, community activist and businessman Egidio Sementelli, and district leader for the 82nd Assembly District and Community Board 10 treasurer Majorie Velazquez.

“There’s two ways to run these campaigns—one on negativity, divisiveness, and one on the very positive, deliver the message and show the people of the 13th Council District what we’re going to be doing,” Gjonaj said. “My opponents obviously choosing the first step.”

The Gjonaj pile-on stood among the dominant themes of the Aug. 14 debate moderated by BronxNet TV host Gary Axelbank, which also touched on issues of public education and small business needs.

THE CANDIDATES DURING a commercial break. They include (l-r) Norwood Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, 82nd Assembly District Leader Marjorie Velazquez, community activist John Doyle, and community activist Egidio Sementelli.
Photo by David Cruz

In a Bronx where development has swept across the borough, the issue of overdevelopment also took center stage. The trend prompted Doyle to declare that “zoning is on the ballot Sept. 12,” the day of the Democratic Primary. He pitted Gjonaj, who has a real estate background, among politicos who’ve warmed up to developers at the public’s expense.

Gjonaj countered that he “can’t be bought” by developers, citing his introduction of the Tenant Rent Increase Exemption program bill that waives future rent increases on families making less than $50,000. “I am not going to be bought by any developer, or any special interest group. That’s my promise,” Gjonaj said. “And I haven’t been able to be bought in the past and I assure you that I’ll always work in the best interest of the people.”

But Sementelli and Velazquez pointed to a $500 donation by Michael D’Alessio, a developer at the center of a controversial homeless shelter proposed at 2800 Bruckner Blvd., currently an office building. The proposal drew a siege of lawmakers, including Gjonaj, who acknowledged to accepting the donation he said was later used to buy refreshments for a meeting focusing on resolutions.

Turning to issues of small business, the candidates were united on the preservation of mom and pop businesses across the district. Sementelli charged that Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) add more of a financial burden to small businesses who face a six percent tax hike that covers private sanitation services and marketing initiatives. “I don’t want to increase bread, I don’t want to increase the milk for our seniors. Six percent is an additional tax that small business owners should not be required to pay,” Sementelli said.

Velazquez, whose mother-in-law had once owned a business near the Baychester Mall before it closed, seeks to preserve businesses through education via the New York City Small Business Services, which assists small businesses in thriving while levying fines for violations. “[W]e also need SBS to come in to help us small businesses know where they may be fined prior to getting their fines, prior to their violations because they’re not on the same standard as these big box shops. With these big box shops those fines are nothing,” Velazquez said.

The 13th Council District covers the neighborhoods of Morris Park, Throggs Neck, Van Nest, Allerton, and Pelham Parkway. It slightly overlaps with Gjonaj’s 80th Assembly District, covering Norwood, Allerton, Pelham Parkway, Morris Park, Van Nest, and Pelham Parkway. The seat is currently held by Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who is term-limited.

The council district also covers City Island, a major stronghold for Doyle, a resident in the neighborhood. But Doyle was quick to point out his involvement outside the community.

“I’m on the board of the 45th Precinct Council, I helped co-start the East Bronx Traffic Coalition, which dealt with things like the Baychester Shopping Mall. I was the only candidate who went down to City Hall to testify against that project, not quite a City Island thing,” Doyle said.

The district also stands as the most Republican, according to a review of the electoral map for the 2016 Presidential campaign, which saw more votes for Republican President Donald Trump than any other Bronx district. Its concentration of Republicans in the district has produced a candidate in John Cerini, a businessman in Throggs Neck.

Whichever Democrat wins the primary will likely face Cerini in the November General Election.

On issues of public education, candidates stuck by Democratic principles, calling for improvements to the public education system by increasing funding for teachers. The trio of candidates once again took aim at Gjonaj for not advocating strongly in bringing in more funds to the district.

Gjonaj accused the candidates of not understanding the government process, adding the state has pumped billions of dollars into the public education system year over year.

Toward the end, Gjonaj rebutted his candidates, admonishing them for running what he dubbed a negative campaign.

“I continue to get the love up here; you gotta have a thick skin for these venues,” Gjonaj said jokingly. “There’s two ways to run a campaign. I’ll take the high road.”


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12 thoughts on “Candidates Spar in Sixth Debate for 13th Council District Seat

    1. Lewis Darne

      Noticed that also. Her consulting firm working for her Red Horse supports “Progressive” candidates. AkA Socialists in hiding. Doyle and her.

  1. John Bonizio

    Where’s the discussion about the real issues? Bronx State releases emotionally disturbed people into District 13 daily…without programs or supervision. Our streets are overcome with homeless who aren’t given supportive services. Many criminal acts have been reduced to violations so the City can claim a reduction in crime rates. The decline of our commercial corridors promotes a decline in our neighborhoods (wake up Sementelli!), and while the real issues pile up, the candidates throw mud and distort the facts.

    1. Lewis Darne

      I agree. But Bronx State started doing that during Reagans term actually. He wanted the states to pay for them not SSi.

  2. Lewis Darne

    People should look into the background of Doyle and his associates who threaten and intimidate opponents. Just look at Facebook posts from some of his supporters. I find this very troubling. Yet Doyle has not commented or distanced himself from these people.

  3. john cerini

    Mark Cerini has a man named Walter driving around in a mobile home who is of questionable character. His wife sports a black eye which required a stay at Jacobi, “she fell” was the reason. Walter is a violent older man, easily agitated and very unpredictable. I’m sure stories will emerge soon of his thugery. Cerini will never win the election if this clown is what he has shilling for him.

  4. Darth Vader

    Wow this site allows anyone to slander anyone without validating their identity. My name is Darth Vader, as you clearly know I am real. As a matter of fact if you did not know, I am your father. Therefore I will let you in on a secret, don’t believe everything you see, hear or read. People hide behind fake identities, and spread lies and rumors. I am getting thirsty, can someone lepore me a drink? Wait a man named Mike just brought me some. May the force be with you all.

  5. Richard Jannaccio

    Did I just read a comment by John Cerini warning John Cerini? I didn’t think so. Please remove comments by imposters. Thanks.

  6. Ruth mastto

    I though originally from jersey, now a proud Bronxite choose to vote for the person of action a man with political expertise coupled with a vast knowledge of economic growth and development
    To physically rally for our seniors and walk the walk in reaching out is second to none
    I firmly stand by Mark Gjonaj who has professionally , politically and humanely paved the way to ignite passion and comittment to our Bronx alongside the best of the Bronx our own Rubin Diaz
    Im proud to call them leaders advocates trailblazers and MOST IMPORTANTLY FRIENDS to me personally and All Bronx residents!

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