The candidates for the 80th Assembly District — minus incumbent Naomi Rivera (more on that in a minute) — debated last night on Bronxnet. Here are five quick observations from the action between the candidates who did show up: Irene Estrada-Rukaj, Mark Gjonaj and Adam Bermudez. [Update: You can watch the entire debate above.]
1. An empty chair represented Naomi Rivera’s absence. Here is the editorial comment host Gary Axelbank made at the beginning of the show:
Unfortunately, although we had worked very hard to coordinate the schedule for this debate with the incumbent, Naomi Rivera has flat declined our invitation to appear. Editorially, i will say that asking people for their vote and then not be willing to participate in a debate with other candidates is a posture that we reject wholeheartedly. The Bronx is made stronger by responsive elected officials who respect the democratic process, their opponents, and most importantly, their constituents. By refusing to appear tonight the assemblywoman is directly insulting everyone involved, BronxTalk, Bronxnet, her fellow candidates, and you the people of the bronx. In fact, it’s the second time she has declined to participate. Viewers will remember she didn’t appear in 2010 either. Given this program’s ongoing commitment to keeping Bronxites informed and engaged, we abhor the very notion of it. And so she will be represented by an empty chair throughout tonight’s proceedings.
2. Everyone agreed that Rivera has been an absentee legislature, but they weren’t willing to band together to defeat her. Their political aspirations trumped their desire to get Rivera out of office.
3. Irene Estrada-Rukaj provided the two best quotes of the night. Early on the topic of Naomi Rivera’s absence: “We are living a dream and we are Naomi Rivera’s nightmare and on Sept. 13 we are going to get ride of her.” Then later, when talking about the video Bermudez produced showing him singing and playing guitar and asking for votes and money (which Axelbank called “monumentally insulting to constituents”), she said: “I play guitar and I also sing, but there’s a time and place for everything.”
4. On the question of how to best get Bronxites back to work and the economy back on track, there were three distinct and simple answers. Gjonaj said government needs to get out of the way and stop requiring small businesses to comply with so many regulations. Bermudez said government should focus on job training. And Estrada-Rukaj said government should provide more loans and tax breaks for small businesses.
5. Gjonaj was forced to defend his ties to the real estate industry, which he did by pointing out the work he’s done recently at Tracey Towers and the Allerton Coops (you can find more info about that here), but the other candidates didn’t dwell on it. Instead, they focused on how his experience was limited to being a philanthropist rather than a community activist. Bermudez tried to paint himself as the most “progressive” of all the candidates.