Several powerful New York labor unions are lining up support for Bronx state Sen. Gustavo Rivera’s reelection bid — breaking with the borough’s Democratic Party, which began backing a primary challenger against the incumbent after this spring’s confusing redistricting process.
In an endorsement statement provided exclusively to the Daily News over the weekend, 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest union for health care workers, said it’s supporting Rivera’s reelection for the Bronx’s 33rd Senate District because of his “expansive” record working on health issues.
“He has been a tireless advocate for the frontline workforce and for the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including those who rely on home care services and safety net hospitals,” the union’s statement said, citing Rivera’s role as chairman of the Senate Health Committee as especially important. “He fights to realize an expansive social justice vision, including health care for all, and also immersed himself in the detailed policy changes that are vital for an effective health care delivery system.”
The nod from 1199 comes on the heels of Rivera netting endorsements from three other major unions: New York State United Teachers, the Communications Workers of America and the Professional Staff Congress, which represents faculty in the City University of New York system.
But one influential group that’s not backing Rivera: the Bronx Democratic Party.
The party, which is chaired by Rivera’s colleague, state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, has instead endorsed Miguelina Camilo, a local lawyer and former city Board of Elections official.
Speaking to The News last week, Bailey (D-Bronx, Westchester) said “a set of very unfortunate circumstances” in this year’s redistricting process prompted the unusual decision for the party to endorse against Rivera, who was first elected in 2010 to represent the 33rd District, which includes Tremont, Fordham and other central Bronx neighborhoods.
The redistricting, which was carried out by a court-appointed special master after a judge struck down the Democratic-controlled state Legislature’s maps this spring, moved the lines of Rivera’s district so it encompassed sections of the old 36th Senate District.
Camilo first launched her campaign in February to represent the 36th, but switched to run in the 33rd in light of the redistricting blowup.
Since Rivera no longer resides within the new 33rd, Bailey said the party spoke with him about running in another district, like the 34th, which became vacant due to the special master’s maps.
But Rivera rebuffed the proposal and announced in May he’s going to run for reelection in the 33rd.
“At the end of the day, this all happened because of the haphazard lines created by the special master,” Bailey said. “I don’t blame anyone else. I have tremendous respect for Sen. Rivera.”
Rivera disputed Bailey’s side of the story.
The senator noted that more than half of his old constituency is still within the 33rd and said it would’ve made “no sense” for him to run in the 34th, which encompasses no parts of his former district. Rivera also accused Bailey of disregarding his long legislative record in favor of a candidate “loyal to the party apparatus.”
“It pains me to say, but they unfortunately value loyalty over representation or achievements,” he said.
It’s unusual for organized labor groups and a borough party to support different candidates in a state legislative Democratic primary.
Still, Bailey disputed the notion that there’s a rift between the party and the unions, arguing that his organization is sticking by Camilo because it endorsed her when she first announced her campaign for the 36th District.
“It’s a continuing endorsement of Camilo, not an endorsement against Rivera,” he said.
The state Senate primary elections are set for Aug. 23 — another unusual consequence of the redistricting process, as primaries in New York typically happen in September. The primaries are expected to draw exceedingly low turnout due to the late summer date.