Bronx Council race shaping up as nail-biter as candidates spar over homeless and zoning

Of the City Council races shaping up to be nail-biters this election season, one in the Bronx could prove especially upsetting to Democrats.

That race features incumbent Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez going up against Republican challenger Kristy Marmorato in a district that saw positive signs for the GOP in the last mayoral election and the most recent gubernatorial race.

Marmorato has proven to be a formidable candidate in a borough that’s been reliably Democratic for decades and is making the argument that — despite a clear disadvantage in the fundraising department — she has a clear shot at victory.

“I’m going to be consistent, and I will be the hardest-working Council member that this district has ever seen,” said the Republican. “I’m not afraid of hard work.”

Velázquez said in a written statement she’s taking her challenger seriously “because that’s what this district deserves.”

“Talking to voters, whether they vote for me or not, enables me to hear their concerns and fight for them,” she said. “I’m confident my record improving public safety, increasing affordability and strengthening small businesses will contrast well with my opponent’s extremism and inexperience.”

As both candidates seek to get support from voters, they’re also painting each other as unsuited for the role.

Velázquez has sought to tie Marmorato to Republican stances on abortion and her connections to the far right, including the Proud Boys and its involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., but she’s also fending off attacks about her stances on a controversial rezoning in the district and a proposal to house former inmates with medical needs in a facility within Jacobi Hospital. Marmorato said it was the Jacobi proposal that compelled her to mount a run.

“The whole reason I got into this race is because they want to put a Rikers release program within steps of my house and schools,” Marmorato said, adding that Velázquez has voiced only tepid resistance to the plan.

Marmorato also contends Velázquez is far more left on the political spectrum than she’s now positioning herself.

But Marmorato has her own liabilities to contend with. Earlier this month, she came under fire from the Velázquez camp for accepting donations from dozens of employees at the city Board of Elections, where her husband works as a GOP commissioner.

J.T. Ennis, a Velázquez campaign rep, said at the time that it “reeks of the corruption and political patronage.”

Marmorato’s political operation wasn’t very visible in the weeks immediately after the June primary, but is now aggressively campaigning in Council District 13, which covers Morris Park, Pelham Bay, Throggs Neck and City Island.

She has the advantage of running in an area that favored Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa over Mayor Adams in the 2021 election and had strong pockets of Republican support during the 2022 Congressional and gubernatorial races. The lack of a citywide race at the top of the ticket is also expected to result in lower-than-normal voter turnout, which could also work in Marmarato’s favor.

But Marmorato is facing an uphill battle. While city Campaign Finance Board records show she’s raised $50,000 so far, that total is dwarfed by Velázquez’s haul of more than $130,000, with a sizeable amount of that cash support coming from unions as well.

During the June primary, Velázquez also had more voters in her corner. A total of 2,795 people ranked her as their first choice during the primary — more than triple the number of people who made Marmorato their top pick in ranked-choice voting.

Velázquez has run an aggressive field campaign as well and has the support of several key unions, including the NYC District Council of Carpenters, the hotel workers union and the Police Benevolent Association, which are all assisting her get-out-the-vote operation.

Democratic allies — like labor unions — have also rallied to Velázquez’s side in a way that well-known Republicans like former Rep. Lee Zeldin, last year’s gubernatorial candidate, have not for Marmorato.

“You don’t see the equivalent support on the Republican side,” said Trip Yang, a Democratic political consultant. “If Marmorato was surging, these Republican leaders would be cropping up in her district.”