By Bob Kappstatter
The long national nightmare, as they say, for Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera finally ended on Saturday when Gov. Cuomo named him new state labor commissioner.
The announcement came at the annual Somos El Futuro winter conference of the state Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, where Rivera is an elder statesman whose appointment can’t but help Cuomo solidify his Latino support.
Rivera, according to all reports, has pretty much been searching for a new paycheck outside the state Assembly for a number of years now, while still hedging his bets over running for another term or for a judgeship.
Before his new state gig, Rivera’s last hope was reported to be a run for the plum job of Bronx Surrogate, whose office doles out assignments (and fancy fees) to party-faithful lawyers to handle the estates of persons who die without wills.
Although Rivera was saying as late as Friday that he was weighing a run for Surrogate, that dream pretty much crashed and burned recently when the Bronx Democratic Party’s non-partisan judicial screening panel put the kibosh on it, labeling the attorney and former assistant Bronx D.A. “unqualified.”
Not that he would have received party backing in the judicial primary (Dem Party Boss Carl Heastie reportedly already has a favorite candidate) or might have survived his next Assembly primary race, with the opposing candidate already backed by a powerful local state senator.
Although baseball and politics ain’t over ’til it’s over, a number of Bronx political insiders say attorney and party operative Luis Sepulveda now holds the winning edge to fill Rivera’s 76th Assembly District seat in Parkchester/Castle Hill/West Farms/Van Nest.
His nearest challenger in the Democratic primary is Rivera’s longtime chief of staff, Danny Figueroa, who only recently began to plow the district for votes – and name recognition.
Sepulveda was literally out campaigning the day after he lost the last primary to Rivera by a close 44% to 54%, with a total of 4800 votes cast.
This time, he’s mounted a steamroller campaign effort, seemingly joined at the hip with ally State Sen. Ruben (The Rev) Diaz, Sr., working local events and churches.
He’s also curried (ouch!) the support of the politically nascent large Bangladeshi population around Parkchester, which reportedly can deliver anywhere from 400 to 600 key votes.
With The Rev’s political juice, Sepulveda recently sewed up key endorsements from Democratic Female District Leader Julia Rodriguez; State Committeewoman Barbara Brown, and Judicial Delegate Roselyn Johnson.
It’s also likely that local Councilwoman Annabel Palma and adjoining Soundview Assemblyman Marcos Crespo will shortly be – if not already – on Sepulveda’s campaign wagon. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is reported likely to follow, according to two separate sources.
Bronx Democratic Party Boss Carl Heastie is also likely to throw key party backing to Sepulveda in the Sept. 11 primary – if you read between the lines of a statement from Heastie spokesman Patrick Jenkins:
“The Chairman, as is his practice, will make his decision on who the party will back based in large part on the recommendations of the local district leaders,” said Jenkins.
Take note that along with Julia Rodriguez, the female district leader who supports Sepulveda, Sen. Diaz is also the local male district leader.
Figueroa might have hoped at one point to inherit Rivera’s seat if the assemblyman actually ran for reelection this time, won and then stepped down, backing Figueroa to fill out his term and run as an incumbent in the next election.
Gov. Cuomo’s appointment also apparently quashes once and for all a dark legal cloud Rivera’s been living under involving his pumping major state funding to the just about moribund Neighborhood Enhancement for Training Services (NETS) non-profit.
David Griffiths, his former law partner and campaign treasurer, was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty last June to federal mail fraud involving NETS. He made no agreement to testify against Rivera.
It’s doubtful Cuomo, the former state Attorney General, would have given Rivera the job, pending state Senate confirmation to replace Colleen Garden, if there were any loose investigative threads still hanging in that case.
Ed. note: Bob Kappstatter is the veteran former Daily News Bronx bureau chief who wrote a weekly column on borough politics.