Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez’s last-minute decision, under pressure from City Hall, to support a rezoning plan in her district explains how she ended up losing her seat, receiving just 47% of the vote in a district where 61% of voters are registered Democrats.
Her reversal from opposition to support of a proposed 349-apartment Throggs Neck housing development, political observers and local residents say, broke many voters’ trust in their representative as they feared she would similarly reverse course and support a proposed facility that would house formerly incarcerated individuals with complex medical needs, which has aroused angry opposition. A potential casino at the city-owned Ferry Point golf course also has area residents wary.
While organized labor came out in force to support Velázquez politically after she backed the Bruckner plan, many Democrats said that the candidate herself struggled to build local relationships and was hardly visible in her district after the housing vote, often skipping public events where she might face criticism.
“Marjorie had every structural advantage you could imagine,” said John Doyle, a district leader who ran against Velázquez for a Council seat in a 2017 Democratic primary. Doyle noted her spending and canvassing advantages, especially the help she received from a union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters.
“They really had 50, 100-person crews out here every weekend day” talking to voters on Velázquez’s behalf, he said.
But minus the candidate herself, that wasn’t enough.
“The fundamentals of any relationship – whether it’s personal, professional, romantic or political – the number one prerequisite is trust. And a lot of people evidently didn’t feel like they had that trust with her,” Doyle added.
Velázquez did not respond to a request from THE CITY for comment.
Adams pressed Velázquez hard to back the Bruckner rezoning, which was part of his “City of Yes” push to get more housing built, but largely stayed out of this year’s City Council contests, only backing Democrat Justin Brannan in Southern Brooklyn and Keith Powers in Manhattan.
A source close to the mayor said he did not endorse Velázquez because she did not ask for his endorsement. Adams has weak support in the district, where Republican Curtis Sliwa beat Adams by 1 point in the 2021 mayoral race.
Marmorato, a X-ray technician and first-time candidate whose husband and brother are both prominent in the borough’s Republican party, delivered on a strong anti-Velázquez and anti-upzoning campaign in a district averse to new development. In a debate organized by BronxNet last week, Marmorato also rejected the idea of a casino license at the golf course, calling for a boardwalk and restaurants there while preserving the park space.
“I knew I could accomplish this,” Marmorato said at her victory party Tuesday night. “I put the work in and that’s what it is. I’m a regular person who saw a need and there was a cause and I put the work in. I got the team together and we all worked very hard.”
‘A Wake-Up Call’
According to an analysis of unofficial Board of Elections results by the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, while Velázquez narrowly won Allerton, Pelham Gardens, Pelham Parkway, Van Nest and City Island, Marmorato easily won Morris Park, Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay and Schuylerville.
One Democratic source told THE CITY that Velázquez harmed her chances by focusing almost entirely on turning out voters who already backed her while largely ignoring others on the fence or in neighborhoods like Country Club and Throggs Neck where she was less popular.
Velázquez, who easily won her primary, had banked on support from the Carpenter’s Union — whose political director previously told THE CITY “Jesus Christ could have come in for an interview and we’d still pick Marjorie”— and other labor groups, including the Hotel Trades Council, that rallied behind her after her Bruckner vote that ensured jobs for union members.
“I think the unions are helpful because they provide manpower. They provide boots on the ground to give out literature. They provide financial support through independent expenditures,” former Councilmember Jimmy Vacca, who represented the district from 2006 to 2017, told THE CITY. “But, you know, I ran three times. And I don’t remember anyone ever telling me ‘Jimmy, my union told me to vote for you.’”
Rather, Vacca continued, “my residents say to me, ‘We’re gonna vote for you because we know you. You’ve been around. You’ve been accessible.’”
Vacca endorsed Velázquez in 2021 but withdrew his support for this year after her vote for the Bruckner rezoning.
“Another big loser is the Bronx Democratic County organization,” Eli Valentin, founder of the Institute of Latino Politics and Policy, told THE CITY. “This is where a county organization has to step in to help one of their own. At the end of the day would it have made a difference? I don’t know. But I don’t think this is a good result for the Democratic Party in The Bronx.”
The Bronx Democratic Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment from THE CITY, but in a video recorded by the Bronx Times, executive director Ariana Collado told supporters at what was supposed to be a Velázquez victory party on election night that the loss was “a wake up call.”
“We knew this race wasn’t gonna be easy and the results were not what we expected, but we want to thank you. I think this is a wake-up call for what’s expected to be next year,” said Collado. “And this means we need to organize. We need to work together. This does not mean that we give up.”
Additional reporting by Claudia Irizarry Aponte.