The 2019 Bronx Power 100
The 2019 Bronx Power 100
Jennifer Lopez, one of the biggest stars to come out of the Bronx, is back in the spotlight with a new film, “Hustlers.” Sharing the screen with Lopez is Cardi B, another crossover performer who grew up in the Bronx. And like other Bronx celebrities who have hit the big time – from the rapper Fat Joe to the talk show hosts Desus & Mero – they haven’t forgotten their home borough, which is enjoying a renaissance of its own.
At the same time, there’s also been a remarkable political resurgence in the Bronx. Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, could become the first Latino mayor of New York City. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is already one of the most influential politicians in the state. And of course, there’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former bartender from the Bronx whose 2018 upset victory has transformed her into one of the most recognizable figures in the country. In City & State’s Bronx Power 100, we identify all of the borough’s political movers and shakers – and how they stack up against one another.
1. Carl Heastie
When Carl Heastie took control of the Bronx Democratic Party in 2008, this was the plan. The county machine would no longer be run (poorly) by Assemblyman José Rivera and his family. Instead, Heastie and his compatriots would usher the Bronx into a new era of prominence and prosperity.
In the decade-plus since the “Rainbow Rebellion” – so called for its racial diversity compared with Rivera’s Puerto Rican coalition – Heastie became the first African-American speaker of the Assembly and helped position his longtime ally, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., for a run at Gracie Mansion in 2021. Despite losing fellow Bronxite Jeff Klein from the state Senate leadership, Heastie was quick to embrace the new state Senate majority under the leadership of Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Heastie and Stewart-Cousins orchestrated one of the most successful sessions in New York legislative history. Next year is an election year and members may be more cautious, particularly as serious primary challengers become more common. Among the Bronx delegation, only Assemblyman Michael Benedetto has a serious challenger.
2. Ruben Diaz Jr.
When Marcos Crespo first met Ruben Diaz Jr. in 2002 as an intern in the state Legislature, the lanky and mustachioed assemblyman left Crespo in awe with his ability to debate sports and hip-hop with the son of a house painter and then put on a suit and outsmart Harvard-educated lawyers.
From the moment Diaz Jr. became the youngest assemblyman since Theodore Roosevelt, he’s been an ambassador for the Bronx of his birth and the Bronx he hoped to build. He’s partnered with celebrities like Fat Joe and Desus & Mero to boost the cultural brand of the Bronx while working with business leaders like JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon to generate billions for the borough.
Diaz oversaw a decade of unprecedented development in the Bronx, thanks in part to his allies in Albany and a cultivated friendship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In a city where nearly a third of the population is Hispanic, Diaz Jr. could be New York’s first Latino mayor and first mayor from the Bronx since 1932.
3. Marcos Crespo
After the shocking loss of Marcos Crespo’s Queens counterpart Joe Crowley and Alessandra Biaggi’s upset of Jeff Klein, the Bronx boss got to work. He negotiated a truce with Biaggi, and the two even co-chaired the historic sexual harassment hearings together. For now, Crespo has righted the ship, but stormy seas are on the horizon.
Crespo stepped back from the Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force – charged with organizing the yearly Somos conferences – and instead chaired the Labor Committee. He led the charge on the Green Light NY bill, which will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. And he continued to walk back his previous conservative views on same-sex marriage in floor speeches and in a speech honoring the Stonewall Democrats at the Bronx Democrats' annual dinner.
The peace that settled over the Bronx after last year’s election is likely temporary. The races in 2020 and 2021 will cause rifts and elected officials will stop playing nice. But Crespo’s a fighter, and, unlike in 2018, he knows a fight is coming this time.
4. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
It took less than a year for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to transition from bartender to one of the most powerful Democrats in the country. She speaks – or tweets – and the world listens. In Washington, when she’s not going round-for-round with Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump, she’s championing policies like the Green New Deal, moving them from leftist pipe dreams into the mainstream of Democratic politics.
Back in the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez has yet to flex her muscles much. Last summer she endorsed Alessandra Biaggi in the primary against Jeff Klein, and in May she endorsed longshot Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán, providing Cabán with much-needed national attention and an infusion of cash from nationwide donors.
There will be no shortage of 2020 races for Ocasio-Cortez to get involved in. Two of the Bronx’s four congressional seats will have competitive primaries, including the 16th Congressional District. In that race, Ocasio-Cortez’s earliest boosters, Justice Democrats, are backing middle school principal Jamaal Bowman against Eliot Engel in the 15-term congressman’s first competitive primary in two decades.
5. Stanley Schlein
The embodiment of the Bronx machine, Stanley Schlein commands unparalleled respect among allies and ire from his enemies. The longtime fixer helped orchestrate Carl Heastie and Ruben Diaz Jr.’s ascension to power, solidifying his influence for as long as they reign. A largely private figure without an official party title, Schlein’s network of relationships across the city and immense institutional knowledge factor him significantly into Bronx Democrats’ electoral strategy and internal party machinations. There’s not a judge in the borough who got to the bench without Schlein’s blessing.
When Melinda Katz needed an all-star team of election attorneys, Schlein was called. When the Yankees needed a new stadium, Schlein was their sherpa. When a clerical error was going to kick Bill de Blasio off the ballot in the 2009 public advocate race, Schlein was the one who got him back on.
Schlein is also a well-compensated lobbyist. Between 2012 and 2018, Schlein collected $120,000 from the Catholic Conference to lobby the Assembly and state Senate on bills regarding the prosecution of sex offenses.