Gjonaj Knocks Rivera Out in the 80th AD

By Lennin Reyes

Bronx Journal Reporter

Residents of the 80th Assembly District voted for change in the September 13 primary.

The four candidates — Naomi D. Rivera, Mark Gjonaj, Irene Estrada-Rukaj, and Adam Bermudez — pulled out all the stops to woo voters. After months of scandals and music videos, the race came to a head.

At 8:30 p.m., staffers and other personnel gathered at the eight-year incumbent Rivera’s Allerton campaign office to await the results. Surprisingly, there was little to no fanfare.

The dreary mood was the antithesis of Maestro’s Caterers on Bronxdale Avenue, where yellow-shirted supporters of Gjonaj — Rivera’s chief opponent — were already shouting and declaring victory as the polls closed at 9 p.m. “I don’t think anyone could beat him,” Tom Donaj said. “He was so well prepared.”

News 12 The Bronx declared no precincts being reported as of 10 p.m., however supporters used their smartphones and tablets to search for updates to the race.

A half-hour later, the crowd gathered at Maestro’s shouted upon hearing News 12’s announcement showing Gjonaj leading 51-34 over Rivera with six percent of the precincts reported. On the news, Rivera was giving a speech, thanking her staff, in the midst of a silent crowd on Allerton Avenue.

The atmosphere at Maestro’s was World Series-esque. Gjonaj volunteer, and Lehman history senior Enkolana Cekaj, 23, was happy with the hard work the team did. “A lot of people put a lot of time into this,” Cekaj said. “The large community presence needed a leader, and he [Gjonaj] brought us together.”

Around 11 p.m., Gjonaj’s lead shrunk to 47-40 with about 30 percent of precincts reported. By 11:30 p.m., the crowd grew anxious as Gjonaj’s lead over Rivera shrank to about 130 votes. While the general mood was a sense of deja vĂș — partly because of the many recounts in several New York races earlier this year — supporters were cautiously optimistic.

As the clock struck midnight, two vehicles passed by Maestro’s. While one of them transported Gjonaj and his family, the other was a sanitation truck, which was appropriate for the occasion, as supporters were yelling, “We’re taking out the trash!”

Upon Gjonaj’s grand entrance, News 12 announced that Gjonaj’s lead expanded from 47-40 to 52-41 with all precincts reported. It was there when Gjonaj stood up on a chair surrounding supporters and said, “This is the most exciting thing to happen to me in my life!”


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