Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano has served in the House of Representatives for nearly 25 years without so much as a threat to his incumbency, with his lowest vote percentage being 64 percent in 1992. However, several Bronx political sources say that there is a groundswell of opposition forming against Serrano, with several names being floated as potential primary challengers for Serrano in this year’s election, including state Senator Rev. Rubén Díaz, City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.
Reached by phone, Díaz was the most critical of Serrano’s leadership, claiming that the congressman has become inaccessible to his constituents, and that he has accomplished very little of note throughout his tenure in the House. Last week, Díaz wrote in one of his “News From The Desk Of” releases that he was “disheartened” that Serrano did not join other elected officials in campaigning and protesting against the recent passage of the Farm Bill, which cut $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next ten years.
“There are two things that he’s known for—one, he passed legislation through Congress to honor Frank Sinatra. Number two, he brought Fidel Castro to the Bronx,” Díaz said. “Besides that, what has he done?”
Asked whether he is considering challenging Serrano in the Democratic primary, Díaz deflected any speculation, saying, “I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about our elected officials have to do more for our community.”
Palma was somewhat less evasive when asked whether she was considering a primary challenge to Serrano. Reached via text message about her future intentions, Palma responded ”I am exploring my options.”
Serrano has come under fire recently for opposing a $3.5 million subsidy that would have enabled the grocer FreshDirect to relocate from Long Island City in Queens to the Harlem River Yards in the Bronx. In order to receive the funding, FreshDirect would have needed unanimous approval from the New York Empowerment Zone Board—of which Serrano is a member—but the company pulled its application for funding when Serrano said he would vote against it.
Díaz indicated that Serrano’s opposition to FreshDirect is hypocritical given that, “For thirty years he’s been saying, ‘I serve the poorest district in the nation.’ ” Palma echoed that sentiment in less pointed terms, noting that the borough could have used the additional jobs that the grocer would have brought.
“As elected officials we have a responsibility to bring all stakeholders to the table and bring economic development to the community that will generate opportunities,” Palma wrote in a text message.
Serrano’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment in regard to the criticisms leveled against him or about the possibility of the congressman facing a primary challenge.
UPDATE: During a phone interview, Rep. Serrano responded to the criticisms from Díaz by noting the deep philosophical differences between he and the outspoken state senator, specifically on social issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
“The basis of [these criticisms], the nucleus of this dissent is the fact that [Díaz] has always made it clear that he disagrees with me philosophically,” Serrano said. “If he wishes to make those differences into a campaign, I welcome it and will discuss it with him to see where he stands.”
Serrano bristled at Díaz’s accusation of hypocrisy for his decision to oppose a subsidy to relocate FreshDirect to his district, which is one of the poorest in the nation. Serrano said he does not shy away from the people he serves and that there are many “success stories” in his district that he hears about from his constituents.
“We don’t turn away immigrants here, we don’t turn people away from the American Dream,” Serrano said. “I’m proud of the fact that I represent the hard working people that I do. To use [his district's economic status] as a campaign issue is a non-issue as far as I’m concerned.”
As for Palma’s statement regarding Serrano’s opposition to the FreshDirect subsidy, the congressman did not address her by name, but said that any issues other Bronx elected officials have with his leadership was news to him.
“To my knowledge, up to very recently, my colleagues in the Bronx were happy with my leadership, and the things I have been trying to do for years. They will have to again come up with reasons to show the public that it’s time for me to not be re-elected.”
Tags: 2014 election, annabel-palma, Democratic primary election, Farm Bill, Fidel Castro, Frank Sinatra, FreshDirect, Marcos Crespo, New York Empowerment Zone, Rep. Jose Serrano, Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., SNAP benefits