Pity the 34th Council District

The race for the 34th District City Council seat is one of those convoluted knots of lunacy, intrigue and stupidity that is so unlikely, it could only be true.  The cast assembled for this campaign belongs in a Greek tragedy crossed with a French farce.

The 34th includes a swath of northern Brooklyn encompassing part of Williamsburg and Bushwick, and a sliver of Queens.  Council Member Diana Reyna has represented the district for the last 12 years.  One of the more notable moments of her legislative career occurred in 2003 when she paraded in a Carnival “mas” during a working visit to Trinidad.  The picture of 29 year-old CM Reyna in a bikini has since vaporized down the memory hole, but it was apparently a spectacle in itself.

Diana Reyna got her start as the protégé of former Kings County Dem chair Assemblyman Vito Lopez, whose Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council is a legendary engine of political power and the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of local and federal money.  As Chief of Staff to Lopez, Reyna was hand chosen to take the seat in 2001, and won in a three-way race.

Eight years later however, Reyna and her former boss fell out over the development of the Broadway Triangle, a 31-acre industrial zone bordered by Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.  AM Lopez had arranged for the city to hand over a sweet development deal to RBSCC in conjunction with United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.  CM Reyna opposed the no-bid deal and promoted Los Sures, a rival development organization which, like Ridgewood-Bushwick, originated in the early 1970s as a Latino tenants’ rights advocacy group. 

Lopez and Reyna both have deep interests in their respective favorite development organizations.  RBSCC produces thousands of voters loyal to Lopez, and employed his live-in girlfriend as Housing Director for a meager $330,000 annual salary.  Reyna’s mother-in-law on the other hand worked for Los Sures as head of its senior center, and the CM was questioned about the $40,000 discretionary funding she funneled there.

In any case, the once cozy pair feuded, and Lopez put up Maritza Davila, another of his protégés, to run against Reyna in 2009.  Davila lost.  This time around, Lopez himself, having been stripped of his Housing Committee and Kings County Democratic Committee Chairs following his groping scandal, has decided to run for the very Council seat that his former Chief of Staff is vacating.  Though Ridgewood-Bushwick has lost a lot of its city funding and Lopez could face federal handcuffs any day in the current storm of corruption arrests, he still has his followers on the ground.

The favored candidate for the 34th CD seat is Antonio Reynoso, current and long-term Chief of Staff to Diana Reyna.  Starting in early 2012, he has been endorsed by the entire Democratic establishment, who were presumably hoping to forestall Vito Lopez from jumping in. 

Reynoso is an inoffensive candidate, if you think that being a City Council staffer as one’s entire qualification for office is not offensive.  Here we have again the phenomenon that City Council Watch has long identified as the signal marker of a decayed political culture: the election of Chiefs of Staff to succeed their bosses. 

One doesn’t have to agree with the Bloombergian technocratic principle that a businessman will always make the best elected official to find it weird that so many people run for office on the basis of having carried water for other elected officials.  It exemplifies machine politics for politicians to promote their staffers as their successors.  Like a monarchy or a fungus, the system divides, spawns and replicates itself perpetually.  Lopez begat Reyna begat Reynoso.  How can we seriously see Reynoso as a reform candidate when he is the spiritual grandson of his opponent?

Tommy Torres is the third candidate in the race to become the honorable member from the 34th Council District.  Regular readers of the Daily News will recall that Mr. Torres was in the news last September when it emerged that he was the boyfriend of since-defeated Assembly Member Naomi Rivera in the Bronx.

Being Naomi Rivera’s boyfriend may show questionable taste, but that isn’t enough to disqualify Torres from office.  The fact that he has worked outside of politics for 13 years as a high school gym teacher and coach could actually work in his favor.  Except it appears that Torres accepted a position on his girlfriend’s staff as a fulltime community liaison, at the same time he was working for the Department of Education, also fulltime, including after-school coaching duties. 

Nobody has yet explained how he managed to do two hands-on jobs in Brooklyn and the Bronx, simultaneously.  Sounds like fraud to me, but I think the US Attorney’s office has its hands full at the moment.  Let’s wait and see!