Why are Wall Street’s super-rich donors targeting local elections in the Bronx?
The super-rich political donors are looking to sway local races in northwest Bronx neighborhoods for the second year in a row — this time in a sleepy Democratic primary election against longtime Assemblyman Jose Rivera in Kingsbridge Heights and Belmont.
Moving NY Forward (MNYF), an independent spending fund tied to Jane Street Capital, a secretive Wall Street firm, has so far spent nearly $200,000 to support Democratic State Committee member and director Emmanuel Martinez. district of the local Community Board 7. far more than the less than $14,000 Martinez’s own campaign has raised through the end of May, more than half donated by himself.
The Moving NY Forward group is paying for a blitz of shippers and two field workers earmarked for the June 28 primary election — along with a billboard truck covered in a towering image of the candidate.
Rivera has served the 78th Assembly District since 2001, after an earlier stint in the Assembly in the 1980s. Popular with his constituents, he won re-election in 2020 with 86% of the vote, and secured the Democratic primary before that with 83% of the vote.
The last time Rivera was forcibly targeted was more than a decade ago, when in 2008 a rebel faction of the county’s Democratic Party – dubbed the “Rainbow Rebellion”, in a nod eye to its diversity – mounted a successful campaign to unseat Rivera as a county Democrat. party chairman and install Carl Heastie in his place.
Neither Martinez nor Rivera responded to THE CITY’s multiple requests for comment. But some voters expressed support for Rivera.
Asked who she would vote for in the June 28 primary, Maribel Garcia, a “fifties” resident of the neighborhood for 18 years, said in Spanish “As far as I’m concerned, Rivera can stay in power for another 30 years. We have nothing to complain about.
Moving NY Forward, funded by a one-time $1.5 million contribution from Michael Jenkins of e-commerce company Jane Street, said in a statement to THE CITY that it endorses contestants who “embodied the ideals of racial justice , social, economic and environmental and have a proven record of fighting on behalf of marginalized communities.
Moving NY Forward has also spent smaller sums to support the re-election of Queens Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who has no primary or general election opponents.
He is also supporting Brooklyn Assembly hopeful Hercules Reid, an aide to Mayor Eric Adams who recently lost a special election for the seat previously held by US Ambassador to Jamaica Nick Perry despite Adams’ endorsement. Reid is now a candidate for the Democratic primary.
Moving NY Forward said it intends to “support candidates in boroughs committed to improving and expanding affordable housing, reducing class sizes, increasing access to quality affordable health care and child care. free kids all day, bridging the digital divide, reducing food insecurity, improving community safety and sanitation, improving access to transportation, and advocating for tenants’ rights.
Unlike candidates, independent groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts, but they cannot coordinate or collaborate with campaigns.
Democratic Party insiders have racked their brains over the secret spending committee, wondering what the group’s purpose is and why a Tribeca finance executive is pouring a lot of money into low-stakes races.
Jenkins, his wife and top Jane Street colleagues previously made the maximum allowable contributions to the 2020 Congressional campaign of Tomas Ramos, who lost the election to Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx) but simultaneously activated a group called the Bronx Rising Initiative, proceeding to distribute private funds to local healthcare providers, scholarships and other causes.
On Saturday, a billboard truck paid for by Moving NY Forward was parked at the Morris Avenue Block Party organized by New Life Bronx Church, the pulpit of former City Council member Fernando Cabrera. Such signs cost between $1,800 and $2,500, in addition to the hourly cost of renting a truck, according to a person who answered the phone at the rental company.
But was the money worth it?
“I heard about this guy. I know he’s running for mayor,” said one of the block party revelers the next day, who simply identified himself as “O.”
“We see signs everywhere, all these slogans, these promises – but nothing on the issues. Where is the substance? Jesús Almonte, 53, said in Spanish outside a bodega near the block party site on Morris Avenue.
Martinez did not respond to THE CITY’s requests for comment.
Second consecutive election
While the New Life Bronx Church block party was underway, Martinez was a block away from speaking to potential voters at a “Coffee with Manny” event at the New Capitol Diner on West Kingsbridge Road.
A spokesperson for Moving NY Forward said Monday that the group “was not aware that Martinez was hosting an event in the area and that no MNYF staff were at the block party.”
On Saturday morning, Martinez hosted a 5-minute Instagram Live video of the Kingsbridge Armory, a district landmark that has seen two major redevelopment plans crumble in the past two decades – and remains vacant.
The candidate asked voters to imagine what the Armory might become, saying its revival will “change the face of our amazing neighborhood and the Bronx as a whole.”
“Let’s be honest, people: this is the Bronx. We should have basketball, we should have soccer, we should have indoor batting cages, things that speak to our people, a community center for our kids. Things we can connect with are needed to revitalize our amazing community,” he said.
Moving NY Forward executive director Martha Ayon said in a statement that the “proudly Latino-led independent spending” identifies districts to target “that have never received proper investment.”
Describing the neighborhood Martinez heads to, she pointed to its predominantly Latino population and high levels of poverty.
“Its residents, like so many New Yorkers, are grappling with an accessibility crisis,” she said. “This district has had the same representation for decades and during that time it has not received proper investments or seen major capital improvements or improved quality of life.”
Jenkins’ election dollars follow the flow of others in the region.
This is the second consecutive election year that super-wealthy individuals have sought to sway voters in this part of the Bronx, with unusually high local election spending.
In last year’s local elections, where campaign contributions are much more strictly capped than for state races, a group funded by Walmart heiress and charter school activist Alice Walton spent $75,000 in mailings supporting City Council candidate John Sanchez — who lost to current Councilman Oswald Feliz in a special election.
Property developer William Zeckendorf has also spent generously supporting Sanchez as well as Eric Dinowitz, who is now the Council member representing the northern part of the area.
Some voters in the 78th Assembly District who spoke to THE CITY on Sunday were concerned about Wall Street’s investment in the neighborhood.
“Maybe it’s all that real estate, it’s everywhere. They might want a piece of that too,” said a voter who simply identified himself as Carlos. “But I stay out of politics.” He had received pro-Martinez mail at his house, he said, but did not bother to check who had paid for them.
Others were unimpressed with Jenkins’ largesse.
Garcia, sitting in a folding chair outside a bodega on Morris Avenue cooling off with añejo rum and coconut water alongside Almonte and half a dozen other neighbors, brushed off the tycoon’s spending and joked that she and her neighbors were “Kingsbridge millionaires.
“We’re happy, we’re healthy, none of us have had COVID, we’re alive, we can have those drinks, we’re working six days a week and we’re doing great. We may not have their millions, but we always have another $20 in our pockets. Was good.”