New York City Council member Vanessa Gibson is set to become the first non-Latino Bronx Borough President in more than three years after building a diverse coalition of supporters from diverse backgrounds amid split votes for Latino candidates, according to New York political insiders.
In the recent primary election, Gibson - who is African-American - received 53.5% of the ranked-choice vote, compared to 46.5% for Council member Fernando Cabrera, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican ancestry.
With the announcement, Gibson is likely to become the borough's first non-Latino president in 35 years following the November 2 election. She is considered the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in the largely Democratic-leaning borough.
In a recent interview with City & State New York, Gibson said that she believes that while the majority-Latino borough has a "longtime history" of being represented by Latino men, she doesn't believe that people based entirely on identity.
"The voters of the Bronx have a right to elect who they want to be their next leader, regardless of what you look like, but really running on a record of accomplishments and a record of results," she said. "I focused heavily on the work I had done in the Assembly, in the City Council and I didn't go out telling people to vote for me because I'm an African-American woman."
Gibson's assessment of her campaign was echoed by other local candidates in New York.
Bronx City Council candidate Marjorie VelĂˇzquez - who is running to become the first Latina to represent New York City's 13th council district - said that she believes Gibson's primary success stems from an "ability to unite so many folks from many different backgrounds.
"It speaks to the core strength of her campaign and her message," she said. "Vanessa is an amazing individual and fought really hard to get where she's at."
VelĂˇzquez also praised Gibson's track record of success on the City Council and local assembly.
"She was able to effectively show that knowledge and experience to voters," VelĂˇzquez added. "She had a great coalition behind her. I think that showed that people don't necessarily vote on demographic lines, but more importantly on the type of candidate Vanessa is."
Ischia Bravo, a Democratic candidate running to represent the Bronx's 15th district on the city Council - and who has known and worked with Gibson since 2013 - said that her competence resonated among many of the borough's Latino residents.
"I've had the opportunity to watch her evolve into the elected official she is today," Bravo said. "I think that Bronx folks wanted someone they felt has the experience, and has done the work. I'm confident enough to say that Vanessa is going to surround herself with a good team to be able to attend to the needs of the Latino population here."
Eli Valentin, a New York-based political analyst, consultant and professor, said that while Gibson was a "good candidate" with significant support, she also benefitted from the fact that multiple Latinos on the ballot led to a split vote.
"I believe what happened here is that the Latinos in the race ended up splitting the Latino vote, to such an extent that it allowed her to win," he said. "Before the ranked-choice voting process took place, you could see her lead was not a big lead.....multiple people ended up hurting each other, and it allowed her to win."
Despite being the only one of the Bronx's five boroughs with a Latino majority, many of those in senior positions - including the head of the Bronx Democratic Party and the Bronx District Attorney - are African-American.
"We have no Latino representation at all, at the federal level. I think that's significant," Valentin added. "A lot of questions need to be asked - like whether it's a matter of Latino elected officials failing to empower the Latino community, or a lack of voter engagement."
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