Planning to develop in the Bronx? Better have these politicians on speed dial

The borough has four City Council members on the powerful land use committee

The Bronx, Ruben Diaz Jr. and Melissa Mark-Viverito (Credit: Getty Images)
The Bronx, Ruben Diaz Jr. and Melissa Mark-Viverito (Credit: Getty Images)

The Bronx has been touted as New York’s next hot real estate market for years now and saw $3.3 billion worth of investment last year alone thanks to major incoming projects ranging from Melrose Commons to the long-awaited Kingsbridge National Ice Center.

With that in mind, The Real Deal has put together a primer of politicians in the borough who developers should be prepared to work with if they want their forays into the Bronx to go smoothly. As with many things in life, it’s not always what you know. It’s who you know.

Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx Borough President 

Ruben Diaz Jr. has been the borough president since 2009 and previously served as a New York State Assemblyman. His biography boasts that the Bronx has received more than 29,000 new units of housing since he took office, and his office releases a development report each year touting the amount of investment that has come to the Bronx. He has voiced support for major Bronx projects including Somerset Partners and the Chetrit Group’s mixed-use development at 2401 Third Avenue and 101 Lincoln Avenue, as well as the mixed-use affordable housing project La Central. He has received campaign contributions from developers including Youngwoo & Associates, Omni New York and Somerset. Although he was rumored as a possible candidate to run for mayor against Bill de Blasio this year, he is still only registered to run for reelection as borough president.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Speaker

Melissa Mark-Viverito currently presides over the City Council as its Speaker, a position she was unanimously elected to in 2014, nine years after being elected to the City Council. Her district includes both East Harlem in Manhattan and the South Bronx, where she represents a large portion of Mott Haven, arguably the most popular neighborhood for development in the borough. She is an outspoken liberal who generally aligns herself with tenants on real estate issues and clashed with Somerset Partners and the Chetrit Group over a controversial party they threw in the South Bronx at the site of their planned waterfront project. However, she more recently voiced support for AvalonBay Communities’ 60-story tower in East Harlem. She has received campaign contributions from Omni New York, the Richman Group and the Witkoff Group. Mark-Viverito cannot run again for speaker due to term limits. It’s unclear what her plans are when her term is up. Mark-Viverito has endorsed Diana Ayala, her deputy chief of staff, to replace her as the District 8 City Council representative. Other candidates vying for her seat include community activist Tamika Mapp and New York State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez.

From left: Andrew Cohen, Annabel Palma, Rafael Salamanca and Ritchie Torres

Andrew Cohen, Annabel Palma, Rafael Salamanca and Ritchie Torres, City Councilmembers

This quartet of councilmembers comprises the Bronx delegation on the City Council’s powerful land use committee.

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Cohen represents District 11, consisting of the borough’s northwest neighborhoods like Norwood and Riverdale. He was elected to the council in 2013 and has supported developments including the affordable housing complex Webster Commons and the BJ’s Wholesale on West 237th Street. He has received donations from real estate professionals at Metropolitan Realty Associates, Citi Habitats and the Zucker Organization.

Palma represents District 18, consisting of the borough’s southeast neighborhoods like Parkchester and Castle Hill. She was elected to the council in 2004 and has received campaign contributions from Evenhar Development Corporation and the Durst Organization. Palma will be leaving her seat at the end of the current term. Candidates to replace her on the City Council include State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., and community activists Michael Beltzer and Amanda Farias. Diaz Sr. is considered the front-runner.

Salamanca represents District 17, consisting of the borough’s southern neighborhoods like Hunts Point and Longwood. He was first elected to the council during a 2016 special election. He has voiced support for projects including La Central and Bronx Commons, and he has received donations from executives at MBD Community Housing Corporation and Mastermind Management.

Torres, considered a rising star in the Democratic party, represents District 15, consisting of northern neighborhoods like Belmont and Fordham. He is the youngest member of the City Council and was elected to the body in 2013, and he chairs the Committee on Public Housing in addition to sitting on the Land Use Committee. Torres has received contributions from developers including Phipps Houses and Omni New York.

Carl Heastie

Carl Heastie, New York State Assembly Speaker

Heastie was elected to the Assembly in 2000 and saw his political stock rise in February 2015 when his colleagues selected him as Speaker to replace Sheldon Silver, who was facing corruption charges. He represents District 83 in the northeastern Bronx, and although his role gives him considerable influence over the Bronx and the state, a TRD analysis from December 2015  found that he received only two donations from the real estate industry during the first half of the year: one from Knickerbocker Management and another from Atlantic Development for $4,100 each. Heastie has more recently received contributions from Real Estate Board PAC, a political expenditure arm of the Real Estate Board of New York, and nonresidential building operator Cherry Green Property Corp.

Jeff Klein

Jeff Klein, State Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader

Klein was elected to the State Senate in 2004 and represents the 34th District, covering virtually all of the eastern and northwestern Bronx. He leads the powerful Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight breakaway senate Democrats that support the senate’s Republican leadership, effectively giving them control of the chamber. Klein is an outspoken critic of NYCHA, having referred to them as the “worst landlord in the city,”  and has called for greater transparency regarding development plans at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard. He has accepted recent campaign contributions from Katonah Property Management and KZA Realty Group.