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Gjonaj delivers searing speech

Bronx Times

Elected officials aren’t exactly known for their candor.

But it was a different case with Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj speaking to a Morris Park group.

In a rare move, the freshman pol unleashed an unrestrained, off-the-cuff manifesto that railed against do-nothing Bronx legislators who commonly attend functions yet balk at leading.

His sobering speech was met with a round of applause at the Oct. 16 meeting of the Morris Park Community Association.

“You’re not holding us accountable or responsible,” said Gjonaj, captivating a socially-conservative blue collar crowd.

“We attend your dinner and you praise us like we’re the best thing since milk,” he noted. “We buy a journal, we don’t even use our money, we use your money to buy a journal at your event and you guys rave about the elected officials.”

Gjonaj veered from the talking points script at the 15-minute mark after highlighting some of his accomplishments under his Gjonaj CARES program, which he privately funds. But after highlighting the International Food Festival he sponsored, Gjonaj blasted nameless Bronx legislators for creating a territorial divide within the Bronx Democratic machine.

“They don’t realize that these boundaries we put up hurt us,” said Gjonaj. “Because once you remove them you realize that your backyard is my front yard we have more in common.”

Uniting Against Issues

The Bronx’s larger issues transcend state Assembly, Senate and Congressional precincts, according to Gjonaj. Many of them include the nagging unemployment rate, rampant poverty and the city’s policy to cram the most homeless shelters into the borough than any other part of the city.

Gjonaj was quick, however, to praise specific local electeds.

“This borough’s never had it better than it has today from a political standpoint,” said Gjonaj. “You have Jeff Klein, the co-leader of the State Senate. We have the potential to put Jimmy Vacca as the next Speaker of the City Council.”

Gjonaj also included Congressman Joe Crowley in the pool of positive pols.

While Gjonaj’s candor surprised some MPCA members, he was later thanked for delivering a refreshing speech that hasn’t been heard in quite a while.

“He’s at home in Morris Park,” said Al D’Angelo, a member of MPCA’s executive board. “He wasn’t trying to impress anyone. He was telling it like it is.”

Marking His Territory

His speech came just over a year after Gjonaj won the Democratic primary in the 80th Assembly District covering Morris Park, Pelham Gardens, Pelham Parkway, Van Nest, Allerton, Bedford Park, Mosholu Parkway, and Norwood.

Gjonaj, a successful Realtor, ousted veteran Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, who hails from a powerful borough political dynasty.

The incumbent Rivera ran into trouble during her re-election bid, with city and state investigators looking into reports of nepotism at her district office. She was also considered aloof, showing only obligatory brief appearances at community functions.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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