Challengers emerge to run against Savino, Ortiz

January 24, 2020 Paula Katinas
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BOROUGHWIDE — Two longtime lawmakers could find themselves having to defend their seats in a Democratic primary this June.

Newcomers have announced plans to run against State Sen. Diane Savino, who represents the 23rd Senate District, and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz of the 51st Assembly District.

The primary will take place on June 23.

Photo courtesy of Rajiv Gowda for State Senate campaign
Rajiv Gowda has announced plans to run against State Sen. Diane Savino in the Democratic primary in June.

Rajiv Gowda, an engineer for the New York City Department of Design and Construction, recently announced that he is running against Savino, a Democrat whose district takes in parts of Coney Island, Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, as well as parts of Staten Island.

Savino has been in office since 2004.

Ortiz, a Democrat who first won office in 1994, is currently assistant speaker of the Assembly and represents a district that takes in Red Hook, Sunset Park and parts of Bay Ridge.

Ortiz is facing a challenge from Katherine Walsh, an urban planner who is the head of the Cities, States and Regions Program at the environmental nonprofit organization CDP. Walsh’s campaign recently boasted that she has gotten off to a fast start, raising $58,448 to date. She has been endorsed by the Sunset Park Latino Democrats. 

The Savino-Gowda race would pit an experienced lawmaker against an upstart.

Gowda, a Staten Island resident, is a former president of the School District 31 Community Educational Council and formerly served as Transportation and Waterfront Committee chairperson for Staten Island’s Community Board 1.

He appears to revel in his status as a political newcomer. “The residents of our community desire new leaders who will challenge the political establishment, root out corruption in Albany and give a new reformist Democratic voice to communities that have long been neglected in Staten Island and Brooklyn,” he said in a statement.

Gowda is a former delegate to DC 37 and the Central Labor Council. In his campaign press release, he criticized Savino for her role in the Independent Democatic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats who worked with Republicans in the State Senate from 2011 until 2018.

As an engineer, Gowda said he is perfectly positioned to work on problems of infrastructure in the 23rd Senate District. “Our infrastructure is old and crumbling and needs attention now. I have an eye for infrastructure and can perceive the problems that plague our city’s congested streets and neighborhoods,” he said.

Savino is proud of her record, according to Thomas Musich, her campaign spokesperson.

“Sen. Savino has been in office for 15 years, where she has written and chaptered 124 bills and counting, many of which are landmark bills. She will work with anyone to deliver for the people of the 23rd District and has been proud to be the standard bearer for working people across the state. Throughout her career, she has received the support of every union in this state, including her opponent’s,” Musich told the Home Reporter in an email.

Walsh, who announced her candidacy in the fall, is putting the environment at the center of her campaign for the Assembly.

“We are facing unprecedented but urgent crises that need to be addressed,” Walsh told the Home Reporter in an interview in September. “Everything that you talk about at the kitchen table is linked to climate. Every discussion revolves around climate issues, because climate affects everything.”

Walsh said she will use her experience as an urban planner to strengthen resiliency in the Assembly district, which suffered serious damage in Superstorm Sandy in 2012. She also vowed to increase investment in green affordable housing, combat air pollution and work to create local jobs as part of New York’s Green New Deal.

Walsh, who is an asthma sufferer, will be rolling out a comprehensive policy to address the high rates of asthma on the 51st Assembly District within the next few weeks, according to her campaign.

Ortiz defended his record on the environment. “I have worked on climate change issues to address resiliency in the district. I’ve been working to ensure that our community is rebuilt,” he said.

Ortiz said he has also worked on health care and education issues like school overcrowding, ensuring that Epi-Pens are available in schools and fighting to get health clinics placed in schools. “In my legislation, I have always been ahead of the curve,” he told the Home Reporter.

Ortiz expressed confidence that he could win a primary challenge. “Someone is running against me. That’s fine. It’s part of democracy. I’m proud of my record,” he said.

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