When Felix Perdomo first decided he wanted to run for city council, his best experience was working in adult education programs in the Bronx, meeting with folks who he said were clearly being underserved.
“In my community, we aren’t really getting the help we need,” Perdomo said. “We have to empower our community.”
Perdomo, who earned a master’s degree in engineering not long after emigrating from the Dominican Republic in 2001, said he decided to run against incumbent Councilman Fernando Cabrera in the 14th district after growing tired of hearing from students about issues with their landlords and seeing parks neglected, like Mount Hope Garden on Creston Avenue — a little more than a block from Cabrera’s office.
“That park was closed for almost seven years,” Perdomo said. “They said they were going to fix that park, but it has taken over seven years.”
But all of his care and concern for community issues could not have prepared him for what it takes to topple an incumbent elected official in a city like New York. A lesson Perdomo learned in one of the first major endorsement bids of the election cycle in April when he and two other challengers vied to take from Cabrera the endorsement of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Perdomo said of his first real foray into the Bronx political world.
The Ben Franklin Club often is touted as one of the most influential and powerful Democratic organizations in the Bronx, and even though only a small section of the 14th council district falls within its territory, an endorsement from the club is considered — both by politicians and members of the club itself — to be vital for winning elections in this part of the borough.
“When I was at Benjamin Franklin, I didn’t really have any opportunity to express myself,” Perdomo said.
“I was a little pressured by the fact that Cabrera already had the support of the other councilperson and Assembly member.”
Cabrera ultimately won the endorsement with 30 votes, while Randy Abreu and Justin Sanchez — the other challengers at the time — each earned seven. Perdomo, though, earned none.
Back then, Perdomo had not even found a rhythm to speaking to large crowds, or raising money for his campaign. But since that time, he has learned quickly how to reach out to media and potential voters, as well as raise money.
In all, Perdomo has picked up a little more than $13,400 in his campaign war chest, compared to $55,000 and $81,000 from Abreu and Cabrera, respectively. But the highlight, Perdomo said, is the size of his contributions — the largest of which is just $1,200.
“The people who are donating money to me are the people who are going to be voting for me,” he said. “The other candidates have donors from outside and all over.”
The 47-year-old’s campaign is run on two fronts. The first is a need for new blood in city council. While he has no particular issues with the way Cabrera has done his job in two terms in office, Pedromo believes those two terms have been long enough, and it is time for him to step aside.
“We have to start fresh,” he said. “Eight years is enough. If not, we are killing the seed of new ideas.”
But the second front is a bit more specific: Perdomo wants to redirect capital funds toward adult education programs. Those programs are aimed specifically at informing constituents — made up largely by immigrants in the South Bronx — of their rights against a variety of factors, like those who would seek to take advantage of immigrants in the workplace, or who are simply bad landlords.
“We have to educate people so they can defend themselves,” Perdomo said.
He added to that his desire to bring job fairs to the district, as well as so-called “Pedestrian Days,” which would encourage folks to get out and shop at local businesses on Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse.
“Being a Democrat means making opportunities to change things,” Perdomo said.
“It is very, very important that we change things right now.”