An (almost) new district? New race? New faces?

As Alessandra Biaggi sets sights on Congress, others set theirs on her current job


When an incumbent decides to stay the incumbent, challengers are usually few and far in between. But when that incumbent decides to move on? It might be easier to compile a list of everyone who isn’t vying to replace them.

For the first time since Guy Velella abruptly ended his scandal-ridden tenure in 2004, one of the borough’s more prominent state senate seats is open. That’s because it’s current holder, Alessandra Biaggi, wants to go to Washington, with hopes of replacing Tom Suozzi in Congress.

While really no one has outright announced their bid for Biaggi’s seat, there are a number of people openly contemplating throwing their hat into what’s expected to be a ring filled to the brim with candidates.

For John Doyle, an election victory would quite literally be a dream come true, finally giving him the chance to represent the people of the only place he’s ever called home. Still, Doyle isn’t quite ready to commit. The City Island resident challenged Mark Gjonaj for his city council seat in 2017, only to finish behind not only the incumbent, but also the candidate who ultimately succeeded Gjonaj earlier this year, Marjorie Velazquez.

“I’m considering because I’ve been reached out to and people have encouraged me to run,” Doyle said. “But I’m still very involved in the area.”

If Doyle were to run and win the seat, he wouldn’t be a stranger in the state senate chamber. He’s a former district and community affairs director for the man who replaced Velella in 2004 — Jeffrey Klein, who in turn was toppled by Biaggi in 2018 after his penchant of caucusing with Republicans finally caught up to him in a post-Trump election political world.

But Doyle says don’t pin all that on him. He left Albany before Klein broke away from the Democratic Party to create the controversial Independent Democratic Conference.

“I served five years with Klein before he was an IDC member, and before he was power sharing with the Republicans,” Doyle said. “I need to clarify that. I don’t condone that behavior.”

In fact, Doyle was quite vocal during Biaggi’s race for the senate seat, never shying away from taking a swipe at Klein, and his political moves that may have given him power in the senate leadership, but helped assure the upper chamber stayed in Republican hands.

Since then, Doyle has become a male district leader in Assemblywoman Michael Benedetto's district. That has allowed him to work closely with not only Biaggi, but also U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

And when he’s not being political, Doyle works in the marketing department at Jacobi Medical Center.

There, he helped kick off the hospital’s Stand Up to Violence gun-prevention program.

“I have a broad array of things I’ve been involved in within the community,” Doyle said. “Whether I run or not, people should look for somebody who has a broad array of experience to represent them.”

That’s something Christian Amato can agree with.

The founder and chief executive of the political consultancy firm Consense Strategies, Amato also worked as a senate staffer for this seat, except this time for Biaggi herself. After working on her campaign, he quickly rose to become her deputy chief of staff, until what would become a very public firing.

But that history doesn’t seem to be dissuading much of anyone.

“I started to get approached by numerous people in the community,” Amato said. “And that’s really made me consider the viability of this run.”

Forget working in the senate office, Amato also has some solid experience running campaigns, too, most recently helping Amanda Farias win an open city council seat once held by Ruben Diaz Sr. Amato also worked on Elisa Crespo’s bid to succeed Ritchie Torres on council, which would have made her the first trans woman elected to City Hall.

For the most part, Amato has focused on helping Democrats win elections. He wants to ensure the voices of both men and women of color — as well as members of the LGBTQ community — are included in the conversations for issues impacting neighborhoods across the city.

Amato also credits many of the troublesome issues the coronavirus pandemic exposed in the Bronx, especially where there were higher infection and death rates than really anywhere else in the state.

“The pandemic has changed our neighborhoods, it’s hurt our workforce, burdened renters and homeowners alike, and even pushed people into homelessness,” Amato said. “And I think that our government solutions have sort of been a temporary Band-Aid.”

That has led Amato to throw his support behind legislative policies like the Build Public Renewables Act — a bill designed to combat the climate crisis — as well as the Good Cause Evictions bill, intended to strengthen tenant rights by limiting sharp rent increases and preventing landlords from evicting paying tenants.

Doyle and Amato are by far not the only ones looking to take on the seat. Even Velazquez — whose time at City Hall can only be measured in weeks — has been said to be considering a run. So has Assemblyman Kenny Burgos, according to some chatter inside political circles, now in his second year in the seat held by former Bronx Democratic Party boss Marcos Crespo.

Yet Amato, whose parents immigrated from Italy a half-century ago, wants, above all else, what’s best for the only place he’s ever called home.

“I’ve been an organizer for quite a long time,” Amato said. “And for me, I want to know that if I were to jump into this, that I would be as effective in this role to better our entire Bronx community. And that, to me, is the driving force in what’s making me sort of consider that.”

CORRECTION: John Doyle is a male district leader in Assemblyman Michael Benedetto’s district. A story in the Feb. 17 edition provided an incorrect lawmaker.
Guy Velella, Alessandra Biaggi, Tom Suozzi, John Doyle, Mark Gjonaj, Marjorie Velazquez, Joseph De La Cruz, Jeffrey Klein, IDC, Independent Democratic Conference, Nathalia Fernandez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jacobi Medical Center, Christian Amato, Consense Strategies, Ruben Diaz Sr., Elisa Crespo, Kenny Burgos, Marcos Crespo,