Cabrera and Rivera clash in first debate


In the two years since Councilman Fernando Cabrera and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera last faced off in an election, there seems to have been no love lost between them. 

The two clashed again in their first-ever televised debate on the “BronxTalk” program last week. The politicians took shots at each other for their records on fiscal and social issues. 

“I think the problem with Fernando is that he has a basic problem with the truth,” Mr. Rivera said during his response to the first question about his record of bringing capital funds to the district. “There are member items that council members have that they can direct to their district, this is not special to Fernando.”

His remarks came in response to one of Mr. Cabrera’s most frequent critiques of the incumbent—that Mr. Rivera has not been able to bring money to the district.

“The fact is the Senate doesn’t have that money,” Mr. Rivera said. “Either he is confused and doesn’t know what a senator does or he is just lying.”

He stuck with that theme for much of the 30-minute debate, highlighting his own successes in the State Senate as well.

Mr. Cabrera also stuck to his guns, keeping to his established tactic of comparing his opponent to Donald Trump.

“Here is a typical Trump-like tactic of Gustavo—trying to demonize his opponent,” Mr. Cabrera said. “The reality is I have been an elected official before he became an elected official as a Democrat, I am in good company with all of my colleagues who are collectively moving forward with progressive ideas.”

It appears that both men have elected to maintain a negative tone for the rest of the campaign, each calling the other a liar or comparing him to Mr. Trump.

However, the debate marked the first time Mr. Cabrera directly addressed claims that he had been accepting support from a super PAC called New Yorkers for Independent Action – a group whose funds include contributions from Republican activists, including Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart Corporation.

“Why would a person like Alice Walton give $450,000 to someone who she doesn’t think for all intents and purposes is a Republican,” Mr. Rivera said. “For most of his life Fernando Cabrera was a Republican.”

Mr. Cabrera said the PAC is funding him due largely to his support for an educational tax credit that would allow people to receive tax credits for paying private-school tuition for their children or donating money to charter or private schools. Mr. Rivera opposes the measure. 

“We are talking about parents who are working two and a half jobs to send their kids to private schools and charter schools, because they have lost faith in our educational system,” Mr. Cabrera said. “The audacity to tell those parents that they cannot get a tax credit when we have corporations getting big tax credits and we have young people struggling in our public schools.”

In an interview after the debate, Mr. Rivera accused Mr. Cabrera of coordinating with New Yorkers for Independent Action. The comments came while the senator was responding to claims from Mr. Cabrera’s camp, saying Mr. Rivera intimidated volunteers from their campaign.

“I said to them, ‘listen, after this race I’m still going to be a senator and I am still going to work for you,’” Mr. Rivera said in an interview on Aug. 18. “More importantly these two groups of people that I met were both working for the independent expenditure … so if [Mr. Cabrera’s spokesman Michael] Olmeida is referring to those individuals then that means they are coordinating which would be illegal.” 

The two politicians had previously come close to a public debate in 2014, but Mr. Cabrera declined to appear on “BronxTalk” at the time.