It’s a bit tough having to wait more than two weeks to officially hear the results of your New York City Council race, especially when your odds of winning are high and yet still not 100%. But Eric Dinowitz, after nabbing over 40% of the top choices in the first round, is using the spare weeks to spend time with his six year old boys.
Fatherhood is a common topic in the race to represent City Council District 11, as Dinowitz was criticized for cruising to victory on the name of his father, Assembly Member Jeff Dinowitz, who’s repped the northwestern Bronx since 1994. But the younger Dinowitz, 35, emphasized his own experience: the youngest member of his community board, youngest Democratic district ladder, and youngest teacher at his school for years, where he teaches high school special education.
City & State talked to Dinowitz about his potential win, his dad and his views on issues affecting his community. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve got a nearly 17 percentage point lead, nearly 1200 votes, but you didn’t officially declare victory. Why’s that, and what’s your sense of when this race will officially be called?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple years as Democratic district leader advocating for more early voting sites and the expansion of mail-in voting. I think that every vote needs to be counted. Until all the votes are counted, I’m not going to declare victory.
I guess I need to do the math myself. I think it is technically possible for a comeback.
I feel very good about where I am, but the process has to play out. All the votes need to be counted, and until that happens, we wait.
Two of your opponents formed an alliance and said they’d rank each other second. You avoided that. What was your thinking there? And did you end up ranking other candidates on your ballot?
I was running because our community needed a voice, and our children and working families, older adults and people with disabilities need an advocate. And I thought based on my values and my shared values of the community and my work that I've done in the community, I was the best candidate to attempt to be that advocate and to make those voices our corner of the Bronx heard. I ranked myself first. I did rank.
But not going to say who?
Political dynasties are nothing new in New York, did your father or both your parents get to work on the campaign? Were they active in the infrastructure there?
They both helped out in different ways in the campaign. My father was very, very good about providing advice and insight, and also very good about being hands off. This was my race to run. And he did not overstep whatsoever.
And it's surprising because if you know my father, you know he's very hands on. And one of the things that I saw growing up as [the son of the] Assemblyman, if he was in Albany, he was in his district office. He would handle many constituent complaints personally. He goes out petitioning for himself every single night he can, he goes out for other people every single day. So as an elected leader, and as an Assemblyman, it was challenging for him.
But he and I have had differing political views on a number of issues. And he was very good, he never pushed me in one direction or another. But he was always there for advice and counsel and help during the campaign.
Any particular issue of difference?
Obviously, how much junk food to give my kids.
We ran actually on different slates for president for presidential delegates. He ran as a delegate for Joe Biden, I ran as a delegate for Elizabeth Warren. He and I have different views on high stakes testing. There’s generational difference and there's different experiences that informed our views and different experiences that informed our approach and informed our desire to serve the public. Or in my case, attempt to serve the public.
The Regional Plan Association has specifically targeted Riverdale as a low-density neighborhood with good transit access that could be upzoned. There’s no specific plan, of course, but would you generally support increasing housing density in Riverdale?
I would respectfully disagree with the “good transit access.” If you're in Riverdale, bus is really your main mode of travel to get to and from anywhere. But we have problems with bus service up here. And so it's extremely problematic when the MTA comes to the district and say they want to cut express bus service when it's already hard enough to get around the Bronx and get to other places in the city. Not to mention that there's no subway in Riverdale. There's a subway in Kingsbridge with the 1 train. In Kingsbridge there's one accessible subway station, meaning one station with an elevator. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. So I respectfully disagree with the good transit access. There's Metro-North, but of course the fares are much higher than the subway.
The second problem is one of the big things I spoke about in the campaign, which is people choose to live, to retire, to raise a family in the neighborhood of their choice. And so for special interest groups from outside the district to come in and tell us how we should change our neighborhood with what sounds like a poor assessment of the neighborhood, I take issue with (that). I think it's vital that in any zoning changes, or any changes to the districts, that our community has a voice in those changes.
The City Council vote on the budget last year was pretty contentious, especially around the issue of funding the NYPD. If you were in office, would you have voted yes?
The issues around policing that I see, that residents of the Northwest Bronx share, I think, revolve around accountability and the role of police officers, the responsibilities of police officers. I think that people do want a police presence, but they want the police to be doing the right thing and to be held accountable. And so with that, I think a lot of the bills the city council put forth regarding the responsibilities and roles of police officers are important steps in the right direction. A number of the measures they passed on accountability and that the state passed around accountability are important.
I do not believe that any of the conversation about roles of policing or responsibilities of police officers and accountability are answered with a budgetary solution. Reducing the number of police officers by reducing the budget ... it wouldn't have changed the responsibilities of police officers.
Yes or no?
I think we’re at a moment in the city where people were being pretty clear about what they wanted. They wanted more accountability in the police.
But the other thing I say is this: my voice wasn't in the room. The other council members who are now running, their voices weren't in the room. A lot of my career has been about advocating for policies and changes that are meaningful and impactful. And had any of the new council members or my voice, our voice had been in the room, maybe the budget would have looked different.
You’re in an a cappella group. Did you have a campaign song?
I should have, now that you mention it. But of course, music performance is much harder now during COVID.