If anyone doubted Alessandra Biaggi could crack the façade of the Democratic establishment, they can lay their doubts to rest.
Biaggi — a Pelham-based lawyer who worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as well as in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s counsel office — officially arrived in the political promised land last Thursday, ousting incumbent Jeffrey Klein, and likely wresting his long-held 34th Senate District seat, representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.
Klein, of course, is the former leader of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference — the group of renegade Democrats who collaborated with Republicans in the state senate — and was named deputy minority leader after being convinced by Cuomo to shut down the IDC earlier this year.
“We did this,” said a fist-pumping Biaggi, flanked by city council Speaker Corey Johnson and comptroller Scott Stringer, to ecstatic cheers from a throng of supporters who gathered at the Bronx Alehouse in Kingsbridge last week.
“If this does not prove that the political currency of this time is people over money, I don’t know what does,” she said.
Biaggi relied on low-cost mailers, digital media advertising, phone calls, postcards and door-to-door advertising, while her opponent spent $2.4 million.
But Biaggi also was buoyed by 500 volunteers she’s called the lifeblood of her campaign.
“This is one of the most amazing moments, but this is not only because of me,” Biaggi said. “This is because of every single one of you who were courageous, who saw a vision as well. Who knew that we could not tolerate Democrats who would be empowering Republicans.
“We have now cut the head off the IDC snake.”
There was a certain quiet buzz charging the streets throughout the community last Thursday, starting that morning at P.S. 207 in Kingsbridge, where poll coordinators Adele Campos and Freddy Campaniello shepherded a steady stream of voters to the booths. By afternoon, volunteers from Biaggi’s campaign planted signs on Riverdale Avenue just below the city line, and in the evening, it was jubilant mayhem at the West 238th Street taphouse.
David Knapp, co-founder of grassroots group Northwest Bronx Indivisible, called Biaggi’s win “an amazing day for average Bronx citizens.”
“She’s the vessel,” he said. “Riverdale overwhelmingly supported her,” because of her “accessibility, her genuineness. She knocked on hundreds of doors — probably thousands of doors — and people responded.”
It was that genuineness that, for many voters frustrated with the political establishment, resonated most powerfully. It’s a refreshing quality for any elected official, but especially in a district where, in the insurgent’s own words, residents had finally “woken up” to what they saw as their needs — on issues from health care to education to affordable housing — not met by the incumbent.
“I see her as my sister,” said Katrina Asante, a regional field director for Biaggi’s campaign. “Someone I want to definitely protect.”
Yet, even with that genuineness winning over voters, victory was anything but certain — even moments before results started streaming in.
“Nervous but optimistic,” was how Biaggi campaign volunteer Molly Dillon said she felt. “We never want to count our chickens before they hatch. A lot of us probably had traumatic nights in 2016 and thought that was a shoo-in. So you never know until you know.”
Meanwhile, campaign press secretary David Neustadt paced in front of news cameras set up for Biaggi’s arrival.
“Alessandra got up at 6 this morning and she’s still working,” he said. “That kind of energy has been the energy we’ve had throughout the campaign.”
Amidst the evening’s giddiness, some found time to devour chicken wings and other fried vittles, tossing remains on paper plates as gazes shifted to flat screen televisions against the bar’s exposed brick walls. As bones piled up, votes poured in, nudging Biaggi closer to victory.
In the end, she’d prevail. With 86 percent of precincts counted at around 10:30 p.m., Biaggi held a 10-point lead over Klein, according to The New York Times. She wouldn’t relinquish it.
The winner showed up, clad in pink Adidas sneakers to thunderous chants of “Bi-ag-gi.”
Stringer called Biaggi “a very powerful woman who had a dream about what this city, state and district could be about.”
Yet, what some might call a stunning upset, others — including Asante — saw a long time cooking.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Asante said. “When you focus on the people, you focus on the real power. The power is in the people. It’s not in your own self-interest. And that’s what happened. People got sick and tired of being taken advantage of.”
Biaggi wasn’t alone Thursday. Years of festering ire against the IDC finally simmered over, as primary voters booted nearly all of its members in favor of challengers who called them betrayers trading party loyalty for perks and power. The night’s other IDC casualties included Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, Jesse Hamilton, Jose Peralta and David Valesky. Only David Carlucci and Diane Savino evaded the progressive guillotine.
It’s not clear what’s next for Klein, although some pundits have said sotto voce he might still run in the general election, since his name remains as an Independent Party candidate on the ballot. Others suggest he might eye a judgeship, pushing aside current Councilman Andrew Cohen, who declared recently he was seeking an open judge slot.
Klein didn’t return repeated requests for comment.
The election was a kind of crystallization of a surging progressive movement that picked up speed after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousted 10-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley last June.
“Once you commit to grassroots organizing, you can defeat big money,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “You can defeat lobbyists. We can truly work for the interests of working-class people in the Bronx. What we saw tonight was just a fundamental realignment of politics in New York State. The ramifications of this are going to be felt for a long time.”
For that, Biaggi is grateful. And she’s ready to get to work.
“To every single human being in this room who made this possible, thank you,” she said. “Let’s do this.”