doubling down

Ex-Bronx Lawmaker Convicted of Taking Bribes Eyes Two Seats

A campaign solicitation for former Bronx Assemblymember Eric Stevenson
A campaign solicitation for former Bronx Assemblymember Eric Stevenson Photo: Stevenson for Congress, via Twitter

Five years after former Bronx Assemblymember Eric Stevenson was convicted of accepting bribes while in office, he announced his intent to run for retiring Rep. José Serrano’s seat.

But Stevenson, who was sentenced to three years behind bars, said he’s not only eyeing Congress next year: The disgraced legislator may seek his old 79th Assembly District post, currently occupied by Michael Blake — who is also vying for Serrano’s job.

“I may even consider, as we speak, to maybe even look back,” Stevenson told THE CITY in a recent interview. “It’s such a crowded race and so many people want to compete — I don’t want to stop a good person from getting into Congress.”

Stevenson, who was elected to the Assembly in 2010 and 2012, said his former constituents are “begging” him to return.

“I’m going to consider it,” he said. “I’m gonna think it out and pray on it.”

Stevenson’s comeback musings met with skepticism by others who’ve represented the 79th Assembly District, which includes parts of Concourse Village and Morrisania.

“I don’t believe voters would put him back in office,” said Michael Benjamin, a former Democratic Assembly member in the 79th who is now a New York Post editorial board member. “I think if voters learned the full facts … that should discourage anyone from wanting to vote for him, in my view, and the view of many others as well.”

Blake said that while he believes in “second chances” he doesn’t think they should include “going to Washington — nor back to the Assembly — given what is going on in the country, given what is going on in The Bronx.”

Convicted felons are not barred from running for federal or state office. Stevenson, who is pushing a vision of sweeping change to the criminal justice system, public education and housing, does not believe his past would hurt his electoral hopes.

Castro Also Mulls Return

Neither does Nelson Castro, a former Bronx Assembly member who cooperated with federal prosecutors to avoid stiff penalties in a wide-ranging corruption investigation that began in 2009.

As part of the agreement that kept Castro out of jail, he wore a wire and helped investigators working cases involving other Albany politicians — part of a wave of probes that ensnared Stevenson. Castro resigned in 2013.

“I’m not saying he didn’t do anything — maybe,” Castro said of Stevenson. “I’m not a judge.”

But he added, “His people in the district love him. Who votes? The people in the community.”

Castro, meanwhile, added to the dizzying potential game of political musical chairs. He said he’s “played with” the idea of running to represent his former district in the City Council when Ritchie Torres — also competing in the packed South Bronx Congressional race — leaves office.

“I don’t know if God has that in store for me,” Castro said.

Bribes and Wiretaps

A federal jury found Stevenson guilty of accepting more than $20,000 in bribes from four businesspeople who ran adult day care centers in The Bronx and sought legislation that would give them a virtual local monopoly. The investigation involved informants and damning wiretaps.

On one recording, from December 2012, Stevenson was heard telling an informant: “All you gotta do is tell me what you want in the bill, and the bill drafter will put it together.”

Later, he inquired about the “nice little package” he would earn.

At his 2014 sentencing, Stevenson told the judge, “I need correction.”

Stevenson, who grew up the son of a district leader and grandson of an Assembly member, told THE CITY he maintains his innocence.

“Most people would tell you they feel I was set up,” he said of his former South Bronx constituents. “Because they’ve only seen integrity in me, they’ve only seen good in me. So they know me.”

Stevenson contended the case against him was engineered by “people who were threatened by my leadership.”

The jammed candidate field for Serrano’s post also includes former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr.; Marlene Cintron, head of The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.; Tomas Ramos, program director at the Bronx River Community Center; and Jonathan Ortiz, currently a financial counselor at the nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.

Sign up for THE CITY Scoop, our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.