A moderate Bronx Democratic lawmaker announced Wednesday he won’t seek re-election this fall, partly due to the city’s hard-left politics.
“The current political climate is not favorable to a centrist ideology that my constituency, community and I embrace,” Councilman Mark Gjonaj, the first Albanian-American elected to the City Council, said in a statement.
Gjonaj championed providing aid to struggling city merchants during the coronavirus pandemic as chairman of the small business committee.
He fought to impose caps on what delivery apps Grubhub and Uber Eats could charge restaurants for food deliveries.
He represents the Bronx’s more conservative, homeowner neighborhoods in the 13th District including City Island, Morris Park, Pelham Bay and Throggs Neck.
But politics have swung left in the Bronx. His district overlaps with that of Democratic Socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
And he faces another primary challenge from Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader he defeated by just a few hundred votes in 2017. The district has a growing Latino population and Velazquez has racked up key endorsements.
Gjonaj found himself out of step with the leftward shift in the Council.
He voted against the city budget last year to protest cuts to the police department’s budget amid the George Floyd protests.
Gjonaj is not without baggage.
The Post reported that the Bronx District Attorney’s office was probing whether Gjonaj was misusing campaign funds for his personal benefit — by commingling money between his campaign and a non-profit group serving Albanian-Americans that he was closely affiliated with. Nothing has come of it.
Another Post report found the Conflict of Interest Board was looking into whether Gjonaj steered government contracts to campaign donors. No charges or discipline were filed.
Gjonaj, a real estate broker who previously served in the state Assembly, complained he was a victim of anti-Albanian smears.
“As a proud Albanian-American and son of immigrant parents, I am not a stranger to being the subject of ethnic stereotypes and tropes,” the councilman said.
“As a minority ethnicity that has been subjected to ethnic cleansing, communist tyranny, foreign influence and occupation, and continued discrimination and prejudice. I have been genuinely surprised at the pervasiveness in which ethnic smears have been used as tools in an attempt to damage both myself and my community.”
Gjonaj continued, “Instead of genuine debates on ideas and public policy, all too often public discourse has devolved into the `politics of personal destruction.’ I will not allow myself to be used as a weapon to divide the district or be used to tarnish a community or ethnicity.
“Public service should never be about identity politics which divides us and pits one against another to determine a winner and loser. At its best, good public service and policy takes the harder path of finding common ground solutions that elevates us together as one united New York community.”