City Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson made history on Election Day when she was elected to serve as the next Bronx Borough President. When she takes office in 2022, she will be the first African American and the first woman to hold the office.
A Democrat, Gibson won the nomination during the June primaries defeating four opponents, including City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, taking nearly 40% of the vote. She defeated Republican challenger Janelle King and Conservative Party challenger Sammy Ravelo taking nearly 80% of the vote in the general election.
Prior to her latest victory, Gibson served eight years in the City Council representing the 16th district in West Bronx and four years in the State Assembly representing the 77th district. In the Assembly she succeeded late Bronx political legend Aurelia Greene, who was Gibson’s mentor.
Gibson prepares to take office as the Bronx is battling with ongoing violence, rampant healthcare issues, mass unemployment and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The borough has a population of 1.4 million people with nearly 30% living below the poverty line.
In an interview with the AmNews, Gibson said she’s humbled and that it’s an honor to make history in the borough she calls home.
“I’m filled with emotion and gratitude and a deep appreciation for the residents and the voters of the Bronx who overwhelmingly cast their vote for us,” she said. “It’s a new chapter of leadership, a new season. It’s a new day, and I’m really excited to get to work for the people of the Bronx.”
Many considered Gibson’s win unusual due to the fact that the Bronx has an overwhelming Latino population. Over 55% of residents in the borough are Latino and about 44% of residents are Black. The borough is historically known as a Latino political powerhouse. Over the last 30 years, every Bronx Borough President has been a Latino male.
Gibson attributes her win to building a coalition of diverse ties across the Bronx.
“We’ve been able to cultivate a real coalition of different races and ethnicities coming together to support us and I really attribute our success to the work we’ve done,” she said. “As a woman running, people were excited about the fact that a woman of color was running for the borough president’s office. I think many people gravitated towards that. I also think that generally people were looking for change.”
As several newly elected politicians are announcing their transition plans and teams, Gibson said she’s announcing her team in the next few weeks. Her transition team will consist of faith, business, civic and housing leaders. She also wants people representing various issues including environmental, LGBTQ, public safety, mass transit and anti-violence.
“It’s going to be a sizable transition team because there’s just so much involved, but I do want to make sure that we pick the right people because this is a team that’s going to guide me and my vision,” said Gibson.
One sworn in, Gibson said in her first 100 days that she wants to announce new initiatives. One issue she’s eager to tackle is maternal mortality and morbidity. Earlier this year, current Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz’s office released a report on the borough’s Black Maternal Mortality Taskforce. According to the report, the Bronx’s mortality rate is higher than New York State’s as a whole and the mortality rate for Black women is much higher than for women of other races.
“I want to establish a working group so that I can create the first-ever Bronx birthing center, which is important because we need to expand on doulas and midwives,” she said. “We can really achieve equity in the healthcare system for any birthing individual.”
Gibson added that she wants to also hone in on economic development and continue the expansion of ferry service in the borough, Metro-North train service and renovating Orchard Beach. She also wants to create more opportunities for home ownership in the Bronx.
“I want to build Black and Brown homeownership opportunities, because I think that’s a way to create the economic prosperity that so many Black and Brown families need in the Bronx,” said Gibson.
The Bronx has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country. Food deserts are a major issue Gibson also wants to tackle coinciding with her plan to improve healthcare. She wants to increase the number of food pantries and soup kitchens and build up urban farming in the borough. She also wants to give residents better access to healthy food.
“The problem we have now is we’re surrounded by so much bad food that we have high asthma rates, obesity, high blood pressure,” she said. “We have all these different diseases that are preventable, but if you don’t change our surroundings, we’re stuck in these neighborhoods with fast food.”
The Bronx continues to struggle with what Gibson calls a generational issue. Over the years, Gibson has been part of efforts to stop violence in the borough from crisis management and wraparound services. She said the best way to stop the bloodshed is to deal with the issue before it even starts. Gibson wants to create the first-ever Office of Public Safety in the borough president’s office.
“We need to be preventative and not reactionary,” Gibson said. “When you are reactionary after someone is arrested, they have a wealth of services and programs. We should be offering those programs before a young person decides to pick up a gun or stab someone. A lot of this violence is based on crews and gangs and street corners or blocks that no one owes but feels that it’s a territorial issue.”
Gibson will take office on Jan. 1, 2022. Democrat Althea Steven will replace her in the City Council.