Nelson Antonio DenisBy Jose B. Rivera
September 1996 - Mr. Denis has earned this distinction through his hard work, ferocious campaign style and mostly for achieving the unexpected. He won the 68th Assembly District Democratic Primary held on September 10, 1996. By doing so he took the nomination of the party away from an incumbent assemblyman.
Mr. Denis started campaigning for the democratic nomination a full 4 weeks before Assemblyman Francisco Diaz, Jr. For the whole month of August he could be seen and heard daily. His Denis “truck” moving up and down the streets and avenues of East Harlem. By campaigning tirelessly and incessantly, Mr. Denis slowly but surely ingrained himself in the minds of El Barrio’s voters as the perceived “winner” before the election was actually held. This author witnessed this change of mind set throughout the last six weeks of the campaign.
A History of Campaigning
Nelson Antonio Denis has been campaigning for this Assembly seat since 1992. His first opponent, Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro barely won re-nomination in 1992, winning that primary by only 500 votes. When Mr. Del Toro died unexpectedly in December 1994, Mr. Denis ran for nomination in that race. But Nelson Antonio Denis did not protect his flank by not petitioning as an independent candidate. Instead, he relied on the Liberal Party to put him forth as their candidate. When the Liberal Party chose Community Board # 11 District Manager, Francisco Diaz, Jr., Mr. Denis was left with a spot on another state wide party, who Mr. Diaz also took away from him after a long court battle. Nelson, as his friend call him, was left without a place on the ballot and Mr. Diaz won election to the state assembly.
Defeat and Triumph
Since that cool day on March 14, 1995, Nelson Denis was determined not to be denied in his next election battle. He first won election to the Democratic Party District Leadership (his first victory), he then went on to help elect 3 of the current school board members. (Estrella, Stewart and Vidro, although he also supported Jose B. Rivera).
Right after the school board election, Mr. Denis was off and running. Putting up his campaign posters way before petition legal challenges were over. This early campaigning did the trick. During the September 5, 1996 Assembly candidates debate held at P.S. 50, Nelson Denis and Assemblyman Francisco Diaz battled it out. The audience was packed with Diaz supporters, but Nelson Denis did not seem to mind. Most of his supporters were out in the field, preaching to the unconverted.
The Long Sought Victory
After all was said and done, 10:00 PM hit hard at the Diaz headquarters. Election district after election district showed what appeared to be a lot of lost ground for Diaz. Most election districts were pretty close, tied, or a 5 to 15 point lead for Mr. Denis. The overall count was Diaz ahead by 19 votes. And the results from the last voting booth to be counted were not available and definitely not in Diaz territory. It did not look good for Assemblyman Diaz. While at the Denis headquarters, happiness flowed like water over Niagara. The Diaz headquarters closed shop a little after 11:00 PM and supporters went home before the final outcome was available. The Denis crowd, stayed on, and knew they had won. New York One, a local New York only TV news station, announced Mr. Denis’s apparent victory by 11:30 PM.
The Work Ahead
Mr. Denis has a lot of work cut out for him. He will have the task of bringing the East Harlem Democratic Party under his wing. If he learns from the past, he may be able to do it. He may even face opposition in 1998. Factionalization has always been a thorn in the side of East Harlem politics.
Editor’s Note:(April 2001) Mr. Denis was defeated in his 2000 reelection bid by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. IV. Mr. Denis continues to work in our community in as a community lawyer. It is likely that he will again seek elective office in our community.
Editor’s Note: (March 22, 2002) Mr. Denis is currently fininshing a movie project which he filmed in the community.
Editor’s Note: (January 15, 2005) Mr. Denis completed his movie “Vote For Me” which did well in during various film festivals. Mr. Denis ran for State Senator during the summer of 2004, but lost in the Democratic Primary in September 2004 to City Councilman Jose Serrano, who went on to win in the November 2004 General Election.