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Friday, November 30, 2007

Bronxites in Iowa

Now, here's a presidential forum that might have something to do with issues facing Bronxites. The Heartland Presidential Forum in Iowa, airing live tomorrow at 2:30 on C-SPAN (Cablevision channels 65 and 66 ) is being organized by grassroots groups around the country and will feature questions of the candidates from community leaders. The Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition has a crew out there, including the Rev. Katrina Foster of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church, who will be asking a question of Sen. Barack Obama.

In other news

A Times story about food banks that directly relates to our story about hunger in the northwest Bronx.

A beloved Parkchester soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Construction on the Cross Bronx Expressway is causing huge delays.

A gushing story about Borough President Adolfo Carrion's gains in attracting Bronx real estate investment. Here's a typical quote: "I really do hate politics," says Carrion. "But I love people, I love New York, and I love building a stronger, more beautiful city where people have opportunity."
There's more, the Daily News reporter writes: "At 46, [Carrion] looks like a movie star and could easily pass as Alex Rodriguez's better-looking big brother."

New in Norwood News

Fresh off the press, the new Norwood News is on streets and online now, just in time for the weekend. Here's a quick preview to whet your appetite:

A quartet of local teachers, all formerly of the Bronx New School (PS 51), are creating a new charter school in the northwest Bronx geared toward heavy community involvement.

Crime-weary residents in North Fordham reacted positively when 52nd Precinct Commander James Alles addressed some of their concerns at a recent community meeting at Our Lady of Refuge Church.

Two young men, one from Soundview, the other from Norwood, are being charged with attempted murder in the shooting of Knox-Gates resident Michael Santiago, who was shot in the back two and a half months ago and remains paralyzed.

Montefiore Medical Center, the largest private employer in the Bronx, announced its new president.

In our supplement, the first of two, there's a story about the state of hunger help in the Bronx and how soup kitchens are battling to keep food on the table despite waning assistance from the government.

Plus, a Foodtown lockout ends, local playwright Felix Leon dies, and why we need to pay attention to our youth.

There's a tree lighting tonight at 7 p.m. in Bryan Park, at East Fordham and East Kingsbridge roads. Read about this event and loads of other fun things to do in our Out & About section.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

News from Hunts Point!

Meant to post this much earlier than now, but a new issue of the Hunts Point Express, a nonprofit paper edited by our good friend, Bernard Stein, is on-line with stories about a housing battle, about outlaws turned entrepreneurs, and on cleaning up the Bronx River and adventure on the East River. Check it out!

Oh, and have you noticed that we have a bit of a nonprofit journalism movement going on here in the Boogie-down Bronx at the hyper-local level? Where else have you heard of 4 nonprofit community newspapers in contiguous communities with populations of at least 125,000 each?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Nov. 28

The Bronx Criminal Courthouse, plagued by two years of delays and millions of dollars in cost overruns, is finally ready to open, according to the State Dormitory Authority.

Looks like there won’t be an effort to repeal or extend term limits.

Coca Cola rolls a fleet of hybrid electric trucks out of its Bronx Service Center.

Tenants protest Maria Baez's sponsorship of a tenant harassment law they say gives ammunition to landlords but prevents tenants from fighting back. Bronx Council member and majority leader Joel Rivera supports it, too. But Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the rest of the Bronx delegation support an alternate measure that puts more teeth in tenant protections.
This WNYC report says landlords fear frivolous claims will clog the court system.

And the Village Voice looks into $30,000 in campaign contributions to Adolfo Carrion by an elevator company that just got a $5 million windfall from the city to purchase air rights over its property to make way for a pedestrian bridge to the new Yankee Stadium.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Nov. 27

A Morris Heights man has been charged with murdering his mother and brother. Bronx freelancer David Greene has the story. More from the Associated Press.

Steven Safyer, MD, has been appointed President and CEO of the Montefiore Medical Center, according to a press release sent out today. Safyer is replacing Spencer Foreman who is retiring after nearly 22 years at the helm. The Norwood News wrote about Foreman's tenure and legacy earlier this year.

Westchester Square residents are angry, says the Daily News, following the Bronx Finance Department's move to the South Bronx. Also in the News, a look at how funding from the Bronx Initiative on Energy and the Environment has enabled a Bronx business to go green.

On the back of new testimony, lawyers for Michael Clancy, a former Parkchester resident who's spent the last decade behind bars for murder, are trying to win their client's release. The Bronx DA insists the case against Clancy remains solid.

Former students from PS/MS 218 are behind a movement to make sex education mandatory in middle schools and high schools.

The Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, based at the Harlem River Ecology Center in Roberto Clemente State Park, was profiled in today's Times.

Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, has started blogging for the the Huffington Post.

Morris Heights Man Confesses to Killing Mother, Brother

A Morris Heights man has confessed to shooting his mother and brother before chopping up their bodies and tossing the pieces into the Harlem River.

Police say Lamar Platt, 24, admitted to killing his mother Marlene, 45, and brother Nashan, 23, before dismembering their bodies inside the apartment they shared at 1610 University Ave.

One unconfirmed report stated the man used a small cart to wheel the body parts to a secluded section of Roberto Clemente State Park, before tossing what was left of his family over a fence and into the river.

A police source said Lamar's 63-year old grandmother became suspicious after she was unable to reach her daughter. A neighbor claimed she hadn't seen the two victims since Nov. 18.

Police arrived at the apartment sometime on Sunday, where one grim-faced detective recalled, "The walls were covered in blood." Police picked up Platt to took him to the 46th Precinct, where they held him all day Monday.

Early this morning, two pairs of detectives marched Platt (pictured center) out of the precinct station-house and into a waiting squad-car. Wearing a black leather jacket and matching NY Yankees cap, Platt turned his eyes to the ground as he passed the television cameras.

Detectives say Platt has been charged with two counts of second degree murder.

Police divers who searched the chilly waters late Monday were expected back today.

Text and photo by DAVID GREENE.

Monday, November 26, 2007

News Roundup November 26

Yesterday's New York Times featured a story about Katrina D. Foster, the beloved pastor of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church since 1994. Foster is in danger of being defrocked because she is in a same-sex relationship.

The Indypendent has this report on the South Bronx group "Youth on the Move," which produced a video documenting students' opinions about NYPD presence in their schools. The video, entitled "Our Schools: Safe or Not?" features interviews with New York City teenagers, many of whom suggest the students feel more criminalized than protected by the police presence. The article notes that "The video may be the only public record of how students feel about this force." Among those to be shown a screening of the video is Councilmember Maria Del Carmen Arroyo.

The New York Sun has an update on Assemblyman Michael Benjamin's battle to save the cupcake in Long Island schools. As you will see, the fight for just desserts isn't the only unusual aspect of this story; Benjamin manages to use the words "ticked" and "temerity" in the same sentence, only five words apart.

Former firefighter John J. Finucane has written a book entitled "Why Did the Bronx Burn?", which revisits the period during the late 1960s and 1970s when Bronx landlords frequently sought to unload unprofitable buildings by having them burned down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wanted: Aspiring Young Reporters

Call us biased, but we feel journalism is a powerful way to learn about and influence one's community. Young people rarely have had access to learning about journalism, especially considering the shortage of quality high school newspapers. This means the Bronx is not getting reporters trained at the grassroots into the pipeline of professional journalism.

We're working to change that.

Starting in January, the Norwood News, in conjunction with the Mount Hope Monitor, will run a youth journalism program for Bronx high school students in their sophomore, junior or senior years. (The program is made possible through a generous grant from the New York Foundation.)

Students will learn the fundamentals of reporting, writing, and photojournalism through classroom instruction and, most importantly, through hands-on reporting in their own neighborhoods.

Students will learn how neighborhoods work (or don't), who has power, who doesn't and why. We'll teach them about the First Amendment and how it applies to them and every citizen. And they'll learn how to record and edit audio and photo slide shows for the Web.

Best of all, students' work will appear in the pages of the Norwood News, as well the Monitor and the Highbridge Horizon. Participants will also contribute to a student blog created especially for this project. This program - the West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative - will give youth a powerful voice in their own communities.

Classes will start in late January or early February and run on Wednesdays, after school, for 12 weeks. We're looking for students of all academic abilities, but students should be highly motivated, love to write, be naturally inquisitive, and care about what's going on in their communities. To request an application, e-mail James Fergusson, the program coordinator, at mounthopenews@gmail.com or call (718) 324-4998. The application deadline is Dec. 10.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bronx News Roundup Nov. 19

A firefighter was seriously injured yesterday after falling two stories while fighting a fire on Shakespeare Avenue in Highbridge.

News, in the Daily News, of a thriving Bronx business that brings festive cheer to the streets of New York.

James Calderon, a Bronx detective, was arrested last week on charges that he and others ran a drug dealing operation that stretched from the Bronx to Virginia. Cops latched onto Calderon after he tried to retrieve an impounded car from the 44th Precinct in Highbridge. Later, when cops searched the car, they found a kilo of heroin. Now, the Daily News has caught up with an ex-girlfriend who describes Calderon as an abusive drunk. Heroin? Violence? Police corruption? Sounds like something out of Ridley Scott's new flick, American Gangster, much of which, incidentally, while based in Harlem, was actually shot in the west Bronx. (Presumably, Harlem's new condos and upscale coffee joints grated with the gritty 1970s urban landscape Scott was trying to portray.)

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, 70 percent of Bronxites now oppose the Mayor's congestion pricing plan, against a citywide average of 61 percent.

The Times looks at how City Harvest, an non-profit that combats hunger, is trying to alleviate the city's chronic food shortage. The organization, the paper says, is working with farmers to transport unwanted fresh produce - produce that would otherwise rot in the fields or be ploughed over - to poor city neighborhoods including the South Bronx.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Kiku Kids

Today was the last day of the Kiku (Japanese chrysanthemums) exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden. There was a Kiku for kids to at the Everett Children's Adventure Garden, complete with tea ceremony pictured here. (Disclosure: the kid in the foreground at right is my daughter, Devin).
Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Bronx View of Congestion Pricing

Miquela Craytor and I have been attacked and defended on Streetsblog for questioning Congestion Pricing in terms of how the money raised will be spent, particularly on improved transit for the Bronx, and how the impact of things like a potential park and ride uses at Yankee stadium will be mitigated. We wondered if there would be any money left over after the City got the #7 line extended in Manhattan and the express to JFK from Wall Street built.

Now comes Crain’s magazine for November 12-18 with a few updates. In The Insider column, Erik Engquist and Anne Michaud write under the headline “Higher tolls may block traffic plan” that “Insiders say the congestion pricing net revenue — money available for transit improvements — is now only $70 million a year” not the $100, $200 or $390 million advertised because toll increases will increase the discount, meaning people using toll bridges to Manhattan will “pay virtually nothing.”

And in a column about a possible fare hike, Greg David offers: “The Partnership for New York City and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff … (and Crain’s) want transit money spent on new projects that boost the economy – principally extending the No. 7 subway line to the West Side and linking downtown to Jamaica and JFK.” Apparently MTA chief Lee Sander would rather spend money on projects that “improve the current system” such as the Second Avenue Subway.

Be that as it may, the list of big ticket projects going forward in Manhattan that are starving the outer boroughs for resources, goes well beyond any of the above. Here’s Henry Stern’s take from a couple of years ago in his New York Civic e-letter:

….On the capital side, however, the MTA is wasteful beyond reckoning, with three unnecessary projects in Lower Manhattan alone. The $450,000,000 South Ferry subway station, replacing a station that has worked well since 1912, is one. The problem here is that you must leave or board the 1 or 9 train on only five cars, because the old station was built in 1912 as a local stop. For access, 10 is better than five, but the difference is not worth half a billion dollars, which is probably less than the sum the reconstruction will end up costing.

The second boondoggle is the Fulton Street station reconstruction. This will take at least a billion dollars, and it is minor rerouting of existing lines, with an arcade to the former World Trade Center. Yes, some work should be done here, but the whole nine yards is unnecessary.

But these exercises in extravagance pale when compared to the two billion dollars that the Port Authority plans to spend on a subway station to replace the one destroyed on 9/11. The station has already been replaced, at a cost of $320 million, and the new station is operating. Now it is to be torn down, and the mother of all subway stations will be built. The architect is Santiago Calatrava, of Spain, who is world-renowned for his work. But if the project is unnecessary, it would not matter if Frank Lloyd Wright himself were exhumed in order to design it …

I must also add to this list the $7 or more billion to build East Side Access for the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central, the howevermanybillion Moynihan Station for NJ Transit and Amtrak and the newly revived $8 billion Access to the Regions Core - building another tunnel from New Jersey.

Congestion pricing promises 21 buses and maybe two or three train stations on the Amtrak line (Coop City, Parkchester and Hunts Point) that we were promised when East Side access took the Highbridge yards (a major potential Bronx waterfront development site) for a big car wash. And yes, the Second Avenue Subway might reduce crowding on the old Lexington IRT helping some Bronxites. But if 1 million more New Yorkers are around by then, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs on the West Side and Downtown, who knows?

Near as we can figure, there are nearly $19 billion dollars in projects in line before anything like that replacement for the Third Avenue el that we were promised when they tore it down in the 1970s.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Highbridge Horizon Online

The most recent issue of the Highbridge Horizon is online. Articles featured in this issue include:

* An opinion piece condeming the bigots who recently hung a noose outside a professor's door at Columbia University. In this piece, I argue that the incident is anything but isolated, but rather part of a disturbing climate in which racists seem to feel increasingly emboldened to commit these acts.

* Seeking to channel inspiration from the past, local activists are demanding a new middle school be built in Highbridge.

* A local teen health clinic in Highbridge is one of several throughout New York City that lacks emergency contraception, according to a recent study by the Public Advocate's office.

* Last month, City Council speaker Christine Quinn introduced a bill she says will protect tenants from harassment at the hands of landlords.

Norwood News On-Line

The Norwood News is on-line with stories about a new district manager for Community Board 7, a play with roots in the tragedy of local youth violence, a North Fordham building where the drug trade is unabated despite the presence of video cameras, the postponement of State Sen. Efrain Gonzalez's trial, local reaction to the new school report cards, and much, much more.

Meetings tonight

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz is sponsoring a forum on health care this evening at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center. More information here.

Also, the capital plan for schools will be discussed at Community Education Council 10's monthly meeting tonight. More info here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bronx News Roundup for Nov. 12

Busy week of newsgathering last week, so we didn't get as much up on the blog as we would have liked. But here's a couple of news items we meant to lead you to.

Norwood resident and freelance journalist Eileen Markey (formerly a Norwood News intern!) has two articles up at City Limits, one on the congestion pricing hearing in the Bronx and the other on the absence of schools in the city's armory plans.

Jarrett Murphy, investigations editor at City Limits (also a Norwood resident and Markey's husband) has this piece on Gov. Spitzer meeting with ethnic and community press editors a week and a half ago. We'll have a story on local reactions to the license flap in the Norwood News this week.

Another story you'll see in the Norwood News later this week is about the new controversial method of grading local schools. Here's the Times' coverage of the story (where you can also search for how your local school fared).

Also the Times takes a close look at Angelo Mozilo, head of Countrywide, the firm at the center of the subprime mortgage. Mozilo is a Bronx native who attended Fordham University.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dropout Crisis

The following was written by Tiara Williamson, a sophomore at Pablo Neruda Academy in the Bronx, who just finished a one-week internship at the Norwood News:

The graduation rate in New York City schools is sadly decreasing as the dropout rate is continuing to get higher. Statistics have shown that one-third (33.3%) of students who enter high school do not graduate. Fifty percent of the dropouts decided to drop out by the tenth grade, twenty percent decided to drop out by eighth grade, and three percent decided to drop out by the fourth grade. Studies have shown that White and Asian students have the highest graduation rates and the lowest drop out rates, 75.5 percent of white students graduate and 73.2 percent of Asian students graduate whereas 52.1 percent of black students graduate and 49.4 percent of Hispanics.

Some of the reasons teens decide to drop out of school are because they got married or pregnant, had drug or alcohol problems, they had trouble going to school and work at the same time, they didn’t like the school that they were in, they didn’t get along with some of the teachers or students, they weren’t getting good grades so they just gave up, or they didn’t feel safe in school.

When people decide to drop out they should really think twice about making that decision because it may seem like all fun and games at the time but in the long run it will not help you out. High school graduates make about two hundred thousand dollars more over a lifetime than high school dropouts and college graduates make about eight hundred thousand more than high school dropouts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In the midst of growing foreclosure crisis, water shut-offs are ill-timed

The New York City Water Board will meet Friday morning to discuss a proposal to shut-off water service to over 8,000 single family homeowners behind on their water bills. There are also reports that the Water Board is considering a mid-year rate increase of up to 18%.

As foreclosures continue to climb, a coalition of nonprofit organizations that works with homeowners throughout the City plans to attend the little-publicized Water Board meeting Friday morning to demand a two-year moratorium on shut-offs for homeowners and to call upon Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to improve communication and collaboration with the homeowner counseling groups in resolving unpaid bills. The groups also oppose any additional rate increase that may be on the table.

The proposal to shut-off water service to single family homeowners who owe at least $1,000 and are at least one year delinquent comes at the same time as foreclosure rates in the City are skyrocketing. Many of the homes targeted for shut-off are in the same neighborhoods victimized by high rates of subprime lending and foreclosures.

Water rates have already risen 22% in the past 18 months, and are projected to rise another 11.4% this coming July, as the DEP’s capital costs continue to escalate on major projects like the Croton Filtration Plant being built in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

The coalition of organizations attending the hearing include the New York Mortgage Coalition, the Association for Neighborhood Housing Development, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica, CHANGER, Pratt Area Community Council, Community Assisted Tenant Controlled Housing, Neighborhood Housing Services of Staten Island, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, and University Neighborhood Housing Program.

The NYC Water Board meeting and hearing will take place Friday, November 9, 2007 at 8:30 AM in Room 123 of St. John's University Manhattan Campus (101 Murray Street).

Indicted Bronx Senator's Trial Postponed

Bronx State Senator Efrain Gonzalez's trial has been postponed yet again. Check out the web exclusive story from the Norwood News.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Something Fishy at 1055 University Avenue?

Highbridge Horizon Exclusive

By Tony Richards
Highbridge Horizon

The owner of a maligned local building may now be planning to push out dozens of tenants prior to selling the property.

The Highbridge Horizon has obtained a copy of a notice sent from Manhattan-based broker Triad Realty Group LLC to prospective buyers informing them that the six-story building at 1055 University Avenue—whose current owner, Highbridge Apartments LLC, is being sued by the city for failure to fix thousands of building code violations— is up for sale. The selling price is listed as $9.5 million.

The following sentence, from the “comments” section of the notice, particularly raises eyebrows: “Currently there are 50 vacant apartments. The owner projects to deliver the building with an additional 30 units vacated.”

Local housing advocates interpreted the reference to “an additional 30 units vacated,” as an indication that Highbridge Apartments LLC plans to push tenants out of their apartments. Jackie Delvalle, lead housing organizer for New Settlement Apartments, suggested the landlord could use a variety of means to force these tenants out, including pressuring them to accept buyouts or simply continuing to neglect repairs to the degree that the conditions of their homes remain untenable.

“This is a really good reason why the tenant protection act needs to be passed very quickly,” Delvalle said, referring to the Comprehensive Tenant Harassment Bill—legislation introduced on October 17 by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn that would make landlord harassment of tenants illegal.

In October 2006, Highbridge Apartments LLC was issued a court order to repair more than 1500 violations. In the roughly 13 months since then, tenants have lived with water leaks, collapsed ceilings, peeling paint, non-working toilets, and a variety of other hazardous conditions. The trial in the city’s lawsuit against Highbridge Apartments LLC is ongoing.

Juan Martinez, identified on the HPD’s Web site as the head officer and managing agent of 1055 University Avenue, did not return several requests for comment. Hamid Khan, who previously served in this capacity, was removed from day-to-day involvement in the property by the owners and shareholders of the building, Khan’s lawyer Howard Fritz said in September; Fritz said Khan had been removed in an effort to appease the city. Fritz did not immediately return requests for comment for this story.

Gregory Lobo Jost, deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) and a contributor to the West Bronx blog, said the language anticipating vacancy of 30 additional apartments is striking.

“We’ve never seen anything like that on a building for sale,” said Jost, adding he has been with UNHP for roughly 8 years.

When notified of the fax from Triad Realty LLC, a spokesperson for Bronx borough president Adolfo CarriĆ³n referred to the document as “extremely concerning and something that must be looked into further."

"Housing and affordable housing are major issues not only in the Bronx but throughout the entire city,” the spokesperson said in a statement emailed to the Horizon. “We must ensure that landlords and developers follow both the spirit and the letter of the law. People have both the right and the expectation to live in a safe and secure building without fear of unwarranted eviction."

Write-In Candidates

In an effort to make Election Day seem a little less like token voting in Saudi Arabia or the former Soviet Union, Jarrett Murphy, Norwood resident and investigations editor at City Limits, offers this bit of advice about writing in candidates for office for those interested.

It turns out writing in is very easy. After you pull the lever open, you press the button over the left column of the ballot and slide open the door for the office you need (#2 for DA today), then write the name on the paper inside, and once you're done with all votes, pull the lever to the left to record them.

Correction: Election May Be 'Boring' but Not Nonexistent

Crotchety old reporters, and some not so crotchety or old, who say newspaper blogs are riddled with inaccuracies,would have some additional ammunition if they read my post last night about there being nothing to vote on the Bronx today. Relatively nothing, yes, but as I learned when I took my daughter to school this morning at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, the polls are indeed open. There is a ballot question about the water supply in Hamilton County and, in the Bronx's 1st Municipal Court District there is actually a contested election. Gotham Gazette has an excellent roundup of races throughout the city.

I'm sorry for the error. The last thing we want to do is discourage people from going to the polls, regardless of how significant or insignificant the races/issues are.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Boring Election Day

If you were wondering why you haven't been hearing about any elections going on in the Bronx tomorrow, it's because there are none. District Attorney Robert Johnson, a Democrat, is up for reelection but he is running uncontested in the general election, and he even scored the Republican and Conservative lines, as did his Queens counterpart, Richard Brown.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Grim Reaper Addresses Traffic Congestion Commission

Of all the speakers to testify at last night’s Bronx public hearing on congestion pricing, it is doubtful that any of them left a bigger impression than the Grim Reaper.

Well, okay, the mysterious entity donning the all-black garb and wielding the plastic axe was actually Mel Peffers, project manager with the organization Environmental Defense. Testifying before the city’s Congestion Mitigation Commission, Peffers said she was dressed as death itself to symbolize the thousands of lives lost due to diseases caused by vehicle pollution.

“You don’t have to be a health professional,” Peffers said, “to stand behind a tailpipe and know it is not good for your health.”

Peffers offered her support for the mayor’s congestion pricing plan, which would charge vehicles $8 to enter Manhattan below 86th street; she said it would reduce traffic from cars and diesel trucks.

Dinowitz Slams Bloomberg’s Congestion Pricing Plan

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-81st District), whose district includes Norwood, Kingsbridge, and Riverdale, blasted Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal at a Bronx public hearing last night.

Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan would involve charging vehicles $8 to enter Manhattan below 86th Street during standard weekday business hours. Leading off a list of both supporters and opponents of the plan to testify before the commission, Dinowitz said the toll-offset component of Bloomberg’s plan— which would subtract from the $8 toll costs for EZ-pass drivers at some bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan—showed an unfair bias towards out-of-state motorists as compared to those from the Bronx.

“If you look at the demographics of New Jersey and the demographics of the Bronx,” Dinowitz said, “it’s discrimination on many levels.”

According to Robert D. McFadden’s October 8 article in the New York Times, the toll offset would apply to: The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Triborough Bridge, and the Henry Hudson bridge.

Dinowitz also said statistics often cited by local supporters of the congestion pricing plan, indicating that only 3.7 percent of Bronx workers commute to the Congestion-Pricing Zone (CPZ), were “misleading”; he suggested the percentage of Bronx residents who would be affected was much higher than that because Bronxites go to Manhattan for a variety of reasons besides commuting to work.

Dinowitz also expressed skepticism that the mayor’s plan is merely a pilot project, arguing the hundreds of millions of dollars the city would have to invest in cameras and infrastructure in order to implement the plan meant that congestion pricing was designed for the long haul.

Councilmember Oliver Koppell (D-11th District) said he supported the Mayor’s plan overall, but suggested several adjustments, including exempting seniors and the disabled from the $8 charge. He also shared Dinowitz’s disdain for the toll-offset component.

“I don’t know who thought of it,” Koppell said, “but it makes no sense whatsoever.”

Assemblyman Ruben Diaz. Jr. (D-85th District) said the congestion pricing proposal-- which encourages Bronxites to leave their car at home-- and the MTA’s proposal to increase subway fare-- which discourages them from taking public transit-- sent mixed signals and threatened to hit his constituents with a “double-whammy.”

Like several other speakers, Diaz also expressed strong displeasure with the scheduled date of last night’s hearing.

“I’m really not happy that somebody thought they could disrespect the Bronx by having this type of event on Halloween,” Diaz said.

The commission promised it would hold an additional Bronx hearing with the City Council before taking any decisive action around the issue.

Most Bronx Loans in Foreclosure are Less Than 2 Years Old

UNHP's recent analysis of foreclosure data for Bronx 1-4 family homes shows that the majority of loans going into foreclosure are less than two years old. For the first three quarters of 2007, 63%, 66%, and 64% of all loans going into default (having a lis penden filed) were made in the previous 24 months, respectively.

This data shows the extent of poor underwriting by lenders in 2005 and 2006, where clearly many loans were made in the Bronx without regards to the borrower's ability to repay. A good chunk of these loans could probably be considered predatory for this very reason, while others may just be bad loans. Based on research by a number of national groups, it's likely that many of these borrower's (often Black and Latino) qualified for better loans but were steered into mortgage products that maximized profits for brokers and loan officers.

It also is important to consider when thinking about solutions to the problem. Many proposals (including this one from the FDIC) call for freezing the introductory interest rates on so-called 2/28 and 3/27 mortgages, where a lower interest rate resets after the first two or three years to a higher rate for the remaining years on the 30 year mortgage. While this is not a bad idea and will help a percentage of homeowners, it will do no good for many Bronx borrowers.

Click here for a larger version of this chart, and more housing updates from UNHP.


Last night, Halloween night, Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin appeared on the Daily Show. He was interviewed as part of a tongue in cheek piece (Is there any other type on the Daily Show?) about the New York state ban on cupcakes in public schools.

Ex-Saturday Night Live performer Rob Riggle does the interview, which doesn't make Benjamin look too ridiculous as he talks about the merits of cupcakes. Benjamin is sponsoring a bill (A09446) that would make the cupcake New York's official state children's snack.

In the justification section of the bill, it says: "This bill would protect the cupcake from being banned at schools in New York. The recent ban in New York public schools will restrict fundraising capabilities for school activities that rely on cupcake sales and the presence of cupcakes at birthday parties."

This, of course, begs the question: what's the official state children's snack of New Jersey?

One thing's for sure, it's not cupcakes, which are banned in Jersey and California schools as well.

If you know the official state children's snack of any state, please let us and everyone else know by posting in our comments section. But first, watch the Daily Show video. Hilarious. I won't ruin it for you, but Benjamin ends the segment by discussing herpes with Riggle.