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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Health Fair

As part of "Cover the Uninsured Week," Fordham Road BID, together with Union Community Health Center, will hold a health fair tomorrow on 188th Street at Valentine Avenue. The fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Services offered include free mammograms and blood pressure screenings.

Baez Tied to Council Slush Fund Scandal

In today's Post, Bronx Council member Maria Baez is named as one of six council members whose funding recommendations are being investigated by the Department of Investigations.

Presumably, Baez's reported attempt to give $7,500 to a tenant group that doesn't even exist will be one of the recommendations the agency will be looking at.

More on the Council scandal here.

It's been a tough few months for the west Bronx legislator. Last November, she and Council member (and BP hopeful) Joel Rivera sponsored a housing bill which, tenants rights groups argued, would have favored landlords over tenants. (Baez and Rivera were roundly vilified in the press, and quickly threw their support behind a more tenant friendly bill which was eventually passed into law.)

Then, a few weeks ago, it was revealed that Baez has the worst attendance record of any council member when it comes to showing up for meetings and hearings.

Baez, of course, isn't the only west Bronx politician with political problems. State Senator Efrain Gonzalez, whose district office is just a few short blocks from Baez's, will go on trial later this year for allegedly helping himself to more than $400,000 in taxpayer money.

Without drawing too many similarities between Baez and Gonzalez (Baez, after all, hasn't been charged with anything), both have brought race into the equation when defending themselves against allegations that they misused public funds. "I will not allow anyone to assassinate my character as a Latina woman," Baez told the Post. Last year, Gonzalez said of his constituents: "They stand with me, they know it’s [the charges] total baloney. Who’s doing the demonizing? It’s not the people of color; it’s not the people from the district."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Plans Finalized For Wednesday's Protest

Organizers of Wednesday afternoon's protest in Highbridge-- against the acquittal of officers who killed Sean Bell-- met with police a short time ago to secure approval for their plans.

Protestors will block traffic at 170th Street and Jerome Avenue between 5:01 and 5:05 Wednesday afternoon, with a rally to follow at the same location. The starting time of 5:01 is to symbolize the 51 shots fired at Sean Bell, event organizers said.

Demonstrators will begin gathering around 4:30pm Wednesday.

Joel Rivera, director of a youth program at the Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC)--one of the groups organizing the demonstration--said he met for roughly 40 minutes with Community Affairs officers from the nearby 44th Precinct, and that the officers gave permission for demonstrators to shut down traffic.

"They know what’s happening," Rivera said. "They gave us the approval, and their concern was just safety and so forth."

Rivera said that speakers at the rally would include several community religious leaders, as well as representatives for local politicians.

Besides LPAC, others on board for the demonstration include Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, NY Faith & Justice, and Walker Memorial Baptist Church.

Rivera said that, besides expressing dissent with the acquittal of Officers Cooper, Isnora, and Oliver, tomorrow's demonstration also provides an occasion for leaders to network with one another, providing a potential foundation for larger protest actions in the future.

Minister Derrick Boykin of Walker Memorial Baptist Church -- who is another key organizer of Wednesday's action--similarly viewed the protest as one part of a larger picture.

"This demonstration is one point in history," Minister Boykin said. " What’s most urgent to me is this demonstration translate into something even greater than the moment- a real dialogue for change."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Verdict Protest in BX Planned For Wednesday

A coalition of community organizations has called a demonstration in Highbridge Wednesday afternoon, to protest the acquittal of the three officers charged in the killing of Sean Bell.

On Wednesday, from 5:01 to 5:05 pm, protestors will block traffic at the intersection of Jerome Avenue and 170th Street, only a few short blocks away from the 44th Precinct. Among the groups involved in planning the demonstration thus far are the Bronx-based Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC) and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.

A rally will follow the traffic-blocking action.

"5:01 is because Sean Bell was shot 51 times," explained Joel Rivera, director of LPAC's Greater Heights Youth Program (no relation to Councilmember Joel Rivera).

Rivera said that his organization had a good relationship with the 44th Precinct, and had actually been in contact with them about keeping Wednesday's event peaceful. "It is civil disobedience," Rivera said. "But because of the relationship we have now with the local precinct, I’m not anticipating arrests."

Rivera said that while LPAC had a very good relationship with the 44, the same was not true for the community more broadly -- especially youth. He said his organization had already been planning a demonstration to take place within the next several weeks to call attention to police conduct including the wave of NYPD stop-and- frisks of young men of color and recent infamous incidents in which NYPD officers handcuffed five-year-old school children.

But Rivera said Friday's acquittal made the timing of the demonstration more urgent. "We're showing that we're not happy with this decision that took place," Rivera said.

And he added: "My concern is: how many other Sean Bell cases are happening that we don’t know about, that are getting swept under the rug?"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Local Reaction To Bell Verdict Hardly "Muted"

In this morning’s front-page story in the New York Times, Manny Fernandez argues that Black New Yorkers are conflicted about Friday’s acquittal of the police officers who killed Sean Bell. “In the aftermath of the verdict in the Bell case,” Fernandez writes, “many black New Yorkers reacted not with outrage but with a muted reserve…”

If Fernandez spends five or ten minutes on the streets of Highbridge, he will quickly be greeted with a very different picture. Interviews with more than 30 Highbridge residents since the verdict was announced—the majority of them Black-- reveal a pervasive feeling of disgust and infuriation within the community. Outside a church, inside a barber shop, and on street corners, Highbridge residents have widely interpreted the acquittal of the three officers charged in Bell’s death as evidence that this country’s legal system does not value the lives of African-Americans, and that police have free reign under the law to shoot and kill Black men.

In speaking to this reporter, community residents have frequently been animated, and those listening or watching nearby have often found themselves drawn very quickly into the conversation. This is precisely what happened this afternoon in front of the Rite Aid at the corner of Ogden Avenue and W. 165th Street. Local resident Tiffany Simone Diallo expressed her displeasure with the verdict, and also said the lack of sustained protest after the acquittal of the officers who killed Amadou Diallo in 2000 was partly to blame for the acquittal of the officers who killed Bell.

“People have to understand that you don’t stop marching,” Diallo said. “You don’t stop protesting. People went to sleep.”

Diallo noted that her phone had been ringing constantly during the past couple of days thanks to people who wanted to voice their anger about the verdict. She mentioned one local resident, Kevin, who had been especially angry. Almost on cue, Kevin, 44,--who preferred not to give his last name – walked up to Diallo and this reporter and joined the conversation.

“Our lives ain’t worth nothing,” Kevin said. “That’s all they saying to us.”

Kevin and Diallo agreed that one major problem was police officers did not live in the communities they patrol, and thus did not understand or respect the people who lived there. Kevin denounced the constant police stop-and-frisks that he, and several other residents interviewed over the past few days, said were commonplace in Highbridge. Diallo replied that people had to be made more aware of their rights when approached by the police, but Kevin doubted that merely knowing one’s rights would protect local residents.

“They’ll take you in,” Kevin countered. “You’ll spend the day in jail.”

Later in the conversation, Kevin blasted what he saw as the mentality police officers hold towards African-American men. “If they feel every Black person has a gun, they don’t need to be a cop,” Kevin said, often moving between back and forth along the sidewalk as he spoke.

By this time, Rodney Baldwin had joined in the impromptu discussion in front of the Rite Aid. “We gotta get organized,” Baldwin said. “We gotta get organized.”

As the dialogue wound down, he would expand on this thought. “You gotta organize. Discipline the kids and train them to be more aware of what’s going on in their community,” Baldwin said. “Once you organize, everybody gets respect – police won’t just jump out on you.”

Further down Ogden Avenue, as Sunday services concluded at Friendly Baptist Church and those in attendance streamed outside, ushers discussed the verdict while they laid out desserts for church members. “You see that justice is blind,” one of the ushers said. “This was blind justice.”

Standing nearby and overhearing the conversation, Brock Dietrich, 32, agreed. “With cops, it’s always on the minorities,” Dietrich said. “You’ll never hear a cop shooting a Caucasian guy, or something happening by accident.”

Another usher suggested that the shooting of Sean Bell would continuously haunt the officers. “They can’t bring him back,” she said. “But every time they close their eyes, they gonna see him.”

Dietrich and the ushers pointed to cases such as the sentencing of African-American actor Wesley Snipes to three years in jail for tax evasion and argued that, when compared to the lack of any sentence for the officers who fired 50 shots at Sean Bell, the racism of the American legal system is apparent.

Randall Heyward, 45, agreed. "We see that justice hs failed a lot of folks in this city -- minorities in particular ," Hewyard said. "Over and over again."

When this reporter asked Robert Franklin Sears for his thoughts on the verdict, he started by exclaiming " Oh Lord!" Sears said that, although he expected an acquittal as soon as the officers were granted a trial by judge (instead of by jury), he was nonetheless astounded by the verdict. "I don't even want to talk about that. It's terrible!" Sears said. "How can you have 50 shots at a man and say there's no reckless endangerment?"

Inside the Friendly Baptist Church, Albert Sutton Jr. -- the son of the church's pastor, Reverend Albert Sutton Sr. --spoke quietly but unmistakably about his disgust with the acquittal. "It's the same thing all the time. Nothing's changed except the year," Sutton Jr. said. "If you got this color [Sutton pointed to his skin], it's hell for you."

Rev. Albert Sutton Sr. said he had denounced the acquittal in this morning's sermon. Sutton Sr. said he had been watching the news at Friendly Baptist Daycare on Friday morning when the verdict was announced. "And we were all saying it wasn't fair," Rev. Sutton said.

"How can you respect the police?" Rev. Sutton added a few moments later, "When the police is doing the same thing the crooks is doing?"

Among the opinions that have been voiced repeatedly by Highbridge residents since the verdict was announced : That the Bell shooting is part of a long and ugly pattern of the NYPD shooting unarmed African-Americans with impunity, including the 41-shot killing of African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999 and the fatal shooting of the 300-pound, 66-year-old mentally-disabled woman Eleanor Bumpers in 1984; that the acquittal was especially atrocious in light of the fact that 50 shots were fired at Bell and his friends; that if police had shot an unarmed white man, they would never have walked free as they did in this case; that an acquittal seemed increasingly likely as soon as the officers were granted a trial by judge, rather than by jury; that the prior arrest record of Joseph Guzman, Bell’s friend who was wounded in the police shooting, does not in any way justify Bell’s fate or the acquittal of the officers in the case; and that Judge Arthur Cooperman’s reference to Guzman's record in his verdict was absurd.

Here, by way of contrast, is Manny Fernandez’ piece in the New York Times this morning:

Please keep checking into the West Bronx Blog for ongoing coverage of reactions to the Sean Bell verdict.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bell Acquittal: Bronx Pols React

Jose Rivera, Bronx Democratic County Chairman and State Assemblyman:

"I am truly appalled at the verdict. Our people have died at the hands of those who are here to serve and protect us. Our communities have been served with a hail of bullets and choke holds."

Helen Foster, Bronx City Council Member:

"Once again, the criminal justice system has shown that a Black man's life is worth nothing. It is clear from today's verdict that the life of a Black man does not require justice. All that is required is for the NYPD to show that they fear for their lives, even when all of the victims, the key word being 'victims', are unarmed."

Outrage in Highbridge over Bell Verdict

Mirroring reactions across New York City , Highbridge is buzzing with outrage today, after the three NYPD officers who killed 23- year-old Sean Bell on his wedding night were acquitted of all charges. In November of 2006, officers fired 50 shots at Bell and his friends, none of whom were armed.

"Not guilty. I was so angry I was crying this morning," said Dennell, 31, as she waited for the BX 13 bus on Ogden Avenue. She and fellow bus riders Jada, 28, and Jasmine Parker, 21, predicted there would be massive outrage across the city as a result of the acquittals.

"I believe that 100 percent," Jada said. "There's too much police brutality against men and women period."

Omar Shabazz, who recently moved to Highbridge, said it was hypocritical for the United States to speak of spreading freedom and democracy in other countries -- or to condemn human rights violations of other countries, such as China-- since police who kill civilians in this country are very rarely punished.

"You talk about Tienamen Square. You do the same s**t here," Shabazz, 49, said with anger in his voice.

Shabazz added that his outrage did not merely stem from the fact that Bell- - like Amadou Diallo, Abner Louema, Malcolm Fergusson and a long list of others killed by the NYPD in the past several years-- was Black.

"If it had been a white guy and some Black cop shot him up, I'd be mad," Shabazz said.

Joseph Franklin joined in the conversation at W. 164th Street and Ogden Avenue. "It's an atrocity," Franklin said. "It's ridculous."

Inside Prince Barber Shop, many people said the acquittal was part of the larger picture of how Black people are viewed, and treated, by police and the American legal system in general. Kevin Edwards, 33, angrily said that the harassment he suffered at the hands of the police had become so commonplace that he did not feel comfortable or safe anywhere, even if he is simply trying to spend time outside enjoying the pleasant springtime weather. Edwards said he feels compelled to go straight from home to work, and back, or else risk being harassed or asked to provide his identification. He angrily showed me a $25 ticket police had recently given him for spitting on the sidewalk -- Edwards said that, at the time, he was vomiting because he was sick to his stomach.

"Do we have any rights anymore as Black people?" Edwards asked incredulously.

Edwards said he lived constantly with the fear that what happened to Bell could happen to him.

"I fear for my life," Edwards said. "I fear for my family. I fear one day getting shot by the police."

Please stay tuned to the West Bronx Blog for ongoing coverage of reactions to this morning's verdict.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Residents Rally for Armory Benefits at City Hall

About 100 Bronxites converged on the steps of City Hall earlier today to demand that the Related Companies negotiate a community benefits agreement for the Kingsbridge Armory. Members of KARA (the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance) and other northwest Bronx residents demanded schools to be included on Armory grounds, 2000 seats optimally, as well as union jobs during construction and living wage jobs after completion.

Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a KARA member who spoke at the rally, said afterward “the DOE [Department of Education] says there’s declining enrollment in the Bronx, but when my daughter comes home and says there are 46 kids in her French class, I have to ask where the declining enrollment is?”

According to Pilgrim-Hunter, the DOE has said they don’t want to make more schools in the Bronx. However, few at the rally seemed ready to wait for the decline in enrollment to abate the issue of over-filled classrooms. Angel Gonzalez, a high school student at the Leadership Institute, said that he has never borrowed a book from his school, because it does not have a library.

-Photo and reporting by Graham Kates

In the News: Bronx Filter Fiasco Reviewed By NY Times...Bronx Pol's $ Frozen

A couple of interesting reads this morning.

The NY Times' Metro reporter Anthony Depalma delves into the sludge of the cost overruns at the Croton Water Filtration Plant in Van Cortlandt Park.

Nothing new or revelatory here: Costs have ballooned from under $1 billion to almost $3 billion; Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz and local advocates say the DEP may have deliberately underestimated the price tag to put the project in the Bronx rather than Westchester; There's a huge hole in ground that wouldn't have been dug in Westchester; DEP says the overruns are due to inflation, skyrocketing construction costs that they couldn't have possibly foreseen; An executive at one of subcontractors (Schiavone, which is doing the tunneling) was indicted for extortion; The project is being looked at by the Comptroller and the Independent Budget Office.

The story does get a quote from indicted Schiavone executive, Anthony Delevescovo's lawyer, who says his client is innocent. And it also points out that, unlike the water from the Croton watershed in Westchester, the city won't have to filter water coming from Delaware or the Catskills for at least the next 10 years.

Also, the Post reports that city has frozen nearly $1 million in city funds that Larry Seabrook, a Bronx councilman who represents Co-op City and the northeast part of the borough, tried to give to a non-profit located across the hall from his office.

That sounds eerily similar to what Bronx State Senator Efrain Gonzalez is being tried for in October. Gonzalez allegedly funneled $423,000 in state money back into his own pockets through three separate nonprofit organizations, one of which, the West Bronx Neighborhood Association, was located just down the hall from his Tremont-area offices and which he referred to as his "other office."

The Seabrook story also comes on the heels of revelations that the City Council has been directing $4 million a year in discretionary funds through phantom nonprofits.

State discretionary funds are now mostly disclosed after the budget comes out and the Council is now looking to overhaul it's own budget process.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kingsbridge Armory Rally at City Hall Thursday at Noon

The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) is holding a rally on the steps of City Hall at noon tomorrow, Thursday. KARA, a collective of local nonprofit groups, unions, local politicians and community leaders, wants to acknowledge the fact that the city finally chose a developer (The Related Companies) for the long-vacant Armory project.

But they're also not satisfied.

What's most glaringly absent from Related's plan (or any of the other proposals) is a pledge to build schools on the site adjacent to main Armory building, which is currently occupied by a National Guard unit. More schools to help alleviate serious overcrowding problems has been the primary goal of KARA (and its founder, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition) for the past 12 years. Unfortunately, the city doesn't think there's a need for more schools based on dubious demographic projections.

They also want to push the city to hire local residents (and pay them well) both during and after construction is done on the Armory.

Here's the Times' story on the Armory.

And here's the complete text of the press release:

New York City
, April 21, 2008 -- New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) today announced the selection of Related Companies to redevelop the 575,000-square-foot Kingsbridge Armory in the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx.

The landmark armory occupies a full City block at 29 West Kingsbridge Road. Related's proposal for the unique structure, 'The Shops at the Armory,' calls for destination anchor retail development, coupled with specialty and local retail, restaurants, a cinema and community space. Other proposed features include a recreational facility, catering and banquet space, outdoor open space with a seasonal farmers' market and café, and parking for 400 cars. The project will generate about 1,800 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs. Related plans to invest about $310 million to acquire and redevelop the Armory.

"This creative proposal represents an innovative design, coupled with a broad combination of uses for this unique City asset," said NYCEDC President Seth W. Pinsky. "The project will serve as a catalyst for strong economic growth in the surrounding community. It will also attract visitors from the entire New York region."

"Today's announcement and the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory is the culmination of years of collaboration between the City and the Community," said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. "I look forward to working with Related Companies and the community to ensure that there will be job opportunities for residents, opportunities for local businesses, neighborhood improvements and adequate space for community use. The Kingsbridge Armory project is a great example of the importance of public and private partnership in building a stronger Bronx and a stronger city."

State Assemblyman Jose Rivera said, "I am very happy that this important project for the Bronx is moving forward with a qualified developer. We expect the redevelopment will result in many quality jobs for local residents and bring new life to our neighborhood."

Components of the project include 25 to 35 retail stores and an anchor department store, rooftop public open space and a landscaped public plaza at the intersection of West Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue. Related's proposal was selected as the result of a Request for Proposals which was crafted by NYCEDC and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Task Force, which included City, State and Federal elected officials, community representatives and City agencies.

"It is truly a pleasure to know that after years of diligent work, we will finally be able to see the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory," said Councilmember Maria Baez. "This project will serve as an economic stimulus for the 14th Council District, the Borough of the Bronx, and the entire City of New York. I feel delighted to know that the people of this community will now be able to enjoy all of the social, economic and recreational benefits that will be derived from this development. I will continue to advocate for the placing of two additional schools adjacent to the armory to remedy school overcrowding in our communities."

"Today's designation brings us one step closer to the day when the Kingsbridge Armory is a premier citywide attraction and major economic center for the Bronx," said Gregory Faulkner, Community Board 7 Chair. "As we move ahead, I look forward to the opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue between the developer and the community. A dialogue I hope will focus on such important issues such as living wage, community benefits and jobs, both during and after construction."

Jeff T. Blau, President of Related Companies said, "This project is a direct result of the skillful efforts and vision of the City's five borough economic development program under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Robert C. Lieber, NYCEDC President Seth W. Pinsky and their staffs. The leadership of Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Councilmember Maria Baez has been essential to the creation of the plan for Kingsbridge Armory that will build on our collective success at The Hub and Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market to bring more jobs, increased investments and even greater opportunity to the Bronx. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to create 'The Shops at The Armory' – a world-class retail, entertainment and community destination for visitors throughout the City."

"The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), our coalition of unions, churches, and community groups, has been working with the support of our elected officials, for equitable development at the Kingsbridge Armory," said Ronn Jordan, President, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition. "Now, we will continue to work to have badly needed schools built on the parcel adjacent to the Armory."

The developer will use low-impact development techniques and green building technology and will strive to achieve at least a LEED Silver rating for the core and shell of the armory. The project must obtain a number of approvals in connection with its design, including those required by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and the New York State Historic Preservation Office. It is also subject to public approvals under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and 384(b) 4 Section of the City Charter.


Built between 1912 and 1917, the Kingsbridge Armory was designed by the architecture firm of Pilcher and Tachau and is an outstanding example of military architecture featuring Romanesque arches, vaulted ceilings, decorative brick and terra cotta, and large battlement towers. It is thought to be the largest armory in the world, containing 575,000 square feet of space, the heart of which is a drill floor measuring 180,000 square feet, more than a full City block. On the south façade, the ornate head-house with its impressive double-height entrance foyer and vaulted ceiling serves as a grand entrance to the building. The City has invested about $30 million in capital funds for environmental cleanup in the building, replacement of its roof and repairs to the façade.

About Related Companies

Related Companies, formed thirty-five years ago, is considered the most prominent privately-owned real estate development firm in the United States. Headquartered in New York City, Related has offices and major developments in Aspen/Snowmass, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, with divisions in development, acquisitions, property management, marketing and sales. To date, Related has developed or acquired real estate assets worth more than $15 billion with another $9 billion currently in development. In 2004, Related completed the development of New York City's newest landmark, Time Warner Center.


New York City Economic Development Corporation is the City's primary vehicle for promoting economic growth in each of the five boroughs. NYCEDC's mission is to stimulate growth through expansion and redevelopment programs that encourage investment, generate prosperity and strengthen the City's competitive position. NYCEDC serves as an advocate to the business community by building relationships with companies that allow them to take advantage of New York City's many opportunities.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Hope everyone biked or took mass transit to work today. If not, at least read this great article by the Times' David Gonzalez about a unique recycling program in the Bronx.

The West Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative

Mosholu Preservation Corporation's high school journalism program is profiled in this week's City Limits.

The program, which started in February, aims to teach students how to report and write. Earlier this month, their stories and photos were published in the Norwood News and Mount Hope Monitor, in a new supplement called "Bronx Youth Heard." You can read it here. The supplement will also appear in April's Highbridge Horizon, coming out Thursday.

We're planning another edition of Bronx Youth Heard in May, and two more in the fall, when we'll be running the program again. Registration for the fall session starts soon. Check back for updates. In the meantime, if you'd like more information, please e-mail mounthopenews[at]gmail.com.

Bronxite Pushing for Obama in Pennsylvania

There is a huge Democratic primary battle going on today in Pennsylvania and one of our own Bronx boys is there battling in Philadelphia for front-runner Barrack Obama.

Two and a half months ago, Hillary Clinton, backed by most local politicians, handily won the New York primary, despite a serious effort by one Bronx political activist. In the weeks leading up to the Feb. 5 Supper Tuesday primary, Haile Rivera, a University Heights resident, drove his mini-van all over the city campaigning for Obama.

Despite Clinton's nearly 20 percentage point victory here in the Empire State, Obama went on to win a string of primaries and caucuses and currently holds a significant lead in the popular vote and in delegates, going into today's Pennsylvania primary.

After New York, Rivera, a candidate for Maria Baez's soon-to-be-vacant 14the district council seat, began dedicating weekends (and even some week days) volunteering with Obama's campaign in places like Virginia and Rhode Island.

A few weeks ago, Rivera made a risky and possibly life-changing decision. He quit his job (one that he loved and cared deeply about) at the nonprofit New York Food Bank, to work full-time (and get paid less) on Obama's campaign in Philadelphia.

He's now working (that's Rivera pictured) seven days a week, sometimes up to 18 hours a day, leading local volunteers in the struggle for Philadelphia hearts and minds. He says it's hard, but rewarding and that he wouldn't have done it if he didn't believe Obama to be a transcendent politician that could change this country. Plus, he's gaining valuable political chops for his upcoming (and ongoing) campaign for city council. He says it's a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

Luckily, his mother lives there and he stays with her. But his girlfriend, Cosette, still lives in the couple's apartment in U-Heights and the distance is tough on both of them. Every weekend, she takes a Chinatown bus to Philly to help him out on the campaign.

Depending on what happens in Pennsylvania (Clinton has a big lead in polls, but Obama is more popular in Philly and other urban areas), Rivera will have another decision to make. If Obama wins, Clinton might drop out of the race. But if Clinton wins, the race will most certainly continue. Obama officials want Rivera to move on with them to upcoming primary states and he's seriously considering it. Next up: North Carolina and Indiana on May 6. Either way, that's a long bus ride.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sustainability Articles on Gotham Gazette

Check out some new sustainability-related articles on the Gotham Gazette this week.

Of more relevance to local readers:

As City Grows, Affordable Housing Shrinks By Tom Waters.
A city cannot be truly sustainable if people do not have safe, healthy and affordable places to live, but New York City has seen a rapid erosion in the supply of housing for low-income households.


Bridging New York's Transit Gap By Joan Byron.
By making use of the infrastructure we already have -- our streets -- bus rapid transit can bridge the yawning gap between New York City transit's haves and have nots.

New in the Norwood News

Check out all the latest stories from the Norwood News online at our award-winning Web site now.

Yes, you read correctly. We won an award! Congratulations to Norwood News Web designer Ian Koski! Our new site, which debuted this past fall, took 3rd place at the annual New York Press Association Spring Convention.

This is great news for us and a victory for small nonprofit community media outlets in our fight for recognition. From now on, I will preclude any mention of our Web site with the adjective "award-winning." Well, at least for the next six months or so.

And please, continue to comment on our stories and let us know how we can make your Web experience better. It's your site too!

Armory Announcement Finally Leaks Out

After months of speculation and delays, the city announced today that The Related Companies was indeed the choice to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory.

But first, city officials leaked the story out through the NY Post, a tabloid newspaper that rarely covers the Bronx and has written about the Armory project a total of zero times before the city's Economic Development Corporation presumably handed it the story sometime yesterday.

Not that we're bitter or anything.

In any case, this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. Since December it's been rumored that the EDC had picked Related, a development company with strong ties to former deputy mayor for economic development, Dan Doctoroff. A month ago, Community Board 7 Chair Greg Faulkner was told that the EDC had chosen Related, so he announced the EDC's decision at a general board meeting -- much to the chagrin of the city, which apparently didn't want anyone stealing the spotlight. The Daily News then reported that Related had won the job based on Faulkner's announcement.

To recap, the city's EDC admonished a local leader for making a premature announcement, then proceeded to make the very-same announcement for one of the biggest mixed-use projects in city history by leaking it to the Post and sending out a press release about an hour ago.

Fortunately, the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), which has championed the Armory project for more than a decade, will hold a rally at City Hall sometime later this week. We're guessing they will pull out at least a few bells and whistles to celebrate progress on a long-delayed redevelopment project that could be a huge agent of change for the northwest Bronx community.

More on the Armory project coming later today.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No Surprise Here: Bronx Picks Up Most Manhattanites Since 2001

Opinion from Guest-Blogger Gregory Lobo Jost
The IRS has recently released data on net-migration between Manhattan and the outer boroughs, confirming demographic trends we're familiar with: the Bronx is the largest recipient of folks moving out of Manhattan (a net gain of almost 24,000 between 2001 and 2006). Of course, the press (the original article on the Observer and a follow-up blog post on Gothamist) has mostly missed the point, thinking of the trend in relation to the record sale price averages being recorded in Manhattan.

Sure, there are a number of wealthy families moving to Riverdale, but that number would never compete with the number of well-off moving to Brooklyn.

As most West Bronx Blog readers know, the largest influx of Manhattanites into the Bronx are lower income, working class families (often Domincan) from Washington Heights, Inwood, Harlem and East Harlem. 2005 Census data showed the Bronx was the only borough that incoming households from other NY counties made less than those already living here.

Of course, as some of those who've posted on Gothamist have mentioned, the Bronx is barely affordable to these new-comers, as well. It's all part of a larger affordability crisis New York City is experiencing.

Finally, on an unrelated note, the Riverdale Press has a great editorial on water rates.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bronx Council Member Spends Big…On Sister’s Org…With Tax Payer’s $

The Daily News reported today on yet another example of nepotism in the Bronx. City Council member Maria del Carmen Arroyo funneled $82,500 from her discretionary funds last year to the non-profit organization, South Bronx Community Corp, which employs Arroyo’s sister and nephew.

In 2001 and 2002, before being elected to the Council, Arroyo made between $33,000 and $45,000 a year working at the organization.

According to the Daily News, “Arroyo's sister, Iris, was ‘fiscal officer’ for the South Bronx Community Corp., where a former employee accused her of incompetence that led to thousands of dollars of federal liens filed against the group.” In addition, the group listed Iris Arroyo’s son, Richard Izquierdo, as an executive at the agency. The Daily News added that he “claims he’s not paid” though.

Discretionary funds are the set amount of money that each Council member is given every year for spending throughout their district, at their discretion.

Also yesterday, two employees of Council member Kendall Stewart (Brooklyn) were charged in federal court with embezzling $145,000 of discretionary funds through a nonprofit which they were associated with.

And the Department of Investigation is still looking into some $4 million in discretionary funds that the council has given to phantom non-profits each for the past seven or eight years. They said they used the phantom non-profits to hold the money for later legitimate use, but it's unclear where that money has gone.

In response, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn pledged to overhaul budget practices, and bring more transparency to discretionary spending.

-By Graham Kates

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Few Quick Links on Water Rates

Just a few quick updates on the water front:

The Water Board is proposing a 14.5% rate hike for this July 1. The best news summary of the situation is by Jarrett Murphy on City Limits. A longer report on water rate reform can be found on UNHP's website.

Also, here is an op-ed in the Post from Friday by Comptroller Thompson regarding the controversial rental payment.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Count Foster in for BP Race

Councilmember Helen Diane Foster told the Highbridge Horizon Friday that she will run for Bronx Borough President.

"I officially decided that I am running for Bronx Borough President," Foster said. "We haven't officially announced it yet, meaning [haven't] done the announcement press conference."

Foster said she expected to hold this press conference within the next 2 or 3 months.

Other topics the councilmember addressed during a nearly hour-long interview today included: police brutality against African-Americans, and the ongoing trial of the NYPD officers who killed Sean Bell; her thoughts on Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion; reactions to recent press that slammed her for missing the congestion pricing vote; and the need for greater public transporation in the Bronx.

Look for the Q+A of today's interview in the April issue of the Highbridge Horizon, which hits the streets April 24.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

State Senator Serrano on "Going Through the Motions"

On politics blog Room Eight, State Senator Jose M. Serrano writes about the frustrations of being in the minority party.

"Being a Democrat dooms my legislation before it is even conceived," he says. "Once a bill of mine gets introduced, it goes to committee where it waits for a vote. And waits. And waits. And waits."

"No rule exists that requires committees to take vote on a piece of legislation. Thus, it is almost a certainty that Democratic bills will go through an entire legislative session without one minute of substantive public debate or discussion. Then they die."

More here. And here's a list of Serrano's Room Eight posts, going back to 2006.

On a side note, does anyone know of other Bronx politicians who blog?

Tonight: A Meeting Regarding St. Barnabas' Expansion


St. Barnabas Hospital is planning to build a 10-story health center at 2050 Grand Concourse. Mount Hope residents will be asking questions and airing their concerns at a meeting tonight with hospital executives, at St. Simon Stock School.

A number of residents strongly oppose the hospital's expansion. They feel that St. Barnabas has failed to ask the local community whether or not this health center's needed or wanted. Other concerns include asbestos at the site, and the fact that it's going to be four of five stories taller than anything in the area.

This anger escalated into a minor fracas at March's Community Board 5 meeting, during which opponents of the project constantly interrupted the chair and district manager (both of whom support the project), repeatedly used the "f word," as one board member put it, and generally disrupted proceedings.

Those in favor of the new facility, say that it will bring much needed health care services to the Mount Hope area. It's bring jobs, too, they say, and may help invigorate the Burnside Avenue shopping corridor.

Tonight's meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. The school's located at 2195 Valentine Ave. All are welcome.

Pictured above and below, is what currently stands at 2050 Grand Concourse. This long-abandoned and boarded-up masonic temple is in the process of being torn down.

Congestion Pricing Reaction

Thanks to everyone for writing in and offering your opinion about the failed congestion pricing plan and everything else. This blog was created as a forum for conversation and debate about issues that affect local residents. In an effort to keep that debate going, we thought we'd re-post more prominently the quality discussion going on about congestion pricing. Feel free to keep the discussion going.

Anonymous said...
Thank YOU! At least the government did one thing right! Bloomberg and his rush for personal agenda legislation has been defeated. It's about time!Anonymous said...

Thank you Jeffrey for sticking up for us poor beleaguered Bronxites. We all know that Bloomberg's agenda is to keep out the supposed "riff raff" from Manhattan so the very rich in their limos. don't have to wait so long in traffic. He won't be happy until Manhattan is roped off from anyone making less than $1,000,000 a year.

Anonymous said...
I completely disagree! In fact, this plan would have benefited everyone in the city, as less traffic would mean better air quality. Also, it is the rich who have cars in the first place, with gas prices so high, and the poor are the ones who rely on the subway the most. This proposed plan would have significantly increased the MTA's budget, allowing for better service to all the working class people in all five boroughs, funded by the wealthy who drive their expensive cars. Bloomberg has done such a wonderful job as mayor -- too bad he's not running for president.
Anonymous said...
I'm sure all the people who live near Broadway, the Major Deegan and the Grand Concourse are thanking Dinowitz for heading off an eight percent reduction in the cars traveling through their neighborhoods. What a victory!

Michael Konrad said...
I live in the Northwest Bronx. I'm a working class, union guy making under $40,000 year. I take both the subway and ride a bike to work. I can't afford to drive and wouldn't even if I could. Most New Yorkers use mass transit.

We needed congestion pricing for improvements to the subway system, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx and particularly bus rapid transit (where bus drivers would have the ability to turn the light green in their favor). You can forget about those improvements now.

And now that it's been killed, none of congestion pricing's opponents have put forth any realistic alternatives to funding transit. They've proposed broad-based taxes, which are more regressive than pricing, and leaves no guarantee that the money will actually get spent on transit improvements.

Every complaint against congestion pricing has been addressed, yet our "leaders" still failed us. It was to be a 3 year trial. The poor with no choice but driving were going to receive a credit. The revenue was going into a lock box. We would have received either a portion of the NJ tolls or a lump payment from the Port Authority.

Prepare for a fare hike while the wealthy continue to drive into the central business district and hog public space with their autos while degrading our air. Thanks a lot Dinowitz, Silver and the other State Democrats. I'm a lifelong progressive, and I'll vote Republican before electing you guys again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Comptroller to Audit Filter Plant Cost Overruns

The Riverdale Press reports that City Comptroller William Thompson will indeed audit the cost overruns of the filtration plant project in Van Cortlandt Park. In February, the filtration plant monitoring committee voted to ask the city and state comptrollers, as well as the Independent Budget Office, to look into the project's massive cost overruns. So far, the IBO and city comptroller have agreed to audit the project, which is being handled by the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The cost of the plant is now triple the original estimate and recently an executive at one of project's primary contractors was indicted for extortion in connection with organized crime syndicates.

Famed Bronx Bakery Shut Down. 13-year-old Brings Gun to Tremont School.

A couple of troubling west Bronx news stories happened yesterday.

State labor officials are trying to shut down Arthur Avenue Bakery, a famed establishment in the Bronx's Little Italy, for grossly unfair labor practices.

Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith said she couldn't remember ever having to shut down a place for labor: “The employer was so abusive that we actually made the determination that it would be better for workers to lose their jobs than to continue working there.”

Smith said many of the bakery's 15 employees worked 12-hour shifts for $50, or about $4.15 an hour. Some employees were forced to work their first week without pay and some went 5-10 weeks without receiving a check, Smith said.

Smith thought the bakery had been closed, but on Tuesday a manager there said they were still operating.

Police arrested a 13-year-old student at IS 318 in the Tremont/Mt. Hope area yesterday after it was discovered that he was carrying around an unloaded semi-automatic pistol.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Heading Off the Next Round of Double-Digit Water Rate Increases

Summit in the Bronx brings together nonprofit, public and private sectors to discuss overhauling the way the City pays for water

In anticipation of the next double-digit water rate hike expected to be announced Friday morning, advocates, researches and City watchdog agencies will come together this Thursday to discuss ways to overhaul the way we pay for water in New York City. Currently, water rates cover much more than the cost of water in and sewage out of their homes—they also cover all of the ballooning capital costs at the filtration plant being built in the Bronx and the UV treatment facility upstate, not to mention a hefty rental payment that will subsidize City coffers by more than $8 billion between now and 2036, according to an estimate by the NYC Comptroller’s Office last fall.

Despite improved collections and enforcement practices taken on by DEP in the past year, including lien sales and shut-offs, double-digit rate increases are expected each year for the foreseeable future. The problem is much bigger than the so-called deadbeats who aren’t paying their bills. DEP’s capital construction plan is the second largest in the City after the Department of Education. But unlike DOE, there is no outside funding to subsidize the cost of the water projects – most federal support has dried up, even as mandates have increased.

These huge increases in the cost of water disproportionately affect lower-income neighborhoods, and our City’s affordable housing stock, much of which was renovated with City funds starting during the Koch administration. Ironically, Mayor Koch’s enormous (and successful) 10 year housing plan announced in 1986 was in large part possible because it coincided with shifting the capital costs of the water system onto rate payers, freeing up money to rebuild the City’s devastated neighborhoods. Nearly 25 years later, rising water and sewer costs threaten the same housing preserved by Koch’s plan.

On hand to discuss the impacts of the water system on affordable housing and conservation efforts at the Water Rate Reform Summit at Fordham University on April 10 will be Marcia Van Wagner, Deputy Comptroller for the NYC Comptroller’s Office, Preston Niblack, Deputy Director of the City’s Independent Budget Office, Harold Schulz, Senior Fellow at the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, Dart Westphal, Executive Director of the Mosholu Preservation Corporation, and John McCarthy, Executive V.P. and Chief Operating Officer of the Community Preservation Corporation. Bronx nonprofit University Neighborhood Housing Program will convene the summit as part of their work on the impact of water rates on affordable housing over the past twenty years.

The report, entitled "Water and Sewer Rate Reform Summit: Can NYC achieve affordable water rates, promote conservation, and control capital costs?" is posted on UNHP's website.

Contact Information: Jim Buckley jim@unhp.org or Gregory Lobo Jost gjost@unhp.org, 718-933-3101

Monday, April 7, 2008

Gonzalez Trial Date Set for Oct. 6

One more quick update. We learned earlier today that State Senator Efrain Gonzalez's trial date for fraud and corruption charges is being pushed back to October 6. That's more than two years after he was first indicted and will also take place after the Democratic primary. More on this later, but it should be an interesting summer of seeing who might take a chance (Pedro Espada?) and challenge the embattled senator.

Dinowitz Praises Death of Congestion Pricing

Well, it appears the mayor's Congestion Pricing plan ran into a brick wall known as the New York State Assembly, despite all the love from Bronx council members. Here's more on Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver's announcement that “The congestion pricing bill did not have anywhere near a majority of the Democratic conference, and will not be on the floor of the Assembly.”

Democratic Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who represents the northwest Bronx, was quick to issue a release praising the Assembly's rejection of the plan as a “huge victory for the people of the Bronx and all of New York.”

Dinowitz listed an army of reasons why he didn't support the project, saying,
“Aside from disagreeing with the basic concept of congestion pricing, there were many specific aspects of the plan that were unacceptable. It was unfair and outrageous to charge people from the city the $8 but let residents of New Jersey off the hook."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Update on Yesterday's Fire in Highbridge

Twenty-three residents and five firefighters were injured Wednesday morning in a fire at 1030 Woodycrest Ave in Highbridge. The builiding is next door to the house where 10 Malian immigrants lost their lives to a fire in March of 2007.

There were no fatalities in Wednesday's blaze. The one-alarm fire burned for 52 minutes and destroyed the first-floor apartment of Celestino Narvaez, and also spread to higher floors. Most or all of the glass was knocked out of hallway windows on all six floors of the building; the windows remained in this condition as of Thursday afternoon.

The home of third-floor resident Esther Gonzalez-Alers--who is asthmatic and suffers from a heart condition--still smelled of smoke. Gonzalez-Alers, 57, shivered as she spoke to this reporter, because the glass of her apartment had not yet been replaced.

Narvaez, who lost all his possessions, said the electricity in his apartment was out when he woke up at 5am Wednesday to take a shower, forcing him to light a small candle. At some point, Narvaez fell asleep, and the sound of his dog barking frantically jolted him awake and alerted him to the fire. Narvaez said he was unsure how the flame from the candle had spread . "Who knows?" Narvaez said. "It could have been the wind. It could have been something [else]. I don't know, because I did not see it."

Chris Villaroel, a spokesperson for the city fire department, said Wednesday that 2 of the injured civilians were being treated for serious injuries; the rest of the victims sustained minor injuries. The five injured firefighters were treated for minor injuries at Jacobi hospital. Villaroel said that the 23 civilians were treated at various area hospitals; because of the high number of hospitalizations, he was not sure which facility each resident was being treated at.

Cecilia Webley, a spokesperson for Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, said that her facility had treated and released three children and two adults, none of whom had been in serious condition.

As of late Thursday afternoon, the West Bronx Blog was unable to verify--through in-person conversations with residents of 1030 Woodycrest and calls to several local hospitals--if anyone remained hospitalized from the fire.

For third-floor resident Carmen Saez, yesterday morning's events brought back horrible memories of the infamous fire that claimed the lives of nine children and one adult from the Soumare and Magassa families a little more than one year ago."All I knew was they was screaming, 'Smoke!'" Saez said. "Flashbacks started coming back." Saez said that she attempted to escape through her front door, but was greeted with black smoke so thick she was unable to see. She then locked herself in her bedroom before firefighters broke down her door.

The West Bronx Blog will continue to provide updates on this story as we get more information.

Baez and Bronx not showing up for work

Real quickly, here's some disconcerting numbers put together by the NY Times about council members' attendance records following Helen Foster's conspicuous absence during the congestion pricing vote. Here's a quick breakdown. (Numbers are from 2004 on)

-The northwest Bronx's own Maria Baez has the worst attendance record of any city council member. She missed exactly one-third of her meetings, for a 66.6% attendance record.

-Four of the bottom six attendance records come from the Bronx: Baez, Larry Seabrook (67.86), Foster (71.14%), Anabel Palma (72.47%).

-Carmen del Arroyo had the best record (93.9%) of any Bronx CM, Jimmy Vacca came in a close second with 91.94%.

-Borough President hopeful and Democratic Majority Leader Joel Rivera showed up 77.21% of the time, while Oliver Koppell clocked in about 84% of the time.

Please discuss.

More on congestion pricing. Serrano blasts Yankee Stadium parking "loophole" as counter productive

Now, onto some updates. In our congestion pricing story, we noted that Helen Foster was the only Bronx council member not to vote for the plan because she was absent. Well, it turns out she was in Vegas attending a mysterious "family" event. She meant to get back, she said, but her plane was delayed. It also turns out that she was vehemently against congestion pricing and would have been the only Bronx CM to vote against the plan.

Here's a few snippets from Foster's press release: "It is clear that asthma, traffic pollution, congestion, and transportation infrastructure are problems that need to be addressed...While congestion pricing may help with downtown Manhattan congestion, it may well transfer congestion and higher asthma rates to the South Bronx...I am disappointed that the Council passed congestion pricing, but I am still hoping that the Legislature and the Governor will reject the measure."

Furthermore, Foster says: "Experience shows that asthma and truck traffic did not seem to concern the Mayor and other elected officials when they approved the construction of the new Yankee Stadium."

Speaking of Yankee Stadium, State Senator Jose M. Serrano, who shares constituents with Foster, sent out a letter last night to the Mayor and media saying he supported congestion pricing, but worried that a loophole concerning the new Yankee Stadium parking garages might defeat the whole purpose of congestion pricing -- reducing congestion and pollution from cars commuting into the city.

For now, the stadium's parking garages are only open on game days, 81 days a year. But apparently the Yankees may be able to open up the garages year round, possibly turning it into what Serrano called a "park and ride" for commuters and a parking destination for people working in the South Bronx who normally use mass transit.

"Expanding commuter parking defeats the purpose and spirit of congestion pricing, the whole point of which is to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home and to enhance mass transit. "

Serrano said a decision on the new parking lots will be made by the city in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the state legislature is wrangling with the congestion pricing beast as we speak. It will be interesting to see if Serrano makes a stand against congestion pricing if the Yankee Stadium loophole remains open.

New in the Norwood News

Ladies and gentleman, the latest issue of the Norwood News is out on Bronx streets and online now. Here's a quick preview, with links to our stories:

Two murders rocked the 52nd Precinct two weekends ago, tripling the total homicides for the year.

Fordham Road's express bus service gets an upgrade.

Anna Rogovin, the 91-year-old Norwood resident hit by a semi a couple of weeks ago, is alert, talkative and upbeat despite having both of her legs severed in the accident. Don't miss this heart-warming personal essay.

Advocates of Williamsbridge Oval Park came out in force last week, demanding safety improvements at the local hub from city agencies.

The Bronx council delegation (almost) unanimously supports the mayor's Congestion Pricing initiative.

Plus, an op-ed about immigration reform...volunteers clean the blighted Aqueduct Walk...an extended online version of Neighborhood Notes...and our local entertainment guide.

Enjoy and give us your feedback! Join the conversation!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

28 People Injured in Highbridge Fire

Twenty-three residents and five firefighters were injured Wednesday morning in a fire at 1030 Woodycrest Ave in Highbridge. The builiding is next door to the house where 10 Malian immigrants lost their lives to a fire in March of 2007.

There were no fatalities in Wednesday's blaze. The one-alarm fire burned for 52 minutes and destroyed the first-floor apartment of Celestino Narvaez, and also spread to higher floorsl; most or all of the glass was knocked out of hallway windows on all six floors of the building; the windows remained in this condition as of Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, the home of third-floor resident Esther Gonzalez-Alers--who is asthmatic and suffers from a heart condition--still smelled of smoke. Gonzalez-Alers, 57, shivered as she spoke to this reporter, because the glass of her apartment had not yet been replaced.

Narvaez, who lost all his possessions, said the electricity in his apartment was out when he woke up at 5am Wednesday to take a shower, forcing him to light a small candle. At some point, Narvaez fell asleep, and the sound of his dog barking frantically jolted him awake and alerted him to the fire. Narvaez said he was unsure how the flame from the candle had spread . "Who knows?" Narvaez said. "It could have been the wind. It could have been something [else]. I don't know, because I did not see it."

Chris Villaroel, a spokesperson for the city fire department, said Wednesday that 2 of the injured civilians were being treated for serious injuries; the rest of the victims sustained minor injuries. The five injured firefighters were treated for minor injuries at Jacobi hospital. Villaroel said that the 23 civilians were treated at various area hospitals; because of the high number of hospitalizations, he was not sure which facility each resident was being treated at.

Cecilia Webley, a spokesperson for Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, said that her facility had treated three children and two adults, none of whom had been in serious condition.

As of late Thursday afternoon, the West Bronx Blog was unable to verify--through in-person conversations with residents of 1030 Woodycrest and calls to several local hospitals--if anyone remained hospitalized from the fire.

For third-floor resident Carmen Saez, yesterday morning's events brought back horrible memories of the infamous fire that claimed the lives of nine children and one adult from the Soumare and Magassa families a little more than one year ago.

"All I knew was they was screaming, 'Smoke!'" Saez said. "Flashbacks started coming back."

Saez said that she attempted to escape through her front door, but was greeted with black smoke so thick she was unable to see. She then locked herself in her bedroom before firefighters broke down her door.

The West Bronx Blog will continue to provide updates on this story as we get more information.

Yankee Opening Day Marred By Tragedy

The NYPD says a 45-year-old man shot himself near W. 161st Street and the Major Deegan Expressway Tuesday night.

Police say the suicide occurred after officers surrounded the Con Edison truck the man had stolen and began to move in on the carjacker. The incident occurred in the immediate vicinity of Yankee Stadium shortly after the Yankees completed their first game of the season.

Police say that earlier Tuesday night, the man--whose name police have not yet released-- had shot his girlfriend near E. 150th Street and Courtland Avenue, and then stole the Con Ed truck in order to flee the scene of the crime. But he encountered heavy traffic from fans leaving the Yankee game and was unable to get away.

At this point, there is some uncertainty about whether police fired any shots at the alleged carjacker. Note this WCBS report that says "Contrary to published reports, the NYPD said its officers did not fire a single shot in the incident." It is not clear which published reports WCBS is referring to.

Also, as of earlier Wednesday morning, the text on NY1's Web site mentioned a witness who alleged that police had shot the carjacker. However, this article--the most current on NY1's Web site as of 11:00 am Wednesday, makes no mention of this witness.

We will keep you posted on new developments in this tragedy. The girlfriend of the deceased has non-life-threatening injuries.

Foster Savaged in The Times for "Conspicuous Absence"

In Wednesday's Times, Bronx pol Helen Foster is heavily criticized for failing to attend "perhaps the most important vote of the year for the City Council" - Monday's congestion pricing vote. The other 50 council members showed up.

Foster, who's considering running for borough president, claims she was unable to attend because her flight back from Las Vegas was delayed. Still, it doesn't look good. As reporter Ray Rivera points out, she has one of the worst attendance records in the Council.

Foster tells The Times that, if there, she would have voted against the plan. Her Bronx counterparts, on the other hand, voted unanimously to adopt it, despite the opposition of most Bronx residents. The final vote was 30-20 in favor. See here for a list of who was for and who was against.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Park Alienators Unite!

So, Bronxites aren't the only ones perturbed by the government's taking of public parkland for non-park purposes (see Croton filtration plant and Yankee Stadium).

Me and my family are in Budapest, Hungary for a couple of months and around the block from our flat is a lovely park with a big, beautiful playground that we frequent often with our daughter, Devin. But a chunk of the park is blocked off to construction, home only now to giant cranes.

I'm told this graffiti (see above) on the walls basically means, "You're Making a Desert of Our Park!"

The construction is for a new subway line and, we're told by some locals, that parkland will be restored once the station is built. Sound familiar?

And, the cranes don't seem to be too busy these days, so we wonder how long the locals will be without use of the full park.

Of course the situation is probably quite different to those in the Bronx. After all, you can't build a subway station in an unpopulated area, as NYC could have and should have with the filtration plant.

Still, the parallel's were too rich to pass up.