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Thursday, May 29, 2008

New in the Norwood News

Fresh, insightful and informative stories from the Norwood News are online and on the streets now. Find out what's going on in Norwood, Bedford Park, North Fordham and University Heights with one click.

Here's a preview of some of the stories featured this issue:

Confirming what local parents, students, activists and local officials have been saying for years, a new report outlines the overcrowding problems in local schools. District 10, which includes all the schools in the Norwood News coverage area is the third most crowded district in the entire city.

In that same vein, Bronx schools are lacking facilities for proper physical education, says a new report by the Bronx Borough President's office.

A missing Celia Cruz Bronx H.S. of Music went missing and then was reunited with her family eight days later. What happened to her remains a mystery.

Cricket Mania: The Norwood News explores the inaugural high school cricket season. Plus, Mt. Hope Monitor editor and cricket fanatic James Fergusson explains why cricket is really the world's best sport and dissects all it's nuances.

And much much more at the Norwood News' award-winning Web site.

Sean Bell Protestors To March to City Hall Today

With a little more than one month having passed since the acquittal of Marc Cooper, Gescard F. Isnora, and Michael Oliver--the three officers charged in Sean Bell's death--no action beyond the filing of internal NYPD (non-criminal) charges has been taken against the officers.

This afternoon in lower Manhattan, demonstrators will gather in an effort to ensure that the momentum of protest in the immediate wake of the verdict is carried forward.

Demonstrators will gather at Union Square at 4pm, and leave shortly thereafter for a march to City Hall, where a rally will be held at 6pm.

Protest organizers put out a call to wear black in solidarity with Bell.

Bloomberg's Office Responds (Sort of)

In response to the open letter issued by Sen. Rev. Ruben Diaz yesterday -- which slammed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for ignoring Diaz' calls for the resignation of education chancellor Joel I. Klein and deputy mayor for education and community development Dennis Walcott -- a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg emailed the following statement to the Highbridge Horizon:

"Both Deputy Mayor Walcott and Chancellor Klein are dedicated public servants who care deeply about the future of the 1.1 million children in our public schools and as such, they deserve our support."

The spokesperson did not address Diaz' remark, " I am afraid that you will ultimately be known as the Chaotic Educational Mayor."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dinowitz Unhappy with Ward Nomination to Port Authority

In an op-ed in yesterday's Daily News Bronx section, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz explains his displeasure with Gov. Paterson's nomination of former DEP commissioner Christopher Ward to head the Port Authority. Especially noted are Ward's notorious cost-overruns at DEP with the filtration plant and with the projects like the JFK Air Train when he was previously at the Port Authority.

Speaking of the outdated technology and gushing groundwater leakage at the filtration plant, Dinowitz writes:

Either Ward's DEP committed the unforgivable sin of not knowing this environmental disaster was going to happen, or he kept the information off the list of project negatives to keep the approval process moving forward. Is this someone we want in charge of the Port Authority's ecological restoration?

He then cites Ward's pandering to special interests and his move from DEP to the General Contractors Association of New York as reasons to think his running the Port Authority would not be in our best interests.

Sen. Diaz Slams Bloomberg

Sen. Rev. Ruben Diaz released an open letter to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today, in which he denounces the Mayor's approach to education and expresses regret for supporting Bloomberg's policies in the past.

"When you began your Mayoralty, you claimed your mission was to become the
Educational Mayor," Diaz' letter reads, " yet I am afraid that you will ultimately be known as the
Chaotic Educational Mayor. As a New York City Council Member in 2001, I
supported Mayoral Control of the Education Department, today, as a State
Senator, I regret that decision."

The primary motivation for the letter, according to Diaz, was a previous letter that Bloomberg ignored: In February of 2007, Diaz wrote Bloomberg to request the resignation of education chancellor Joel I. Klein as well as Dennis M. Walcott, deputy mayor for education and community development.

At that time, Diaz argued that---under Klein and Walcott--students of color were suffering from schools built in polluted areas, overcrowding, and accelerated drop-out rates.

In today's letter, Diaz writes: "Since you never responded to my letter, the situation in the NYC
public school system has worsened, and Black and Hispanic children continue
to be left behind."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Update: Missing Student Found, Reunited with Family

Yesterday afternoon, Selena Pruden, 16, a junior at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music, was found and then later reunited with her family with help from police. She had been missing since last Wednesday, May 14 and was last seen going to school carrying her viola.

It's unclear what exactly happened to Selena, but Celia Cruz Principal William Rodriguez said someone had spotted her after seeing a new item about her disappearance on the cable news channel, Bronx 12. He said later last night "police interceded" and now Selena is "safely home."

Earlier yesterday, Celia Cruz held an emotional assembly in support of the search effort for Selena. Her mother Geraldine Hoggis attended the assembly and spoke to students. Her daughter, Selena, was found several hours later, according to Rodriguez.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bronx Student Missing

We just found out about this today, but Selena, 16, went missing last Wednesday, May 14. She left her Kingsbridge-area home for Celia Cruz (on the Walton H.S. campus) in the morning with her viola and has not been seen since.

Celia Cruz Principal William Rodriguez said Selena was a great student (with a stellar attendance record) who loved music. He said nobody at school could imagine her just running away without telling anyone.

Celia Cruz held an assembly today in support of an effort to find Selena. They are distributing flyers like the one above to neighborhoods throughout the northwest Bronx.

NYPD is not being very forthcoming with information on the case so far, but according to a detective at the 50th Precinct, detectives there are still working on the case and have not transferred it to the missing persons department.

Again, if anyone has information about Selena's whereabouts, please call Celia Cruz, 718-329-8550 ext. 3565 or the 50th Precinct 718-543-5700.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More Bronx Action on TV

Some more good television for Bronx buffs:

Tonight at 9 p.m. on the Sundance channel (for those with cable), they will be airing a documentary called "Big Ideas for a Small Planet Grow," which will feature SoBro chief Majora Carter and the Bronx County courthouse. Here's a description:

“Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Grow”

Tuesday, May 20th
9:00pm e/p
Green spaces are essential to the health and welfare of cities and suburbs alike. As urban populations swell, creative environmentalists are scouting surprising spots for vegetation amidst the cement and concrete. Suburbanites lucky enough to have green space are introducing a new level of environmental consciousness to their lawns and gardens.

Water Discussion on Bronx Talk Prime Time

Opinion by Gregory Lobo Jost
Last night's Bronx Talk Prime Time with Gary Axelbank focused on the reasons behind skyrocketing water rates. I had the privilege to be on the show, along with Harold Shultz from the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. We had a lively discussion touching on many aspects of our current predicament including the filtration plant, DEP's unchecked spending, and the nature of water rates as a regressive tax. This episode of Bronx Talk will re-air today at 3:30 and 9:30 PM on BronxNet 67.

To read more about the need for water rate reform, check out recent reports by CHPC, the Independent Budget Office, and University Neighborhood Housing Program.

Also, here are comments from UNHP director Jim Buckley regarding the passage of the 14.5% rate hike this past Friday:

The New York City Water Board approved a 14.5% rate increase effective July 1, 2008. Comptroller William Thompson and Council Finance Chair Weprin and Council Environmental Chair Gennaro spoke against the increase. In an unusual move, the individual board members spoke individually about the thought process behind their decision to proceed with the increase.

Chairman Jim Tripp indicated that he had contemplated resignation and ultimately decided to stay on the board and vote for the increase after entering into a “joint commitment with the Mayor and DEP to examine alternative rate structures and a full and deep exploration of the board’s rental payment to the City.” He indicated that for the first time in the years he has discussed these issues with City Hall that there is an understanding of the issue around the rental payment and he credited the many individuals and groups that have spoken out on the issue with getting the attention of City Hall on the issue.

Tripp envisions a real discussion with City Hall that will result in looking at the allocation of costs of the water system, discussion with state regulators on the value and scheduling of certain mandated work items like the covering of the Hillview Reservoir which may add $1 billion to the capital cost of the system. Tripp said that nobody should be looking at DEP as a cash cow. He feels that he has a commitment from City Hall that will result in some kind of action in the next 6 months, re-directing money for next year, including the rental payment in excess of the debt service on old municipal debt.

Did we lose? Yes for now, but maybe not with a longer term view. The rate increase is approved and it’s the largest increase in 15 years. However, the Water Board has taken on a more active role with City Hall on the need for rate restructuring. They have sped up a process that as recently as a month ago was being talked about in terms of years and is now being talked about in terms of months. As always, the follow up is going to be the key.

Finally, the Daily News Bronx section has a piece on how foreclosures are bringing down property values of neighboring homes, especially in Wakefield.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bronx News Links: Arroyo in trouble, Bronx Aerospace under fire, Supermarkets dwindle

Here's a few Bronx stories from last week that we didn't get around to posting until today:

Arroyo Under Investigation
Bronx City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo is under criminal investigation for allegedly funneling more than $80,000 to a nonprofit with family connections.

Daily News reports: "City officials confirmed the probe Wednesday, a month after the Daily News disclosed that Arroyo directed $82,500 in 2007 to the South Bronx Community Corp., where her sister was the fiscal officer and her nephew was executive director."

Bronx Aerospace Under Fire
The extremely successful Bronx Aerospace H.S. may be closed by the Air Force at the end of next year unless school administrators can account for $66,000 and address possible rule violations, the Daily News reports.

The Air Force officially placed the school on probation for possibly mishandling ROTC funds, and parents and teachers have complained about certain school rules, including one student promoting his girlfriend.

The principal, Barbara Kirkweg, known around school as Captain Kirk, says the problem surrounds ROTC funds, which are separate from general school funds and she expects situation to be resolved soon.

In 2006, we reported that the aviation-themed Academy graduated more than 93 percent of its class in 2005, making it the most successful small school at the time. Last year's graduation rate was 90 percent, according to InsideSchools.org. Students said they are judged based on their performance and leadership skills rather than students' clothing. The high school also provides a refuge from the streets, as students often stayed late in the night.

Supermarket Scarcity
Soundview residnts held a town hall meeting last night to discuss the possible closure of the area's largest supermarket Key Foods, in the face of rent hikes and dwindling supermarkets.

Daily News reports: "In a borough where few people own cars and public transit coverage is less than ideal, closing a major grocery store could mean a difficult trek to the next-nearest supermarket, or force the least mobile to rely on higher-priced local grocery stores."

-Compiled by Stephen Baron

Bronx Heights' Supers May Strike

More hardship beckons for tenants living in Bronx Heights' ten apartment buildings: the non-profit's supers and maintenance staff are threatening to strike because they haven't been paid in eight weeks.

Bronx Heights (full name: Bronx Heights Neighborhood Community Corporation) is currently being sued by HPD. Why, exactly, isn't clear - HPD aren't saying - but several of Bronx Heights' current board members say that rent money (HPD pays Bronx Heights to manage the buildings and to collect rent) has disappeared and that the organization can no longer afford to maintain the apartments, pay the supers, or keep up with the bills.

More here and here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New in the Norwood News

A little weekend reading from the Norwood News, which is on streets and online now. Here's a quick preview:

Tenants battle with a bullying landlord on the Grand Concourse.

A new coach helped propell DeWitt Clinton's tennis team to the city quarterfinals.

The Health Department eyes the contaminated old Fordham Library for an animal shelter. Community activists want it to become community space. Meanwhile, the city is confused about which agency controls the building's destiny. Read more.

A Bronxite gives up his life to work for Barack Obama, but keeps one eye on a City Council seat.

And much more, online now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May's Mount Hope Monitor

The May edition of the Monitor is now online.

Stories include:

Drug Dealer Turned Mentor
Local man, Jamel Allah, a former heroin dealer, now spends his free time mentoring Bronx youth.

Cheap Co-ops Coming to Featherbed Lane
Rarely do the words "affordable" and "co-op" appear in the same sentence - especially in New York. But at 150 Featherbed Lane, a local development company is trying to turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Morris Heights Non-Profit Under Fire
In October 2006, CBS ran a story about "fed up" tenants at 1694 Davidson Ave. The building's elevator, tenants said, had been broken for the past six months, making it difficult for the elderly and infirm to get around.
Well, as of last week, the elevator was still broken. According to the super, Juan Fernandez, it's now been out of action for two years.
The building is owned by HPD, but managed by Bronx Heights Neighborhood Community Corporation, a non-profit staffed mostly by volunteers.
Bronx Heights manages 10 HPD buildings in the Morris Heights section. In theory, they should be collecting rent for the city, while putting aside a small percentage (8 percent) to maintain the buildings, pay the supers, and pay Con-Edison and other bills. In practice, however, the buildings (like 1694 Davidson Ave.) aren't been maintained, the supers aren't being paid, and the bills are being ignored (62-66 W. Trement Ave. has an outstanding water bill of more than $300,000).
Bronx Heights' new treasurer, Monica McDermott, says the organization's bank accounts are empty; that there's no money to pay Con-Edison, no money to pay the company that provides oil, etc. She thinks money has been "misappropriated." HPD also sees something amiss: they're suing Bronx Heights (although they wouldn't give me details, citing an on-going case).
The bigger story here, and one I didn't have time to explore this month, is that several former and current Bronx Heights' board members (along with local residents) say that people have been stealing from Bronx Heights for years - maybe decades. "It’s like a cash cow for everyone," says McDermott. "People come in and take a piece of the pie and then they move on." McDermott thinks HPD have got "egg on their face" for ignoring the situation for so long.
We'll have more on this story next month.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts from Iraq

In February, the Monitor profiled William Perez, a 29-year-old Mount Hope resident who’s serving in Iraq. We spoke with him while he was on leave – the only one he'll get during a 15-month deployment – and he was pretty upbeat (considering he was about to leave his fiancé behind and head back to Baghdad).

Recently, however, Perez has had a difficult time. On April 28, his good friend Cpl. David McCormick, of Matagorda County, Texas, was killed by rocket fire.

Perez has been keeping a diary of sorts in regular emails home to his mom, Nitza Vera. Nitza wanted me to post some of these e-mails, "so the youth, and others, will know what it is really like right in the middle of a war. We take a lot for granted, and he doesn't even know if he will see the sun rise the next day. He feels at least he is sharing his deepest thoughts with his neighbors. No gang, or police brutality can compare to what he is going through right now without a warm hug in site, or a familiar face."

Here are the e-mails:

May 5
I thought today of all days we would have a day off because we were to have a memorial for my friend that passed away. Of course I was sadly mistaken because we
have such an enemy threat here that we work day in and day out- put ur feelings to the side and we will get to them when we see fit. Numbing, all is numbing-
After my mission of receiving small arms fire with in 100 meters from where i was resting my head in a humvee that had to be at least 110 degrees, I prepared for a memorial that I thought I was prepared for. The Chapel filled up slowly, every one spoke soft, the tone was meek and sorrow was felt throughout the room. A big picture of Corporal McCormick was to the right of the altar and a screen just to the left of it so the projector could show pictures through slides. In the middle of the altar were McCormick’s weapon, boots helmet and dogtags. I was ok until they started calling out random names of our PSD-(personal security detail for the SGT MAJOR) As the 1st Sergeant called names soldiers responded with 'Here 1st Sergeant' but when they got to Corporal McCormick there was no answer - 1st SGT called him 3 times and it echoed throughout the walls.. We waited as if he would say 'here 1st sgt but no 1 answered. That's when I broke, I started crying. I have not cried in such a long time that it felt new to me. I could not stop, I just kept thinking of him and how that could be any 1 of us up there. Just so you know, we all are aware that this job is not an easy 1 to swallow but we are at least on guard and awaiting an attack when we roll out the wire. McCormick died while he was asleep, while he slept a rocket shot by the enemy hit him. I don't even know if I am gonna wake up the next morning anymore so I make my prayers extra special for family and friends. We have been taking indirect fire for some time over here and it has gotten real close that our rooms shake and we wake up because of the blast but no 1 was ever a casualty, now it hit home. It is a reality...I wish 2 come home 2 u to have a normal life again...

May 7
Today was a weird day, I woke up feeling lost, where have I been for these past 6months. I have so many mixed feelings, was my situation so bad that I really needed to join? This separation has taken a toll on my sanity, not able to hold and feel my loved ones. My son, my family and definitely my wife with child on the way. I need to leave this place, it only reminds me of death. It only serves the lies this nation has fed us. My friend died because of this 'lie' or maybe it was for 'gas' and 'oil' His life and so many others mean more than that, to say terror was the cause, we never found the weapons of mass destruction, maybe Osama has them where ever he is. I am so tired of this place that it takes me down. My emotional status is on a slide going downward. I need my sanity- I need my wife-son-family.. things that make life worth living, I do not need to be here with strangers that only know ranks and treat you like the paygrade you recieve. I really don't care anymore, I argue with these SGT's without regard to who they are.. little by little they get more of me with out the military bearing- what a famous quote---- ' A mind is a terrible thing to waste' they should replace waste with 'lose'

May 8
This is my friend (pictured), I worked with him for a yr. I saw him day in and out, did endless missions and joked with him. He was stop loss which means if his contract is over 3 months before we deploy again or after 3 months from us deploying he will have to stay another tour in iraq, which is exactly what happened. If it was not for that he would be with his family right now. He is a good man and an even better soldier, pray for his family- this could be ur brother or father or loved one.. honor his death by praying for his family. He is the reason we can buy gas and oil or whatever reason we are here.. i at least know its not 4 mass destruction....

Bronx, the 'Rodney Dangerfield of Boroughs'

That's how Times reporter and Bronxite David Gonzalez describes the Boogie Down in a great article/post that's up on the City Room blog right now.

The article focuses on how guide books, like AAA's, have very little information about lodging and other amenities for those wishing to visit our fine borough -- and then goes on to say that our very own tourism council isn't helping, despite the fact that there is a tourism market (mostly out-of-town baseball fans coming in to catch a Yankee game) that could be taken advantage of.

Gonzalez said he wanted to explore this idea after picking up a guide book in Texas and finding next to zilch written about the Bronx. What he found is that while most lodging facilities in the Bronx still cater to hourly customers, there are a couple of legit hotels that serve actual tourists. He also said the Bronx is still suffering from an outdated image problem, one that's not being helped out by our own tourism council and borough president's lack of action in remedying the problem.

Until there's a real effort to repair this image problem, the Bronx will remain the Rodney Dangerfield of boroughs: Can't get no respect!

Lengthy Interview With Councilmember Foster

The Highbridge Horizon has now posted a lengthy interview with Councilmember Helen Diane Foster on our Web site.

On April 11, the Horizon interviewed Foster in her District Office on Jerome Avenue. We published excerpts of this interview in our April issue, but because the Web does not provide the same space constraints as the printed page, we offer a far more expanded version online.

During the interview, Foster was typically candid, as she addressed a wide range of topics during the course of a roughly hour-long conversation. Her words about the killing of Sean Bell, and the trial of the three officers who killed him --words Foster spoke exactly two weeks before the officers were acquitted -- have echoed powerfully in recent weeks.

"There is more outrage over the torturing of animals," Foster said, "than there is over the fact that another Black man is killed at the hands of the police."

A little later on in the interview, she added: "I think when the verdict comes out, once again like the Diallo case, this city will be looked at and judged on what that outcome is. It appears that we keep going back to Dread Scott, where a Black man has no rights that a white man has to respect, including his own life. And if we see another acquittal in this city, it will be a sad day for all of New York City, and how we are looked at [not only] by ourselves, but by the country. "

Other highlights of the interview:

* On her relationship with borough president Adolfo Carrión: "I think it’s cordial. I don’t have any ill will towards him. I think the defining moment for me and our relationship would be around Yankee Stadium."

*On why she has officially decided to run for Bronx Borough President in 2009: "I think clearly that they [her constituents] wanted me to focus on the Bronx, be in the Bronx, and run for borough president. The significance of being Black and being a woman and running for the highest position as borough president of the Bronx. But I think equally as important that was heard that night is that everybody wants to be a part of it. And in years past, there has not been that inclusive feeling for the Bronx borough president."

*On how to prevent gentrification from pricing Highbridge residents out of their homes: "We have what we have in Harlem, Washington Heights, and we know it’s gonna come right across the bridge. So there has to be an inventory of city-owned land that as much as possible we can look to the City Council. which has ultimate jurisdiction over it, to regulate the type of housing that goes up so that we can have a balance. We also don’t want to become the dumping ground for the shelters or only low-income housing. Because there is a correlation, obviously, with housing and school performance. We want to have multi-use, so that we are bringing dollars into the area. "

Check out the rest of the interview here

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Norwood Mexican Restaurants

On Monday we wrote about the influx of Mexican immigrants in the Norwood area as evidenced by two new Mexican restaurants. A West Bronx Blog reader asked what those restaurants were. Well, the one on Gun Hill Road (near Webster Avenue) is called La Familia. The other, on E. 204th St, is called Rio Mixteco. Enjoy! Disfruta!

The Norwood News will be writing about both restaurants in the near future.

Feel free to write in about any new, or particularly good, restaurants, Mexican or otherwise, in your neighborhood.

Eyewitness Account: Sean Bell Demos

More than 1000 people demonstrated—and more than 200 were arrested—at six locations throughout New York City yesterday, in coordinated acts of protest and civil disobedience to denounce the acquittal of the three officers who killed Sean Bell. Traffic was stopped at the Brooklyn Bridge; the Manhattan Bridge; the Triborough Bridge; the Queensboro Bridge; the Holland Tunnel; and the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

I spent much of yesterday afternoon in Midtown East. Beginning around 3pm, demonstrators marched in front of Bloomingdale’s at East 60th Street and 3rd Avenue, holding signs that proclaimed: “We Are All Sean Bell/This Whole Damn System Is Guilty.” (Those signs, in fact, were ubiquitous at a larger rally at 1 Police Plaza, as well).

Chants included “Justice for Sean Bell!” “I am Sean Bell!” and “They Say Get Back/ We Say Fight Back!”

The size of the march mushroomed between 3 and 3:45pm; there were perhaps 30 protestors in front of Bloomingdale’s at the beginning of that time window and close to 100 by the end. And the crowd may have been even bigger than that; as the New York Times’ coverage of yesterday’s actions correctly pointed out, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish protestors from bystanders.

The crowd was a diverse one—perhaps 2/5 of the demonstrators in front of Bloomingdale’s were white, while the rest were predominantly African-American—and included a youth carrying a skateboard, men who looked to be in their twenties wearing jeans or khakis, activists sporting “We Will Not Be Silent” tee-shirts, and middle-aged folks dressed in business attire.

Shortly before 4pm, the crowd marched to the nearby Queensboro Bridge, where more than 30 demonstrators knelt at the entrance, joined hands, and blocked traffic coming off the bridge for more than twenty minutes before being peacefully arrested. Those engaging in this civil disobedience counted from 1 to 50 to represent the number of bullets fired at Bell, and chanted, “I’ll go to jail for Sean Bell!” They also shouted, “50 shots equals murder!”

On a sidewalk adjacent to the bridge, and behind a police barricade across 2nd Avenue, protestors who did not wish to get arrested expressed support for – and chanted along with -- those who did.

Protest organizers then called on demonstrators to head down to 1 Police Plaza, near the Brooklyn Bridge, in support of those who were busted in Wednesday’s demonstration. According to the New York Times, about 60 people, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Bell’s widow, Nicole Paultre-Bell, were arrested as they stopped traffic near that bridge.

I arrived near the Brooklyn Bridge around 5pm. There was still a sizeable crowd gathered, angrily counting from 1 to 50 and chanting “Guilty!” and “Murderers” as police officers watched on the other side of the barricade.

Adjacent to the demonstration, a bus marked “NYC Police” -- a vehicle that appeared to be the size of a school bus – was filled with recently- arrested protestors. As the crowd chanted, the faces of some arrestees could be seen gazing outside the bus windows and smiling appreciatively.

Protestors soon marched back to 1 Police Plaza, where the rally continued. Chants of “Licensed murderers” --in reference to the NYPD—filled the air.

As I left 1 Police Plaza, I heard an African-American police officer talking on his cell phone as he headed towards the crowd.

“I’m out here with a whole bunch of protestors,” the officer said.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bloomberg Out of Touch on Water Rates

Opinion by Gregory Lobo Jost
Our billionaire mayor once again shows how out of touch he is with reality by crassly dismissing calls to provide immediate relief to water rate payers. When asked about the calls by City Council Members Gennaro and Weprin for the City to return a portion of the rental payment to rate payers, Mayor Mike brushed off the entire issue. So reports the Daily News,

"They spend the money on real projects which we need," Bloomberg said of the city's water system Monday. "From what I can tell, they do it reasonably efficiently, and this [rental relief] seems to me to be a brouhaha about nothing from a couple of people who want to run for higher office."

While some of the elected officials making this point are running for higher office, that doesn't make their point invalid. In fact, those who will be sticking around in public office during the coming years realize that the problem of incresing water rates will only get worse. The easiest route for Bloomberg is to ignore the problem and let the next Administration deal with it -- so much for our visionary Mayor planning ahead to 2030! What about 2010?!?

Significant side point: The Mayor probably wasn't thinking about the filtration plant where costs have skyrocketed when he made his "reasonably efficiently" comment. (By the way, the parks improvements that were part of the deal Bronx politicians made to allow the construction in Van Cortlandt Park aren't being paid for out of the Parks Department budget -- they are coming from rising water rates!)

While the Water Board is also holding hearings this week (last night in the Bronx and tomorrow at 5:30 in Manhattan), they will argue that all that they actually have little control and our points should be made directly to the Mayor's office. Since the Mayor's office isn't holding public hearings on the topic, though, advocates will continue to press major points of reform with the Mayorally-appointed Water Board. Hopefully they will have the wherewithal to take our case to the Mayor, or resign in protest of what's going on -- but I wouldn't hold my breath on either count.

Meanwhile, the Independent Budget Office released a report on the water rate increases this week, although they focus entirely on short-term relief. A better comprehensive look at the system can be found in the Urban Prospect (entitled Liquid Assets), released today by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I know, I know, some say this is a "manufactured" ethnic holiday (see: St. Patrick's Day) created mostly by big-name beer companies (see: Corona), but this is also a day of pride for Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans, especially on West Coast and in the southwest part of the country.

Also, the Mexican population in the Bronx is expanding rapidly. Anecdotal evidence: two new authentic Mexican restaurants opened in Norwood in the past month, one on Gun Hill Road, the other on 204th Street. Disfruta!

Here's a good story about the origins and celebration of Cinco de Mayo from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here's an excerpt from the Chronicle article about the origins of the holiday:

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is treated as a celebration of Mexican heritage, much like St. Patrick's Day is to Irishness or Lunar New Year is to Chinese culture. It's sometimes confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is actually Sept. 16, the day in 1810 when Mexicans first declared their intention to be free from Spanish rule.

Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican Fourth of July, and it's not "Drinko de Mayo," as the beer companies have tried to fashion it. In fact it celebrates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when a ragtag Mexican army fought off an attack by the larger and better-equipped French force sent by Emperor Napoleon III to conquer Mexico.

The French, along with Spanish and English troops, had invaded Mexico in 1861 after Mexican President Benito Juarez declared he was suspending payment on the country's foreign debts. The Spanish and English withdrew after negotiating settlement of the debt. But Napoleon, hoping to gain a foothold in the Americas to counter the growing power of the United States, ordered his troops to attack.

At the Battle of Puebla, in central Mexico, 2,000 Mexican troops successfully defended their forts against 6,000 French soldiers. They won the battle, but Napoleon won the war, installing his cousin Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. It wasn't until 1867 that he was deposed and Juarez regained the presidency.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Soundview Rallies For Sean Bell

On Saturday, Bronx residents continued to demonstrate their anger over the acquittal of the three police officers who killed Sean Bell.

About 45 people—including teenagers, seniors, and those in between— marched through Soundview. The roughly 30-minute procession began in front of 1157 Wheeler Avenue – the building where Liberian immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed in 1999 by four NYPD officers— and concluded at the 43rd Precinct. A brief rally was held at the 43 after the march. Protestors observed a moment of silence for Diallo before beginning their trek down Wheeler Avenue.

The march was called, and led, by Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr.

“It seems to us that the only difference nine years later is that there were nine more bullets fired, ” Diaz told the crowd outside the 43rd Precinct, comparing the 41 shots fired at Diallo to the 50 bullets pumped at Bell.

As was the case with Wednesday’s rally in Highbridge, a major theme expressed at Saturday’s demonstration was that—given the history of fatal shootings, abuse, and harassment by law enforcement against persons of color—what happened to Sean Bell could easily have happened to any Black or Latino male. Demonstrators chanted “I am Sean Bell,” in addition to “I am [Anthony] Baez,” “ I am [Abner] Louema,” and “I am Amadou [Diallo],” referring to other victims of high-profile instances of police shootings and brutality. Marchers also sang the Civil Rights Movement anthem “We Shall Overcome,” and counted from 1 to 50 to represent the number of shots fired at Bell and his friends.

“It doesn’t have to be Amadou. It doesn’t have to be Sean Bell,” said 25-year-old Highbridge resident Richard Baldwin. “It could be your kids next.”

Baldwin added that Bell’s killing had hit him very personally. “A part of me dies,” Baldwin said, “every time someone is taken from this earth for the wrong reasons.”

Several Soundview residents watched the march from apartment windows, storefronts, and doorsteps. “They should rally,” said Josie Cruz, 49, as the march passed by. “50 bullets? That’s no good. Cops don’t have a right to shoot somebody 50 times.”

Some residents, like 27-year-old Anthony Morales, joined the demonstration on the spot. Morales said he encountered the march after exiting a bus, and was thrilled to see members of his community speaking out. “In this neighborhood, you really don’t hear protests like this,” Morales said. “So it’s a beautiful thing. It’s totally needed.”

Morales described police-community relations in Soundview as “horrible,” and said that he and other young residents of the neighborhood were frequently stopped-and-frisked by local police. He attributed the rarity of protest in Soundview to a fear on the part of residents to speak out against the police. When informed that the march was headed towards the 43rd Precinct, Morales enthusiastically exclaimed, “That’s what’s up!”

In front of the precinct, Diaz noted that Judge Arthur Cooperman had cited the “demeanor” of Bell’s friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman--as well as other prosecution witnesses--during the trial as a factor in his decision to acquit Officers Marc Cooper, Gescard F. Isnora, and Michael Oliver.

“To say that we can be shot 41 or 50 times because we have a certain flavor or swagger,” Diaz said, “is something we cannot tolerate.”

Diaz echoed the Rev. Al Sharpton’s calls for the creation of an independent prosecutor to prosecute cases involving police shootings.

As the rally in front of the 43rd Precinct wound to a close, this reporter was approached by Gloria Cruz, whose 10-year-old niece Naisha “Nana” Pearson was killed by stray bullets in Mott Haven in September of 2005. Cruz has since quit her retail job and devoted much of her life to efforts to rid the streets of illegal guns; in fact, she was in Washington D.C. lobbying Congress on this issue when she learned of the acquittal of Cooper, Isnora, and Oliver. She said she was “dumbfounded” and “upset” when she heard the verdict.

“I feel hurt,” Cruz said. “I know what it’s like to lose a loved one. Even though it was a legal gun [the weapons that killed Bell] , it was gun violence. We need to have the police department stop profiling us.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton has called for citywide acts of civil disobedience this Wednesday May 7, in protest of the acquittal of the three officers.

Sharpton announced that protestors will gather Wednesday afternoon at six locations throughout the city for a “pray-in” that will involve blocking traffic. According to NY1, The spots Sharpton announced are: Third Avenue at 125th Street; Park Avenue at 34th Street; Third Avenue at 60th Street; Varick and Houston Streets; One Police Plaza; and 415 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Check out NY1's Web site for more information about Wednesday's actions

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Local Protestors: "We Are All Sean Bell"

Roughly 75 protestors gathered last night at East 170th Street and Jerome Avenue to speak out against the acquittal of three officers who killed Sean Bell.

Chanting “We are all Sean Bell/ We are all Anthony Baez/We are all Amadou Diallo”—referring to victims of infamous police killings in the Bronx— Black, Latino, and white demonstrators joined together to protest last week’s verdict, and to demand changes in NYPD policies and conduct towards communities of color.

Protestors blocked traffic for a few minutes as Rev. Raymond Rivera, CEO of the Latino Pastoral Action Center—one of the main groups organizing Wednesday’s action—led the crowd in a prayer. A heavy police presence from the nearby 44th Precinct looked on, but officers from the 44 had met with event organizers Tuesday night and approved the action, so there were no arrests.

Following the blocking of traffic, the crowd gathered for a rally that lasted about 30 minutes. Speakers said that Bell’s killing was part of a larger pattern of police violence and harassment against African-Americans and Latinos.

Joel Rivera, director of the Greater Heights youth program at LPAC, listed the names of other persons of color killed by the NYPD, including Baez—a 29-year-old asthmatic Puerto Rican man who died in 1994 after being choked by police— and Patrick Dorismond—a 26-year-old Haitian-American man who was shot and killed near Madison Square Garden in 2000.

“I’ve never heard of somebody on Wall Street being accidentally shot reaching for their phone,” Rivera said. He added that one difference between the Bell shooting and many other cases of unarmed men of color killed by law enforcement is that two of the three officers charged in Bell’s death were themselves Black.

“It’s not about Black and white,” Rivera said. “It’s blue.”

Hector Soto, a civil-rights attorney, told the crowd it was necessary to speak out not only against police murders, but also against the daily harassment he said people of color experienced at the hands of police. He cited pervasive stop-and-frisks by the NYPD—a phenomenon which studies have shown overwhelmingly impacts African-Americans and Latinos—as an example of the “little disrespects” suffered by people of color, in addition to “big disrespects” such as the Bell shooting.

"Everybody has a story," Soto said, referring to experiences of people of color with law enforcement.

Youth comprised a large portion of Wednesday afternoon’s turnout; a good percentage of those in attendance appeared to be under the age of 25. Many wore black tee-shirts with red letters that read: “I am Sean bell/Amadou Diallo/Abner Louema/Your name here.”

Many of the younger protestors expressed feeling emboldened and inspired by the rally to
speak out against police brutality, and to raise their voice more generally on issues that concern them. “I definitely want to see changes out here,” said community resident Lucas Santa, 22. “It’s hard for the young ones.” Santa said police use of excessive force against unarmed men of color, as well as the flood of illegal weapons on the streets of his neighborhoods, were trends that needed to be halted.

Later, he said he felt he could play an active role in this process. “I believe if I speak out,” Santa said, “we could make changes.”

The theme of simultaneously fighting police abuse and violence within the Highbridge community was echoed by several speakers, including Rev. Rivera, who called on residents to stop the flow of weapons on neighborhood streets. “We say to the officers, ‘No more’” Rivera said. “We say to ourselves, ‘no more.’”

Twenty-year-old Nigel Patrick, a Morrisania resident who works at LPAC, said he learned of the acquittal of officers Cooper, Isnora, and Oliver through a friend’s text message; the friend told him to forward the news to everybody he knew. Patrick gave a long list of reasons he said police had cited in arresting him recently, including: “looking suspicious,” smoking cigarettes, and walking outside after 3am.

Asked by this reporter if he felt a particularly strong connection to Sean Bell’s death because he, like Bell, is a Black male in his twenties, Patrick replied: “I feel that everybody is connected to Sean Bell.”

Ethan Zatko, a 24-year-old Washington Heights resident, was one of several white protestors at East 170th and Jerome. " I was disturbed but not that surprised," Zatko said of the verdict. "I think it's another instance in a long line of unfortunate manifestations of systematic racism."

Zatko said it was crucial for demonstrators to carry forward the momentum of Wednesday's demonstration in the form of community organizing. In particular, he said that white activists had a responsibility to educate other white Americans about systematic racism and oppression carried out against people of color.

During the rally, onlookers lined East 170th Street, and a few could also be seen watching the proceedings from the elevated “4” subway station at 170th and Jerome. Some people discovered the rally as they walked by it, and were inspired to join on the spot.

Twenty-two-year-old Nikey Fowler, a University Avenue resident, said that witnessing demonstrators holding signs about Bell caught her attention. So Fowler brought herself, and her four-year-old son, into the rally. “I just felt like they got away with murder,” Fowler said of Officers Cooper, Isnora, and Oliver. “That’s exactly what I thought.”

She added that she had been so outraged by the acquittal of the officers that she began crying when she heard the verdict.

After the demonstration, Joel Rivera said he was pleased that a diverse group of protestors— including members of community organizations such as LPAC and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, as well as local residents—had united to speak out against the acquittal.

Speaking to the Horizon on Monday and Tuesday, Rivera confided that organizers were consciously limiting how broadly they spread the word about Wednesday’s demonstration in order to reduce the element of unpredictability involved in the action.

“I could have made this something really big with thousands of people,” Rivera said, “but my concern is when you have those type of events, that it’s hard to have control of them.”

Rivera said he hoped Wednesday’s protest could serve as a springboard to “organize and mobilize Highbridge,” not only around issues of police-community relations, but also housing, education, health care, and employment.