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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Remembering David Pacheco


Last Thursday, the 46th Precinct held a block party on Harrison Avenue at West Tremont Avenue. Local residents tucked into free food and danced to live music. Kids played games and got their faces painted. But away from the fun, the purpose of the event was to promote safe streets and draw attention to the evils of gun crime.

Mount Hope Monitor photograher Alma Watkins took a bunch of photos, including the one above - a small memorial of sorts to two-year-old David Pacheco who, you may recall, was shot dead at this intersection on Easter Day 2006. David's crime? Well, he was buckled into the back seat of a minivan when a stray bullet - the product of a nearby gang fight - burst through the window and hit him in the chest.

A local man, Nicholas Morris, was picked up soon after and found to be in possession of a loaded .347 Magnum. He was charged with murder, but the case fell apart earlier this year when forensics showed that the Magnum wasn't the murder weapon. "I'm happy that justice has finally been served," Morris told the Daily News.

According to the Bronx DA's Web site, a man by the name of Ronnell Gilliam faces related charges of "hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence." His trial starts on Sept. 22.

But no one new has been charged with murder, meaning David's killer continues to walk the streets. "Where is my justice?" the memorial poster asks. It's a good question.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Another anti-Espada Video

Anti-Espada forces -- who are perhaps Efrain Gonzalez supporters -- are using YouTube quite a bit in this heated local primary election for the state Senate. This one plays on Espada's past flirtations with the Republican Party. He never actually became a Republican but he did caucus with them toward the end of his term in the Senate. (Thanks to Liz Benjamin at Daily News for alerting us.)

If my own mailbox is any guide the NYS Democratic Committee is flooding local voters with mailers that link Espada to uber-Republicans Bush/Cheney and even the war in Iraq. The mailers don't mention Gonzalez as they aren't actually being sent out by his campaign, but they certainly are intended to influence the electiion. Meanwhile, no direct mail at all from Espada. Ahhh, the power of incumbency.

The GHI Bronx Tennis Classis Championship

Earlier this month, Crotona Park hosted the GHI Bronx Tennis Classic. The photos above were taken by Adi Talwar.

Reporting from Denver - Final Photos

I'm back in New York - my Denver experience over. Obama, as you know, gave his nomination speech last night. It was well received. At least it seemed that way on TV: afraid of missing our flights we watched it in a bar instead of heading to the jam-packed Broncos Stadium. (Here's the text of the speech in full.)

I thought I'd sign off by sharing some photos shot in and around Denver this past week. As I mentioned yesterday, some of the planned demonstrations were poorly attended. Still, there were many different ideas, values, and voices on display, as these photos illustrate. Obama, I'm assuming, has already won over the Obamamobile's owner. But he may have a harder time locking in the Fox News fans.

From a personal point of view, I've had fantastic time these past few days. A big thank you to the New York Community Media Alliance for putting the trip together. Some of the reporters I was traveling with are off to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. You can follow their work here.

Gonzalez Loses a Round in Court

We just got word from the U.S. Attorney's office that State Senator Efrain Gonzalez's bid to have his indictment dismissed has been denied by U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III. Gonzalez's co-defendant, Neil Berger, also failed in his effort to have his trial separated from that of Gonzalez and two other co-defendants. The trial will proceed as scheduled on Oct. 6. Gonzalez is charged with using $420,000 in government funds for his own personal expenses and the other co-defendants are charged with helping him.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reporting from Denver - The Protests


Here's some shots of this morning's pro-immigration march through Denver. About 1,000 people showed up. In the background is the Denver Broncos Stadium where tonight Barack Obama will give his nomination speech.

With the world watching, I expected to see more demonstrations like this one, and bigger ones, too. But they didn't materialize, unless I've been standing in the wrong places. The cops, mind you, have still got their hands dirty. A reporter with us was maced, and temporarily blinded, after getting caught up in an anarchist protest. Here's a story and a photo.

In all, a hundred people have been arrested this week, including an ABC News producer, who annoyed police by blocking a sidewalk.


Tale of Two Convention Speeches

Congressman Jose Serrano had some of his more pointed critiques of the Bush administration removed from his convention speech by Barack Obama’s nervous speech vetters, according to the Times. He predicted this would happen in a conversation with Mount Hope Monitor editor James Fergusson, who is down in Denver covering the proceedings.

Meanwhile, folksy Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer also had his speech sliced and diced, but he paid it no mind, ad-libbing and improvising his way to one of the more popular and well-reviewed speeches of the convention.

Reporting from Denver - Some NY Delegates Find it Hard to Let Go


Yesterday morning, following a New York Democratic breakfast at the Sheridan Hotel, I watched the delegates vote. Aurelia Greene, the Bronx Assemblywomen and a pledged Clinton delegate, told me she went for Obama. Said Greene, pictured voting: "They gave me the option so I took it."

(Regardless of their allegiance, delegates and superdegates didn't have to vote for a particular candidate. There were three options on the form: Obama, Clinton, and abstain).

Congressman Eliot Engel, a superdelgate, and Borough President Adlofo Carrion, a pledged Clinton delegate, also voted for Obama. "I felt for party unity and to come out of this convention united so we can win in November, I voted for Obama," said Engel.

But some delegates, such as Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, stuck with Clinton. "I was elected by the voters to vote for Hillary so that's what I'm going to do, no regrets," Dinotwitz said. "I'm voting for Hillary but I will support Obama."

Yesterday afternoon, I asked Assemblyman Michael Benjamin - a staunch Obama fan - what he thought of the loyalty New York delegates were showing Clinton. "There are those like myself who believe we should support unanimously for Obama," he said. "I think people [Clinton delegates] are making a point. I don't know if I'd call it stubbornness, but I think they want to make a point and support her and make sure it's reported in history that she acquired delegates and came close to getting the nomination. She conceded, she's supporting Barack Obama, what's the point in having your home delegation pass votes for you that really don't help you?"

All this, of course, is now obsolete: Clinton later put a halt to the vote counting roll-call, thus confirming Obama as the nominee. But it hints at the discord, the disharmony, in the New York delegation - even deep into the convention. Benjamin estimated that nearly half of the 281 delegates voted for Clinton.

One more thing. Clinton’s move to "release her delegates" yesterday afternoon was largely show, I think, as most delegates voted in the morning. Surely, if she’d wanted to unite the party she would have released them the night before, and insist they vote for Obama. Despite her gracious stopping of the roll call, then, it seems Clinton also wanted to make a point, just like her devoted supporters.

For more on NY delegates' "supreme disappointment" see this Times story. And for a slightly different view, check out State Senator Jose M. Serrano's Room Eight post, which we mentioned early. Serrano believes talk of a rift was overblown.

Sen. Serrano Blogs from Convention

State Senator Jose M. Serrano (son of the congressman) filed this blog post from Denver. It includes his thoughts on perceived rifts between the Obamas and the Clintons and a shout-out to the news media.

Slaughterhouse Bronx

Bronx native and NYT columnist David Gonzalez stops in on a neighborhood vivero -- or slaughterhouse -- and takes a look back at his own childhood while he's there. (The photo is by Gonzalez, too.)

Reporting from Denver - Bronx Rappers Trash Cops, Everyone


Rebel Diaz, a fiery hip-hop group based in Hunts Point, performed in Denver on Tuesday in the shadows of the State Capitol. With their police bashing lyrics, and Black Power hand signals, they're one of the most controversial bands around. Think Rage Against the Machine with rhymes.

When I showed up, a crowd of about 50 were dancing to a song called "Handcuffs" which dissed cops and the curse of gentrification the band say is sweeping the South Bronx. Perhaps the song's title is related to an incident in July, when two Rebel Diaz band members were arrested for coming to the aid of a street vendor police were harassing. Here's the Voice story about the incident. And here's a video, taken by a friend.

I should add that they're actually pretty good - regardless of what you think of their politics. I was impressed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Axelbank's Radio Show Takes on Filtration Plant and Other Bronx Issues

Late Update: Our very own James Fergusson will be calling in to Gary's show at 7:45 to report on his experience reporting on the Democratic Convention in Denver!

BronxTalk PrimeTime host Gary Axelbank continues with his weekly radio stint tonight(Wed.) at 7 p.m. Here's the details from the man himself.

Wednesday evening on the WVOX radio program GAX in the Bronx, host Gary Axelbank will provide an in-depth look at the scandalous Croton Water filtration plant, the largest construction project in the City's history that has been riddled with controversy and allegations of mob involvement.

With court filings in the case about the use of explosives scheduled to take place on Wednesday, GAX in the Bronx will feature an exclusive interview with Fr. Richard Gorman, the Chairman of Community Board 12 in the Bronx and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Fr. Gorman will provide details on the content of the filings and describe how Mayor Bloomberg's DEP has defrauded the public, the media, and the courts in its attempt to substantively change construction methods it had filed previously in official documents.

GAX in the Bronx is heard from 7-8pm on WVOX 1460AM and streamed live on www.wvox.com, which has been a popular option for many of Mr. Axelbank's Bronx fans and those out of range of the AM station.

Listeners are invited to call into the program at 914-636-0110.

Bronx News Roundup Aug. 27

Bronx Democrats apparently knew about Nelson Castro’s prior arrest record before choosing him to replace Bronx Assemblyman Luis Diaz in the Sept. 9 primary reported Bob Kappstatter in his weekly Bronx Borough news column. Castro was arrested for felony grand larceny as well as for driving with a revoked license. [Daily News]

Two men pleaded guilty on Tuesday to participating in an illegal gambling ring, which was ran out of the Hunts Point Market. [NYT]

Late Monday night a livery cab driver was attacked and his cab stolen by an unidentified man. The incident occurred at Carter Avenue and 174th Street in Tremont. [NY1]

A body found this weekend in the Niagara River has been confirmed to be a 12-year-old Bronx girl. Magdalena Lubowska had been missing since Aug. 13. [Newsday]

A Bronx man who claims he was attacked by two female police officers filed a $25 million lawsuit against the city yesterday. Marlon Smith says he was beaten by the two off-duty cops following a traffic incident and needed 35 stitches. [NY1]

The city’s Department of Health confirmed that two city residents were infected with the West Nile Virus. One is a 73-year-old woman from Queens and the other a 60-year-old man from the Bronx. Both were hospitalized in early August. [EmaxHealth]

A 19th century building at 614 Courtland Ave. in Melrose has recently begun renovations, David Gonzalez reports. The building has received a second life thanks to the Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. [NYT]

Is the Bronx Real Estate Bubble Finally About to Burst?

Opinion by Gregory Lobo Jost
The morning after the 2000 election, when many of us were learning about the fascinations of the electoral college and wondering who would be our next president, University Neighborhood Housing Program convened a forum at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus on the early signs of a housing bubble in the Bronx. While no one knew just when such a bubble might burst, we were able to document a growing disparity between sales prices and the profitability of apartment buildings or, in other words, the emergence of a speculative bubble. With the help of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, we refined the research and in 2003 released a report, A Real Estate Bubble in the Bronx? that showed it was impossible to prove we weren't experiencing a speculative bubble.

Fast-forward to 2007 and the release of another UNHP report on the topic, Shrinking Affordability, documented how the disparity between profitability and sales prices was continuing to increase to previously unimaginable levels, fueled primarily by private equity investor groups. In the west Bronx, private equity groups such as SG2, Pinnacle, Prana, Ocelot and Normandy have purchased large numbers of rent stabilized buildings, often paying significantly more per unit than other owners. In 2007, for instance, Private Equity groups paid on average about $83,300 per unit while the rest of the purchasers paid an average of about $76,000 per unit. Adjusted for inflation, the overall average sales price had more than doubled since 2001. Yet the buildings themselves are only about as profitable as they were back in 1990, as the operating expenses have climbed at least as fast as rents (according to Income and Expense Studies from the Rent Guidelines Board).

Our main concern on this issue has been the potential for owners to cut back on services to buildings in order to handle their huge debt service (mortgage) payments and rising operating costs (e.g., fuel, water, insurance). The worst case scenario involves a building going into foreclosure -- a losing situation all around not just for the owner, investor and lender, but more importantly for the building, the tenants and the neighborhood. As we saw in the late 1980s with the rash of multifamily foreclosures in Bronx buildings overfinanced by Freddie Mac, these properties often fell into serious disrepair and communities as a whole suffered.

Is history about to repeat itself? A story in the New York Times earlier this week discusses how the owners of the Riverton, a large middle income and mostly rent stabilized housing complex in Harlem, are warning their lenders that "they are in imminent danger of defaulting on their mortgage." While a number of small Bronx apartment buildings (6 - 15 units) have already gone into foreclosure in recent years, the Riverton may signal a wave of larger defaults stemming from faulty logic made by private equity investor groups in the West Bronx and Upper Manhattan, as a follow-up article in today's Times discusses:

Until a few years ago, places like Upper Manhattan and the Bronx held little allure for investors in residential property. But as the New York real estate market heated up, major real estate companies began competing vigorously for rent-regulated buildings in these neighborhoods in the belief that they could manage them more professionally and, hence, more profitably.

The recent disclosure that the owners of Riverton Houses, a 1,228-unit apartment complex in Harlem, might default on their loan has shocked the real estate industry. And it has raised fears about other apartment building deals from the not-so-distant past, when the frenzy in the market was reaching its peak.

The strategy in these types of investments has been to achieve high levels of turnover in apartments (i.e., force/encourage as many tenants to move out as possible, especially the ones with lower rents) in order to take advantage of rent stabilization laws that allow for a 20% increase in an apartment's rent upon vacancy. Coupled with increases from Major Capital Improvements and the allotted annual increase approved by the Rent Guidelines Board, getting a tenant to move out of an apartment could easily translate into a 25 - 35% jump in the allowable rent for the next tenant. In a gentrifying neighborhood (e.g., northern Manhattan), creating high levels of turnover could dramatically increase a building's income, thereby justifying the high price paid for the property.

With the example of the Riverton leading the way, we are able to see how this strategy might not pan out the way the Private Equity groups are hoping for. First and foremost, tenants are being organized and educated about how to keep their apartments and avoid being forced out. As long-time owner/manager of Bronx and Upper Manhattan buildings Frank Anelante points out in the same Times article today, turnover in his units is closer to 2%. By way of contrast, private equity groups have documented in their filings with the S.E.C. plans to reach turnover rates as high as 30% of the apartments in the first year and 10% percent annually in the following years. With the example of the Riverton, we are beginning to see what may happen to more owners when they can't meet this outlandish target.

And if private equity groups are having a hard time in gentrifying upper Manhattan, their troubles may end up being even worse here in the west Bronx where tenants already typically pay half of their income on rent. For the sake of our neighborhoods, let's all hope for a soft landing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reporting from Denver - Bronx Activist is New York Delegate

Most of New York's 281 delegates are politicians or former politicians. Most - but not all. This afternoon, I ran into Awilda Cordero, a South Bronx community activist. Cordero (pictured) was soaking up the atmosphere in the glamorous Pepsi Center, where Clinton will speak tonight.

It's her first time as a delegate. "I'm excited, I've already cried three or four times," she said. "I can't wait for Obama to be nominated and hopefully go on to win the election."

Cordero is the founder of Emergency Rights, a non-profit on 149th Street. The organization provides assistance and financial support to families dealing with tragedy. Cordero's best known for representing the family members of Nixmary Brown, a seven-year-old Brooklyn girl who was brutally murdered by her stepfather in 2006. She also helped raise money for relatives of the nine children and one adult who perished in the fire on Woodycrest Avenue in March 2007.

This afternoon, Cordero, decked out in Obama-friendly attire, was all smiles - a fresh, friendly face in a sea of suited pols. But she does have one thing in common with her fellow Bronx delegates: a propensity for bad press. Last year, the Daily News reported that Cordero had never filed a single financial document detailing her charity work.

Reporting from Denver - Dinowitz Blogs for the Riverdale Press

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Helen Morik, a candidate for Oliver Koppell's City Council seat, have been blogging about their Denver experiences for a new Riverdale Press blog called Dispatches from the DNC.

Topics addressed include Dinowitz's take on whether there's tension between politicans who supported Obama in the primaries, and those who backed Clinton.

Reporting from Denver - Obama Likes Wife's Speech

In an e-mail to his supporters this morning, Obama praised the speech Michelle's gave at Denver's Pepsi Center on Monday night.

"I am so lucky to be married to the woman who delivered that speech last night. Michelle was electrifying, inspiring, and absolutely magnificent. I get a lot of credit for the speech I gave at the 2004 convention -- but I think she may have me beat."
See it here.

Reporting from Denver - Does Obama Appeal to Minority Voters?


Away from the protests and the speeches, Denver is playing host to hundreds of panel discussions this week. Yesterday afternoon, I stopped by "Deconstructing the Ethnic Vote: Do ethnic voters connect to the Democratic candidate?"

The discussion, which was sponsored by Feet in Two Worlds and the New York Community Media Alliance, bought together four journalists from ethnic media outlets: Lotus Chau, of the New York-based Sing Tao Daily; Jehangir Khattack, a U.S./Pakistani reporter with Defence Journal; Raymond Dean Jones, a political columnist with Denver Urban Spectrum (an African-American Newspaper); and Pilar Marrero, a senior political writer and columnist for La Opinion (An L.A. - based Spanish paper).

Considering the Bronx's demographics, I'll just share what Jones and Marrero had to say.

"I think the Barack Obama campaign started late in trying to reach out to Latinos. And this is trouble now," Marrero said. "They didn't have the people in the campaign to really to know who to talk to, to really know what the message should be. Even as they were getting some endorsements from congressman and Latino leaders, they were still grasping to get their message across. Now that they have the nomination they are better, but I don't think they have the actual expertise that Hillary Clinton did."

Obama is now polling 62 to 63 percent of Latinos, but Marrero says these numbers are lower that what both Clintons managed.

"I think in the Latino community there's still a sense that people don't know him very well," she Marrero. "And there's an issue with race among some Latinos, not a significant amount, but we do know when we go to Latin American countries we see racial hierarchies." (Mount Hope resident Jose Roman previously wrote about these hierarchies in the Monitor. )

Obama, Marrero said, needs to emphasize Hillary Clinton's contributions, to help appease Hispanic women "who were so set on having a woman in the presidency." Even Patty Solis Doyle, Clinton's former campaign manager who is now in the Obama camp, has yet to warm to her new boss. "I recently talked to her, she seemed pained to even be working with Obama," said Marrero.

And he needs to emphasize his immigrant roots, said Marrero, to help connect with Hispanics. "This is one thing that helps him with Latinos... because it shows he understands the immigrant experience," says Marrero. "Because as much as we like to say people go with candidate about the issues, we all know it's more about trust and who you like... the image of the person."

Added Jones, the African-American reporter: "The campaign was actually a bit slow in the black community. [Obama] isn't an African-American in the conventional sense and so there was some suspicion of him. He was a super-intellect, maybe a bit haughty."

"What really opened the door for Barack was Michelle," Jones continued. "People began to see and hear Michelle, to see this beautiful black women who was gifted intellectually herself, worked, was independent, was strong, and who with all of that was believable as a first lady, certainly far exceeding the gifts of the two Bush first ladies." This, Jones said, gave Obama and his message of change credibility. (Michelle spoke at the convention last night. Here's the text of her speech in full. And here's a "behind-the-scenes" video of Michelle released by the campaign yesterday.)

The popularity of the Clintons also hurt Obama's ability to reach blacks in the early stages of his campaign. "Southern blacks were really tied into Clinton," said Jones. "It wasn't that they weren't listening to Barack, it's that there were powerful influences from high up in the black community."

With the nomination, the pendulum has swung back in Obama's favor, with many black superdelegates abandoning Clinton. The black community now has "a great deal of pride" in Obama's achievements, says Jones.

Feel free to add to this discussion in the COMMENTS section.

(Pictured above is John Rudolf (r), of Feet in Two Worlds, who moderated the panel, Pilar Marrero, and Raymond Dean Jones.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reporting from Denver - Bronx Democrats Attend Opening Reception

On Sunday evening, I attended the New York Democratic Party reception at the Sheraton Denver Hotel, in downtown Denver. (I'm here covering the convention with a group of reporters from other New York City ethnic and community newspapers.)

The reception was held in honor of Sheldon Silver, the New York Assembly Speaker. "Are you ready to crush the politics of privilege?" Silver asked the crowd of delegates "Yes!" came the reply. Then he introduced David Paterson (pictured below), saying the governor has become, in five short months, an "inspiration to all Democrats across the state of New York and beyond."

Paterson, the star attraction, talked about the recent budget cuts in New York. And he talked briefly about Obama, saying the nominee was the right man to fix the nation's many problems. Then Paterson - with his short speech over - returned to schmoozing and joking with throngs of grinning delegates. (New York, by the way, has 281 delegates, second only to California. Most, but not all, are former or current politicians. By my count, 20 are from the Bronx, most of whom are Clinton delegates. More here on the the New York State Democratic Committee Web site.)

At the event, several Bronx delegates were in attendance, including Congressman Jose Serrano. He says he's been coming to these conventions since 1968. "They're a networking thing," he said. "And a big celebrating, a celebration of democracy."

Serrano, along with three other Hispanic congressman, spoke at the Pepsi Center today, saying the Hispanic community was proud to support Obama. I couldn't be there, but last night he told me (with a smile) that the Obama's people were vetting his speech, and he wasn't sure if he'd be allowed on. They were being careful, Serrano said, because he - Serrano - leans "to the left" and has ties with Hugo Chavez, the firebrand Venezuelan president.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and Assemblyman Michael Benjamin were also at the reception, as was Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. "It's an opportunity to meet people from all over the state and all over the country," said Dinowitz, who was there with his son and daughter. "People are in a good mood because they feel they have a good chance of winning this year. Hopefully this week will launch a successful election campaign."

Dinowitz, like Carrion, is a pledged Clinton delegate, meaning his vote will go to Clinton even though she's out of the race. (Serrano and Congressman Eliot Engel, on the other hand, are unpledged delegates - or superdelegates - meaning their votes weren't determind by New York's primary back in February. Benjamin is a pledged Obama delegate. In the coming days, I'll try and explain this system in more detail.)

I also caught up with Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene, another staunch Clintonite. She said she had supported Hillary because she's a "woman, from New York, and a friend." But with the race now decided, Greene (pictured top with Dinowitz) says she has no problems supporting Obama "wholeheartedly."

I didn't see Jose Rivera, or son Joel or daughter Naomi, who was taken to the hospital early Monday with kidney and gall bladder stones. Jose, the Bronx party chairman, is is currently locked in battle with the so-called "Rainbow Rebellion" - which includes Benjamin, Greene, and Dinowitz.

Naomi Rivera Hospitalized in Denver

Liz Benjamin of the Daily News reports that Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, daughter of fellow Assemblyman and party chair Jose Rivera, was hospitalized in Denver with "stones" -- one in the kidney and another in the gallbladder. Her father has suffered with this as well. She's out of the hospital now and says she will postpone surgery until she returns to NY.
We wish her luck and good health.

Four More Years! Koppell Likes the Idea.

Oliver Koppell, one of 35 Council members who will be otherwise employed on Jan. 1, 2010 thanks to term limits, brushed off rumors that he’s going to introduce a bill to extend term limits, according to the Daily News. The law now restricts citywide elected officials, borough presidents and Council members to two four-year terms. But lately there’s been talk, mostly fueled by some New Yorkers’ desire to see Mayor Bloomberg continue in office, about efforts to extend the limits by one more four-year term.

Koppell told the Daily News that he did request that the Council bill-drafting division come up with a bill extending term limits two years ago but that it never went anywhere. But it’s clear that Koppell is a supporter of adding on another term and he thinks voters would go for it if they knew it meant four more years of Bloomberg.

"He's quite popular, and I think people should have the chance to vote for him," Koppell said.

(Somehow, we have the feeling that Anthony Wiener, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson would beg to differ.)

Extending term limits would upend what is already proving to be a lively race to replace Koppell (not to mention similar efforts in 34 other Council districts). There are now five candidates (including Koppell staffer Jamin Sewell) all from Riverdale, in the mix, and there may be more. They’ve already held fundraisers, launched Web sites, and hit the streets.

We saw a crew of Ari Hoffnung supporters outside the C-Town on Sedgwick Avenue last week. They were wearing orange t-shirts emblazoned with the question, “Got Parking?” and asking passersby to sign a petition calling on Mayor Bloomberg to reduce the number of alternate-side parking days.

All this campaign activity is a year out from next year’s election.

But it will be for naught if the Council succeeds in extending term limits.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reporting from Denver - the 2008 Democratic National Convention

If you've watched TV, surfed the Web, or picked up a newspaper in the last few days, you'll know that the Democratic National Convention is almost upon us.

As I type, thousands of delegates and journalists, along with representatives from unions, corporations, and special interest groups, are descending on Denver, Colorado. Many are already here. I say here because I'm fortunate enough to be in the "Mile-High City" myself, along with nine other reporters pooled from various ethnic and community newspapers in the New York area. It's an eclectic bunch. There's a reporter from the Haitian Times, another from the Sing Tao Daily, and another from the Indian Express, and so on. The trip is being sponsored by the New York Community Media Alliance (formerly known as the IPA). That's us below.


Normally, small newspapers don't have the resources to send reporters halfway across the country. The idea, then, is for us to cover a nationally significance event, and bring details home to our readers - many of whom don't read The Times, or Daily News, or New York Post. Take Nowy Dziennik (aka the Polish Daily News), for example. Their readers struggle with English, says reporter Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska (who is also with us), meaning the Polish-language paper plays a vital role in keeping people informed and connecting them to the wider world.

I plan to write about the convention for both the Norwood News and the Mount Hope Monitor. Over the next few days, however, I'm going to be providing more immediate commentary here on the West Bronx Blog. I'll be attending - and writing about - speeches and panel discussions whose content might appeal to Bronx residents (immigration reform, for example). And I intend to interview various Bronx politicians to get their thoughts on the convention and beyond (many are delegates - see here for CNN's user-friendly "delegate explainer").

I'll be posting twice a day so please check back for updates. If you have any questions, or if you'd like me to find out about something in particular, drop me an e-mail at mounthopenews[@]gmail.com. And feel free to attach comments to these posts.

Just to set the scene, Denver, if you haven't been, is hot and dry, and barren and flat, except for a small but lofty down-town area. In the distance lies the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, which I tried to photograph through this morning's haze as we left the airport (see below).


Officially, the convention starts on Monday, and ends late Thursday night when Barack Obama (pictured above campaigning in New Hampshire) accepts the party's nomination in front of 75,000 supporters. But the protests have already begun. Earier today, several hundred anti-war protesters marched through the city.

Tonight we're off to the New York State Democratic reception, where Governor David Paterson will be speaking. Details tomorrow.

Oh, and here's one more photo. Rev. Al Sharpton happened to be on the same flight as us. Here he leaves the comforts of first-class to speak with reporters.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Show of Political Strength at Bronx Courthouse

This morning dozens of Bronx Democratic elected officials stood on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse in loud support of Civil Court Judge candidate Elizabeth Taylor (pictured, center, above, with Bronx pols (left to right), Ruben Diaz, Jr., Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Aurelia Greene).

Organizers of the rally made it a point to show their group’s diversity and mentioned several times that they were "inclusive." It appeared to be an attempt to draw a stark contrast between themselves and Bronx Democratic Party leader and assemblyman Jose Rivera, who is backing Maria Matos for the position. Rivera has been criticized by some in his own party for supporting only Hispanic and/or Puerto Rican candidates.(Matos is Puerto Rican, Taylor is black.) Assembly member Ruben Diaz Jr., who comes from Puerto Rican stock himself, told us recently that Rivera "believes in Puerto Rican power."

While Taylor is feeling the love from her political backers (which Diaz, Jr. referred to as the "Rainbow Coalition"), Matos hasn’t received the same sort of support from party leaders. For a story on the judgeship race, the Norwood News couldn't get Jose Rivera or anyone at the Bronx Democratic Party headquarters to speak on her behalf despite several attempts.

Those now backing Taylor include Diaz Jr. and fellow assembly members Aurelia Greene, Michael Benjamin, Michael Benedetto, Jeffrey Dinowitz and Carl Heastie. Plus, state senators Rev. Ruben Diaz, Eric Schneiderman and Ruth Hassell-Thompson.

Green revved up the crowd by discussing why she was supporting Taylor. "Ms. Taylor was born and bred in the Bronx and she lives in Highbridge. She’s been a hard worker for the community as well as the entire borough. That’s why I’m voicing my support for her come September 9th." Behind her, the group began chanting and clapping all the while holding up signs saying, "Vote for Taylor."

Dinowitz, who's been seen introducing Taylor to voters in Norwood and appears to be one of the leaders of this little insurgecy, said, "We want the most highly qualified person. We have the majority of the Bronx represented here, with six out of ten Bronx Assembly members as well as State Senators."

Diaz Jr. said the diverse showing at the courthouse was representative of how Taylor has united a variety of factions across the boroughs. "Every corner of the borough is represented here today in voicing their support for Taylor." He made a point of stating that their support had no ulterior motives, though Diaz, Jr. is gearing up for a fight against Rivera's son, Joel (a city council member), for the borough presidency and this could be a show of strength as a prelude to the BP contest.

Diaz, Jr.'s father, the Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr., got the crowd whipped up into a frenzy when he spoke. "She’s a uniter. She brings together all types of people.” He ended his remarks by proclaiming that Taylor is “the chosen one."

Later in the day, Matos was seen at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new baseball field in Highbridge. Her appearance obviously didn't come with the same show of support of fanfare.

The NY Times posted a story on the rally earlier today on the City Room blog. And here's a Daily News story about the growing "rebellion" against Jose Rivera.

-Reporting and photo by Patrick Trotti

Norwood News and the Bronx News Roundup, Aug. 22

Back after a month's hiatus, the Norwood News is out on the streets and online now. Here's a quick preview of some of our stories as well some links to other Bronx stories.


The state senate race between incumbent Efrain Gonzalez and his opponent, former assemblyman, council member and borough president candidate Pedro Espada, Jr., is turning into a bitter war of words that's playing out in court rooms, in the blogosphere and YouTube.

Our editorial on the 33rd Senate District battle and what it says about Bronx politics. Hint: it's not a good thing.

We explore the story behind a Bronx Civil Court Judge race that is creating a rift among the borough's Democratic leaders. More on this later today.

Back to School
Bronx activists and students rallied again for more schools and more attention from the city's Education Department as they brace for another year of overcrowded classes and makeshift facilities.

Small schools on two local high school campuses -- Walton and Evander Childs -- adjust with the closure of the campuses' namesake schools.

Angry Neighbors
The city's blasting plan for Jerome Park Reservoir is on hold until at least Sept. 3.

Bedford Park merchants are upset with a new neighbor's enormous signage and plan to take matters into their own hands.

Local bus riders are angry that the new Bx12 Select Bus route bypasses a busy stop on its way to Manhattan and has eliminated local service to Manhattan as well.

At a groundbreaking ceremony, Park officials said Harris Park should be ready for the opening of little league play next spring.

Devoe Park had it's grand re-opening after extensive renovations.

Other Bronx News
Animal rights activists and City Counicil member Oliver Koppell say somebody, or some people, are abusing cats in Wakefield. [NY Times]

Crain's Business has a story on the end of the strike at a Kingsbridge Heights nursing home.

The Wall Street Journal reviews a memoir from a writer whose father was a bookmaker in Co-op City.

Best story intro of the day comes from the Associate Press, as found in Newsday: "Authorities worked yesterday to fix a ruptured sewage line at the multimillion-dollar Bronx Hall of Justice that left prisoners and judges crying foul punishment."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bronx News Roundup Aug. 21

Borough President Adolfo Carrion may be creating "unnecessary political enemies" by jumping off the fence to endorse Washington Heights Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat over Miguel Martinez. [NYT]

In the presidential primaries, Carrion campaigned for Hillary Clinton. Now he's helping Barack Obama reach out to Hispanic voters. [El Diario La Prensa]

There's bickering in the Bronx over who will be the next Civil Court candidate. [Daily News]

Two kids who were separated from their mom when a carjacker stole the livery cab they were riding in were released unharmed near their Morrisania home. [NY1]

A burst sewer line has disrupted proceedings at the new Bronx Hall of Justice. [Post]

Health care workers at a Kingsbridge nursing home, who have been striking for six months over stingy pay and benefits, are celebrating today after getting back their old jobs and seniority. Their boss - who pays herself a hefty $700,000 a year to run the 400-bed center - lost an appeal yesterday and now faces jail-time. [Daily News]

Montefiore Medical Center now performs liver transplants. [Market Watch]

Two high school students from the Bronx Academy of Letters have been studying at Berkeley this summer. [UC Berkeley News] In the fall, two different students - one from Mount Hope, the other from Morris Heights - are off to Ivy League colleges on full-scholarships. [Mount Hope Monitor]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bronx News Roundup Aug. 20

In this week's Voice, Tom Robbins dissects the dubious histories of State Senator Efain Gonzalez and Pedro Espada, his challenger in the upcoming primary, saying the contest "shapes up as the toughest taste test since the Iran-Iraq War." [Village Voice]

Gonzalez and Espada aren't the only Bronx pols Robbins has bashed in recent months. Check out his equally scathing column on Larry Seabrook, who manages to stay in politics despite a waterfall of investigations and subpoenas through the years. And here's Robbins take on Maria Baez and Joel Rivera's attempts, last year, to block a pro-tenant housing bill.

Baez and Rivera eventually backed down and the "Tenant Protection Act" was signed into law. But the debate rages on. The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), the biggest pro-landlord lobby group in the city, is trying to overturn the legislation - legislation that is designed to protect tenants from being harassed and forced out of their homes. Yesterday, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the architects of the act, held a press conference outside City Hall to protest the RSA's lawsuit. [The Indypendent and NYT]

Jose A. Padilla, who was running for Michael Benjamin's seat in the 79th Assembly District, has been knocked off the ballot because of a lack of signatures. Sigredo Gonzalez (no relation to Efrain) is now Benjamin's only challenger in the primary. [NYT]. See here for a full list of who's up against who in the Bronx and beyond.

The parents of a 12-year-old Bronx girl presumed dead after falling into the rapids near Niagara Falls last week, will hold a candlelight vigil this evening, near the spot their daughter was last seen. [Daily News]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bronx News Roundup Aug. 19

South Bronx residents still pine for Macombs Dam Park, which was swallowed up to make way for the new Yankee Stadium [Daily News]

Eighteen new charter schools will open across the city this fall, Mayor Bloomberg announced yesterday. The press conference was held outside the early anticipated Bronx Community Charter School, a k-8 school at 2348 Webster Ave. [NYT] The school was profiled in the Norwood News last November. Here's the school's blog.

A homeless intake center planned for 151st Street and Walton Avenue will help improve the neighborhood, according to the Department of Homeless Services. [Daily News]

Nelson Castro, the Democratic machine's choice to replace Assemblyman Luiz Diaz, has shaken off charges of voter fraud, says Bob Kappstatter in his weekly column. The charges, bought by a rival of Castro's, were thrown out by the Bronx Supreme Court despite Castro's testimony being called "less than credible." [Daily News]

Castro is attempting to become the first Dominican elected official in the Bronx (discounting district leaders). He is described by the party as a "young visionary" and "energetic, compassionate." But his endorsement seems to have come out of the blue. Just months ago Castro blogged:

"Would there ever be an opportunity? I'm no way near the Rivera family. How do you see it, could there ever in my life time be a chance for a Dominican elected official in the Bronx?" [The Sun]
Here's a Times story documenting Castro's rise. For a time, he worked for Washington Heights Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat who is being challenged in the primary by his former protege Councilman Miguel Martinez. Espaillat vs Martinez (both of whom are Dominican) is shaping up to be one of the more exciting (and bitter) races. [NYT]

Two off-duty female cops have been charged with pistol-whipping a man in Williamsbridge [Daily News]

The West Nile virus has sickened a Bronx man. [Daily News]

A Bronx woman who downloaded eight songs onto a music sharing Web site has been found guilty of copyright infringement. She's been fined $6,050, which equates to a rather pricey $756 per song [DailyTech]

Homeless, smelly, but alive! Three new-born kittens, found hiding out in a garbage can in Kingsbridge, are looking for a new home. [NY1]

Monday, August 18, 2008

New Bronx Blog

The number of Bronx blogs in existence has doubled in the past week with the birth of Boogiedowner, a new real estate blog. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but there are probably more blogs in your average Park Slope block than in our entire borough.

According to this thread, the Bedford Park-based Boogiedowner see's itself as a Bronx version of Brownstoner, a hugely popular Brooklyn blog that was recently featured in New York Magazine.

Meanwhile, it looks like Bronx Latino, another fledgling Bronx blog, may have died an early death. "After launching Bronx Latino in April 2008, I am taking a break from it. I have decided to refocus the content for this blog even if it means less blog entries," says an entry on the homepage.

Bronx News Roundup Aug. 18

A talented boxer from the Bronx was shot dead on Saturday, following an argument in a bodega on Clinton Avenue in East Tremont. Ronney Vargas, 20, had a bright future ahead of him, said his manager. [NYT] and [Daily News]

The severely premature baby of a woman who was struck by a bus on Webster Avenue last Thursday, is now stable. The boy - who weighed just 3-pounds 6-ounces - was born by emergency cesarean section. His badly injured mother, a traffic cops, died just hours later. [NY1]

The search continues for a 12-year-old Bronx girl who was swept into the rapids near Niagara Falls last Wednesday. [Buffalo News]

Mothers on the Move, a Hunts Point non-profit, is rallying against the noxious fumes that plague the neighborhood. On Saturday the group organized a "Toxic Bus Tour" along the waterfront to bring attention to the issue. They say the smell is caused by a fertilizer company and the Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant. [NY1]

In this week's "The Hunt" column, a technology consultant buys a three-bedroom co-op at 1100 Grand Concourse for $265,000. [NYT]

The Czech Republic's Lukas Dlouhy (world ranking 164) won the GHI Bronx Tennis Classic in Crotona Park on Sunday. Elena Bovina of Russia, a former top 20 player, won the women's singles. [International Herald Tribune]

And now to chess. According to The Times:

"a dispute involving members of the governing chess organization in the United States has erupted into a legal fight that has all the passion of a Bobby Fischer tantrum. There are claims of fake sexually charged Web site postings, stolen e-mail messages, and rival lawsuits, with one side alleging harassment and the other, slander. Even the Secret Service is looking into the situation." [NYT]
What this got to do with the Bronx? Well, the man at the center of the dispute, Samuel H. Sloan, lives on Davidson Avenue in Morris Heights. Sloan is something of an attention seeker with a colorful and, some say, unsavory past (just Google him). He's also the only Bronxite (that I know of) who claims to have lunched with Osama bin Laden.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Cause of death announced in death of basketball player Andre "Pop" Davidson Jr.

More than a month after 18-year-old Andre "Pop" Davidson Jr. collapsed and died while playing basketball, the city medical examiner has reached a decision about the cause of his death: Ellen Borakove, a spokesperson for the examiner, said Friday that Davidson's death was the result of a heart condition he lived with since birth.

"He had an irregular heart rhythm that was caused by a heart issue he was born with--congenital heart defect ," Borakove said. "He died of natural causes."

In the days immediately after Davidson --who grew up in Highbridge and started last year for Kennedy High's basketball team -died, some family members and friends suspected that his death was heat-related; there was no air conditioning in St. Mary's Rec Center, where Davidson was competing in a tournament game when he collapsed July 5.

Reached by phone Friday night, an emotional Nicole Givens --Davidson's mother -- said she still believed Davidson's death could have been prevented, and that the lack of air conditioning was one of several contributing factors.

"I still feel he could have been saved," said Givens, who added the medical examiner's office had informed her of its decision on Thursday.

Givens said this feeling, along with witnessing during the past several weeks the influence her son's life had on his community, had left her overcome with emotion.

"I've been crying all day," Givens said. "And I really haven't cried. I've been taking care of everyone else."

The West Bronx Blog will continue to provide updates on this story as more details are uncovered. Also, look for a front-page feature in the August issue of the Highbridge Horizon about the life, death, and influence of "Pop" Davidson; that issue hits the streets this coming week.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Live Update from GHI Bronx Tennis Classic

It's knockout time at the GHI tennis tournament in Crotona Park and we've just received word via our intrepid sports correspondent that Russian Elena Bovina just defeated Estonian Margit Ruutel to move into the semifinals, which will be held tomorrow.

Click here for the tournament's weekend schedule.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bank Robbery on Burnside


The Chase Bank on the corner of Burnside and Jerome Avenues was robbed this morning at approximately 10 a.m., witnesses say. Police are said to be looking for two men. A stretch of Jerome is still cordoned off; several cops (who aren't talking) are standing over a bundle of $20 bills that the men dropped as they made their escape. The stolen bank notes (see below) were booby-trapped with a packet of red dye. Presumably the cops are waiting for forensics to show up.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Axelbank on the Radio, Baez Cuts Class, and More Bronx News of the Day for Aug. 13

Gary Axelbank, former BronxTalk AM host on BRONXNET, will broadcast his unique brand of Bronx issues commentary on 1460AM/WVOX tomorrow night from 7 to 8 p.m. and stream it live at www.wvox.com. The show is scheduled to also air for the three following Wed. evenings.
According to a press release, tomorrow Axelbank will focus on "community self-determination" and he’ll "take calls about the Yankee Stadium project, the Kingsbridge Armory, jails in Hunts Point, the water filtration project, and other issues on listeners' minds.”

Maria Baez was one of two Council members in office since 2002 with the worst attendance record, showing up at only 66 percent of hearings and meetings, the New York Post reports. More recently, Baez missed all 24 Council sessions between May 16 and June 16, “the period when the $60 billion city budget was hashed out,” the Post stated.
In July the Norwood News reported that Baez had missed about half of the Council sessions from January to April 2008.

Efrain Gonzalez has a full docket of legal issues to contend with. In addition to trying to get his October trial postponed, he’s also trying to clear Neil Berger, who is accused of helping Gonzalez to allegedly siphon off $400,000 in public funds and divert it to 2 nonprofits he controls and spending it on housing, clothes, jewelry and personalized cigar labels. But Gonzalez’s lawyers say he’d take the fifth unless a federal judge gives the two separate trials.

A Fordham University program teaches robotics to kids at MS 45.

NY1 has an update on the Gateway Center and the ethnic food vendors it displaced.

And The Village Voice takes a look at the Bronx Museum’s Artists in the Marketplace Program.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hail in the Bronx, Reservoir Rats, A Bronx-born Olympian and more news for Tuesday, Aug. 12

Lots to do today, so let's get to the news:

Yesterday's torrential downpour in the borough included a smattering of hail and one Bronxite saved some to prove it. [NYT]

Scientists warn that blasting at the Jerome Park Reservoir (which the DEP wants to do and the community is adamantly against) could lead to a huge infestation of rats in nearby communities. The community won a temporary restraining order against the blasting plan until Sept. 3, when there will be a hearing on whether the DEP needs to conduct more thorough environmental impact study before going forward.

Daily News borough chief Bob Kappstatter (spelling?) gossips about Council Member Maria Baez "going ghetto" on former Bronx Democratic machine lawyer Stanley Schlein, who ("while no one's pointing any fingers") found two of his tires slashed outside of the Bronx Board of Elections. Schlein apparently had a falling out with the machine and is now siding with the Democratic insurgents.

Here's more on the high school grad rates story from the NY Times. The 55.8 percent graduation mark we reported here yesterday also includes those seniors who graduated after taking summer classes. Without those students, the rate is 52.2 percent. Still, it's the first time more than half of NYC students graduated on time.

A Bronx sanitation worker died on the job yesterday. [Post]

A new gritty movie about the Bronx recently debuted to a small audience. [Daily News]

Construction of the new Yankee Stadium leaves local baseball players with no place to play. [Daily News]

And, finally, the most famous Bronxite in the world right now is Cullen Jones, the gold-medal-winning swimmer who was born in the borough, but grew up outisde of Newark, NJ. More on Jones here and here and here. [Daily News, NY Sun, Kansas City Star]

Monday, August 11, 2008

High School Grad Rates Released

This morning, the state finally released high school graduation rates for 2007. And Mayor Bloomberg, who won control of the school district in 2002, says it's more good news for New York City students. The City's four-year graduation rate is now up to 55.8 percent, up 2.4 percent from 2006, and up 5.7 percent from 2005.

Also, according to the City's press release, graduation rates for black and Hispanics is rising faster than than that of whites and Asians, closing a wide success gap between these ethnic groups.

Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, along with the union leaders for city administrators and teachers, all declared victory.

"Although I'm pleased that the overall graduation rate is continuing to rise, it's especially encouraging to see that the biggest increases are among our black and Hispanic students," Klein said in a statement. "This is further evidence that we're beginning to close the shameful racial achievement gap in this City."

We'll do more to find out some Bronx-specific statistics in the next couple of days.

Gonzalez Back in Court and Other Bronx News for Monday, Aug. 11

Happy Monday! Here's a few Bronx news stories to get you ready for the week.

Gonzalez, Co-defendants Look for Loophole
Lawyers for State Senator Efrain Gonzalez and his three co-defendants are challenging the validity of the federal indictment that accuses them of conspiring to bilk more than $400,000 in state funds (most of which, prosecutors say, went toward paying Gonzalez's person expenses). Gonzalez has maintained his innocence in the crime, but now his lawyers and those of his co-defendants plan to argue in court today that the feds stepped out of their jurisdiction to charge their clients. [NY Sun]

Meanwhile, lawyers for one of Gonzalez's co-defendants, Neil Berger, a former executive at Pathways for Youth (which allegedly sent money to a Gonzalez-controlled nonprofit called the West Bronx Neighborhood Association), are seeking to have charges against him dismissed because he is not being accused of profiting from the alleged scheme.

Gonzalez is in the middle of a heated re-election campaign against former Assemblyman/Council Member Pedro Espada. Gonzalez's campaign has challenged the legality of Espada's Bedford Park residency and his petition signatures.

Stay tuned...

More Bronx News
Veteran Bronx pols Council Member Oliver Koppell and Assemblyman Jose Rivera say the Dept. of Education is ignoring overcrowding problems in their borough. [Daily News]

Hunt's Point residents say the Wikipedia entry on their community is outdated and paints an ugly picture. [NY Times]

A Bronx soldier and dad is struggling to regain custody of his kids. [NY Post]

The Times summarizes the landlord-tenant battle at 2720 Grand Concourse, which the Norwood News has been writing about since March (they credited us in the story!). Read our initial story here, our follow-up here and and an editorial here.

Bronx Sports
While the Olympics gets rolling (did anyone else see the American swim team's thrilling victory over France last night?), you can get your sports fix right here in the Bronx, during the GHI Bronx Tennis Classic in Crotona Park. Action started yesterday and will continue through Sunday. Check back here for results and pictures throughout the week. [NY1]

[Update, afternoon]
Bronx Arts
A nice feature in the Times' City Room blog by David Gonzalez about a South Bronx sculptor.