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Friday, October 31, 2008

Canadian Radio on Foreclosures in NYC highlights Fordham Bedford

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio (think Canadian NPR) came to the Bronx last week to find out about how the financial crisis is affecting neighborhoods througout New York City. Reporter/Producer Deen Karim took a walk with me through some of the streets of Fordham Bedford to look at foreclosed homes and talk about the impact they are having on the neighborhood. Listen here at Part 2: Broken Dreams.

Could the Bronx Lose 13 Bank Branches?

As of this summer, the Bronx had 146 full service bank branches (source: FDIC), 10 more than it had a year earlier (plus a number of credit unions). That may sound like a decent number, but when I ran the numbers last year (when there were 136), our branch to household ration was at 1:3,443 -- dead last in the City, three times off Manhattan's pace (where everyone was complaining about too many bank branches), and lagging behind all 50 states (and, for good measure, Puerto Rico).

Also important to consider is that branches tend to cluster around each other: think of all the branches on Fordham Road and in Norwood on Bainbridge/204th and Jerome. Now how many branches are in between? Two. It's much worse in South Fordham where there aren't any branches until you get to Burnside Ave (where there happens to be a brand new Amalgamated Bank branch).

If you lived at Third Ave and E. 168th Street in Morrissania there wouldn't be a branch for nearly a mile away in any direction. The same would hold true if you lived around Southern Boulevard between Longwood Ave and E 149th Street. (See the map image below for "The Black Hole of Banking in the Bronx" where a densely populated square mile is isolated from any branch presence for at least a half mile away in every direction.)

Despite the presence of decent sized commercial strips in these areas, banks are very hesitant to open up new branches in areas that have no branches. Instead they'd rather open up on strips where they face major competition from other branches.

In addition to leaving large swaths of the borough without a branch (where fringe financial services like check cashsers and pawn shops have filled the void and thrived), this strategy leaves the borough vulnerable to branch closings when mergers and acquisitions take place. For instance, with WaMu's failure and acquisisition by Chase, it's very plausible we'll be out 13 branches in the near future. While the neighborhoods affected will still have at least one bank branch, it will undoubtedly lead to longer lines for a teller.

I've mapped out all the full service bank branches in the Bronx, and there are 12 areas highlighted where a Chase and WaMu branch are within a short walking distance of each other, including Fordham Road where there are two WaMu's and one Chase within that distance:
And finally, if you want to keep score on who's had the most bank branches in the Bronx as of June 2008, here were the standings with Chase and WaMu in the top spots:
30 - JPMorgan Chase Bank
20 - Washington Mutual Bank
14 - Capital One
13 - Citibank
11 - HSBC Bank USA
10 - Bank of America
9 - Ridgewood Savings Bank
5 - Banco Popular North America
5 - Emigrant Savings Bank
4 - Apple Bank for Savings
4 - Ponce De Leon Federal Bank
4 - TD Bank (Commerce)
3 - Amalgamated Bank
2 - Country Bank
2 - Hudson Valley Bank
2 - New York Community Bank
2 - New York National Bank
1 - CheckSpring Bank
1 - NorthEast Community Bank
1 - Signature Bank
1 - Sovereign Bank
1 - The Dime Svgs. Bank of Williamsburgh
1 - Wachovia Bank (Soon to be Wells Fargo?)

Note: I didn't count ATM only branches or Capital One's branch at the Roosevelt Campus.

A Rat on 179th Street


Frank DeLeonardis, a local developer, is building what he hopes will be a school on 179th Street at Jerome Avenue. But he's refusing to use union labor to do it, says Local 79, a union that represents construction and general building laborers. This morning they parked a large, inflatable rat across the street from the construction site.

Fliers have also been posted in the area saying:

Is the New York City Dept. of Education conspiring with Frank DeLeonardis to violate New York City's wage, salary and responsible contractor laws?
Anthony Reid, a union organizer who's responsible for guarding the rodent, says current workers receive no benefits or training, and that most are bought in from outside the Bronx.

"They're not being treated with dignity or respect," said Reid, whose coat bears a badge that says "Kicking ass for the working class."

Bronx News Roundup for Oct. 31

Community organizing has gotten more than its 15 minutes of fame, thanks to the presidential election and the McCain campaign’s assault on community organizing and ACORN. Jon Stewart had ACORN chief Bertha Lewis on his show last night along with a wacko who compared organizing with crack dealing.

State lawmakers, including Assemblymen Michael Benjamin and Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, are supporting a bill that would require any municipality in the state with term limits to hold a referendum on any changes.

David Gonzalez takes a look at the Bronx roots of Grupo Folklorico, a 1970s Latin jazz band which is reuniting for a Bronx concert this Saturday.

The Daily News examines the Bronx lot where old city buses go to die.

If you thought the mayor and the City Council would continue getting along after they agreed on term limits, you’d be wrong. The Times details how City Council members who reluctantly went along with Bloomberg on extending term limits, like Jimmy Vacca of the east Bronx, are teed off now that the administration is quickly pivoting to “reform” the way the city funds senior centers. Cuts are looming and closures may be in the offing. Messing with senior centers is like messing with local pols’ air supply. Fasten your seatbelts.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New from the Norwood News

Check out all the new stories from the Norwood News, out on streets and online now!

Crime is down, but hotspots remain hot in the 52nd Precinct.

The constantly evolving plans at the Croton Water Filtration Plant project, including a dramatic design change, may have led to the projects soaring price tag and could lead to unforeseen environmental impacts.

More than a thousand people attended the parish of St. Brendan's 100th year anniversary mass.

A glimpse at the bowling renaissance at Clinton High School.

In an online exclusive this issue, our Inquiring Photographer asks locals what they're doing on election night.

Plus, our 2008 voter's guide, expanded Neighborhood Notes and our Out & About arts and entertainment guide.

DOE mum on Highbridge middle school

The Highbridge Horizon reached out to Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Marge Feinberg this morning, seeking comment on Monday's rally in Highbridge demanding the city construct a middle school on West 167th Street between Sedgwick and University Avenues.

Feinberg confirmed that the city's education capital plan -- detailing School Construction Authority (SCA) spending from 2010 to 2014 -- will be unveiled in early November. But she refused to say whether or not a middle school in Highbridge would be part of that plan.

"A neighborhood by neighborhood analysis is a key part of the Capital Plan that we are issuing in early next month," Feinberg wrote in an email to the Horizon. " And we will not elaborate at this time until the Plan is released."

Baez To Hold Fundraiser

The no-longer term limited Maria Baez is moving quickly in her bid to be relected. We hear she's holding her first campaign fundrasier tonight, just seven short days after the City Council voted to overhaul term limits.

As we mentioned previously, Baez could be in for a tough fight.

Bronx News Roundup: Oct. 30

Battle for the Bronx Democratic Party
The Times' City Room writes about the legal wrangling going on at the Bronx County Courthouse between two faction vying for the leadership of the Bronx Democratic Party. Basically, it says the flareup is an embarassment to the party.

Here's a good summation: "At a time when party organizations throughout the area are busy dispatching volunteers to Pennsylvania to work for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, Bronx leaders have been criticized for a level of infighting so intense that they are spending their days in court."

Embattled current leader Jose Rivera's camp made it's case yesterday and the insurgents, led by Carl Heastie and Jeff Dinowitz, are supposed to outline their arguments today. Closing arguments are set for tomorrow, but a decision might not be made for another couple of weeks.

Other News
A teacher who called his Bronx students "filthy animals" will not be allowed to retain his job. After being fired over the comments last year, he sued the school district. But a judge upheld the firing.

A Bronx man was shot in the leg last night in Mt. Vernon.

The Kalamazoo Gazette profiles Bronx musician Lipbone Redding who started as a subway musician and is now gaining national notoriety. Redding uses his voice to create sounds like a trombone and calls himself a "voicestumentalist."

Two Bronx cops were indicted on assault charges after allegedy spraying a man with tear gas, then pistol-whipping him and beating him with a baton. Apparently, the man was blocking traffic with his door and had yelled something at the officers.

Yankees President Randy Levine said they would have moved the team to New Jersey or somewhere out of the Bronx, if the city didn't issue tax-exempt bonds for the new stadium project. Congress recently conducted hearings into whether the team and the city's Economic Development Corporation inflated the value of the land in order to get the tax-exempt bonds approved.

In the saddest story of the day, a Throgs Neck man allegedly stabbed his wife's beagle to death after the couple had an argument. Warning: if you're a dog lover, this may make you cry. The NY Post's headline reads, "Snoopy Didn't Have to Die."

A Highbridge area soup kitchen may be evicted, but not without protests from local residents.

NY1 takes the Bronx's political temperature and reports that the borough has Obama fever.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Highbridge residents rally for school

One week before the city announces its education capital plan, hundreds of elementary school children joined community activists and local elected officials in demanding that a new middle school in Highbridge be part of that plan.

As reported in last month's Highbridge Horizon, the capital plan-- which outlines School Construction Authority (SCA) spending from 2010 to 2014 -- is set to be unveiled November 3.

Local education advocates including United Parents of Highbridge (UPOH) argue that the absence of a middle school in the Highbridge community forces young children to endure long and unsafe commutes to and from school. A document provided by UPOH lists the number of buses and trains the group says students must take in order to get to school. For instance, according to the document, children must take either 2 buses and 2 trains, or 3 buses, to get to IS 219 at 3630 Third Avenue; they must take 2-3 buses to get to IS 227, at 275 Harlem River Park Bridge.

On Monday, supporters of a Highbridge middle school gathered at the site they are proposing for the facility: West 167th Street between University and Sedgwick Avenues. Organizers of the rally mobilized children from several area elementary schools to turn out. The young children energetically chanted "We need a middle school!"

"There is no other open space in this community we could do this in," Bakary Camara, of UPOH, told the Horizon. "We want them to take it seriously. We want to make a statement today that the whole community is behind us on this process."

State Senator José M. Serrano told the crowd that a middle school in Highbridge was necessary to accomodate a growing population. "Highbridge has some of the fastest-growing immigrant populations anywhere in New York," Serrano said. "We are underserved."

Councilmember Helen Diane Foster suggested that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg must deliver a middle school in Highbridge if he is to keep previous promises. "We will have a middle school," Foster said. "When Mayor Bloomberg says he wants his legacy to be education, it has to be a middle school in Highbridge."

Trevor Brown was one of several members of the Woodycrest Center for Human Development (WCHD)'s youth council on hand to support the middle school campaign.

Brown, now 16, told those gathered at the rally that when he was a middle-school student, he had to travel one hour by bus each morning.
"It's not fair," Brown said, "that other neighborhoods have middle schools and we don't have a middle school."

Photos by Roy Speller, Highbridge Horizon

NYU Report Documents Credit Crunch's arrival in 2007

On Monday, the Furman Center at NYU released a report, Declining Credit & Growing Disparities: Key Findings from HMDA 2007. The report uses recently released Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data to analyze trends in home purchase and refinance lending activity between 2006 and 2007. The report highlights changes in the high cost (sub-prime) and prime markets, and demonstrates these effects on different racial groups. Here's a summary of the report findings from the authors:

Much of the media’s focus has been on signs of tightening credit over the past few months, but our report illustrates that the flow of credit has been slowing for the housing markets for well over a year. In New York City, we saw dramatic declines in home purchase and refinance activity from 2006 to 2007 (14% and 31% respectively)... Moreover, we see troubling signs that New York City's black and Hispanic borrowers are bearing the brunt of this decline in credit, and it is not simply evidence of the subprime market drying up. The number of prime loans awarded to black and Hispanic borrowers fell by 23% and 15% respectively between 2006 and 2007. By contrast, the number of prime loans issued to white borrowers rose by 4% while the number issued to Asians increased by 18%. If these trends continue, and black and Hispanic borrowers are disproportionately affected by the tightening credit market, it may mean less investment in communities of color, an undoing of recent progress in bringing homeownership opportunities to black and Hispanic New Yorkers, and a reshaping of who is buying homes in New York.

Based on the report, the Bronx had the largest drop in home purchase loan originations (-24.9%) of all five boroughs, including the largest drop in prime home purchase loans (-5.4%). It also tied Brooklyn for the largest drop in refinance loan originations (-33.2). In addition to these signs of credit drying up, the data on loans actually being issued isn't good either: for 2007, the Bronx had the highest percent of home purchase loans that would be considered high cost (17.4%), and when you think high-cost, think bad sub-prime products. Here's that chart from the report:

Keep in mind that this data is for 2007 and the changes from 2006. You could make an argument that 2006 was the peak bubble year, or at least late 2006 to early 2007. I suspect the drop-offs on lending in 2008 will be much more dramatic.

On a somewhat related note, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has completed a study showing the rate at which mortgage borrowers find themselves in default is not primarily related to whether they are poor or prosperous but rather is tied to the type of mortgage products they were sold.

Council Races Take Shape in Wake of Term Limits Vote

Busy day today so we weren't able to get to our News Roundup but here's a little taste of what you'll find in the issue of the Norwood News hitting the streets tomorrow ...

Lost, or at least partially obscured, in the tussle over term limits is the reality that the incumbents who are now eligible to run for a third term, including the mayor, have to actually run.

Many local insurgent candidates launched Web sites and have been fundraising for months.

Now faced with the probability of facing well-financed, well-known incumbents, candidates are reassessing their campaigns. A couple have already dropped out or signaled their intention to do so.

But after surveying the post-term limits political landscape in the 11th and 14th Council districts, it appears most candidates have not been cowed, meaning some spirited and competitive races may be coming next fall.

In the 11th District, which covers Riverdale, Kingsbridge Norwood, Bedford Park and Woodlawn, Council member Oliver Koppell was a prime advocate of efforts to change the term limit law. His staff counsel, Jamin Sewell, ended his bid to succeed Koppell immediately after the extension was approved. Koppell hasn’t publicly announced his plans, but Sewell’s withdrawal indicates Koppell will run for a third term, further extending a career in public office that began in 1970 in the state Assembly.

Sewell pledged loyalty to Koppell, calling him a “mentor,” and took some parting shots at his former rivals.

Anthony Cassino, an attorney and former chairman of Community Board 8, and Ari Hoffnung, a managing director at Bear Stearns, are keeping their hats firmly in the ring.

“I’m looking forward to another good race with Oliver and hopefully the results will be different this time,” said Hoffnung, who ran previously in 2005.

Cassino is opening his campaign office on Sunday in Riverdale.

Helen Morik, a vice president for community and government affairs at Columbia University, said she would reevaluate her campaign after Koppell makes an official announcement.

“Oliver hasn’t made his plans known yet,” she said. “So I’m still running.”

In the 14th District (Mount Hope, University Heights and Kingsbridge Heights), none of Maria Baez’s previously announced opponents seem scared off by the prospect of facing the incumbent.

“We’re moving forward,” said candidate Fernando Cabrera, pastor of New Life Ministries in North Fordham. “There is a need, a vacuum of leadership in District 14.”

Yudelka Tapia, a city auditor, is still committed to the race according to spokesman Jorge Javier. “Yudelka Tapia’s campaign is still going and she still plans on running for City Council in District 14,” Javier said.

Hector Ramirez, Democratic leader in the 86th Assembly District, was not available for comment by press time.

The battle for leadership of the Democratic Party will influence this race as well.

Tapia was expected to seek support from Jose Rivera, but now that his close ally (and former chief of staff) Baez is back in the race, it may not be coming her way.

Also, because of Baez’s relationship with Rivera, the leadership of the Rebel faction challenging Rivera, including Assemblymen Carl Heastie and Jeff Dinowitz, may make this race a priority. The Rebels reportedly back Ramirez. (A hearing to determine the fate of Bronx’s Democratic Leadership was taking place as we went to press. Look for updates online at westbronxnews.blogspot.com.)

Baez told the Mount Hope Monitor recently that she will run again and that the term limits extension will “give an opportunity for members like myself to finish projects.”

-Jordan Moss and James Fergusson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You Might Want to Sit Down

Here's what Governor Paterson had to say today about the financial crisis.

Bronx News Roundup Oct. 28

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Term Limits Extension Doesn't Deter Candidates Running for Baez's Seat

On Nov. 4, America will elect a new president. Also that day: several hugely uncompetitive Assembly and State Senate elections in the Bronx. We'll ignore them for now, and instead look ahead at what is shaping up to be a fascinating City Council race in District 14 (which covers much of the west Bronx).

Yesterday we spoke to Fernando Cabrera, who assumed, like everyone else, that he'd be running for an empty seat. As of last week, that now looks unlikely: the no longer term-limited Maria Baez will probably seek another four years.

Cabrera, a pastor and college professor, said he was "a bit disappointed" about the term limit extension, but having Baez involved hasn't scared him off. "We're moving forward [with the campaign]" he said. "There is a need, a vacuum of leadership in District 14. This is an exiting time for someone to come in and make a difference."

Hector Ramirez, Yudelka Tapia, and (possibly) Haile Rivera are also running. So far only Tapia and Cabrera have campaign Web sites.

Cabrera says the term limits change has probably hurt Tapia the most because she was banking on the support of Jose Rivera, the party chairman, who will now likely back Baez, his former chief of staff. (We haven't heard from Tapia, but Jorge Javier, of "Friends of Yudelka Tapia," insists she hasn't gone away. "Yudelka Tapia's campaign is still going and she still plans on running for City Council in District 14," he wrote in an e-mail on Friday.)

It could be that Rivera's support no longer matters: all but one of the State Senate and Assembly candidates he backed in September's primaries were defeated. Moreover, he's struggling to keep his leadership position. But, with Baez in, Tapia's campaign has probably taken an early hit.

Cabrera says he's staying out of party's leadership fight. "So far, I have taken a neutral stand," he said. "I haven't made any enemies." He said he'd welcome the endorsement of whoever wins, but that the success of his campaign doesn't depend on it, because he has a strong base, with grassroots support from churches and community groups. "I'm the only one who's truly independent," he said.

For the moment, we won't touch too heavily on what the candidates say they'd do in office. But if you're interested, visit Tapia and Cabrera's Web sites. We'll link to the others when they're up. Ramirez's is "under construction" - unless www.hectorramirez.com is for the mixed martial artist of the same name.

One piece of additional gossip: We hear that Ramirez, a district leader who's sided with the Rainbow Rebels against Rivera, once worked for Tapia, but at some stage they had a big falling out.

More on CRA and ACORN

West Bronx resident and freelance journalist Eileen Markey goes in depth with ACORN on their relationship with CRA and subprime lending over the last decade in a piece in City Limits Weekly. Read about how they were one of many community groups fighting predatory lending and pushing for quality lending, not the toxic stuff that ended up blanketing low and moderate income communities of color.

But ACORN and other proponents of the Community Reinvestment Act – the 1977 law requiring banks to lend in all communities from which they receive deposits – did promote a fairly nuanced message. They lobbied for more quality lending in low-income and minority communities while also calling for more stringent regulation of the kind of non-bank lenders like Countrywide that fueled the mortgage crisis. Campaigns by ACORN and like-minded groups including the Chicago-based Neighborhood Training and Information Center sought to shrink the risky-mortgage business by pressuring investment banks not to buy the debt, and also pushed for changes in the way banks measured creditworthiness so that people with lower credit scores could be eligible for decent mortgages from real banks.

"A lot of this did not have to happen, and there were groups out there including ACORN that were sounding the alarm," said Ismene Speliotis, executive director of NY ACORN Housing, in an interview last week. But many investment banks, busy making oodles by investing in the sub-prime mortgages, didn't heed the warning.

Waiting on Rebels v. Rivera

Yesterday the two sides battling over the leadership of the Bronx County Democratic Committee were supposed to face off in court, but 'Rainbow Rebel' spokesman Tom McNeil reports that lawyers for the two sides met in the judges' chambers for most of the afternoon. McNeil said he expects more of the same today.

Stay tuned ...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bronx News Roundup Oct. 27

Contrary to what Sarah Palin believes, not all “real” American heroes live in small-towns, argues Mike Lupica, in his Daily News column. Lupica points to Deon Taylor, who grew up and lived in the Bronx while working as a narcotics officer in Brooklyn. Taylor, 30, served and tragically died for his country, killed by a road-side bomb last Wednesday while stationed in Afghanistan. He is remembered as someone who “fought for our city as a policeman and then went off to fight for our country.”

In their “Living In” section, The New York Times explores Crotona Park East. Known as the “worst slum” in the 1970s, Crotona is now the site of many new real estate projects, including Intervale Green and Louis Nine House, which will be open for rent next month. Restoration projects for Crotona Park and Indian Lake are also underway. For those interested in settling in the area, Times provides a digest of the local schools, public transit, grocery stores, and cost of living.

Jason Neal, 33, from the Bronx was found guilty of transporting narcotics across the country and of possession of a firearm. He faces a life sentence.

Police are searching for a man in his 20s or 30s, around 5’6”, suspected to have robbed three banks in a five month period.

Two Bronx men were arrested for allegedly kidnapping a 24-year-old woman in Yonkers yesterday. The woman, also from the Bronx, went to meet a man she had met on the internet at her friend’s house in Yonkers. The man forced her at gunpoint into a car where another man was waiting, and they drove off. Police say the woman was not harmed.

SUNY Canton student, Matthew W. Rivera, from the Bronx, was stabbed several times Sunday night while heading to the movies to watch “Saw V” with a large group of students. Jevaughn Francis, 17, also from the Bronx, was charged with the stabbing and three others are suspected to have been involved. Rivera was taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital and is said to be in stable condition.

Riverdale Press Documents CRA's Place in Bronx History

In a recent editorial, the Riverdale Press reminds us all of the context that the Community Reinvestment Act emerged out of in the Bronx. In recent weeks, the 1977 legislation has come under repeated attack by conservative commentators for our recent financial woes. Fortunately, publication after publication have come out in defense of CRA as a tool to end the practice of redlining, where banks refused to make loans in certain neighborhoods, usually on the basis of race or class.

The Riverdale Press editorial forcefully documents the context here in the northwest Bronx in the years leading up to CRA by quoting Jill Jonnes:

  • In 1965, banks wrote 298 new mortgages in the Northwest Bronx; 10 years later the total was 44.
  • Eastern Savings Bank granted 59 new mortgages and refinanced 63 in 1965; 10 years later, it made one new mortgage and refinanced two.
  • North Side Savings, headquartered at West 231st Street and Broadway and holding $200 million in deposits from the Northwest Bronx, granted only a single mortgage in its own community in 1975.
The Washington Independent adds to the discussion that Alan Greenspan, in his recent testimony on our financial collapse, does not even mention the Community Reinvestment Act as a potential source of blame. And if you'd like to read an informative in-depth piece on CRA and ACORN, check out this piece on AlterNet.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Relaxing After Tour de Bronx

I took a bunch of photos at the Tour de Bronx and wish I had gotten them up here sooner. Here's one from the post-tour celebration at the New York Botanical Garden. I'll try to post some more soon.

Guest blogger Nick Napolitano took some nice shots, too, and was much braver than I. He finished the 40-mile tour. I intended to do the same but made a beeline for the Botanical Garden after the rest stop in Orchard Beach. My thighs just couldn't take it anymore.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.

A new name for the South Bronx?

The Times' David Gonzalez has an article on the City Room blog about recent efforts to re-brand parts of the South Bronx "Downtown Bronx." Not everyone, he reports, has warmed to the idea, including Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano.

“I know the South Bronx was once a bad word,” Serrano told The Times. “But it changed. Imagine you have a guy who ran into trouble when he was young but he straightened his life out. Would you change his name — unless he was in the witness protection program? So why change the name of the neighborhood?”

On a similar note, many residents, it seems, are reluctant to use the "SoBro" moniker. "SoBro just sounds awkward to me," commented one BoogieDowner reader. "Not every neighborhood can become a portmanteau. Before you know it you will be able to go from SoBro, north through MoHi, hit BePa and then end up in KiBri."

Talking of neighborhoods names, we received a press release this afternoon about a new restaurant that's opening in Manhattan on 137th Street, near 12th Avenue. That's West Harlem, right? Not according to the release. Apparently, the BODY Lounge and Restaurant is located in the "Harlem Meat Packing District."

This weekend...

Looking for something to do this weekend? Want to stay in Bronx? Then visit BoogieDowner for a list of local goings on.

The big news, unless you hate parks, is that It's My Park! Day is being held this Saturday. In the west Bronx, there's events at University Woods, Williamsbridge Oval, Mount Hope Playground, and more. See here for a complete list.

At the University Woods event, volunteers will be asked to carve pumpkins and make scare crows in preparation for the park's Halloween event - "Ghost Stories at The Woods." Conditions inside the park, once named the city's worst three years running, have improved markedly in recent times. There's an active "Friends of The Woods" group, and earlier this year the park received $500,000 for improvements. Next Wednesday, at a scoping meeting, local residents can have their say on where the money should go.

Fernando Cabrera also running in District 14

As several readers have pointed out, Fernando Cabrera, founder and pastor of New Life Outreach International Church (and many other things), is also running for the City Council seat in District 14.

I neglected to mention him in the original post, which was, as someone pointed out, a "huge over site." Cabrera's filed with the Campaign Finance Board, but it doesn't specify which seat he's after - hence the mistake. He does, however, have a campaign Web site (thanks to anonymous for the link) and is clearly in the running in the 14th, unless yesterday's term limits decision, and the likelihood that Maria Baez will seek another four years, has put him off. (I've left a message with the church. If and when I hear back I'll post his thoughts.)

For the record, we've mentioned Cabrera's desire to run on several prior occasions. See here, here, and here. It wasn't my intention to ignore such as "substantial factor," as one reader called him.

Cabrera's inclusion certainly makes things interesting. Baez will have her work cut out if see wants to keep the seat, especially if her biggest supporter, Party Chairman Jose Rivera, is ousted.

One more quick point. We love your comments - especially the ones that point out our mistakes - but please sign your name, even if it's just a first name. It creates a more open dialogue, and that's what we want here.

Anyway, I thought I'd post the comments readers left on the original post more prominently. Here they are:

A huge over site in this article is another candidate for District 14, community leader and Pastor Dr. Fernando Cabrera, who indeed has launched a campaign to run for District 14. Dr. Cabrera has also launched a website (www.fernandocabrera.us) and is currently on his way to raising the funds for his campaign. This is a crucial over site in that his influence and service in the community is quite possibly something that will allow him to become a crucial candidate for this up and coming election. From what I have observed not only does he complete projects within his community as a pastor in service to the community, but he has a strong backing of leadership behind him who get things done. His congregation continues to thrive as well as his connections and influence among other congregations in the Bronx area. I would check out his website... - Anonymous

I agree Dr. Cabrera has been working and reaching out to the community for the last 20 years. It's time for a change and to bring Dr. Cabrera, to take over this community. I encourage everyone to visit fernandocabrera.us and read it for yourself. SUPPORT DR. CABRERA! - Anonymous

Everybody knows Pastor Cabrera around our way. He hooks up with a synagogue every year to clean up our park and plant bulbs for the spring. He's also headed up lots of community concerts for youth, giving the neighborhood kids games, toys, bikes and even basketball courts. He's always fighting to bring good things in our community.. Fighting to bring youth centers and media labs and stuff like that. If he's running, then He's got my vote.. Thanks to Anonymous for the link.. Im going to check out that website now. - Manuel from the Bx

Like a lot of things with politics this article is missing the important issues and important pieces. It is missing one of the “the up-and-comers,” Dr. Cabrera. Dr Fernando Cabrera has been a pillar in the community where he Pastors. Since he has been there he and the people who he has behind him have worked tirelessly in effecting change to the community. The drug dealers who once owned the corners have moved away. He has organized a rally to acquire the old Fordham Library, and he is involved with the renovations of the neighborhood parks. I really don’t know how this article could miss out such an substantial factor of the 2009 election. Check out www.FernandoCabrera.us and see for yourself. - Anonymous

Rally in Harlem against police brutality

A crowd of about 40 people gathered in Harlem Wednesday as part of an annual nationwide protest against police brutality.

Speakers at the demonstration, organized by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, denounced what they described as an “epidemic” of shootings, harassment, and brutality committed by law enforcement across the U.S. The rally brought together a diverse group. Among those who participated were: Parents of people killed by the police; teenagers with the Ya Ya Network—a citywide youth organization that fights racism, sexism, and homophobia, works to oppose military recruitment, and advocates for women’s reproductive rights, among other issues; members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP); activists with Make the Road by Walking, a Brooklyn-based group that advocates for civil rights, health care, and housing for low-income New Yorkers; a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); and activists with The World Can’t Wait Drive Out the Bush Regime, a nationwide grassroots movement that opposes the policies of the Bush administration and demands the administration’s political ouster from office.

Margarita Rosario, who works in Highbridge, was one of the first speakers at the rally. In January 1995, Rosario’s son, Anthony, and her nephew, Hilton Vega, were shot and killed by NYPD Officers in the Bronx. No charges were filed against the officers. The killings became the subject of the 2001 Documentary, “Justifiable Homicide.”

According to the synopsis of the film on the Web site of Human Rights Watch, “Forensic evidence and testimony from witnesses reveals that Anthony Rosario and his cousin Hilton Vega were shot repeatedly while lying facedown.”

Rosario has spoken every year at October 22 rallies for the past decade or so, and on Wednesday she broke down crying as she recounted the fatal shootings of her son and nephew.

“When are we gonna get together and stop this epidemic? When?” Rosario asked. As she spoke, several people at a bus stop across West 125th Street responded approvingly, nodding or raising a fist.

Taking note of their reactions, Rosario addressed the bystanders directly. “You say ‘yes,’ but you’re not on this side of the street,” Rosario told them.

At least one person responded to her challenge.

“All this stuff gotta stop man,” Harlem resident Richard Kirkpatrick said, explaining his decision to cross West 125th Street and join in the protest.

Kirkpatrick said he had led one of the first marches in Harlem following the April acquittal of the three officers charged in the killing of Sean Bell. Asked why he felt more people had not joined in the protest spontaneously, as he had, Kirkpatrick replied, “When it happens to their son or daughter, that’s when they’re going to join us.”

Although statistics and high-profile incidents of police brutality suggest victims are often persons of color—while the officers involved are often white—Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) member Carl Dix said police brutality was caused by capitalism, and not simply racism on the part of individual officers.

“Cops are the front-line enforcers for the capitalist system that operates on the basis of exploitation and oppressing people, and needs to have people under control,” Dix said. “If it were just racist cops, they’d be punished when they acted on that racism.”

A bit later, Dix spoke into a loudspeaker as he urged Harlem residents to attend a program on revolution being held Sunday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

As the protestors marched a short time later from the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building to Harlem Hospital, 18-year-old Dez Camara, of the Ya Ya Network, said it was important for youth to speak out.

“They say young people, we just like to sit back and complain,” Camara said. “But we’re actually taking initiative after school.”

Camara suggested many people declined to protest against police brutality out of fear. But he said protests like Wednesday’s could help to change that dynamic, and added that, over the years, he himself had come to see demonstrations as meaningful actions.

“When I was in 7th or 8th grade and I saw something like this, I would just laugh at them,” Camara said. “Now I see why they’re doing it.”

As the protestors passed West Harlem Fried Chicken on 341 Lenox Ave, an elderly female bystander noted the march had grown quiet. “Come on, let me hear you all!” the woman yelled at the marchers.

The crowd responded with energetic chants of “They say get back/we say fight back!”

Mathis Chiroux, an Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) member, who was one of 15 people arrested at a protest outside the final presidential debate at Hofstra University last week, told the crowd that police had violently pushed back the group of non-violent demonstrators; in the process, Chiroux said, police horses trampled his friend and fellow IVAW member, Nick Morgan, leaving Morgan unconscious. Chiroux also said that officers had knocked several others to the ground.

The Web site of NYC Indymedia shows photos of Morgan taken after the demonstration.

The IVAW vets and their supporters had been attempting to enter the debate site so that Chiroux and fellow IVAW member Kris Goldsmith could ask Barack Obama, and John McCain, respectively, one question each: Chiroux wanted to ask Obama if, given his stated opposition to the Iraq War, he would be willing to support military servicemen who refused to fight in Iraq; Goldsmith wanted to ask McCain about what he viewed as the candidate’s record of voting against funding for vets.

“We are all standing together,” Chiroux told the Horizon shortly before addressing fellow demonstrators, “to oppose injustices committed by the state on its own people.”

Speaking a few minutes later to the crowd, Chiroux linked police brutality in the U.S. with wars abroad.

“I oppose Americans oppressing Iraqis,” Chiroux said. “And I oppose Americans oppressing Americans.”

Bronx News Roundup: Oct 24

Chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is holding a fourth hearing on Capitol Hill about whether NYC officials inflated the land value of the new stadium in order to secure more tax-exempt bonds to finance the project. Currently, the Village Voice's Neil deMause is live-blogging the hearing, while video is available on the subcommittee's website. Yankees' President Randy Levine, Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Finance Martha Stark and President of the NYC Economic Development Corporation Seth Pinsky are on today's schedualed docket.

In more Yankee Stadium news, Standard & Poor's, the credit agency more commonly know for its S&P500 stock market index, said yesterday that the new Yankee Stadium is 30% over budget, warning that the country's recent economic turmoil could hinder the city's efforts to help finance the stadium through the sale of municipal debt.

NYPD officer and Bronxite Deon Taylor has been killed while serving with the Army in Afghanistan. The 30-year old Longwood resident died in a roadside bombing Wednesday.

Roy Gray was sentenced to 25 years to life for his role in a November 2004 shooting murder that took place on Hammersley Avenue.

"Boo at the Zoo" takes place this weekend at the Bronx Zoo reports the New York Times. The weekend celebration will include face painting, Halloween parades, games, music and even magic shows.

The Columbia Spectator paints "a small town portrait" of City Island, reminding us that The Bronx's "seaside village" is only a Bx29 ride away.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

6 of 7 Bronx Council Members Vote for For Bloomberg As Term Limits Extenstion Passes

The headline pretty much says it all. The City Council, with strong support from the Bronx delegates, essentially voted to keep Mayor Michael Bloomberg in office for another four years. (Of course, there will be the whole formality of an actual election next year, but let's be honest here.)

Annabel Palma was the one voice of opposition from the borough. James Vacca, who earlier joined Palma as a "no" vote, flipped sometime in the last 48 hours. And fence-sitters Helen Foster and Maria del Carmen Arroyo sided with Bloomberg in the end. Larry Seabrook, Maria Baez, Joel Rivera and Oliver Koppell all voted for the opportunity to keep their jobs for another four years as well.

It will be interesting to see the fallout from this. Bloomberg, who will spend whatever it takes to win re-election, will almost undoubtedly remain in power (though his image as a reformer and non-traditional political outsider will take a big hit). But what about the Council members who sided with him.

Joel Rivera is probably challenge-proof. (Not sure about Vacca, Seabrook, Arroyo and Foster)

But Maria Baez, who's been under fire all year for everything from her terrible attendance record to extravagant cell phone bills, will face one if not two or three tough challengers.

And Oliver Koppell, who didnt' do himself any favors by siding with Jose Rivera (and not the Ben Franklin Club) in the Bronx Democratic Party battle, steps back into a race featuring a handful of well-funded challengers. (Although the number of challengers just dropped by one as Jamin Sewell, his counsel for the past four years and a candidate for his boss' formerly term-limited job, just sent out a press release saying he would drop his campaign in deference to Koppell.)

In any case, stay close because this will take a while to sort out.

Term Limits Live

N. Clark Judd at the Riverdale Press is live-blogging this afternoon's term limits vote.

Be one in a million

The Bronx is home to only 10% (60,004) of NYC's street trees.

Stop by Crotona Park this Saturday between 10am and 3pm and adopt a tree for your yard or neighborhood.  Help the city reach its goal of 1 million newly planted trees by 2017 (and give Queens -- with its 239,882 street trees-- a run for cleaner air!)

Check out the Million Trees NYC website for more details.

"Credit" for Colin Powell? No way

Since my colleague on the West Bronx News Network, Jordan Moss, posted his opinion on Colin Powell's "Meet the Press" interview and invited comment, I feel entitled to post my own thoughts.

First, I am in absolute, 100 percent agreement with Jordan that the consistent hateful rhetoric against Muslims and Arabs during this presidential campaign has been both reprehensible and terrifying. And, indeed, one form that this rhetoric has taken over and over again is for the McCain camp and its supporters to suggest that Barack Obama is a Muslim as if being Muslim were "dangerous" . And, again and again, the response of the Obama camp and its supporters has been to deny that he is a Muslim, rather than to say: "How dare you suggest there is something dangerous about being a Muslim?"

All this, of course, has gone hand in hand with the vicious anti-Muslim hysteria that has been whipped up more generally in the past several years. I am in full agreeement that this hysteria absolutely must be taken on .

Secondly, I just want to add quickly on a personal note that I consider Jordan a friend and a mentor and have a lot of respect for him both personally and as a journalist.

That said, I could not disagree more vehemently with giving Colin Powell "tremendous credit."

Let's take a look back at Colin Powell's career:

In the late 1960s, as an Army Major, Powell covered up the My Lai Massacre -- the infamous slaughter of hundreds of Vietnamese men, women, and children in March 1968. "Relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent," Powell wrote during his "investigation" of the massacre.

In the early 1990s, Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, in which at least thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed and the infrastructure of Iraq was shattered.

And, of course, most recently and infamously - -and as Jordan notes -- Powell gave the February 2003 speech at the United Nations that laid the groundwork for a war that has since killed more than 1 million Iraqis and more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers. Powell did not merely assert that there were connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda; or that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Rather, Powell stated that there was absolutely no doubt these things were true:

"There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction," Powell told the U.N.

Later, he added, "Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries."

How many millions of Muslims have lost their lives, their loved ones, and their homes because of the actions and policies of Colin Powell? Are we supposed to forget this simply because Powell gives one interview in which he says there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim?

Again, those who resist and denounce the demonization of Muslims should absolutely be commended. So, in that light, we should give a nod to the comments of CNN anchor Campbell Brown on October 14. Brown stated:

"So what if John McCain was Arab or Muslim? Would it matter? When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did Arab and Muslim being dirty words, the equivalent of dishonorable or radical?

Whenever this gets raised, the implication is that there's something wrong with being an Arab-American or a Muslim. And the media is complicit here, too. We have been all way too quick to accept the idea that calling someone Muslim is a slur."

She went on to say: "We can't tolerate this ignorance, not in the media, not on the campaign trail."

Credit for Campbell Brown or others who have spoken out against the demonization of Muslims? Yes.

Credit for Colin Powell? Please.

Bronx News (other than term limits) Roundup: Oct. 23

NY1's Dean Meminger reports on how the DOT plans to help alleviate confusion and congestion at one of the busiest intersections in the Bronx -- 3rd Avenue and 149th Street.

A judge ordered that a Bronx building owner has 30 days to fix 269 outstanding violations or he will be forced to forfeit the property to the city.

Stella D'Oro workers are striking in protest of a wage cut imposed by the company's new owners.

The Daily News profiles Eva Bornstein of the Lehman Center for Performing Arts.

Native Bronxite and performer David Gonzalez (not to be confused with the NY Times reporter of the same name) is gaining notoriety for his show, which features "classic tales with a lot of funk."

The new Metro-North Station at Yankee Stadium is moving along swimmingly.

Latest on Term Limits from the Bromx

Happy Term Limits Vote Day! We'll continue to follow all the action today as it unfolds down at City Hall, but here's a couple of quick updates.

This morning the City Council's Government Operation Committee voted 6-0 to approve Mayor Bloomberg's plan to extend term limits to include a third four-year term. Interestingly, the one Bronx member of the committee, Larry Seabrook, who had indicated earlier that he supported the term limits extension, abstained from voting.

According to the latest tally on NY1, Seabrook is still one of 19 "yes" votes on the proposal. Meanwhile, 22 Council members are against the legislation.

The opponents apparently lost an ally sometime between yesterday and today as east Bronx Council member James Vacca, who came out early against the plan, has flip-flopped and is now sitting on the fence. Annabel Palma is the only Bronx delegate who is now openly opposed to the plan, while term-limited Council members, Joel Rivera, Maria Baez and Oliver Koppell support the extension.

Meanwhile, constituents of Bronx member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who says she's undecided after initially expressing her support for Bloomberg's plan, want her to make a decision. Helen Foster joins Arroyo and Vacca on the fence.

The full council vote is scheduled for around 2 p.m. today. The legislation needs 26 votes to pass. Stay tuned to see how this plays out and how the Bronx votes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Important Thing Colin Powell Said ...

This is only tangentially related to the Bronx, but I'm going to exercise some editorial prerogative and comment on this extraordinary interview with Colin Powell on Sunday.
After his appearance before the U.N. making the case for war in 2003, I've never been a fan of Powell. I think he knew better than to present the shakiest evidence of WMDs in Iraq with such a high degree of certainty.

But I was moved by his comments on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, where Powell talks about the false accusations and rumors about Barack Obama being a Muslim. He goes beyond saying the obvious, that Obama is a Christian, and says essentially, "What if he was? Should that matter in America? And shouldn't a 7-year-old Muslim-American boy be able to dream about being president some day?" And then he speaks of a photo of the mother of New Jersey-born 20-year-old killed in Iraq laying her head on his gravestone bearing a Muslim crescent in Arlington Cemetery.
I can't do justice to it paraphrasing it. You really have to watch it.
Regardless of my disagreements with him, I have to give Powell, who is a native Bronxite by the way, tremendous credit for saying something no one else has said this entire campaign.
So,watch it for yourself. The portion I'm referring to starts at about the 4:25 mark. I'd really be interested in your comments.

Term Limits and City Council District 14

The City Council will decide at 2 p.m. tomorrow whether or not to extend term limits, after a last ditch effort to derail the vote failed. The latest count by NY1 has 18 council members favoring an extension, 23 against, and 10 undecided. But supporters and opponents of the bill say Speaker Christine Quinn (who supports an extension) wouldn’t have scheduled the vote unless she was confident of securing a majority.

Here in the west Bronx, a “yes” vote would allow Council member Maria Baez (District 14) to run again, and potentially serve another four years. Baez says she’s in favor of an extension because it would “give an opportunity for members like myself to finish projects."

Predictably, the up-and-comers eyeing her seat (which under current laws would become vacant at the end of 2009) see things differently.

“I don’t think you can change them because one person wants to stay in power,” said Hector Ramirez, in reference to Mayor Bloomberg. “If you want a change you have to go again to the people [for a referendum]. If people say yes, then ok, but not because of one person.”

Ramirez, currently a district leader, is one of three individuals in the 14th District to have filed financial disclosure forms with the city’s Campaign Finance Board - the others being Yudelka Tapia and Haile Rivera. All are of Dominican origin. Never before has there been a Bronx council member from the DR.

Reached by phone earlier this week, Rivera, a community activist who suspended his campaign in June to work as field organizer for the Obama's campaign, argued against a term limit extension, saying the wishes of New Yorkers should be respected. “Twice they voted against extending them,” he said. “These votes should count, otherwise what’s the point in voting?”

Tapia didn’t respond to phone messages seeking her term limit position. But she's probably playing close attention: in many ways, her City Council campaign is further along than the others. She’s the only candidate, for example, with a campaign Web site.

According to her online biography, Tapia's a senior auditor for the city, the president of The Great Alliance Democratic Club, a Bronx State Committee member, and a tenants’ rights advocate, among other things. Politically, she's more experienced than both Rivera and Ramirez, having run for the same City Council seat in 2001, and then the 86th Assembly seat in 2002 (both unsuccessfully).

Unlike her rivals, who are supporting Carl Heastie and the "Rainbow Rebels" in their efforts to de-throne Party Chairman Jose Rivera, Tapia hasn’t taken sides – at least not publicly. One elected official told me she’s fence-sitting. But she's clearly close to the party boss, or has been in the past. In a July press release, sent out in support of Assembly candidate and fellow Dominican Nelson Castro (who defeated the Rebel-backed Mike Soto in September's primary), Tapia praised Rivera, citing his willingness to reach across racial boundaries – the very thing the Rebels say he’s failed to do. Her release said: “Mr. Rivera and other Puerto Rican Democratic Leaders in The Bronx have always acknowledged the contributions and rights of the Dominican community."

Tapia, then, could be in a tough spot. If term limits are extended (as looks likely) and Jose Rivera is ousted (also likely), she could end up facing an incumbent (Baez), as well as a candidate (either Ramirez or Haile Rivera) with backing from the party's new leadership.

Haile Rivera, it should be said, says he’s unsure if he’ll revive his campaign when he returns to the Bronx. “At the moment I’m focusing 110 percent on Obama,” he said. (So things are looking pretty good for Ramirez, as it stands.)

Of course, there’s still a long was to go: the election isn't until November 2009. But tomorrow’s term limit vote, and the outcome of the Bronx leadership battle, will play an important role in deciding District 14’s next council member.

Other term limit news: As we reported earlier, Adolfo Carrion, the borough president and former District 14 council member, has dropped his support for a term-limit extension, after billionaire Ronald Lauder told The Times the extension should only apply to council members currently serving their second term.

Bronx BP No Longer Supports Term Limits Legislation and Other Twists

The term limits debate keeps taking more twists and turns.

Earlier today, three council members announced they would not support the term limits extension, two attempted and failed to block the legislation in court and three others introduced an amendment that would require any term limits extension be put to vote through a public referendum.

Meanwhile, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, a former mayoral hopeful who has announced his intention to run for City Comptroller, released a statement saying he could no longer support the term limits legislation after billionaire Ronald Lauder (the architect of the original term limits referendums in 1993 and 1996) said he would try to block term extensions for Council members.

Carrion's statement:

"I can no longer support term limits legislation in light of Mr. Lauder’s recent statements to the New York Times in which he clearly indicates that he intends to block a permanent third term extension for City Council members. It is irresponsible for government to enter into a deal with a private citizen that would undo the term limit legislation resulting in a two-tier class system of council members. I am, therefore, asking members of the City Council to oppose Intro 845A.

The proposed legislation and the debate surrounding it should not be about the incumbent mayor and cannot be about individual agendas.

The public opposition to the proposal is based on the idea that it is a singularly motivated measure to extend one person's term in office. New York is the greatest city in the world with an enviable talent pool of the best and the brightest. The idea that has been presented by some, that this Mayor is indispensable, is naïve and a distraction from the real debate. As such, I can no longer, in good conscience, support this legislation."

Bronx News Roundup for Oct. 22

Voting 5 to 4 in favor of the Rainbow Rebels’ objections to the certification of Jose Rivera’s slate of officers, commissioners at the NYC Board of Elections “punted,” to use Liz Benjamin’s term, on the matter of who the legitimate leaders are of the Bronx County Democratic Committee. Six votes are needed to take action. So, as expected, the two sides will duke it out in court on Monday.

Bronx businessman and big-time borough booster Elias Karmon is dead at 98.

Bob Kappstatter writes that Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who is still undecided on extending term limits , may be leaning toward opposing it, since the law won’t apply to her and other first-termers. That and other political news in Kappy’s weekly column.

Juan Gonzalez reports that the IRS OK’d additional lucrative tax-free bonds for the new Yankee Stadium. Congressman Dennis Kucinich is still holding hearings, though, on the financing deals for the Bombers.

Gonzalez’s colleagues on the editorial side love the controversial financing deal.

Term Limit "Debate" Breaks Out at Community Board Meeting

Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz started it off at the monthly meeting of Community Board 7 at Scott Tower in Bedford Park by first denouncing Mayor Bloomberg's plan to consolidate (or, as Dinowitz would say, close) senior centers throughout the five boroughs.

Speaking to a crowd of about 50 seniors, board members, meeting regulars, elected officials and politico staffers (a guy from Comptroller and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson's staff was there, for example), Dinowitz then went on to say he also opposed the mayor's push to extend term limits without a referendum from the people, saying the people voted to enforce term limits twice (in 1993 and 1996) and should have the opportunity to do it again.

As Dinowitz began, Council majority leader Joel Rivera and his older sister Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera walked into the room. Joel, who supports the mayor's effort, took the mic next and offered his rebuttal, calling the term limits struggle "The Battle of the Benefactors," a reference to Bloomberg and fellow billionaire Ronald S. Lauder (the cosmetics heir who bankrolled the first two referendums). He then said he supported the mayor's bill because it prevents "the incapability of the voters to vote for who they want to vote for." He added that if the incumbents aren't doing their job, the voters can always "kick the bums out!"

While Naomi decided not to weigh in on the matter, later in the meeting, Kenny Agosto, the male district leader in Naomi's 80th assembly district (who is on the outs with the Rivera clan after he backed the Bronx Democratic rebellion, led by Dinowitz, among others), made a passionate speech about why the council should vote against the term limits, citing how leaders have been replaced in times of tremendous hardship in the past (like how Bloomberg replaced Giuliani shortly after 9/11).

Joel encouraged people to come down to City Hall for the coming council vote on Thursday, saying it would should be a pretty raucous affair and a chance to see "the democratic process in action."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Norwood Building Evacuated After 9 Get Sick From Paint Fumes

This afternoon, the fire department evacuated this building on E. 206th Street in Norwood after nine residents began getting sick. Workers were painting the basement with lead-based paint and the fumes traveled up into the poorly ventilated building, causing residents to get nauseous and vomit. The building has since been opened up and the residents are not believed to be seriously ill.

New Library and Classrooms for BCC


Councilman Joel Rivera, BCC President Carolyn Williams, Architect Robert Stern, and Deputy Bronx BP Earl Brown (PHOTO: J. Fergusson)

Bronx Community College broke ground this morning on a $102 million building that will house a huge library, classrooms, a lounge, and more. It's being designed by Robert A.M. Stern, an esteemed architect whose work is more often associated with Yale. Construction is expected to wrap up in 2011.

The "North Instructional Building and Library" is the first academic building to be built on the campus since BCC moved in to replace New York University in 1973. Today, more than 9,000 students are pursing degrees at the college, a 30 percent increase since 2001.

"As our enrollment grew we needed a new building," said President Carolyn Williams at the groundbreaking ceremony. Not that is was easy: it took 12 years to secure the necessary funding and turn the dream into a reality.

Williams called the 98,600-square-foot building "a symbol of our commitment to provide the best for our students."

The 43-acre campus is already home to several magnificent structures, including the Gould Memorial Library (1900) and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans (1901). Both were designed by Stanford White, who was famous both in life (his other masterpieces include the New York Herald Building) and death (he was murdered).

The challenge for Stern, then, was to create something that didn't look out of place, while at the same time making it user-friendly and incorporating 21st Century "green" technology, such as high-efficiency and low-flow plumbing fixtures.

"The interior will knock the socks off people when they see it," said Stern in a statement. "On the one hand it's classical and on the other it's light and airy."

When finished, the three-story building will boast views of the Cloisters and the Henry Hudson Bridge.

An architect's rendering: Thomas Schaller for Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP

Monday, October 20, 2008

WFP Targets Foster on Term Limits

The Working Families Party (WFP), which is supported by labor unions and grassroots groups and gives its ballot line to candidates it supports in New York State, opposes Mayor Bloomberg's gambit to extend term limits to three terms.

In the Bronx, Council Members Helen Foster and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, are feeling the heat from the WFP as both have not yet come to a decision on whether they are going to extend the term limits law. On our way down to the Tour de Bronx starting line at the Courthouse on Sunday, we came across this placard at a subway station along the No. 4 line on Jerome Avenue. (It says, "We voted twice for term limits. Call Helen Foster at 718-588-7500 and tell her that should count for something.")

The Working Families Party supported Foster in her last election bid (Arroyo didn't get the WFP nod, however), according to Dan Levitan, a WFP spokesman.

Will candidates who don't vote their way on term limits get the WFP endorsement again?

"It's not going to be the only thing we base our endorsements on, but it's still a pretty big issue for us," Levitan said.

The WFP has a new Web site devoted to this issue and a page that has a rundown on which Council members stand where on the issue.

Tour de Bronx Video and Commentary

Thanks for the comments in our Tour de Bronx thread. If you're feeling nostalgic about your ride yesterday or want to see what it was like, check out this great video of the event from streetsfilms.org's Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

And here are a couple comments from the blog we thought we'd give greater prominence (these were anonymous; folks, we'd really appreciate it if you signed at least your first names. We're trying to build a community here):

"It was extremely challenging. At the end, my 9 year old started crying from pain and exhaustion. BUT WE DID IT. It was a great accomplishment and can't wait till next year."

"It was my first Tour de Bronx and I was really surprised at how hilly it was(and also at how little I know of the Bronx!) But I wanted to ask if the attendance yesterday was a lot bigger than expected since the police escort(we got lost?) and the 'closed streets' looked improvised and hastily done. I stopped at City Island for some seafood! Overall, the trip was very nice!"

Bronx News Roundup: Oct. 20

Thanks to Nick for posting about the Tour de Bronx. I think I speak for many participants, when I say that I'm a moving a little slowly today. Congratulations to all who finished whatever route they ended up taking.

Here's the Bronx news floating around the Internet today.

Terms Limits
The big story this week, of course, will be how Bloomberg's bid to extend term limits to include a third term will shake out. The Times' reports that Bloomberg may be pressuring nonprofit groups to support the extension. Meanwhile, Comptroller Bill Thompson, a mayoral hopeful, said the mayor's using strongarm tactics and threats to bully support for the legislation.

In the Bronx, Council members Joel Rivera, Maria Baez and Oliver Koppell support the term limits extension. James Vacca and Annabel Palma oppose the plan. And Helen Foster and Maria Carme del Arroyo haven't made up their minds.

According to NY1, 16 members support the plan, 19 members are opposed and 16 are still undecided.

Following hearings last Thursday and Friday, there is expected to be a Council vote later this week. The outcome will change the trajectory of dozens of 2009 city races.

A hostage situation ended without violence on Saturday evening in Belmont. Three men were attempting to rob a family by gunpoint, but police were quickly called to the scene and the family was taken hostage. Police eventually negotiated the family's safe release and arrested the three suspects. Here's the NY1 report on the story.

A Bronx doctor was accused of molesting a boy at a health clinic in Washington Heights. Dr. Jaime Luis Cortes was also charged with molesting two boys in the Bronx in 1994, but was acquitted.


In a match-up of perhaps the two best high school football teams in the Bronx, perennial power Kennedy defeated resurgent Clinton, 14-8. Apparently, Clinton did a lot of trash talking before the big game, only to be put back in their place.

Students from throughout the Bronx gathered last Friday at Hostos Community College to address school violence and ways to stop or mediated it.

The Streetsblog writes about how PS 76 is turning a biking tragedy into a learning experience. In June, PS 76 fifth-grader Michael Needham died (following 18 days in a coma after being hit by a speeding car outside of the Allerton Library. On Wednesday, PS 76 students will participate in a bike rodeo to promote bike safety.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tour de Bronx Captures the Beautiful Bronx

Thousands of bike riders gathered at the Bronx County Court House on a beautiful fall morning to participate in the 14th annual Tour de Bronx (the city's largest free cycling event sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, the Bronx Borough President, Montefiore Hospital, St. Barnabas Hospital, the New York Botanical Garden, and Fordham University among others). According to Borough President Aldofo Carrion, Jr., 75% of the participants were not from the Bronx (however, the Bronx contingent was by far the most vocal and enthusiastic throughout the ride).

Riders had an opportunity to choose the family friendly 25 mile route or the surprisingly grueling 40 mile ride. Well into my training for the November 2nd NYC Marathon, I thought the 40 mile ride would be a good challenge and light workout for what would otherwise be a rest day. As I type this blog posting with hands sore from holding my bike's handlebars for 4 hours and a pillow under my bottom, I realize how much I underestimated the ride.

The ride cut across 161st and through Melrose to Prospect Avenue where the route turned north. The 40 mile route bi-passed Crotona park, but kept a short ride down Charlotte Street (made famous perhaps even to bike tour visitors by visits from President's Carter, Regan, and Clinton to highlight an extreme example of urban disinvestment and government abandonment). The street, which was an urban wasteland filled with burnt down and demolished buildings, has been lined with suburban-looking single family homes with fences and lawns since the mid 1980s.

From Charlotte Street the ride, jogged north and allowed bikers the rare opportunity to ride on the closed northbound side of the Sheridan Expressway. We went past the nearly completed Concrete Plant Park on the Bronx River, rode through St. Raymond's Cemetery, cut through Soundview Park and enjoyed beautiful views of the East River and Westchester Creek.

After a brief stop at the Bronx YMCA in Castle Hill with gorgeous views of the Whitestone Bridge, and overcoming a frustrating spell where the leaders of our pack took a wrong turn and left hundreds of riders waiting on a small residential street near the Throgsneck Bridge, we cruised north to Pelham Bay Park. The ride continued through the park, out to City Island, and back to Orchard Beach for a second rest stop.

After leaving Orchard Beach we thought we were bound for the finishing area at the New York Botanical Garden, but found ourselves heading north through Williamsbridge and Wakefield (in reality, we were about half-way done with the ride). We cut diagonally across Woodlawn Cemetery and enjoyed a beautiful view of the mausoleums and fall foliage while climbing up steep languishing hills. The ride then headed down Jerome past the water filtration plant (which received more than a few Bronx cheers) to East Gun Hill road and Van Cortlandt Park. Then we climbed up Manhattan College Parkway into the depths of Riverdale and along Palisade Avenue. Ignoring the posted signs for a short cut, we climbed the hills of Spuyten Duyvel and Marbel Hill. Mercifully, the trail cut east under the elevated train on Broadway and up the hill to the Jerome Reservoir. One last loop past Lehman College and a straight shot down Bedford Park Boulevard led us to the NYBG finish line.

While challenging, the 40 mile Tour de Bronx ride really covered a host of must see neighborhoods and introduced me (a self-proclaimed Bronx fanatic) to some tucked away spots in the borough I might not otherwise visit. Organizers really improved the registration process from last year (at least at the Court House main meeting point), punctuality, and overall organization. If you missed it and are at all interested in bike riding, put the Tour de Bronx in your calendar for October 2009.