Editor's note: We don't get into this until later in the story, but the big question here is whether Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. will decide to sit down for a vote with the other two members of the local redevelopment authority (LRA), both from the mayor's office. It's supposed to happen by tomorrow. He refused to show for a vote in late 2010, preventing the LRA from voting to recommend a shelter as the best use of the center, but Diaz spokesman John DeSio said on Monday he didn't know what the BP would do. Stay tuned.
By Alex Kratz
During his lengthy and impassioned testimony at a public hearing concerning the fate of the vacant Muller Army Reserve Center in Wakefield, Father Richard Gorman compared the Bloomberg administration to A) Josef Stalin and B) a group of slave owners (with Wakefield residents being the slaves).
|Father Richard Gorman|
Gorman, the longtime chairman of Community Board 12, which includes Wakefield and Woodlawn, made those comparisons in the course of blasting the city's controversial proposal to house a 200-bed homeless shelter for men in the Muller Center. The mayor’s office says the city’s homeless needs outweigh the desires of community residents and stakeholders.
Calling the city’s plan “outrageous,” Gorman said the report that determined a shelter would be the best use of the center was full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies. “It’s a shame trees lost their lives to print that garbage,” he said. Gorman also suggested the city’s plan to turn the building over to the Doe Fund and give the group a fat city contract to run the shelter amounted to a giveback to the nonprofit, which provided valuable support to Bloomberg’s campaign to extend term limits two years ago.
Gorman was not alone in his anger. The sweltering auditorium (the vitriol was equaled only by the thickness of the air) inside PS 21 on E. 225th Street was jam-packed with opponents of the homeless shelter, including a long list of local politicians, community activists and residents.
One representative from the mayor's office, which holds two of the three voting positions on the Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) tasked by the Department of Defense to find a suitable use for the center (Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. holds the other spot), spoke on behalf of the homeless shelter plan.
In an e-mail statement after the hearing, Andrew Brent, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said their position had not changed despite the overwhelming and vehement opposition to the homeless shelter plan.
“Given New York City’s demand for temporary emergency shelter and the federal mandate, the Local Redevelopment Authority determined by majority that the facility should be utilized as a homeless shelter,” Brent said in a statement.
Brent, who could not point to any community or political support for the city’s plan, said the Doe Fund’s application to run a homeless shelter at the center was the “most viable” option for the building’s re-use.
In 2008, around 20 Doe Fund employees testified in support of Bloomberg’s effort to extend term limits. Last year, the NY Times reported that Bloomberg, “through his charitable arms,” had donated at least $10 million to the Doe Fund since winning re-election for a third term in 2009. (A spokesman for Bloomberg said the mayor had supported the Doe Fund financially long before the term limits vote. And a spokesman for the Doe Fund said the group’s president, George T. McDonald, had always opposed term limits.)
At the end of last year, Diaz, Jr. repeatedly chose not to attend LRA meetings to prevent the three-member panel from having a quorum and being able to vote on, and approve, the homeless shelter plan.
Diaz spokesman John DeSio said the borough president had yet to decide whether voting against the plan at the next meeting would be better than ignoring another meeting, which might leave the building open to the highest bidder. The LRA must vote on the plan by the end of the month.
In his remarks at the hearing, Diaz said the mayor and the borough president’s office, then occupied by Adolfo Carrion, had agreed the Muller Center would become the new home of the National Guard units currently housed in the Kingsbride Armory annex buildings in order to make way for new schools. The National Guard has said it would be willing to move the Armory units to the Muller Center with $750,000-worth of help from the city.
The city’s re-use recommendation report mentions the Guard’s willingness to move into the Center, but Brent said the Bronx’s and the city’s need for homeless shelter beds trumped that idea. The report said it would cost between $10 million and $15 million to turn the center into a homeless shelter.
Concerned local residents said the neighborhood was already saturated with homeless shelters. Many suggested the mayor’s office was unfairly saddling their residential area with the Doe Fund’s all-male clientele, which is made up of many former criminals and drug addicts.
“Why [is the city doing this]?” asked Mary Lauro of the Wakefield Taxpayer’s Association. “Because we are a minority community!”