Inner City Press Bronx Reporter
Archive 2000 #1:  Jan.-March, 2000

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March 27, 2000

    We begin this week with the quiet (some say, “hushed up”) demise of the Port Morris newspaper recycling plan. The project was dreamed up in 1994, to garner support for Albany-based developer Fransesco Galesi’s 99-year sweet-heart lease of the Harlem River Rail Yards. The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council got involved in planning it, in fundraising for (and from) it. The non-profit group Banana Kelly was declared the “local sponsor,” and was reportedly given $1 million to help lobby the community to support it, or to create the illusion of support. It was going to create jobs, it was going to subsidize Banana Kelly’s other projects; all local opponents were ridiculed. NCRC’s representative said that environmentalists have to start “thinking like investment bankers.” Banana Kelly’s chieftain claimed that the community supported it, and that it represented the new direction in community empowerment. Foundations loved it, and funded both groups. And now?

     First, the European co-sponsor dropped out. Morse Diesel was brought in as co-developer. The other components of Galesi’s plan, including a huge waste transfer station, were built. But the newspaper recycling plant, the supposed benefit to the community, languished. Now it is said to depend on receiving $300 million in tax-exempt bonds from the NYS’ Empire State Development Corporation. ESDC now says, “we are working with limited resources... A decision hasn’t been made on this yet.” Galesi’s spokesman Tony Riccio says other uses are being considered -- but not newspaper recycling. “We don’t see starting over on this one,” he says.

    And so, the South Bronx gets... another waste transfer station. Galesi has the land for another 95 years. Banana Kelly got $1 million dollars. NRDC got its New York Times clippings, and has now disappeared from the scene. The old Newport cigarettes billboard, long a landmark over the site, has been replaced with an advertisement for The History Channel. This swindle is one for the history books...

     And as one project dies, another is born. Inner City Press’ Washington watchdog, forever combing for Bronx-related arcania, has learned that Bronx-based New York Bus Service has hired lobbying firm Akin, Gump to facilitate the purchase of land from the U.S. Postal Service... Also in D.C. last week, Comptroller of the Currency John Hawke noted that “in New York City last year, only 2.5 percent of all bank branches were located in low-income areas that housed more than 6 percent of the city’s total households. In those areas, check-cashing outlets outnumbered bank branches by more than two to one.” Guess where the disparity is the worst? You guessed it -- the South Bronx:

Area          Population      Branches         Pop/Branch

Bronx         1,169,000          102                11,461

S. Bronx      450,000              23                19,565

Manhattan   1,428,000          481                 2,969

Brooklyn     2,301,000          244                 9,430

Staten Island  367,000            67                  5,925

Queens        1,952,000         328                  5,951

                                     --Inner City Press study of FDIC and Census data

* * *

     The past year has seen two much-publicized killings of unarmed civilians by the police in the Bronx. Last week, undercover cops shot and killed Haitian-American security guard Patrick Dorismond on Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. They had approached him, asking to buy marijuana. Mr. Dorismond was offended. And then, he was dead. Mayor Giuliani’s response was to release sealed juvenile arrest records of the then-13 year old Patrick Dorismond. As of the deadline for this Report, the Mayor has yet to speak with or apologize to the Dorismond family, claiming that the released records support his claim that Dorismond “assaulted” the police officers... The Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. What kind of city do we live in?

* * *

March 20, 2000

Dispatches from the Land of Spin: The Bronx

    On March 15, Senator Chuck Schumer held forth at a South Bronx Leadership Forum meeting held at Yolanda’s Restaurant on 149th Street. Schumer alluded to lending discrimination, and said he is fighting to “beef up” the federal Community Reinvestment Act. But Schumer, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, was widely characterized in late 1999 as one of the “soft Democrats” (that is, a half-hearted supporter of the CRA, when pressed to decide between it and a financial deregulation bill that helps his main campaign contributors, banks and investment firms). President Clinton had threatened to veto the deregulation bill, which weakens CRA in at least three ways; Republican Phil Gramm let him know that Schumer and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut were prepared to weaken the CRA, to benefit insurance, securities and banking firms. It seems you can say anything, in The Bronx. Question: how exactly is Senator Schumer “fighting to beef up” the CRA? (For more, click here to view ICP’s CRA Reports; most detail of Schumer’s deeds date from Oct.-Nov. 1999).

[Some archival material cut to save server space - with questions, contact us]

     The saddest story of the week was the death on March 5 of two siblings, 3-year old Joquam Williams and 17-month old Zakhena Williams, in a fire at 2363 Valentine Avenue. Their mother, Shawtina Williams, had stepped out to go to the grocery store for food. Her son apparently lit the couch on fire, and both children died of smoke inhalation. After they were pronounced dead at Jacobi Medical Center, Ms. Williams was charged with two counts of manslaughter. The building’s superintendent says, “Every time I saw that mom, she had those kids with her. I guess she took a chance for two minutes and this is what happened.” Television coverage of the deaths, and the manslaughter charges, carried a strong moral judgment as well against Ms. Williams. At issue is the definition of the acceptable bounds of parenting. If in a suburban family, living in a two-story house, a fire starts upstairs, and a child dies -- is the parent charged with manslaughter? Or if the parent is out in the driveway, in the garage, washing the family car? It’s too easy to judge, and, apparently, too easy to bring manslaughter charges. From all accounts, this mother will never forgive herself. Isn’t that enough?

       A poem (by Matthew Lee, c. 2/25/00)

“That lady never went anywhere without her kids” --
While crime scene tape and video tape
Circumnavigate the hammer-scarred door, “Cristo Viene
Now she’s up on manslaughter charges
For visiting the grocery, “just for Pampers, just for a minute”
In which time the ruins of the couch that came with her apartment
Caught fire, her two children inside --

It was a smoldering thing,” the statesman-like fireman intones
Accustomed to the burning lights of TV cameras
Well-fed with the delicacies the iron-pumpers cook
Not for him, to make judgments, not for him, to condemn another to clanking
The prisoners on moth-balled war ships now, the peace dividend
No more land use struggles, we park the razor-wielding wenches
Off a plastic pier on Hunts Point, a thousand soda bottles,
Bottles of Dawn laundry soap liquid, smelling fresh like a teddy bear
Replacing the gun runners’ coves with synthetics
From Cristo Viene to Cristo No Vendra
Vendedores de drogas, Ocurrio Asi, Primer Impacto
This is the pact, that only the voiceless be drawn and quartered on a wheel
We free to chit-chat over day-old bagels
Whole continents are the subject only of anthropology
Sliced up, a la Zapruder or Cuisinart
Slumming with Art Deco, the avant garde, sleeping in Blimpies
Turning to myth the very substance of the ghetto
Some junkies are famous, making cameos on Miami Vice
Most die friendless in Bronx Lebanon
Perhaps at most a tambourine-shaking congregation takes a collection
And uses the viewing of the stiff at Ortiz Funeral Home as an excuse
For the evangelization of souls -- you could be hit be a bus tomorrow
Cristo Viene, here comes the District Attorney
Eager to indict you for negligent shopping
Shaking their heads, the “home alone” syndrome
Not the movie but a catch-phrase of the single mother
In the Ice Age of Welfare Reform, the red necks smiling
Pens like intercontinental ballistic missiles
Amazing, the technology of sorrow
The way scapegoats on subway grates are pureed, like martyrs of old--
One part-time mother is a symbol of feminist power
The other simple a Jane Doe One Through Ten
Thus listed on the dispossess, the Notice to Quit, the machinery of bereavement
Another statistic on how community policing
Has reduced the crime rate and the heart rate to zero
A new regnum of the zombies, those who produce crime scene tape
And those who consume it, subsequently to be polled
Held to represent the back lash, and proud of it, the coffee strong
Moving, the symbolic junkies, from one hot spot to another
Names in bold text, syringes embalmed in a hipster hall of fame
Cashing the registers of other people’s pain
Now even the screams can be measured, the red lights transfix
They film the fixing scene again and again, the candles are plastic
Later inserting dialogue, as revisionist memory
And the preeners say, this is it, this is real, so real it’s heart breaking
And the soundtrack, the track marks and cheap suits of funeral homes
Parlors, like a literary salon, where the depravity that speaks
Trumps the thousand depravities than cannot
Neither speak nor climb again the mountain greased by indictment
Reduced to a side bar, a sound byte against the heartlessness of tough love
Tough tittie, as the school marms used to say, you snooze you lose
Not only kids flambeed with couches in the jail of Cristo Viene
But now you in jail, begging for ministry, ramshackled last meal of pig feet
Like in Australia, we’ll force you to hunt lizards for survival
Papillon, the movie, a butterflied leg of lamb, chrysalis, jonesing for a new life
So far out of the loop that even resentment can’t take hold
That others sell your tragedy as verse, a High-Culture version of Cops
“Bad Boys,” bad subjects, everything is fodder for analysis
Flash to Tejanos in Houston
Then marvel at the decadence of the body-pierced replica
Of bohemia in the City of Oil, living at the end, past Drudge
Even the blank-faced King of that Age is now babbling on Alzheimer’s
Here on Westheimer in Houston we consume through simulacra
The faint reminder of the hipster world beyond, who cares about a Dominican
Mother charged with murder, we freebase baseball’s powder lines
We hide behind the smorgasbord of culture, enemies of the people
Who now embrace the very vermin who poison their progeny--

The IPO of nihilism rose like a rocket
Content is immaterial, if it sells, it’s swell, let’s buy old Coke signs
And pander nostalgia on the faux formica of Blue Hat asphyxiation
While those entombed like Egyptian kings in crime scene tape
Can fend for themselves with the zitty martyrs of Legal Aid
We eat book contracts like our birth right --
We float on the metal boat on the new business model of penology
Words dictated from pay phones in funeral parlors
On the stock market of suffering, hoping only
That the studied, if not taking voice, at least blind with spikes
Those who made rhymes of the crime tape scene
Seen, without ever feeling the tightening
Of the cage, which alone is real....

      A letter to the editor ICP received this week, and to which readers are invited to reply:

Subj: The acquittal
Date: 3/9/00 4:38:03 PM EST
From: (lasernet)
To: <BronxReporter [at]>

     My name is Annie Higgins, and I am currently a student at the University of Montana. I heard about the acquittal of the four police officers, in a Bronx shooting. I am totally appalled at this entire incident, and I was wondering if there was any way that I could express my view to Mayor Giuliani...

   I am emailing you, to ask you what the most effective way would be to actively protest this acquittal. It was even more disheartening to hear that another man had been shot, again by police officers, on March 1st. If you can point me in the right direction, as far how I could get involved in protesting these incidents, I would greatly appreciate it.  Thank you very much for your time, and your informative article. My email address is

Take care,

     ICP is responding, but invites readers to also respond...

March 6, 2000

     We begin this week’s Report with the hope that our next will not have to be about another police killing in The Bronx...

    On February 25, an Albany jury acquitted all of the four officers who shot 41 bullets at an unarmed Amadou Diallo in The Bronx last year. Less than a week later, on March 1, police killed another unarmed man, 23-year old Malcolm Ferguson, in the second floor hallway of 1043 Boynton Avenue, two blocks east of Wheeler Avenue, where Mr. Diallo was killed. One series of protests has blurred into another; a memorial of candles and flowers has been set up on Boynton Avenue.

    Police Commissioner Howard Safir and Mayor Giuliani quickly tried to justify the killing of Mr. Ferguson. Neither could claim that Mr. Ferguson had a weapon, or even that, like Mr. Diallo, he had “drawn” his wallet. Safir began: “There have been 86 drug arrests in that building...”. The problem with this justification is that it could apply equally to anyone in the building, which contains 20 apartments. Mayor Giuliani emphasized that Mr. Ferguson had $360 dollars, “some in small bills.” This is hardly probative of anything. Mr. Ferguson, it is said, had six bags of heroin on him, at the time he was shot. But that’s what we have trials for, not hallway executions. Mr. Ferguson reportedly ran when he saw the (undercover) officers enter the building. Why this had to result in him being shot in the left temple, and killed, is not explained.

    Mr. Ferguson’s mother, Juanita Young of 439 East 135th Street, in front of the Bruckner Expressway, cries and says that the Mayor’s summary of her son’s life, and rationalization for his killing, do not wash. She gives thanks for the informal memorial to her son erected on Boynton Avenue: one dollar religious candles from the grocery store, a wooden platform, some cardboard signs. A television camera surveys the scene: the humble memorial, the mother’s tearful thanks for it.  One imagines suburban TV news viewers, struck at difference between the thanks, and the one dollar candles. But if the memorial were more elaborate, the killing-justifiers would surely point to it as proof that the victim was, as Safir and Giuliani put it, “nothing but a drug dealer.” To the suburban electorate, that may close the matter: a wrong-doer, a “scourge on the community,” killed, perhaps unfortunately. But many in The Bronx know young men who, for a time, sometimes short, fall into the drug trade.

     Morally, was Mr. Ferguson weaker -- or, to put it bluntly, worse -- than most 23-year old men in the suburbs, or in graduate school? We doubt it. George W. Bush alludes, even laughingly, to his youthful indiscretions. But how often was he approached by police with their weapons drawn, even before they knew what he had in his pocket? One runs in a Presidential nomination primary here on March 7; the other is dead and maligned. And the candles still flicker, on Boynton Avenue, and the mother still weeps, on East 135th Street, where by week’s end ambulances had to visit, as grief became somatic. A cinder block was thrown off a roof on 135th Street, and the block was filled by more police. One would think -- if only for a week -- these police precinct captains would say, tread lightly, act when you must, but, for this week at least, do not charge into building lobbies with your guns drawn. But that is asking too much, apparently.

    The reaction of (most) elected officials in The Bronx have left much to be desired. District Attorney Johnson, from the moment the Diallo verdict was announced, was expressing his “satisfaction” with his office’s performance. But juror Lavette Freeman blames the Bronx DA for the verdict: “I have to take it back to the district attorney’s office. They didn’t give me anything. Nothing. For me that hurts.” Another juror questions the prosecution’s failure to even try to cross-examine defense expert witness James Fyfe, after he testified that the four officers had acted in accordance with police training, when they killed Mr. Diallo. Juror Helen Harder says she was shocked that the prosecution let the case end on this note. Many in The Bronx share that shock.

    Some also question DA Johnson’s unsealing of months-old indictments of Police Officers James Caputo and Damian Maraida of March 1, for an incident with which they allegedly beat a Bronx resident in September 1999. If the allegations are true, the officers should be convicted -- and should have been indicted, and their indictments unsealed, earlier.

    Many of the visible voices calling for Mr. Johnson to resign, however, have other motives. One mixed his critique of the Diallo prosecution with D.A. Johnson’s 1998 indictment of former State Senator Pedro Espada for diverting Medicaid funds to his political campaigns. It’s an unseemly mixture, revealing a faux grassroots impulse, like the glossy “Justice for Espada” posters recently stapled up on East Tremont Avenue. The Borough President repeated again and again, in almost identical words, that “we,” the “moderate New Yorkers,” shouldn’t allow either extreme (including the “real cop bashers”) to dominate the debate. The first time, a good sound byte, well designed, at least. After serial repetition, clearly a self-conscious creation of a persona for an expected Mayoral run. Dead bodies, and crying mothers, inexorably become fodder for electoral campaigns. Beyond the waste transfer stations, it does not smell good in The Bronx, this week...

    The Bronx hospital which so questionably performed on its contract to provide medical services at the Rikers Island prison, St. Barnabas, last week lost this New York City contract, while confirming that it has been bidding for jail medical care contracts in Florida and Maine.

   Globally, the slings and arrows continue. The British newspaper The Independent began a Feb. 27 article about a London housing project with these lines: “It could be the Bronx. A gang of teenagers, the oldest no more than 15, hand around the towering, concrete apartment blocks and dark alleys. They wear hooded tops which mask their faces, smart trainers and baggy jeans. One child loitering in a lift shaft is smoking a joint and give out a ‘stare at me and I’ll kill you’ kind of look.” So knowing, this translation (invention?) of “looks.” And so dangerous...

    In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian minister Rais Yatim told the newspaper Sun on Sunday that the United States should stop criticizing his country’s human rights record: “The rampant human rights violations taking place in the Bronx area, for example, were never told to the world.” (Agence France Press, Feb. 27, 2000).

February 28, 2000

     We must focus this week on the acquittal of all four police officers who shot and killed Amadou Diallo on Wheeler Avenue in Soundview a year ago.

    The trial was removed from The Bronx to Albany. Integral to the officers’ defense strategy was to portray Soundview, The Bronx as a dangerous place, difficult to police, where it is “reasonable” for cops to approach residents with their guns drawn, and to begin firing at the slightest move.

    There were, of course, two opposing ways to consider what happened. One version goes as follows: it is dangerous to be a police officer. Most cops do their best, and if they make a mistake, they shouldn’t be sent to jail. This is the view apparently embraced by the Albany jurors; to trigger a guilty vote, the Bronx District Attorney’s office would have to have shown that the officers were outside of the mainstream of policing, either because they already knew Mr. Diallo and bore him ill-will, or because they deviated substantially from their training. Since all four officers fired their guns, perhaps the jury concluded that they had followed their training, or at least had not deviated from it so much as to requiring jail terms. What was not done at the trial was to explore the history, purposes and methods of the NYPD Street Crimes Unit. The Bronx D.A. apparently felt that forty one bullets fired at an unarmed man spoke for itself. Clearly, to these Albany jurors, it did not.

     The other view, equally if not more reasonable, and held by the vast majority of Bronx residents interviewed by Inner City Press, is that we cannot find “reasonable” that an unarmed man, standing in the entrance of his apartment building, would be surrounded by plainclothes cops and shot 41 times, even after falling to the ground. If this is found reasonable, any of us could be killed, at any time.

   The verdict was announced late on the afternoon of Friday, February 25. Most of the Bronx residents interviewed by Inner City Press had, during the weeks of the trial, reduced their expectations to conviction, perhaps only of two of the four officers (those who emptied their guns and reloaded), perhaps only on the lesser charges of negligent homicide. Complete acquittal of all four officers was shocking. Several hundred Bronx residents quickly gathered on Wheeler Avenue, in the street in front of the building where Mr. Diallo had lived, and where he was killed. Police from the 43rd Precinct set up wooden saw horse barricades, and stood impassive as people asked, and then shouted, “A wallet is not a gun!” Television vans set up on the block; one couldn’t escape the sense that they were expecting, or even hoping for, a riot. Some of the crowd set off marching toward the 43rd Precinct House, and briefly blocked traffic on the entrance and exit ramps to the Bronx River Parkway. Over a dozen people were arrested, for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

   The six o’clock television news interviewed Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson in front of the Albany courthouse. What he said made little sense. He used the words, “satisfied,” “proud of the prosecution team,” and even while decrying the change of venue to Albany, said he thought the twelve Albany jurors were fair. He tried to rebut any criticism of his and his office’s work. Informed legal analysts questioned his decision not to put on a rebuttal case, after the officers had testified. He apparently thought that 41 bullets spoke for themselves. Clearly, they did not.

   On Wheeler Avenue, the signs took a new twist: “41 Counts of Incompetence: D.A. Johnson Must Resign!” (this from Channel 7 News).

    Channel Seven anchor Bill Beutel introduced another Bronx segment by saying, “Now we’ll hear from Bronx Borough President Jose Ferrar... no...” -- (looking at TelePromterTM) -- “Fernando Ferrer.” There followed a sound byte from Ferrer, about channeling outrage through legitimate means. Unnamed pastors stood behind the BP; when one of them spoke, Channel Seven did not name him. Manhattan BP C. Virginia Fields was interviewed as City Hall; Harlem State Senator Patterson went “in studio,” and said it was hard to counsel acceptance when he couldn’t accept the verdict. A legal pundit said a Federal civil rights case would have little chance. The eleven o’clock news was extended, apparently waiting (or hoping) for a more violent reaction on the streets of the Bronx. More spin from Robert Johnson: he emphasized that a Bronx grand jury had declined to indict the police officer who shot Hilton Vega. Al Sharpton had another precedent: the successful civil rights prosecution of Officer Livoti, for the strangling death of Bronx resident Anthony Baez. The news cut to Office Carroll’s neighbors in Suffolk County: they said they thought the verdict was fair, that it had been a tragedy “for everyone, including the officers.” Mr. Diallo’s tragedy -- dead in a flurry of 41 bullets -- can’t fairly be compared to a trial process taking less than a year. Would police officers show up at a house on Long Island with their guns drawn, and pump 41 bullets at a person in the doorway because he or she reached for a wallet? No. And that’s the problem with this case...

      A poem:

No Conviction

                                                                      by Matthew Lee, c. 2/25/00

Forty-one shots
And still they freely walk.
The jury will not talk
The dead boy’s mother’s face
Reveals no shock.

TV is hungry
For riot
But gets none. Tonight
The camera lights can’t
Attract like bees the bottles.

In-studio guests gust
Senseless wind.
They hustle to hustle
Their talk of peace.
They’ll use the clips
In future years.

We live in words and TV screens
“A powder keg” “Dry grass ready to
Under street lights
The same sad door-
Way where the dead boy fell
While bullets pierced his sneakers’ soles.

Forty-one shots.
And still they walk
And we talk
Return again to Wheeler’s block
Where now are slung
To manage pain

But TV time’s been set aside
For rage against this homicide.
So, two arrests for hitting cars
The lone protesters behind bars.

To juxtapose they jump-cut now
From City Hall to Riverhead:
The neighbors in their doorways say
They’re glad their neighbor’s walking free
“They’ve been through hell, this wretched trial
A tragedy for all,”
they say--

For all? One can cry up on the stand
Rewind the tape and pop a beer.
From one there’s only silence now
Symbolic life a cheap reward

On top of vans on Wheeler Ave
The camera lights beseech to speak
Confess disgust in Super-Eight
And thrusting wallets at the cops
“Come on, shoot me” -- they broadcast live
And politicians cut it fine
How they too share in the disgust
The sound-bytes planned, and “in my view”
The same sad door, the tape is looped
“So say you all?” They nod again
The Bronx D.A. says he is pleased
Though pleased at what, we’ll never know
A bottle flies and captures eyes
The search for symbols circles round
The thrower’s face pressed on the ground
The legal phrases swarm like bees
The vultures eat at year-old flesh...
On Wheeler Ave there’s only rain
And barricades to contain pain...

                                   Rest In Peace...

* * *

February 22, 2000

    The good, the bad and the ugly: One week in The Bronx.

    The waste transfer station opened in Port Morris in November, with the promise that it would use rail and not trucks to move the garbage in and out, is now petitioning city and state environmental officials to resort to trucks. Waste Management’s vice president for governmental affairs, ex-state Attorney General Dennis Vacco, complains that rail-hauler CSX can’t meet his company’s needs, and confirms that Waste Management is “looking at” switching back to trucks. With the well-documented asthma epidemic in the South Bronx, this switch, and American Marine Rail LCC’s proposal for yet another transfer station, represent the bad and ugly in The Bronx. And the local politicians who brokers and praises the Waste Management “compromise” -- where are they now?

   In the political orbit, the Bronx Borough President has hired a campaign manager to run for Mayor in 2001: David Axelrod, who’s previously done work for state Comptroller McCall. Over the weekend, the BP made much of calling for “calm” when the Diallo case verdict is announced; days before, he assailed Mayor Guiliani’s proposed 2001 budget, particularly its further delay of $56 million for the middle-income Melrose Commons proposal. But what of Waste Management’s move to revert to trucks in the South Bronx? And what of the murderous elevator at Parkchester (see below)?  Grassroots note:  last week, printed signs went up along East Tremont Avenue, screaming: "Justice for Espada and Love."   The reference appears to have been to the indictments (in 1998) of Pedro Espada and Sandra Love, for directing Medicaid money to political campaigns. The signs provided no indication of the status of the case, and by mid-week, the signs were gone... Meanwhile, State Senator Larry Seabrook is gearing up to challenge U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel. In that district, Chase Manhattan Bank is moving to close its branch, at 3821 White Plains Road. Could the impending campaign lead, for whatever the motives, to some opposition?

    Continuing with the lack of accountability: on Feb. 16, 21-year old Rupa Mottie was crushed and killed by the elevator on the ninth floor of Parkchester North. Resident William Lloyd told the New York Times (Feb. 17): “I, on a number of occasions, have called in complaints to the management, reporting problems with the elevator.” The Times reported that the management office for Parkchester North did not respond to telephone messages. Not mentioned by the Times was the Community Preservation Corporation’s long-promised plan to make repairs at Parkchester (see, for example, this 1996 Bronx Beat article); nor the involvement in the management of Parkchester of the Starrett City gang, led by ex-NYC housing official Felice Michetti, under a contract doled out by another ex-HPD official, Kathy Dunn.

    The City’s housing agency is a stepping stone to power not only in The Bronx, but in upper Manhattan as well. in Harlem, the in-play Carver Savings Bank is run by another ex-HPD commissioner, Deborah Wright. She became Carver CEO a year ago, after the bank announced a loss of $5.7 million, and fired then-CEO Tom Clark. The underlying problem is that Carver did very little lending, for many years. Things have not changed much, in the past year. Two executives of Boston Bank of Commerce, Kevin Cohee and his wife, Teri Williams, offered to merge with Carver but were rebuffed. Now Cohee and Williams, who’ve accumulated a 7.4% stake in Carver, want to be on its board of directors. Wright and Carver’s board issued stock to Morgan Stanley and Provender Capital -- together, an 8.25% stake, watering down the insurgents’ voting power. There followed Delaware securities litigation; the annual meeting is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. Martin Whitman of EQSF Advisors (holding over 9% of Carver) says Carver has been a “bad investment” and that its management has “pulled out all the stops” to deter BBOC. Don Koch of Koch Asset Management (owning 9.9% of Carver) says “Their is no evidence that the board of Carver has served its shareholders well.” And on Feb. 18, Institutional Shareholder Services said it supports the insurgents, BBOC.

     The Carver board (many of them, as an aside, supporters of Hillary Clinton’s New York senatorial bid) raise as their main defense that Cohee is from Boston rather than New York. Deborah Wright intones: “It boggles my mind that they think they know where the deposit and deal flow in New York City is. We’re in the loop; they’re not.” Ms. Wright’s “loop” has included the pro-business New York City Partnership, where she worked before joining NYC’s housing agency. Wright’s mentor at the NYCP, Kathy Wylde (who for a time was HPD’s king-maker, and now runs LBO king Henry Kravis’ underperforming NYC Investment Fund, see 1999 Bronx Reports for analysis), turns up on the “Publication Committee” of the Nouveau right wing City Journal, which has most recently trashed the Community Reinvestment Act. Sometimes, the “loops” -- become too complicated... More after the Feb. 24 vote....

    Remaining across the river: the Times on Feb. 18 ran an article (B8) promoting two middle-income condominium developments in Harlem which, though subsidized, have income guidelines of $88,000 a year, and even $133,500 a year, for applicants. The Times, without mention of the word gentrification, opines that “they will test the market for co-ops in Harlem and the area’s appeal to middle-income borrowers.” As a follow-up to last week’s story about R.E. Management, the realtor’s web site goes so far to as re-name East Harlem “North York,” calling it “the Next Place to Live in New York.” But R.E. Management’s existing tenants have rats and collapsing ceilings (see 2/14 Report, below).

   Ever-vigilant to slurs of The Bronx, we cannot help noting that the German wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur headlined a February 14 story: “The Bronx starts on the Vistula’s right bank for many Warsaw residents,” sketching the “Bronx-like” area thus: “the domain of the small-time crook, the black market deal and the receiver of stolen goods.” Two jokes: (1) Surprised the attorney’s for the police officers who shot Amadou Diallo didn’t proffer this recent article into evidence, to further rationalize their fusillade; (2) watch for some of the same Bronx politicians who say nothing to or about Waste Management or Chase Manhattan Bank, to demand an apology from Deutsche Presse-Agentur... Or perhaps from ABC “commentator” Jeff Tubin, who on Ted Koppel’s Feb. 16 show on the Diallo case emphasized that the street behind Diallo’s building had been “shut down for drug” trafficking, and that a witness mentioned rats running out of a building....

February 14, 2000

       First the news, then some views. Two Bronx-based stories were reported national last week: the ongoing trial in Albany of the four police officers who killed Amadou Diallo, and the death and funeral of hip hop artist Christopher Rios, Big Pun. At the Albany trial, medical examiner Joseph Cohen concluded, in light of a bullet hole in Mr. Diallo’s foot, he must have been lying on the ground while the officers were still shooting. The cops’ lawyers called as a witness Schrrie Elliott, who concurred with Doctor Cohen’s testimony, that Mr. Diallo was shot while down on the ground. The defense now wants to impeach Ms. Elliott, with her arrest record.

     The reason for the police officers’ request to move the trial outside of New York City has become clear: their lawyers emphasize to the Albany jury that the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx (which is not within the official delineation of the South Bronx) is “one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City” (this from Officer Sean Carroll’s lawyer). The implicit argument is that it is (more?) reasonable to shoot unarmed people, even after they fall to the ground, in the “crime-plagued” Bronx, as opposed to in other communities. It’s not an argument that would fly to juries in The Bronx (which the four officers were being paid to protect), so they took their show on the road. Perhaps they’ll ask to screen the movie, “Fort Apache, The Bronx” (or Bonfire of the Vanities) as part of their closing arguments...

    The passing of Big Pun, apparently to an obesity-related heart failure, triggered a massive memorial service, at the Ortiz Funeral Home on Westchester Avenue. Despite his earnings from his 1998 double platinum album, Rios and his wife had recently bought a house in the Bronx, not far from where police shot and killed Amadou Diallo last year. A 19-year old mourner outside the Ortiz Funeral Home said, “He didn’t forget where he came from. he lived here with us right where he grew up.” Rest in peace.

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The question is: (re-) development for whom? It’s a question in The Bronx (where many local politicians have virtually begged for gentrification, emphasizing again and again the two antique stores on Bruckner Boulevard in Port Morris), in East Harlem, in Brooklyn, and in cities across the country. Perhaps the most surreal iteration of it is on Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard. For the sake of “art” (yes, that Williamsburg virtual virus is catching), here’s a recent write up:

From LAX to Shacks:
Los Angeles Camera-Eye

                                                                                               by Matthew Lee, c. 2000

     “Don’t even try to use the subway in Los Angeles,” they say. “It’s like a train to nowhere.” But how else to get around? When they built the Green Line, they could easily have built a station right in front of the airport. But it’s a city built around cars, and reportedly the parking lot concessionaires didn’t want their business undermined. So you have to take a ten minute shuttle bus ride out to the nearest station, Aviation / I-105. The bus is used almost entirely by airport employees.

     There’s no turnstile to pass through: you buy a ticket from a machine outside the station, $1.30, then go up on the platform to wait for the train. It works on the honor system, it seems, though signs command you to keep your ticket, quedarse con su boleto. The Green Line runs on the median strip of Interstate 105, the Century Freeway, slashed through Inglewood and Watts. There’s a Northrup Grumman factory. At the Imperial / Wilmington Station, re-named for Rosa Parks, you can transfer to the Blue Line, which will take you to downtown Los Angeles, 7th Street and Figueroa.

     The view from the Blue Line is of an endless expanse of one-story houses, some no more than the size of a single room, on streets lined with tall, thin palm trees, with only a few leaves at the top. It runs along Long Beach Avenue. Near the Slauson Avenue station, there’s a string of junk yards and scrap metal plants, then some bleak two-story housing projects, with curtains flapping out of broken window. On the horizon, through the smog, you can see skyscrapers, rising on a hill, lettered at the top: Wells Fargo. KPMG. A shorter, older office building says: Transamerica. Closer by: Winston Mortuary.

    The Blue Line turns off Long Beach Avenue and onto Washington Boulevard. Again, scrap metal is the theme: Mid-City Tubs, Felix Used Radiators. The train runs at street level, and stops at traffic lights, like a street car. There are a few strip malls: El Pollo Loco, USA Checks Cashed. There’s a compound of buildings: Los Angeles Trade Tech, a school. The train turns onto Flower Street, by the Convention Center and the newer Staples Center. There’s a run-down hotel, the Oviatt, and another, slightly fancier, the Figueroa. Taller than either, the ten-story Patriotic Hall of the County of Los Angeles. Another: La Curacao. The train goes underground, and hits the last stop: 7th Street, Metro Center.

    Up an escalator, you’re into the few gussied-up blocks of downtown Los Angeles. One office building says Arthur Andersen; another says, Washington Mutual. Merrill Lynch. Ernst & Young. Taking Figueroa, walking toward Bunker Hill and its newer glass skyscrapers, from 5th Street you see the Public Library, fixed up after a fire in 1986, with Latin words carved over the door, something about “Et Quasi Cursores... Vitai Lampad....” There’s a fountain, with a sculpture of an iguana skeleton in it. Inside the library, the walls are painted yellow. On the second floor, there’s an exhibit about the history of the Tweety Bird cartoon character. In the bathroom, the stalls have no doors, the toilets have no seats. Every doorway you walk through, a camera set on the side clicks, counting your entry and your exit. Could you limbo under one of them, so their math didn’t work out at the end of the day? Doesn’t seem to work. Click - you enter. Click -- you leave.

     Facing the terrace of the library, there’s a coffee shop, and a counter for fast-food Chinese, Panda Express. You can take your coffee out onto the terrace, but the chairs are all chained together. You can sit on the steps. Yuppy office workers are streaming into a restaurant next to the library, Cafe Pinot. Behind that, there’s a skyscraper, easily the tallest in town. The Library Tower, home of the law firms of Latham & Watkins, and White & Case. There’s a steep staircase, with water running down it. Ah, fancy urban renewal. Real estate developers were allow to violate zoning with the Library Tower, in exchange for helping renovate the burned-out library. At the top of the stairs is another tower of power: Mellon Bank. There are more security cameras than pedestrians.

    Cutting back down the hill to Pershing Square, you can follow 5th Street into Skid Row. It starts off slowly: Broadway was and is the main shopping street, although it’s no longer the “Great White Way” of this city: now the signs are for Jugos Naturales, Llamadas, pupusas from El Salvador. At 5th and Broadway, there’s an old office building, the Jewelry Trade. At 5th and Spring, there’s the Alexandria Hotel, with a counter covered with plexiglass. The Frontier Hotel on 5th and Main promises, “HBO in Every Room,” but it’s mostly panhandlers out in front. 5th and Los Angeles Street has the King Edward Hotel, and, on the corner, the King Eddy Saloon. 5th and Maple has a half-abandoned shopping center, letters missing from its sign, so that the original (Winston Plaza) now read: WIN O PLAZA. There’s a three story apartment building, with a “For Rent” sign, “General Relief Welcome.” On 5th and Wall is the rebuilt and ever-larger L.A. Mission, that Barbara Bush visited in 1992. The day of her visit, they moved all of the homeless off the streets. “It’s not so bad here,” she commented. Today, there’s no Barbara Bush. “You lookin’ for weed?” Nah. Press forward. At 5th and St. Julian Street, there a cluster of Single Room Occupancy hotels: the Panama, the Florence, the Golden West. Enough already.

    Turning left of San Pedro Street, there’s a cluster of stores selling silk flowers. There are big parking lots, then the stucco entrance to the Little Tokyo mall. Above it rises a building with a red circular logo on it, like the Ying-Yang symbol. The New Otani Hotel. The one-block mall is named Onizuka Street, for a Japanese-American astronaut. Turning on to First Street, you’re approaching the Civic Center. Next to a parking lot, there’s a storefront, Byron’s Bail Bonds, and next to that, a stand selling Kosher Burritos. There’s the building of the L.A. Times, and the City Hall, appearing in the Superman movies at the headquarters of the Daily Planet newspaper. The courthouse appeared in the Perry Mason television series, 1959 through 1965. Then there’s a silence: another freeway cut through.

     El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles is closed for renovation, but the one block theme park, Olvera Street, remains open. Across Alameda Street is Union Station, a mix of Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture. Inside, the ceilings are of wood, and they charge two dollars for a one pint bottle of iced tea. You can get back on the subway here, take the Red Line out to Hollywood. “Fifteen Minutes to Tinseltown,” the sign says...

     The subway stop at Hollywood and Vine, the end of the line, has film reels and metal palm trees on the ceilings. The streets outside are decidedly more run-down than the subway station, built in 1996. Across from the subway entrance is the Pantages Theater, with no show until three weeks from now. There’s a small storefront, Dos Burritos. Three of the four corners of Hollywood and Vine have twelve-story office buildings: the Taft, the Broadway, and the Equitable, now with a savings and loan in the storefront. Between Vine and Ivar, the fictional base of Philip Marlowe, there are wig stores, and Le Cave, a sex show parlor. Under your feet are the two foot high stars, for Edward R. Murrow, and Marlene Deitrich. The old billboard of a theater, now converted to a church, screams in big letters: Pare de Suffrir. Stop Suffering. Past a few tattoo shops, and others pitching Body Piercing, there are building for Scientology, with clean cut teenagers outside, trying to recruit (or save, depending on your perspective) all passers-by. The Egyptian Theater’s now run by a non-profit, but its gates are closed. Mann’s Chinese Theater is bright red. The Roosevelt Hotel is surrounded by scaffolding. Across the street is a construction site, and a sign promising a 300 room hotel, and a theater custom-built for the Academy Awards: $60 million in city subsidies, for a one-night a year event. “Recapture the Magic,” the sign says. The last redevelopment effort, the Galaxy, sits half unused, a few more blocks toward La Brea. There’s an abandoned bank branch, with its Bank of America sign still in place. At the end of the Strip, there’s a coffee shop with computers, Cyber Java. Brooding yuppies with pierced cheeks brood on the terrace, sipping fruit juice with ecanasia before checking their e-mail and stock portfolios. There’s a church, and there’s a motel. This is Hollywood....

    ....Maybe it’s just the name -- the Boulevard of Broken Dreams itself broken -- but you’re driven to revisit the place, to search for something you missed the first time, or that perhaps wasn’t there at all, ever. In the daylight, thought the smog, you can see the HOLLYWOOD sign, up on the hill over Capitol Records on Vine. A failed actress jumped to her death from the “H.” These are all myths. Today, old folk loiter in front of the Hollywood Plaza Hotel on Vine, while muggers lurk in alleyways, while trade schools run their scams in second-floor lofts over failed savings and loans.

    On Ivar there’s no sign of Philip Marlowe, or Ray Chandler or Nathaniel Hawthorne. There’s a sign promising the opening of the Museum of Death. It seems like overkill. Down on Wilcox, there’s the Hotel Mark Twain. On the roof of the Pacific Building, there are two unused radio transmission towers. There’s a building called The Outpost, another called the U.T.R., with a Spanish-style balcony fronting on the Boulevard. Motel 6, and a Chinese restaurant called Lam’s Kitchen. Up on Yucca and Vine, there’s a single new building: Post Logic Studios -- Film, Video, Audio. It captures it.. Post logic.

* * *

February 7, 2000

   This week in The Bronx: fire and ice, fraud and (in most detail) history.

   Fire: in West Farms, the Lambert Houses had ten separate fires last month, most of them small, all of them suspicious, according to the Fire Department. Piles of garbage in the hallways have been lit aflame; fires have been set in the garbage compactor rooms. Phipps Houses, which runs Lambert (and a block of apartment buildings granted to them by the City, on Fulton Avenue), says it’s trying to beef up security. Community Planning Board 6 held a fire safety seminar for residents, on Feb. 2 at nearby Community School 67.

In Bedford Park on Feb. 3, a row of houses on 203rd Street burned to the ground, leaving two dozen people homeless.

Meanwhile, just north of the Bronx, other fires raged last week. Third Street in Mount Vernon suffered another fire, this one knocking out Fatou’s Professional African Hair Braiding, Essential Things Insurance, and Jack’s Perm & Cut Barbershop. On Coyle Place in lower Yonkers, a fire burned for four hours on Feb. 3, rendering three residents homeless and sending five firefighters to local hospital.

Ice: throughout the week, water poured from broken pipes in the elevated train line over Westchester and Pugsley Avenues, quickly freezing into four-foot icicles, and entirely covering a Fire Department call box with ice. On Thursday, the Transit Authority fixed the leak, and melted the ice with salt.

At the trial of the four police officers who shot and killed Amadou Diallo on Wheeler Avenue last year, defense lawyers attempted to discredit witness Debbie Rivera (who affirms, on penalty of perjury, that she didn’t hear the officers give any warning before firing their 41 bullets) -- by highlighting her statement that she did not “trust” the police officers who came to interview her about what she heard. Question: why would she?

Fraud: the campaign of Republican front-runner (?) George W. Bush admitted last week that it forged signatures on nominating petitions in the South Bronx’ 16th Congressional District. Following the Republican State Committee’s admission, George W. will not be on the primary ballot in the 16th District (now known as the Bronx’ McCain-land).

Somewhere between fraud and the hospital history below, charges flew last week that FDNY ambulance drivers were refusing to take patients to the emergency room at St. Barnabas, due to that hospital have privatized its own ambulance services, to non-union Metrocare Ambulance Group, based in Brooklyn. Metrocare chief Steve Zakheim’s a major contributor to political campaigns, including the Mayor’s current campaign for Moynihan’s Senate seat. While Zakheim disclaims any connection between his contributions and the current fracas, the City’s crackdown (to date, the firing to two paramedics) appears designed to legitimate further privatization of ambulance and medical services...

History: Inner City Press last week received an inquiry / reminiscence from a former Bronx resident, who served as a security guard at the old Morrisania Hospital on 167th Street. It triggered a review of the history of this hospital (and of its closing). First, a segment of the inquiry; then, ICP’s sketch, part of our ongoing History of the South Bronx....





     This inquiry set our research team in motion. What follows is a sketch of the history of Morrisania Hospital, copyright Inner City Press, 2000:

     The West Bronx saw its population double, in the 1910’s, following the completion of the Grand Concourse in 1909. Five- and six-story apartment buildings sprung up on the blocks west of the Concourse. In 1922, following a report issued by Doctors Isidore Goldberger and Lewis Amster calling for the construction of a third hospital in the Bronx, the City appropriated money for the construction, on the block bound by 167th and 168th Streets, Walton to Gerard Avenues.

The hospital was designed by Charles Meyers, who was also responsible for the (still-standing) Department of Heath on Worth Street, and The Tombs on Centre Street in Manhattan. The complex consisted of four buildings: a 10-story main hospital building with 400 beds, two residences for nurses and other employees, and a lower building, a powerhouse and laundry. Mayor James J. Walker attended the hospital’s opening on July 1, 1929, declaring, “To public service, and to posterity, I dedicate these buildings.”

Jump cut: in mid-1968, Aurielo Rodriguez was turned away from Morrisania Hospital, denied treatment. He soon died of dysentery. His widow, Carmen Rodriguez, was subsequently awarded $275,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit against the City.

August 6, 1974: Morrisania Hospital ambulance attendant Edwin Phitts is charged with raping an 18-year old Bronx woman after she accepted a ride in one of the hospital’s ambulances.

June 13, 1975: 25-year old police officer Thomas Ryan, responding to a burglary report, attempts to arrest Israel Rodriguez, also 25. At the precinct house on Sedgwick Avenue, Officer Ryan beats and kicks Rodriguez, then takes him to Morrisania Hospital, where, the following day, Rodriguez died. Ryan is arrested, and in 1979 he is convicted of criminally negligent homicide. Out on bail pending appeal, Ryan flees, only to turn himself in two years later, on March 23, 1981.

     But by then, Morrisania Hospital had been closed...

As early as 1969, a new Bronx hospital was proposed, North Central Bronx, which would replace Morrisania. In early 1972, then-Assemblyman Solarz toured Morrisania, and was told by the hospital’s executive director that it was losing $60,000 a year because of “pilfering of equipment and illegal narcotics traffic.” Medical resident R. Platt emphasized the shortage of respirators in the asthma room.

At public hearing in 1974, Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams called plans to close Morrisania “unconscionable;” then-Councilman Barry Salman proposed the construction of a new Fordham Hospital with 550 beds.

On January 9, 1975, the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation board voted to close Morrisania as early as the following year. At the same meeting, the board approved the plan for a new Fordham hospital. Mayor Beame had demanded the elimination of 550 jobs, to save money.

In July 1975, hospital employees began a sit-in at Morrisania Hospital; the hospital’s director Henry Karpe escaped through his office window.

In January 1976, HHC President John Holloman reiterated the plan to close Morrisania, and also axed the proposed new Fordham Hospital. In April 1976, employees take over the old Fordham Hospital, while others file suit in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan, trying to block the closing of Morrisania Hospital on constitutional and civil rights grounds. Community Board 6 chair Susan Boyd says the old Fordham Hospital should be retained, since a new one will no longer be built.

On June 30, 1976, Morrisania Hospital is officially closed, 47 years after it was opened, dedicated “[t]o public service, and to posterity...”. For a month after the closing, employees still report to work there. A dispute has arisen whether they’ll be transferred to North Central Bronx, or to the new Lincoln Hospital on 149th Street. HHC spokesman Layhmond Robinson announces the decision: some to NCB, some to Lincoln, some laid off. Morrisania Hospital sits empty.

In 1983, NYS Assembly Republicans proposes using the vacant Morrisania Hospital as a prison. Nothing comes of it.

In 1985, then-State Senator Israel Ruiz proposes using Morrisania as a homeless shelter -- if the City will pay a non-profit group the same $1,300 a month they are paying to place homeless families in the Martinique Hotel on 32nd Street in Manhattan. Deputy Mayor Robert Esnard says it’s “a dramatic idea, but there is some question, in the preliminary sense, about the cost.” Nothing comes of it; Ruiz is convicted and sent to jail.

In 1987, Morrisania is briefly considered as the site of a proposed new Police Academy. Later, the Borough President proposes the Park Avenue and 152nd Street train yards. Nothing comes of either proposal. Morrisania is then considered for a nursing school. Again, nothing comes of it. The city’s Department of General Services removes all of the building’s windows, in part to discourage the homeless from sleeping there.

Finally, in the mid-90s, a coalition of community groups attracts $23 million in federal, state and private funding, and reconstructs the hospital as 132 apartments, 48 of them set aside for homeless families. As Mayor James J. Walker declared on July 1, 1929: “To public service, and to posterity, we dedicate these buildings...”.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Inner City Press’ History (and Future) of the South Bronx...

      At the intersection of politics and Bronx real estate, ICP has been informed that the Starrett City company now has a contract to manage half of the Parkchester development, facilitated by ex-NYC Housing Preservation and Develoment deputy commissioner Kathy Dunn. Ex-HPD Commissioner Michetti runs the Starrett City management firm...

      Finally, in grassroots news, the cuchifrito restaurant El Despertar, at 410 East Tremont Avenue, has been closed by the NYC Department of Health. On Willis Avenue by 140th Street, the “Bubba Gump” fish and shrimp restaurant continues in operation (we’ve always wondered when the trademark infringement lawsuit would begin)... More seriously, a 40 year old woman was stabbed six times on E. 150th Street on Jan. 22, in a confrontation with three other women about a one dollar bill. And, in police blotter news we haven’t seen followed up anywhere, the 48th Precinct reports that Jan. 3, its officer were summoned to Roosevelt High School at 500 East Fordham Road, where they determined a school safety officer to be “emotionally disturbed.” What kind of safety is that?

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   ... In more positive news, two dozen Bronx seventh graders from Junior High School 118 appeared at Federal Hall on Wall Street on Jan. 20, to conduct a mock Senate floor debate as part of the “Constitution Works” program. The topic was freedom of the press -- always a pertinent topic. As A.J. Leibling said, “Freedom of the press is only guaranteed to those who own one.”

    Finally (and perhaps in light of all of the above), Mayor Giuliani will appear at a “Town Meeting” in the Bronx on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m., at the insulated setting of Fordham Prep, deep inside the campus of Fordham University. It’s unclear how many of the women from the Franklin Armory Shelter who witnessed the Jan. 18 police raid will be able to attend...

January 18, 2000

    Comings and goings: on Jan. 14, a day-old baby boy was found, alone and abandoned, in the hallway of the building at 1385 Stratford Avenue in Soundview. A 911 call alerted police, who rushed the baby to Jacobi Hospital, where he’s listed in “good condition.”

    On Jan. 12, livery cab driver Jose Torres was shot and killed in front of 1705 Anthony Avenue in East Tremont. His wallet was taken. He is survived by four children. His 24-year old son Edwin, a college student, says “He worked seven days a week to give us what we needed.” Rest in peace...

    Rest in peace also Anne Devenney, long time activist with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, dead at 79 from cancer. ICP’s favorite Devenney quote: “You only get the government you deserve -- and I know I deserve better.”

      Continuing on those themes (both cancer and good government): the state lobbying commission referred Philip Morris lobbyist Sharon T. Portnoy’s case to Albany County district attorney Sol Greenberg. There’s a Bronx angle to the case: Portnoy’s report of a $195 dinner with the Bronx Borough President and an aide during the 1997 mayoral campaign. The BP’s spokesman told the New York Times (12/7/99) “that Ms. Portnoy had treated him to meals more than once, but that he did not believe the meals were gifts because he considered Ms. Portnoy a friend, not a lobbyist.” (Stray question: what was the BP’s factotum, previously of the Dinkins administration, doing cooling his heels at the pizzeria on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street last week?). Big tobacco has other hooks into the Bronx: Assemblywoman Gloria Davis “receives $5,000 annually from Philip Morris... Ms. Davis said that she raised $22,000 from another cigarette giant, R.J. Reynolds.” NYT, 1/4/2000.

January 10, 2000

    On Monday, Jan. 3, fire trucks filled the intersection of 149th Street and Courtlandt Avenue. A Social Security office located in the building, which also has offices of Planned Parenthood and a Citibank branch on the ground floor, had received an envelope marked “Anthrax.” All ten floors were evacuated, but officials later found that the envelope had no trace of the lethal virus.

    On Friday, January 7, a severed head was found wrapped in plastic inside a Volkswagon Jetta on Bathgate Avenue in the Bronx. Police arrested Orlando Diaz, 18, Tahisha Johnson, 24, and Sarita Card, 26, and charged them with “hindering prosecution” and tampering with evidence (but not with the underlying murder).

     On Saturday night, Jan. 8, a car carrying two passengers and a 24-year old driver approached the intersection of Webster Avenue and Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. A man walked over to the intersection and fired a round of bullets into the car. Rueshawn McDouglas, 24, was pronounced dead on arrival at Jacobi Medical Center; the two other passengers, Juan Figueroa and Larry Walker, remain in the hospital with gun shot wounds to the legs and torso.

    Meanwhile, as the Amadou Diallo case, removed from the Bronx to Albany, proceeds toward its Jan. 31 opening of jury selection, lawyers for the four defendant police officers are filing “sealed” motion, asking that they be withheld from the public and the press. Bronx DA Robert Johnson is seeking to exclude or limit the testimony of three of the defendants’ eight expert witnesses, claiming that it will go to the core issue of the case: whether it was reasonable to shot an unarmed man 41 times...

    In a related police brutality story, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White on January 7 announced that the Department of Justice will not file civil rights charges against Detectives Patrick Brosnan and James Crowe, who on January 11, 1995 fired 28 shots that killed Anthony Rosario, 18, and his cousin Hilton Vega, 21. Freddie Bonilla, then 18, survived the fusillade. The detectives claimed that one of the three reached for a gun -- but the evidence showed that only the police fired. Autopsies revealed that Rosario and Vega were lying facedown when they were shot. Ms. White said her office “concluded they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the detectives acted ‘with the specific intent to use unreasonable force.’” Apparently, shooting a person who is in custody, when they are lying facedown, is “reasonable...”.

    At the deadline for this edition, politics heated up around who the interim Board of Education Chancellor, to replace Rudy Crew, will be. On Jan. 9, a 4-3 vote nominated Citigroup’s “global compliance” chief, Harold O. Levy. In ICP’s experience, Levy played something of a hatchet-man’s role in 1998 while Travelers sought approvals to acquire Citicorp, but his resume of public appointments is said to be viewed as a feather in Citigroup’s otherwise fairly empty cap.

    On the theme of Citigroup’s “global compliance,” the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 7 agreed to hear the appeal of 118,000 employees of Ameritech that Citigroup’s Solomon Brothers made $21 million selling them securities that turned out to be almost worthless.

     Closer to home, in terms of Citigroup’s “compliance,” consider Citibank’s record of mortgage lending, in the New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area: in 1998 for conventional home purchase Citigroup (combining Citibank, N.A. and Citicorp Mortgage) denied the applications of African Americans 2.97 times more frequently than the applications of whites. This compares unfavorably to the industry aggregate in the NYC MSA: a 2.15 denial rate disparity in 1998. Citigroup’s defense cannot be that it does more outreach to communities of color than other lenders. While for the industry as a whole in this MSA in 1998, 12.2 percent of conventional home purchase loans went to African Americans, for Citigroup, the figure was only 6.6 percent. Citigroup’s disparities for Latinos are also glaring: a denial rate disparity of 2.3 (compared to the industry’s figure of 1.75); 5.9 percent of conventional home purchase loans to Latinos, versus the industry’s 9.0 percent. We’d suggest that the official in charge of this questionable compliance get his shop in order, before seeking to run NYC’s schools, even on an interim basis...

    Final note: even following Citigroup’s Mr. Levy’s nomination, on a 4-3 vote, because he has no credentials as a school administrator, he will have to seek a waiver from State Education Commissioner Richard Mills. Mills, meanwhile, is said to be preparing to announce plans to close down P.S. 104 in the Bronx... Developing...

* * *

January 3, 2000

     Entering the New Year, political and police news:

     The continued absence of Bronx representation on the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) is attributable not only to the Giuliani administration, but also to the Bronx City Council delegation, which faced to nominate and advocate for a Bronx candidate as quickly and strongly as other boroughs’ delegations have.

    Meanwhile, the Bronx Borough President, positioning himself (as he did in 1997) as a candidate for the Mayoralty, has received a higher percentage of his campaign contributions in increments over $1,000 than any other candidate, including Council Speaker Vallone, Public Advocate Green and Comptroller Hevesi. This, in a bitter sweet way, shows how much money is at stake in the “redevelopment” of the Bronx. (Credit for statistics: City Limits Weekly’s Jarrett Murphy).

    On the police beat: on New Years Eve, police fired at least ten shots on Loring Place South and 179th Street, at alleged 17-year old car jacker Keith Lucas. Only two of the bullets hit Mr. Lucas, in the torso and back. Mr. Lucas was taken to Lincoln Hospital under police guard. Question: and the other eight bullets?

     Meanwhile, 33-year old William Dean, convicted in the Bronx in 1997 of bribery and assault, died while in the custody of prison guards in upstate Malone, NY on December 28. The Franklin County coroner’s office found no apparent cause of death, adding “it appears as if it was not a heart attack.” Question: then what was it? The question needs to be asked, when a 33-year old dies in government custody.

    Street observations, otherwise unreported, exclusive to Inner City Press: on December 26, an incongruously heavy police presence was noted at a church on Jerome Avenue near 198th Street, through each of that day’s three church services. Sources tell ICP that the church’s pastor himself summoned police, to protect him either from his own congregants, or from the New Jersey-based “mother church” he is breaking away from. The purported cause of trouble is the pastor’s use of rap and salty dancing on his cable TV broadcasts, but there appears to be (much) more to the story. Developing...

    On December 30 near Columbus High School on Astor Avenue, two groups of youth, one described as “of color,” the other as “Albanian,” mixed it up in full view of patrol officers, who allowed the fight to proceed until they stepped out and stopped only the students of color.

    Finally, a pitch for an under-utilized museum: the Hispanic Society of America’s museum on 155th Street and Broadway in Upper Manhattan. This museum complex, owned by the federal government, has been emptying out in recent years, as one museum moved to lower Manhattan, and the coin museum’s exhibits are only open one afternoon a week. The Hispanic Society, however, remains open, with displays of murals and armor from Spain. It’s a little Euro-top heavy (no Mayans, little from Latin America at all) -- but well worth seeing, and free. At the back of the museum complex is an marble building, from 1929, with the following inscriptions over the doors: “By the gates of Art, we enter the temple of Happiness;” and “All Passes, Art Alone Untiring Stays To Us.” ICP heartily endorses these statements -- but notes that the building is empty and abandoned...

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