Inner City Press Bronx Reporter
Archive September 2001 - 2002
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December 23, 2002
In the run-up to Christmas, here's a contrasting review of two recent celebrations in The Bronx: one in-it-but-not-of-it, and the other even Bronxier than we thought it would be. For weeks now, the Bronx Zoo has been lit-up at night, a virtual beacon to kids in the surrounding neighborhoods. The only problem is that entrance to see the lights costs ten dollars for adults, and six dollars for children. Biting the bullet, in the spirit of the season and of covering all things Bronx, Inner City Press entered last week. In the dreamy half-light, sea lions swam, small foxes ran behind glass and, in the elephant house, a Malaysia tapir paced back and forth. A sign helpfully explained that since tapirs look like pigs, they are not eaten by people in predominantly-Muslim Malaysia.
The demographics in the Zoo, at least this night, were decidedly suburban. There were few, too few, Bronxites there. The Wildlife Conservation Society needs to re-examine its admission charges, at least during the holiday season. It might also want to reconsider advertising so brightly such corporations as AT&T and Con Edison. If it's all being sponsored by corporations, why is the admission charge so high?
Three blocks west of the Zoo, on the corner of 187th Street and Beaumont (said, Bu-mont) Avenue, the Mount Carmel Pharmacy's petting zoo extravaganza came to an end on December 22. There were horse-drawn carriage rides, small ponies that children could ride, and a free -- you heard it right, free -- petting zoo in the back of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. There were chili dogs and a Santa Claus: it was amazing. On December 21, Cablevision's News 12 The Bronx covered the scene, stating that it was at 189th Street and Beaumont Avenue, pronouncing it "Bo-mont." Yep, no one covers The Bronx quite like Cablevision's News 12...
ICP is combating in forums from Tennessee to Hong Kong HSBC's applications to acquire the predatory lender Household International - click here for updates. And -- happy holidays!
December 16, 2002
At press time for this Report, despite the "tolling of the clock," it is not known whether or not the Transit Workers Union will go on strike. However, in the run-up to the strike deadline, various plans were announced that troubled many Bronxites. In order to get suburbanites more quickly into Manhattan, Metro North announced that Bronx station stops would be skipped. Already far too few of these Metro North trains stop in The Bronx, and Metro North has closed many stations, for example Claremont Parkway. Now even the remaining stops would get skipped. Here are the squibs: " On the Harlem line, regular service will bypass all Bronx stations... From 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., regularly scheduled trains from the suburbs on the Harlem and Hudson lines will bypass most Bronx stations."
In fact, Metro North admits that Bronxites would be the most inconvenienced. "If there is a strike, everyone who uses Metro-North will be affected,'' said railroad spokesman Dan Brucker. "They'll be affected by crowded trains, fewer trains, and a Bronx shuttle service where customers may have to double back to get to their ultimate destination. Reverse commuters who travel from the Bronx to Westchester will now have to first travel south to Grand Central Terminal and then take a Westchester-bound train unless they can be picked up at Riverdale or Mount Vernon West. Their trip is going to take longer, cost more and be more crowded." It was a not-dishonest appraisal of the impact. But what hasn't been given is the rationale for the choices to disproportionately impact the Bronx, particularly the South Bronx, where 450,000 people live. Additionally, ferry service was scheduled for every borough except... The Bronx.
Inner City Press has heard some more hi-falutin media dismiss the TWU's complaints about lack of respect. But we've also heard, in an early morning broadcast on WOR-Radio, the TWU negotiating team compared to "a bunch of rappers," and some other, even less-coded catchphrases. Most Bronxites interviewed by ICP this week do not agree with the Taylor Law, which purports to take away the transit workers' right to strike. If the strike in fact takes place, it will be interesting to see polling data, broken down by borough and in other ways.
For those interested, the pharmacy on 187th Street and Beaumont Avenue has begun its annual petting zoo: there are goats, sheep, rams, a llama, and four miniature horses. And reggae Christmas carols.
December 9, 2002
The Bronx, with over a million residents, is larger than Washington DC. Currently there is a only one television news program directed at Bronx news: Cablevision's "New 12 The Bronx." Since Cablevision began this challenge, the non-profit Bronx Net has placed less of an emphasis on news. (Bronx Net is funded by Cablevision, but not voluntarily: that's another story). This Report reviewed Cablevision's News 12 The Bronx, and finds it wanting.
In the course of one half-hour on December 7, News 12 The Bronx displayed two blatant misspelling superimposed over its broadcast. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has opened a facility on Olmstead Avenue: superimposed on the screen, repeatedly, was the word "Morman" [sic]. The anchorman, Alex Sanz, stated that the facility was built with the "tiths" [sic] paid by church-members elsewhere. In the same half-hour, in a segment about the Latin American [Motorcycle] Riders Association's gift-giving to children, superimposed on the screen was the phrase "Crusin' [sic] in The Bronx." We'd say that the misspellings in News 12 The Bronx' broadcast are insulting, if more serious mis-education didn't occur in the same half-hour.
In a too-early segment advising Bronxite to file for tax refunds, reporter Marlie Hall stated that Bronxite should apply as quickly as possible, since then they'll get the money faster and can spend it. The reality is that tax preparer H&R Block aggressively promotes its so-called Rapid Refunds, which are in fact LOANS, at extremely high interest rates. As reported in detail in Inner City Press' HSBC - Household Watch, H&R Block and Household are being sued all over the country for this predatory lending tactic. So the blithe advice to "get your refund as fast as possible" [and spend it] is bad advice, more pernicious than the systemic misspellings. We question whether Cablevision should be allowed to continue with the monopoly it has in The Bronx...
December 2, 2002
This, we can't resist: on November 25, Sterling Bancorp put out of a press release announcing the ex-Bronx borough president Ferrer has joined the bank's board of directors. The press release for some reason has the "forward-looking statement" disclaimer at the end, acknowledging that the action is "subject to numerous assumptions, risks and uncertainties." We'll say: we've reviewed Sterling National Mortgage Company's lending record for the most recent year that data is available (2001).
In the NYC Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), Sterling denied the conventional home purchase loan applications of African Americans 4.17 times more frequently than those of whites, compared to an industry-wide disparity of 2-to-1. Since Sterling speaks of its operations in "other mid-Atlantic states," we also reviewed Philadelphia, where Sterling denied the conventional home purchase loan applications of African Americans 6.94 times more frequently than those of whites. In terms of conventional home purchase lending to Latinos, Sterling made no such loans in Philadelphia or Newark or... New York City, in 2001.
So what's Freddy doing there? This is quite different than, for example, David Jones serving on the board of Carver. Why Sterling, Freddy? And what will be done about Sterling's record?
November 25, 2002
We're back, after last week's HSBC-themed edition -- that fight is heating up, including overseas. Click here for word of ICP in London, and of the HSBC - Household challenge. Click here for ICP's own ongoing HSBC Watch updates.
Back on the Bronx (and Beltway) Watch: here's an interesting proposed use of the vaunted "New Markets Tax Credits" -- LISC's "Retail Initiative" has asked for credits to help finance a 134,000-square-foot, $32 million mall in The Bronx anchored by a Pathmark supermarket. Can you say, MBD? According to Crain's, "[t]he project is more than half-built, but its developers want credits to offset cost overruns that have eaten into the profits expected by its large institutional investors."
Media watch: Dennis Dugan's interview with Ferrer in Newsday's Nov. 20 edition doesn't mention the ex-borough president's new gig at Banana Kelly; instead it describes Ferrer "[h]igh above the sounds of the street, he is as far from the rough-and-tumble of the Bronx, a place where he reigned for 14 years as borough president." Hmm... It does note that " his political climb was due to a series of unintended accidents, being in the right place at the right time." Yep -- thank God for Stanley Simon and his and Stanley Friedman's indictments...In the Columbia Journalism Review of Nov.-Dec. 2002, editor Brent Cunningham writes that "when Bollinger said teaching 'craft' was worthy but insufficient, my initial reaction was to retreat, club in hand, to the safety of that cave of predispositions. I worried that he would turn Columbia into a place where students no longer cover the lives of poor people in the South Bronx, but rather sit around discussing things like 'The Effects of Links, Story Type and Personality Variables on Readers' Perceptions and Use of Crime Stories in Online Newspapers.'" Emphasis added. Perhaps Mr. Cunningham hadn't been paying attention: Columbia "J" School already suspended its Bronx Beat last year (as we reported), with nary a notice or explanation to Bronxites or anyone else... Click here for ICP's ongoing HSBC Watch.
November 18, 2002
This is an experiment in a "themed" issue: we will return to broader coverage in the coming weeks. But on November 14, the London-based banking giant HSBC, chaired by "Sir" John Bond, announced it wants to buy the scandal-plagued predatory lender Household International, for $14.2 billion. Household charges interest rates over 20% on home equity loans, and nearly as high on first mortgage loans. Household mails out misleading "live checks" offering high-rate consumer loans, which it then seeks to convert into liens against the unsuspecting borrowers' homes. For these reasons, ICP is opposing, here, there and everywhere, HSBC's proposal. See, e.g., the Wall Street Journal of Nov. 15, 2002: this "consumer advocate already has issued a warning to Sir John... Inner City Press/Community on the Move and the Fair Finance Watch, a consumer organization based in the Bronx, N.Y., said the group intends to protest the deal." They got that right...
ICP has begun analyzing HSBC's and Household's NYC and Bronx mortgage lending in the most recent year for which Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data is available: 2001. Since Household hardly reports home purchase loans, ICP has focused on Household's mortgage refinance loans. In the NYC Metropolitan Statistical Area, HSBC (cumulating HSBC Bank and HSBC Mortgage Corporation) denied African Americans' applications for mortgage refinance loans 2.7 times more frequently than whites', and denied Latinos' applications 2.3 times more frequently than whites'. In both cases, this is worse than the industry aggregate's 1.66 denial rate disparity between African Americans and whites, and a 1.57 disparity between Latinos and whites.
HSBC's U.S. spokeswoman Kathleen Rizzo Young told Bloomberg News (Nov. 14, 2002) that HSBC "will work to bring Household to 'the same level of commitment to the community that we have been known for.'" HSBC states that "it will work to bring Household to 'the same level of commitment to the community that we have been known for.'" But since in NYC (and elsewhere), HSBC with its normal interest rate loans underserves people of color, while its proposed merger partner Household targets these same grounds with high-cost loans, HSBC's spokeswoman's statement militates for denial, not approval, of HSBC's proposal.
This proposed combination, with HSBC making referrals down to the higher-rate household, would violate the fair lending laws. In the NYC MSA in 2001, among African Americans, Latinos and whites, HSBC made 9.6% of its refinance loans to African Americans, and 7.8% to Latinos. In both categories, HSBC was below the industry average: 18.9% to African Americans and 10.3% to Latinos. Meanwhile Household targets these same groups with its high-cost products: in the NYC MSA in 2001, Household Finance Corporation made 48.4% of its refinance loans to African Americans, and 35.5% to Latinos. This targeting is more pronounced than for other "subprime" lenders -- it indicates that Household, through mortgage brokers and otherwise, targets people of color with its problematic loans. To combine these two companies, as proposed, would create a conglomerate blatantly violating the U.S. fair lending laws.
Even prior to this proposal, HSBC has been involved in questionable subprime lending. ICP previously documented to the Federal Reserve Board, in 1999, the purchase of Delta Funding's mortgage-backed securities, while Delta was the subject of a governmental predatory lending investigation, by Republic, which HSBC acquired. See 86 Fed. Res. Bull. 140, at n.19, n.44. The Fed should ascertain, in this proceeding we've said, HSBC's continued role with such subprime lenders. Following HSBC's acquisition of Republic, HSBC has closed numerous branches, including in low- and moderate-income communities. According to notices filed with the New York Banking Department, HSBC's branch closures affect Broome County (Oct. 2002); Kings Highway, Brooklyn (June 2002), Jamestown (May 2002), etc.. Earlier closures of office in New Rochelle (Feb. 2001) and in the South Bronx (1999 -- some may remember the office they opened on 148th Street and Willis Avenue in 1995, as a settlement of ICP's 1994 CRA protest) have resulted in negative impacts.
ICP has today filed comments all over -- New York Banking Department, other states, federal regulators and even overseas. Click here for more information and updates.
November 11, 2002
The New York Public Library's Woodstock branch on East 160th Street is slated for a $5 million rehabilitation, to begin in early 2004, it was announced last week. Inner City Press checked in on another Bronx library branch, on 176th and Washington, that's currently mid-rehab. The second floor has been repaired and now most things on the first floor will be moved upstairs; it's estimated the branch will be entirely closed down for a week or more. We need more libraries in The Bronx, more computer terminals, more opportunity.
With ex-borough president Ferrer now "assuming control" over scandal-plagued Banana Kelly, it's time for a retrospective. First, a snapshot of the (for now) departing Yolanda Rivera, who seems to have had it her way at BK. A public hearing at Lincoln Hospital about the lease of the Harlem River Yards to the Galesi Group -- Banana Kelly got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to support that -- Yolanda Rivera played the race card on anyone who opposed the lease to Galesi. "Economic development in the South Bronx from now on will be controlled by us," she said. Apparently her first person plural referred to Latinas who live in Old Saybrook, Connecticut and refuse to return reporters' phone calls about slumlording and corruption.
Some experiences of Inner City Press with Banana Kelly: when the New York City Partnership wanted to evict homesteaders from 975-981 Home Street last decade, they used Banana Kelly to come to the buildings and try to talk people into leaving. Later, Banana Kelly was awarded, as vacant, another homesteading building at 331 East 146th Street. Whether this is one of the properties that Mr. Ferrer will now try to save remains to be seen. Ferrer was quoted in the Daily News that "there was a time not too long ago when Banana Kelly was an engine of the Bronx revival." There was much a time: but by the 1990s it was already over, except for the investigations. There was a time that Banana Kelly, with its multi-million dollar budget, claimed to be beseeching its bank contacts to place an automatic teller machine on Longwood Avenue (in part, so that Yolanda Rivera could use it). But no ATM was ever established. Engine of revival, indeed. But now $8 million will reportedly be released to the "new" Banana Kelly, for repairs to the buildings. Who'll get the contacts? Well, returning to the time of the two above-referenced evictions, we find among the then-borough president's contributors a variety of construction firms:
Sparrow (covered last week), United General Construction Co., S & Z Construction Corp.,AJ Contracting, Arbol Development Corp., Condado Construction Corp., Copat Construction Corp., Elzee Construction, Inc., Flintlock Construction, Inc., Andrew Velez Construction, Inc., Rosenberg-Diamond, Galaxy General Contracting Corp., the Baranello Organization, and even MBD Management Corporation.
City Limits Weekly reports that the new Banana Kelly board (presumably including its chairman, Ferrer) will be meeting with the tenants of Banana Kelly's mis-run buildings this week. We'll see.
November 4, 2002
Blight-watch: while the much-hyped Melrose Commons plan moves forward by inches, there's now a slew of vacated storefront and buildings on the corner of 163rd Street and Third Avenue. Previously occupied auto parts stores and even a church have been moved out. One of the auto parts stores, Taino, has moved across Third Avenue to North Side / North Fork's abandoned bank branch there. It's a miniature Cross Bronx Expressway -- except that at least that road was built, after the condemnation and blighting proceedings. We'll see.
More positively: on Westchester Avenue between Third and Bergen, cheap and sabroso tacos are now for sale. A sidewalk stand in front of the vegetable market there offers tacos and unlimited guacamole for a mere two dollars. Check them out...
Well, the Sunday N.Y. Times of November 3 contains 16 mentions of The Bronx, and not a single substantive article (other than a crime-news report of the murder of a rap promoter from Yonkers, Kenneth Walker, on 140th Street at 3 a.m. on November 2. There's "news" of a home-sale in Riverdale (Sec. 11, Pg. 2); two references to suburbs "just north of the Bronx;" a wedding announcement in which one of the celebrants works at a school in The Bronx; and, in an article mentioning the NYC Marathon's route, which includes "a brief entry into the Bronx on the Willis Avenue Bridge, with a U-turn around a telephone pole." Sort of like the Times' coverage of The Bronx...
A well-meaning Times reporter e-mailed us last week asking for story ideas. We proffered a Harlem River Yards press conference the following day, which demanded that the Yards be taken back from Francesco Galesi and developed for its original purpose as a 99-acre intermodal freight yard. But we've yet to see this covered in the Times. But we like well-intentioned outreach, and trust it will bear fruit, on this or something else. For example, on the continuing Promesa beat: the Orlando Sentinel of Nov. 3 reports that "[a]s part of his campaign, Suarez announced that he has persuaded a New York City nonprofit group to build a $15 million office and restaurant complex at Colonial Drive and Semoran Boulevard. Profits from the project to be called Plaza Santa Rosa will fund programs serving the Hispanic community, he said. " In this iteration, Bronx-based Promesa would build a mall in Florida...
Crain's New York Business reports that this coming June, Sparrow Construction will begin a 51-unit housing development by Bronx Lebanon Hospital. Our experience with Sparrow? They were the general contractor on a project in Mott Haven in the 1990s. Finding the building occupied and not vacant, they sent goons with baseball bats and buy-out offers. Sparrow's owner Randy Silverstein Sparrow owner Randy Silverstein has "acknowledged that a reputed Mafia kingpin, Steve Crea, once worked for his company and that questions about Crea's role with the firm derailed his efforts to win contracts from the School Construction Authority." N.Y. Daily News, April 6, 1997. But Crain's calls this new Sparrow project an economic anchor or even engine...
October 28, 2002
The Promesa ironies don't stop: Tony Suarez, the ex-Promesa board member whose application for HUD mall-funding in Florida Bronx-based Promesa is supporting is embroiled in a scandal of having assisted a known drug-dealer who was in Orlando in a witness protection program. In 1998 Tony Suarez was sued for divorce, the asserted grounds being his extramarital relationship with Nilda Diaz. Ms. Diaz had confessed to running a drug ring that earned $30,000 to $50,000 a week selling heroin, cocaine and marijuana in Caguas. Some of her colleagues committed a mass murder on March 13, 1994, that became known as the Cayey Massacre. Diaz agreed to trade her eyewitness account for relocation to Orlando and immunity from prosecution. The killers all worked for Exel "Negri" Torres, the same drug kingpin Diaz told prosecutors she paid $6,000 to $10,000 a week as his 20 percent cut of her sales. Diaz testified how she had watched as the four victims were beaten, forced to drink gasoline and set afire, according to news accounts of the trial. Asked why he did not check Diaz's past more thoroughly, Suarez said he could not find anyone in Puerto Rico to discuss specifics of her past. Suarez acknowledges that he hired Diaz as an investigator for his law firm and gave her business cards that identified her as "Karen Rodriguez." She no longer works for him, and they no longer date. The only tie they have is a car loan he co-signed for her in April 2000, he says.
So: Promesa, a "drug-free" organization in the Bronx, is co-signing for a loan Suarez is seeking to build a for-profit mall in Florida. For the rest of the irony, read our Reports of October 7 and 14, 2002, below.
Bronx on the road: Louis Vega, previously accused of doctoring arrest statistics as an NYPD captain in the Bronx, is now assistant police chief in Hartford, Connecticut. Last week an investigation began there into Vega's use of "a derogatory term for homosexuals" in front of several officers. On October 22, three Hartford beat cops gave sworn statements that Vega lashed out at those who anonymously posted fliers about him and said, "if these fags want to hide behind their memos, so be it." Also on the road: the Melbourne (Australia) Age of October 28 quotes Victoria's Police Minister Andre Haermeyer that "I don't want to see Australian cities turning into the Bronx." Well, Andre, we here don't necessarily aspire to your status either, whatever it is.
As further media analysis, we'd like to deconstruct the Sunday N.Y. Times' coverage of The Bronx -- but the coverage is so thin, it's not easy. A total of 15 articles in the fat Oct. 27 Times mention The Bronx. The sale of a house in Riverdale; a Bill Safire reference (generically) to the "Bronx cheer;" references to trucks in Hunts Point, and the firing range at Rodman's Neck; a wedding announcement and two paid death announcements; squibs for two fundraisers (both in Manhattan); a biographical squib with parenthetical ("she was from New York (the Bronx), had moved to Vermont" etc.); and a report on the Fordham Rams' Saturday football victory over Lehigh. And that's it -- not one substantive Bronx news article. As to the Fordham-Lehigh game, we'll note that the school's usual policy of letting people in for free in the second half was dispensed with, even though the stands weren't full. It was homecoming weekend and the smell of beer was strong -- perhaps that explains it.
Click here for updates on ICP's challenge to Citigroup's applications to acquire Cal Fed Bank.
October 21, 2002
We generally try to go beyond crime news. This, however, must be said: on October 12 in a liquor store at 312 Cypress Avenue, store employee Li Qiang Shu came out from behind the counter to try to break up a fight between a male and a female. A second man, Hasani Best, hit Mr. Shu in the head. While Shu lay on the floor, the previously-fighting couple went through his pockets, got the cash register key and left with the cash. Shu was taken to Lincoln Hospital where he died on October 16. The medical examiner's office deemed it a homicide: blunt impact trauma to the head.
Normally -- and sadly -- this would be just another police blotter item. But following Mr. Shu's death, all that the Bronx district attorney charged Hasani Best with was assault. The maximum penalty is one year. Generally, Inner City Press does not join the fray calling for tougher penalties. But we have noted that the Bronx district attorney often charges, for example, mother's who unintentionally injure their children (for example, leaving a bathtub running) with manslaughter or negligent homicide. Question: who's more dangerous to society, a mother with bad luck or someone who smashes a man in the head, then participating in the looting of a store?
Asked about this, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney said, "You have an absence of any intent to cause death, and under those circumstances you can't legally charge homicide."
We have two questions. First, why hasn't this (dubious) legal position been applied to the allegedly-negligent mothers whom the Bronx D.A. has indicted? Second, what ever happened to the felony murder rule? A death causes during the commission of a felony is deemed intention, as a matter of law. The seeming lack of consistency by the Bronx district attorney's office has yet to be sufficiently explained.
Media-watch: the Daily News of Oct. 18 quoted without commentary a Queens Village homeowner, regarding a robbery there, "This sounds like something that would happen in the South Bronx." The Daily News' Pete Hamill was a bit more (politically) correct in his Oct. 17 report about Mexico City, stating that "[i]t makes the South Bronx of the late 1980s look like Versailles."
Newsday of Oct. 17 reports that " McCall has also hired, to the tune of $166,000, two deal makers, former Bronx County Chairman Roberto Ramirez and Ferrer operative Luis Miranda, as consultants." The Post's Page Six of Oct. 16 reported breathlessly from the "office-warming for Miram Global Strategy, the new political consulting firm opened by Roberto Ramirez and three partners in an opulent Flatiron District penthouse," and noted that Ramirez' Miram group represents political candidates, as well as private-sector clients like the Yankees and Cablevision." Those last two seem like a conflict, no?
October 14, 2002
From Clay Avenue to the land of the hanging chad: last week we uncovered and reported a stray item from the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel of October 2, 2002, quoting a "spokesperson for Promesa, the Bronx-based housing group," Lavern Kelly, that Promesa and Central Florida Republican Tony Suarez are together proposing a $15 million commercial complex in east Orlando, for which they have applied for funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We closed with a question, which this week's we'll try to answer. Why is Bronx-based Promesa proposing to lend its non-profit status to gain subsidy for a mall in Florida?
We turn first to Promesa's mission statement: "The mission of Promesa, a Bronx-based Health, Human Services and Community Development organization, is to enable residents of New York City utilizing our services, to become self-sufficient citizens who contribute to the quality of life in their communities."
This does not answer the question; rather, it raises more questions. If Promesa's explicit mission to help "residents of New York City," how does a mall in Orlando further that mission? Promesa's statement of values does not help either: its "three core values" each relate to its "clients." The phrasing appears to focus on substance abusers; presumably it also includes the tenants of the more than 100 apartments that Promesa manages in The Bronx. But even in this era of Pathmarks, Orlando is a long way go to for shopping.
The wildcard in Promesa's operation is a subsidiary called "Promesa Enterprises." It was incorporated in March 1995; it states that it "develops, funds, and assists start-up and on-going enterprises by investing its expertise, equity and debt capital based on viable business plans." In fact, in a legislative amendment that Sen. John McCain characterized as pork barrel, Promesa Enterprises was granted $2 million from the Small Business Administration's salary and expense budget. Its telephone number is 718-299-1100, ext. 3037 -- which, when called, states only that "you have reached the executive offices." Again, rather than answering the question, this only raises more.
Perhaps politics sheds some light. Consider an August 1, 2002, $2,500-per-person fundraiser for Gov. Pataki, held at Mama Mexico restaurant in Manhattan. " The hosts include Carlos Nazario Jr., Promesa chairman; Ruben Medina, Promesa chief executive; Alfred Assad, president of Promesa Enterprises, a subsidiary; Tony Rodriguez, who owns 12 McDonald's franchises in the Bronx; Mauricio Fernandez, a Harlem-based supermarket owner; and Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist for the supermarket industry." Crain's, July 29, 2002. A review of "Promesa's Leadership" reveals both Mauricio Fernandez and Tony Rodriguez serve on Promesa's board of directors -- as did Tony Suarez, the Orlando Republican / lawyer / radio personality. Of Mr. Suarez, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times of March 30, 2002 reported:
Suarez, an attorney, served two sessions in the Legislature after winning a 1999 special election. He said Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas persuaded him to switch parties. Both have promised him "all the resources I'd need," he said. Bush's office referred questions to Republican headquarters, where Cardenas said, "I know the Republican Party would be willing to put resources behind him, whatever it takes to win the seat." Suarez was one of the few Democratic supporters of Bush's move to end affirmative action in state hiring and university admissions.
As a stray irony, in light of Promesa's client-centered mission (and full name, the Puerto Rican Organization to Motivate, Enlighten and Serve Addicts), it might be noted that the Florida Time-Union of August 24, 2001, reported: "A proposed ballot initiative that would require courts to offer treatment to certain drug offenders came under attack by Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday. The initiative, called 'Right to Treatment and Rehabilitation for Nonviolent Drug Offenders,' would force judges to grant treatment or rehabilitation to anyone charged with simple possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. 'To suggest there should be no penalties for continued drug use is to stick our heads in the sand,' Bush said."
But let us further deconstruct the Oct. 2, 2002, Orlando Sentinel squib, which identified "Lavern Kelly [as] a spokesperson for Promesa, the Bronx-based housing group." It turns out that Lavern Kelly's main job has been as president of Orlando-based KNA Services, a consulting firm "promoting women and minorities in construction." Ms. Kelly and KNA Services were fired by Hunt/Clark/Construct II, the construction manager of the Orange County (Fla.) Convention Center in 2001; the stated basis, described in documents in the subsequent litigation, was the Ms. Kelly solicited public relations work from companies she was recommending for the expansion project. Ms. Kelly's appearance this month for Promesa was on a rent-a-spokesperson basis. So who is behind this Promesa-sponsored Florida mall proposal?
For now, we are left puzzled by Promesa's jargon-filled "Message from the CEO"--
Promesa has explored a range of targeted acquisition and investment opportunities with which to grow its core services. The agencys revenues have grown approximately 5% over the last three years due to an increasing demand of existing services. Through these acquisitions and investments, Promesa hopes to generate future company growth of more than 20% over the next three to five years... Internally, the installation of continuous quality improvement ("CQI") concepts as a basic tool for identification of process, outcomes, benchmarks and evaluation in a spiraling fashion has enabled Promesa to remove obstacles to its organizational progress toward optimal performance... Whether its computer chips or affordable housing, nothing is truer today than the old adage: "who dares, wins." Promesa has reached many significant milestones. The development and success of Promesas primary care programming is a fine example of what can happen with hard work and foresight. The successful launch of Promesas outreach services has generated increased community awareness of Promesas services and access points. Implementation of initiatives such as day treatment programming or the supportive and affordable housing development that Promesa is scheduled to open in fiscal year 2002 will expand the agencys depth in programming and broaden its geographical range in the Bronx and beyond.
"Beyond" -- meaning, a mall in Orlando? Promesa's Board of Directors, which includes among others a Philadelphia lawyer, the president of WABC-TV in New York, and Dennis deLeon, formerly chair of the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Our question is now more pointed: what's going on here?
October 7, 2002
This week: Promesa in Florida; locked doors at Love Gospel (we'll explain).
Who can forget the execution-style slaying of Promesa's bookkeeper Lillian DeJesus on December 14, 1993? We can't. Ms. DeJesus had left a more lucrative accounting job to return to "give back" to the South Bronx, by helping get to the bottom of fiscal irregularities at Promesa, described as a drug-treatment program (the acronym stands for the Puerto Rican Organization to Motivate, Enlighten and Serve Addicts). Three weeks later, police announced that Jeffrey Rivera, 16, and Wayne Haywood, 18, had been paid $150 to kill Ms. DeJesus. " Felix Velazquez, the executive director of Promesa, which provides drug rehabilitation for about 460 men and women, refused to talk with a reporter but referred questions, through a secretary, to George C. Shea, a partner in a Manhattan public relations firm." Shortly thereafter. Borys Diaz, a fiscal case at Promesa, was arrested for having arranged for the hit. In court on October 23, 1995, a videotape of Jeffrey Rivera's confession was played, stating the Borys Diaz paid him $ 200, gave him the gun and drove him to Promesa's Boston Road offices and fingered Ms. DeJesus on December 14, 1993. A month later, a jury found Borys Diaz guilty.
To most observers, it was clear that Borys Diaz was not high enough up in the agency to have a personal motive to kill the accountant. "Allegations by Diaz' wife, Janitza, that William Cordova Borys Diaz' former boss at PROMESA and clinic worker Raul Mattei were involved haven't translated into a criminal case despite continuing probes at PROMESA. Both men left the clinic and have packed up and left town, with Mattei reportedly moving to Puerto Rico. Felix Velazquez, PROMESA's executive director, refused to return repeated phone calls to discuss the allegations. "But no one else was ever arrested...
Flash-forward to October 2002: the Orlando Sentinel of October 2 reports that "a New York-based nonprofit housing group and a local businessman were to unveil plans today for a $15 million commercial complex in east Orlando Lavern Kelly, a spokesperson for Promesa, the Bronx-based housing group, said organizers hope to open the plaza within the next year but don't expect to begin construction for at least six months. Promesa is working with Tony Suarez, a state Senate candidate in District 19 and local small-business owner, to guarantee federal money for the complex, characterized as an economic-development project. Suarez lived in New York and served on Promesa's board of directors there. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is reviewing development plans but has not agreed to financing, Kelly said."
So let's review: Promesa, "rebounding from the scandal of its bookkeeper's execution-style slaying," is now lending its non-profit status to gain subsidy for a mall in Florida?
Bronx experiential: on the evening of October 4, a Bronxite visited Love Gospel Assembly at 2315 Grand Concourse. Love Gospel is celebrating its 32nd anniversary. The Friday night service was keynoted by Ken McNatt, a pastor visiting from Stone Mountain, Georgia. Mr. McNatt solicited donations, stating that he was sure that some in the audience could contribute (or "tithe") $1,000, and that he accepted credit cards. When the Bronxite sought to leave the church, she was told that this was not possible, while the collection was being taken. That is to say, several hundred people were locked-in the church for 40 minutes while this took place. The usher guarding the door said that this new policy was to avoid robberies. The Bronxite wondered whether it might not be to ensure robberies, and whether the $1,000 donations so loudly given might not, in fact, be refundable set-ups, to encourage others to give. Thus imprisoned for 40 minutes, the Bronxite read the anniversary brochure, which described a banquet to be held the following night at Villa Barone: entrance fee, $75.00. The front page of the brochure pictures Love Gospel's founder, Gerald Kaufman. The Bronxite thought: Bishop Kaufman may be turning in his grave about this one... For public safety among other reasons, it is hoped that this new "policy" does not continue at Love Gospel, which is said to play an important role in the politics of The Bronx...
On a lighter (or more arcane) note, click here to view ICP's editor's Oct. 3 poem (doggerel) on Citigroup, "Song of Solomon [Brothers]," on the WallStreetPoet.com site...
September 23, 2002
From salsa to slumlords: on Saturday, September 21, a street festival was held in Belmont, on 187th Street between Beaumont and Cambrelleng Avenues. There was salsa music, stalls selling Latin food, high school dance groups and a troupe of mariachis. It was sponsored by JCB Sound and Games at 685 E. 187th Street. The monsignor from Mount Carmel Catholic Church, which sponsors most other street fairs on 187th Street, spoke from the podium. Meanwhile, suburbanites who'd driven to Belmont to buy mozzarella and ravioli looked on in wonder. It's a neighborhood in transition, an interesting and vibrant place, a laboratory of social relations...
On September 16, Deutsche Bank announced the sale its U.S. leasing business, Deutsche Financial Services, to GE Commercial Finance for $2.9 billion. ICP has for some time been concerned with Deutsche Bank's stealth involvement in questionable subprime (and apartment building) lending in the U.S., particularly but not only in The Bronx. Most recently, ICP's been asked to look into DB's affiliate "TransAtlantic Capital Co., an affiliate of Deutsche Bank Securities" (that's from a 1998 SEC filing, listing the company's address as 31 W. 52nd St, 10th Floor, NYC). We've found that DB's Transatlantic Capital is the mortgage holder on, for example, 3018 Heath Avenue, Bronx, New York. This five story building, according to the NYC housing agency's data base, in the past twelve month has a whopping 60 housing code violations, including lead paint, mold, problems with access to the building's roof and heating system, mice, roaches, roof leaks, defective flooring, etc.. Transatlantic Capital, and therefore Deutsche Bank, bear some responsibility for this. But they appear to have no standards or safeguards in place for this business.
September 16, 2002
Sadly we must update last week's story about the shooting death of Rev. Angel Colon, the long-time pastor of Iglesia El Tabernaculo Pentecostal on 180th Street. Rev. Colon was found murdered in his Yonkers condominium on September 4. In Bronx church circles, talk of sexual improprieties circulated and was varyingly denounced or accelerated from pulpits boroughwide. Then on September 10, Yonkers police commissioner Charles Cola announced that a suspect had been arrested, and more. Lee Hernandez, a former maintenance worker at the Tabernaculo, has been charged with second-degree murder and third-degree grand larceny. and is being held without bail at the Westchester County jail in Valhalla. Cola intoned that Hernandez has a history of burglary and domestic violence, that he met Rev. Colon three years ago after going to Lincoln Hospital with a gunshot wound. Rev. Colon had been on the hospital's pastoral care team. Cola said that, after meeting, the two began a sexual relationship. Cola described the investigation: Rev. Colon's 2001 Infiniti was spotted on Monroe Avenue near 174th Street in the Bronx on September 6. After a "stake-out," police captured Hernandez as he came out to the car and tried to remove the license plates. Detectives used a warrant to search 2327 Crotona Ave. in the Bronx on September 7 and found a Lorcin .25-caliber handgun that police believe was the weapon used to shoot Colon. Police also recovered the victim's jewelry during the search. "Hernandez, whose address is unknown, does not live on Crotona Avenue, but the investigation led police to believe they could find the weapon and other items at the address." Ouch... The Post, the only NYC daily covering the story, wrote that Rev. "Colon - whose last sermon Sept. 1, the last day he was seen alive, was about calling on God's help to deal with the effects of crime - was beloved by congregants and respected for his efforts to build churches in Central America." Bronx church circles are digesting the news; some are reconsidering their hands-off approach to rumored improprieties by their pastors...
A word on the Garifunas, mentioned in last week's Report: there are over 50,000 Garifunas in NYC, mostly in The Bronx. Their history bears recounting, if only in summary: while most Garifunas in New York have immigrated from Honduras, to which they were deported by British slavers in 1787. Garifunas trace their ancestry back to Mali. Their language, also called Garifuna, is an African dialect mixed with Arawak, the language of a people indigenous to the Caribbean. Their cuisine includes yams and other tubers. They are booming in The Bronx, while sadness is still often expressed for the deaths in the Happy Land Social Club in East Tremont in 1991. The rest of our critique last week of a memoir piece we now, after e-conversing with the author, feel was misplaced. We'll try for a more extensive mea culpa next week -- it has not been possible at deadline, giving the anti-redlining challenge Inner City Press has just filed against U.S. Bancorp (click here to view), and certain homesteading-related developments.
September 9, 2002
The long-time pastor of Iglesia El Tabernaculo Pentecostal on 180th Street, Angel Colon, was found murdered in his Yonkers condominium on September 4. His car, a 2001 Infiniti, was missing; Mr. Colon was face down on his bed with a bullet wound in the back of his head. Neither Yonkers nor Bronx police have yet arrested any suspects.
9/11 remembrances around The Bronx: cable television's BronxNet will be featuring Bronx artists' responses to the plane bombings and the past year, Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m.... Third Avenue between Fordham Road and the Cross-Bronx will be renamed "Firefighters Boulevard;" the ceremony will be held on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in front of St. Barnabas Hospital on 183rd Street... Wednesday night, a mass will be held at St. Joseph's on Bathgate and 178th; the Bronx Museum of the Arts will present "Hip-Hop Hope" at 7 p.m....
Times-watch: in a nostalgic "My Bronx" piece by Judith Dunford in the Times of September 6, it is said that "the Garifunas, I learned, are Spanish-speaking, mixed African and West Indians from Venezuela, the minor Antilles and St. Vincent, who number about 300,000, mostly in New York." Ms. Dunford (or the Times' fact-checker) should have searched a little deeper: many Garifunas come from Honduras, including the majority of those killed in the Happy Land Social fire (the trigger for the Garifuna community center alluded to in the article). It wouldn't have taken much work to find this out... The author visits the Tremont public library, finding it "smaller than I remembered. Technology had invaded the main floor. Two public-access computers glowed in the middle of the room, two glassy-eyed teenagers staring at the screens...In the quieter grown-up section there seemed to be an underwhelming number of books. Perhaps too much interest had shifted to the Internet, or perhaps the selection had always been meager." More frequent visitors to this library can attest the users wish for more "invasion" by technology: many local students don't have access to the Internet at home, but are assigned homework that requires Internet research. As to the scanty number of books, we agree... The author concludes that the neighborhood "never collapsed like ones to the south, never burned down, never had to fill blank windows with cozy decals of tabby cats and house plants, like so many false teeth. The buildings had stayed occupied and intact...". The reality: many, even most, of the buildings in that neighborhood have been gut-rehabilitated in the last decade. In fact, the very same Times has written of the area around 181st Street and Southern Boulevard as "blown-out," in connection with articles about the baseball field built on an entirely vacant block at 181st Street and Mapes Avenue. Like the Times' memory (at least as regards The Bronx), everything is churned over; nothing remains the same.
Restaurant review: the tacqueria on Kingsbridge Road just above Fordham is cheap, good, and has a great view of the action on Fordham Road. Why, then, is it often empty? A reporter, having ordered two tacos for $4.50, asked if they do deliveries. No. Why not put menus at businesses in Fordham, and on the university campus just down the hill. "The owner," the cook answered, "is Peruvian." That didn't seem to explain the matter. "For some reason he doesn't want to grow the business, or doesn't know how to," the cook continued. The place bears a visit: a continued questioning and expansion...
September 3, 2002
In this end-of-summer week, we'll focus on media critique. We sense some homesteading news coming on; for now we'll just link to a foreshadowing Voice.
Media critique: the New York Times (Alan Feuer) on August 29 purported to praise the South Bronx Job Corps on Andrews Avenue. We've been there; we like it. Mr. Feuer wrote: "Although the academy is part of the national Job Corps program, certain difficulties come with a South Bronx setting. Sixty percent of the students are high-school dropouts and many read no better than fifth or sixth graders do. There are students from Puerto Rico and Colombia. Often, they have problems writing Spanish and find writing English is twice as hard." So, according to the Times, the "difficulties" that "come with a South Bronx setting" include " students from Puerto Rico and Colombia." This phrasing, at a minimum, is problematic. Beyond words: on most newsstands in the South Bronx, the New York Times is not even for sale...
The New York Post -- which is widely for sale in The Bronx -- said this, of ex-elected official Israel Martinez on August 28: "What would also be a problem anywhere but The Bronx was his arrest in 1988 for drunk driving on Jerome Avenue with a woman who looked like a hooker and ran from his car." Word to the Post: Bronxites are actually more culturally conservative than Manhattan residents. That is to say, political apathy is to be distinguished from so-called "moral relativism"...
Since we're on the topic of The Times and (versus?) The Bronx, here's ICP's annotations (in italics) to their August 28 article about Arthur Avenue:
"It would be easy to write the neighborhood off as a culinary theme park, a Neapolitan Epcot Center staffed by stock characters. There's the vegetable vendor in the 'Arthur Avenue since 1936' jacket" -- ICP note: that's Joe L., he's cool -- "the cheese and salami sellers who cannot let a passer-by pass by without insisting, 'Taste this!' -- and what, pray tell, is wrong with that? -- "A few sleepy blocks around the intersection of Arthur Avenue and East 187th Street support three butchers" -- until just after 9/11, there were four: the missing one used to have Arabic script on its sign, which it quickly painted over -- "two fishmongers, two stores devoted to cheese, two dedicated sausage makers" -- again, until recently there were three -- "a fresh pasta shop" -- actually, there's two, including the Terranova Bakery annex on the south side of 187th Street -- "a coffee roaster, a well-stocked wine store, myriad delis and groceries and eight bakeries -- four for bread, four for pastries.
"Arthur Avenue does attract its share of tourists, many from the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, which were built by the immigrants who settled these streets in the Belmont section and which insulate them from rougher areas nearby." ICP note: actually the Botanical Gardens are to the north, and the Zoo to the West. The "rougher" areas are to the south and east. Assaults this summer in front of 500 E. 187th, and on Hoffman and 189th (reported below) undermine the Times' loose sense of geography. "There are far better reasons to go there than to face down huge portions of mediocre pasta in a red-checked ambience, as I did at one of the few restaurants open at peak vacation time last week." Fair enough. "Even though three new places -- Aniello's Pizzeria, the Arthur Avenue Cafe and the Omaha Steakhouse -- have opened in the last few months, the neighborhood is still more fascinating for its ingredients than for its cooking." Note: the Arthur Avenue Café has been open for more than a year. Our review of Aniello's is further below on this page.
"At Teitel Brothers, founded in 1915, patrons line up for olives, nuts and dried beans to be weighed out and Parmigiano-Reggiano cut to order." Left unreported is the controversy that surrounded Teitel quietly giving way to McDonalds: bad blood remains. "Terranova's Bakery sells huge loaves of durable bread sliced and in bags, but the clerk will go to the back to get one still warm from the oven if you ask for it whole." Note: much of the area's bakeries' business is for truck delivery to stores and restaurants in Manhattan and Westchester. "At Calandra's Cheese, two people can make up a very long line: the counterman is all attention as he consults and then all concentration as he cuts or weighs every cheese to specification." Why no mention of the mozzarella dried into the shape of elephants and donkeys?
"There was no communication barrier at Mike's Deli. The owner, David Greco, first forced a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano on me, then asked a clerk to get me a glass of homemade sweet red wine, then had another one lay out a generous taste of prosciutto, sausage, tomatoes and mozzarella and drizzle it with his own brand of balsamic vinegar." Perhaps the author self-identified as a reviewer: the prices at Mike's have gotten too high (compare them, for example, to Joe's Deli on 187 by Beaumont). "When I bought figs one afternoon after picking up prosciutto at Mike's, the vendor recognized me with my notebook" -- ah hah -- "and insisted on assembling a fresh basket of figs with 'good fruit all the way to the bottom.' Even if I had taken a regular basket, I could afford to throw away part: the fruit was about half the price of what my very cheap market in Manhattan charges... Cecilia Ferro, secretary of the Belmont-Arthur Avenue Local Development Corporation, said that the neighborhood had a business vacancy rate of close to 15 percent five years ago. 'Now we have, at most, 5 percent,' she said." ICP note: those figures aren't credible. There has not been a vacant store on Arthur between 187 and 184 in some (more than five) years. "Puerto Ricans have joined immigrants from Albania and Mexico." ICP note: the historical sequence is garbled here: there has been a substantial Puerto Rican community in Belmont for two decades; the rise of Mexican immigration has been more recent. "The closest subway stop to Arthur Avenue is Fordham Road on the B and D lines. The Bx-12 bus line has connecting service and stops three blocks from the heart of the market. Metro North's Fordham Road station is about a 10-minute walk west of the area." Note: if the boondoggle trolley service is not mentioned here, forget about it. But -- our additions to the above-quoted -- don't forget Artuso's Bakery on Crescent Avenue, and Joe's Deli across the street. Alright, then. More seriously:
There are few city services we like more than libraries. Now, libraries in The Bronx (and Manhattan and Staten Island: the "central system") face cut-backs and reductions in hours. The city's library systems had already adjusted to a five percent reduction in budget that was part of the citywide spending plans adopted last June. In late July, city agencies were instructed to withhold another 7.5 percent. The upshot, in The Bronx: the Fordham Library Center on Bainbridge Avenue will remain open seven days a week. Six branches will be open six days a week. The rest will eventually be open only five days a week. Other library-relevant news reported last week: Bronx Community College has been reducing routine maintenance. Bathrooms don't get cleaned as often, the lawn grows a little longer before it is cut. Lounges and offices are being converted to classrooms. The school now charges a technology fee, and it might have to reduce library hours....
August 26, 2002
Sad story: at week's end, detectives remained on the trail of the alleged Mexican gang member identified by police sources as Alex and Boha the Owl. He is accused of killing 10 year old Malenny Mendez and paralyzing a Brooklyn man when he fired four shots during a dispute outside St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Parkchester early on August 18. "It's only a matter of time," Malenny's father Juan Mendez vowed outside the wake last week at Ortiz Funeral Home on Willis Avenue in Mott Haven. "We'll find him - whether it's my friends or the police - but we'll find him." "I miss her," said her friend Matthew Gutierrez, 11. "She was too young to die." "She was all ready for school to start," said her father. "She didn't even want to touch her jeans, sneakers or shirts because she wanted to save them for school."
Members of the St. James Gang - described as "a loose-knit Mexican criminal outfit" - were cooperating with investigators to help track down the gunman who squeezed off four rounds from a .38-caliber handgun, according to the sources. A high-ranking police official said last week that the St. James Boys are a loosely knit offshoot of a larger Mexican gang - Los Traviesos (the Troublemakers) - based on the upper West Side. Los Traviesos have been around for more than a decade, and the St. James Boys answer to them, the source said. The estimated 100 members of the St. James Boys range in age from 16 to 26, and almost all have criminal records for petty crimes, such as fare-beating, the source said.
Two pieces of good news: first, congratulations to Bronxite Joel Sherman for winning the 2002 National Scrabble Tournament. Second, a new children's asthma center at Lincoln Hospital was unveiled on August 21, with muchos politicos in attendance. The Childhood Asthma Prevention and Education Program will provide easily accessible walk-in services for families struggling with the chronic respiratory illness.
In other political news, a Bronx car dealer's jurisdictional
win may benefit Bronx pols. In a draft decision released last week, Manhattan Supreme
Court Justice William Wetzel decided Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau does
not have the power to press charges against Dick Gidron, who was charged in February with
failing to pay $1.5 million in state sales taxes. In a draft of a ruling sent to lawyers
last month, Wetzel said "the lack of jurisdiction is the sole, insurmountable
impediment" facing prosecutors and, as a result, "the indictment is
dismissed." Many observers have speculated that Morgenthau indicted Gidron to force
him to provide information about State Sen. Velella, indicted in May on bribe-receiving
and conspiracy charges after a three-year investigation by Morgenthau's office. And ---
Bronx Assemblywoman Gloria Davis was stopped on the street last March by detectives who
removed $3,000 in cash from her purse. Davis is accused by Morgenthau of rigging a $1
million contract to renovate a community center in her district. "This could mean
that Guy Velella's indictment will be quashed," one source told the Post; which
continued: "the case against him can be transferred to Bronx DA Robert Johnson or
state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The latter is more likely. There is a reason why
Johnson - a product of the Bronx Democratic machine whose wife, Dianne Renwick, is a Bronx
Civil Court judge - might be loath to prosecute Gidron. They were neighbors a few years
ago at the Fordham Hills complex, where they were fellow co-op owners." The
Johnson-Davis relationship was not described.
It must also be reported: a 20-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant was found strangled on August 18 in the Bronx hotel she had been referred to by the city's Department of Homeless Services. The police have not determined a motive. The woman, Claire Cooper-Tognolli, was found in her room at the Park Overlook Hotel, 1938 Webster Avenue in Tremont, shortly before midnight with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck, the police said...
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of August 22, 2002: "A University City resident has asked officials for help with a problem of vandalism and harassment in Blackberry Estates. Matthew Chase, who lives on Wild Cherry Lane, attended the City Council meeting last week to ask for help. He told council members about several occasions in which children from neighboring apartment buildings had harassed him and his family and vandalized his property and his neighbors' property. "A government's responsibility is to protect its citizens," said Chase, who moved to the area from New York. "I didn't move to University City expecting the South Bronx. It's up to you to do your best to fix this."
* * *
August 19, 2002
The story with a non-story: in June 2002 without fanfare or public announcement, the Bronx non-profit MBD replaced its executive director Ralph Porter. No reason was given, neither then nor since. Despite the fact that MBD has been awarded management contracts for over 1,000 apartments, primarily in Crotona Park East, and has come for a variety of reasons to serve quasi-governmental functions in the 'hood, Mr. Porter's ouster was not even publicly reported until the August 19 City Limits Weekly update. Ouster is was: City Limits quotes Assemblymember Gloria Davis that MBD's "board removed Mr. Porter."
MBD has a budget of at least $12 million a year (its funder LISC cited that figure in 2000). Numerous banks have received Community Reinvestment Act credit for their support to MBD and its projects, most recently the stalled construction of a mall that will include a branch of the rent-to-own chain Rent-A-Center. At the groundbreaking on April 2, 2001, Porter announced that "tenants already include... Rent-A-Center." A year later, with graffiti covering the half-built mall, Mr. Porter said tersely, "There's been some delay in the projected" and promised a news release on the topic to follow. That release stated that "MBD and its partners have encountered various unforeseen difficulties that were beyond its control and that have affected the progress of this project... However, with the continued support of our lenders, government agencies, contractors, lawyers and most importantly the Bronx community, we believe this project will become a viable economic jewel in the crown of the Bronx." Completion is now projected vaguely into 2003. Nevertheless, the New York Times of August 2, 2002, blithely reported that "Pathmark's new store in the South Bronx is finding employees through the help of its community developer, the Mid-Bronx Desperados" [sic]. A wait of, at minimum, five months between "hiring" and any paycheck seems like a long one...
MBD despite its budget does not have a Web site; none of its funders saw fit to announce the reasons or ramifications of Mr. Porter's ouster. And so again we see the lack of accountability, and the grassroots Enron-like lack of transparency, that characterize too much of "community development" in The Bronx...
* * *
According to police, the murderer of Bronxite Miguel Carino earlier this month has been caught. The day after Mr. Carino's death-by-stabbing on 189th Street and Hoffman Avenue, an employee of a nearby U-Haul store reported that someone had stolen $2,000 from that business and mentioned Dudley as a possible culprit, as Dudley moved cars for customers there on a freelance basis. Two days later, a witness to the stabbing came forward, identifying the killer as a man he knew only by his street name, "Black," according to police. The break in the case came two days later, last Thursday, when a detective returning from vacation, hearing about the search for Black, linked the nickname to Dudley. The the U-Haul employee spotted Dudley in the area and called 911. The employee later identified Dudley in a lineup, and Dudley was charged with second-degree murder.
The problems in Belmont, however, continue. On August 12, Albert Loewy, 29, was beaten by a youth gang in front of 500 E. 187th Street. Loewy had a fractured skull and severe facial wounds. Investigators have ruled out robbery as a motive, they say. Sometimes, solving the crime after the fact is not enough...
August 5, 2002
Sadly, we must focus this week on death. Two particular deaths. At 5:30 a.m. on August 2, Belmont resident Miguel Carino, a 65 year old immigrant from Mexico who worked at a restaurant on City Island, was found stabbed to death on the sidewalk at 189th and Hoffman Streets. By the weekend the police department had taped fliers to trees throughout Belmont offering $2,000 for information leading to arrest and conviction of Mr. Carino's assailants. The neighborhood was abuzz with anger, disgust and fear: 189th Street is one block south of Fordham Road; Hoffman Street is one block west of Arthur Avenue. This is hardly the most dangerous section of The Bronx. How then is a well-built 65 year old man killed on his way to catch the bus to work, with apparently no witnesses to the crime?
We should describe the scene of the crime in more detail: on Arthur and 189th Street is a bar much frequented by students from Fordham University; there's another such bar on 189th between Arthur and Hoffman. The area is a mix of five-story apartment buildings and two-family houses. One block west is a Boys and Girls Club, with a Catholic school one block beyond that. Admittedly there has been a rise in prostitution and drug-selling in the area in recent months. Where are the police? They hold monthly community council meetings in their stationhouse under the Cross Bronx Expressway; occasionally they come north to the public library on 186th Street and Hughes Avenue to hear complaints. On the evening of August 3 two cops were observed in an unmarked car driving north in the southbound lane of Quarry Road. Parked nightly in front of the Rite Aid pharmacy there is an 18-wheel truck with a generator, presumably an inform annex to St. Barnabas Hospital. Many institutions get-over in this neighborhood, but at a minimum people like Mr. Carino should not be stabbed to death with impunity on their way to work at dawn....
We feel compelled to recount two grassroots tales of the good of The Bronx, before moving to the above-referenced second death. On August 1 at dusk, on the corner of Bergen and Westchester Avenues where the BX 55 bus now stops, a dog was leashed to a drain pipe of the old Hearns building. Its tongue hung out; a blue plastic cup ostensibly left full of water had been knocked over and the dog was going mad from heat and thirst. From the crowd waiting for a bus a woman listening to a Walkman emerged and crossed Bergen Avenue toward the dog. She picked up the blue plastic cup and filled it with an entire pint bottle of mineral water. She placed it next to the dog -- who stopped barking -- then boarded the bus. It is not known if the dog drank the water. But the gesture... well, we felt compelled to report it.
Also, late on the evening of August 3 in the empty block of Third Avenue between 178th and 179th Street, an older couple sat in beach chairs listening to soul music from a small radio. They were guarding their truck, from which they sell watermelon and other fruits during the day. It was a peaceful scene, disrupted from time to time by cars drag-racing down Third Avenue from the triumvirate of social clubs on 180th Street and Third. The song playing was one much-used in recent late-night TV commercials: "'Cause I'm ready, to learn... yes I'm ready, to learn... to fall in love, to fall in love, with youuuu." Well alright then.
At the corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan on July 29, a garbage truck turned north on Sixth without looking and smashed a female pedestrian, running over her with its back wheels. The deceased was Betty Kapetanakis, the executive director of the North Star Fund, which has provided resources to many Bronx-based groups (and groups elsewhere throughout New York). The senselessness is... unspeakable. A tribute to Betty Kapetanakis' life will be held on August 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. at St. Peter's Church on 54th and Lexington... Rest in peace.
July 29, 2002
The theme this week is sleaze and sell-out (sorry): As widely reported last week, the Bronx Supreme Court was the venue for another cutting-edge lawsuit that relies on anti-corporate (as opposed to supposedly "anti-cop") jurors here: attorney Samuel Hirsch has filed suit against McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC. The lead plaintiff is a 56- year-old man, Caesar Barber, who ate at fast-food restaurants four or five times a week and who blames the food for his obesity and other health problems. KFC dismissed the idea that the chain should be held responsible for anyone's health problems, said KFC spokeswoman Amy Sherwood. While ICP's a fan of jury trials, when The Bronx is used this way it makes one wonder what the state- and nationwide class action lawyers are doing for The Bronx, and why jury duty is required so often here...
A Bronx quote from a corporate press release last week: Capital One, a credit card lender recently subject to administrative discipline from banking regulators, issued a release stating: "'The Money Wi$e publications and other multilingual brochures from Consumer Action are vital to our education efforts in the Latino community,' said George Llanos, business counselor at the Women's Business Resource Center in Bronx, N.Y. 'Individuals in the community have found the Spanish materials extremely helpful and are always asking when new Money Wi$e brochures will be available.'"
Predatory lender "gives back" -- according to a press release issued last week by the much-sued subprime mortgage lender Delta Funding Corporation," Delta is lucky to have three Bronx Community College (BCC) students working at its Woodbury headquarters for four weeks, earning college credits and gaining a corporate education as part of a joint internship program with BCC and its Angel Foundation. Delta provides a stipend to the students to help with transportation and meals while at the company." We like internships -- but with a predatory lender?
July 22, 2002
A brief break from the summer-surreal: In a recent report, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) looked at 15 facilities, six of them in the South Bronx -- nine "non-hazardous" waste-related sites, three hazardous waste disposal sites, two chemical plants and one concrete plant -- and asked them to provide information on jobs and other contributions they had provided to their surrounding communities. Significantly, from a Bronx perspective, New York Organic Fertilizer Company in Hunts Point had 80 jobs in 1993 but just 39 in 2002. Report at page 7. The facility was given discount energy from Con Ed. Id. at 12. Also in Hunts Point, Triboro Fibers was given a local tax break. Two Waste Management sites in Hunts Point were reviewed; they stated that their own contribution to the community was to its "infrastructure." New York Organic Fertilizer claimed to be helping community groups and "schools and universities." The other three Bronx sites did not claim any contribution. Report at 9. The overview for all fifteen sites is reviewed in this week's Inner City Press Environmental Justice Report. The GAO Report (02-479) is called "Community Investment: Report of Selected Facilities" and is available (in PDF format) here. And now: the Western Mail of Australia (July 19, 2002), reporting on crime in the city of Grangetown, quotes Pam Propert, 61, that "I don't even get out of bed when I hear police dogs outside, because the area has got that bad, and the other end of the street is worse, we call it The Bronx." Hey -- thanks.
We'll conclude for this week with a more sincere thanks, to a reader who has supplemented our previous review of a pizzeria that opened this year on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 186th Street:
Dear Inner City Press / Bronx Report -- Hi! Read your review of Aniello's Pizzeria on Arthur Ave and 186th written when they opened in November 2001 but not a word from anyone about it since! I was there last night and they have a 2 (maybe 3) person band called Victory set up on the corner outside every Saturday night from 8-midnight. They're a good rockin' and good natured band... I can't tell you anything about the pizza because we'd already eaten and we just sat outside for drinks and cake. But people were dancing in the street and a happy time was had by all. Maybe someone should check these guys out. They're fun! Next time we'll try the pizza too.
Again, thanks. For a moment a cynical wind blew through our news wind (very welcome, in this heat): could this be a planted counter-review by the Aniello-ites themselves? We've decided not: they would have gushed about the(ir) pizza as well. So we run it as feedback, since we still believe in the Fairness Doctrine.
July 15, 2002
Still in a summertime mode, we recount this week the long road back from Coney Island to The Bronx, with (non-) assistance from the MTA. The F train pulls out of Stillwell Avenue, twenty-some stops into Manhattan. If you live in the south central Bronx, how to transfer to the 5 train? The MTA map shows a transfer from the F train's 63rd Street station to the 4 and 5 express at 59th Street. But upon arrival at 63rd Street, there are flyers taped to the orange tile walls. "Out of station transfer" - that is to say, you're to climb to street level and walk. You do, but find that the lower level of the 59th Street station is closed, roped off with plastic tape, also orange. Finally the 5 train comes, on the local track. At Third Avenue and 149th Street, the streets lights are out, and the stop for the 55 bus has been moved, to the shattered block of Bergen Avenue between 149th Street and Westchester Avenue. Earlier in the day a preacher held forth with a bullhorn here. At night there are no lights; a mound of garbage courtesy of SOBRO; a bus with its lights off and the driver nowhere to be seen. Finally the lights go on; the bus pulls back out onto Third Avenue, where you'll see that HPD, the city's housing agency, has just demolished a number of building north of 156th Street, purportedly for the Melrose Commons plan. The vacant land extends out into the night...
Capsule review of Coney Island, mid-July 2002: on the boardwalk a six-man team does break dancing. There are dancers from Harlem, Cuba and... the Boogie Down Bronx. The Harlem dancer has knife wounds on his face; he spins and spins on the head of a bulkier dancer, who keeps a burning cigarette hidden in his mouth for two minutes. The crowd erupts. Out on the Atlantic luxury liners pass by. The soca and reggae are pounding in the Astroland rides; out on Surf Avenue there are tacos for sale in a small storefront for two dollars, and an old-style carousel in a storefront. The Brooklyn Cyclones are playing and on the F train back, a man shouts into his cell phone, "Who's callin' me on my phone? You tell him to stay there. I'm on my way." And you think you are too, until the MTA costs you an hour with bad signage...
Real news will continue soon. For now we offer this: on July 9 around 10 p.m., two Bronx cousins - a 10-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy - were scared witless when three men forced their way into the family's apartment and bound them with duct tape during an apparent robbery attempt, police said. When neighbor Guarionex Saliche came by to check on the children, he was shot outside the apartment door. Saliche, 47, was struck once in the chest and twice in the left leg. He was in critical condition at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center but expected to survive. The shooting happened inside 860 Bryant Ave. in Hunts Point. After an adult male relative left for the store, the suspects, looking for money, forced their way into the apartment, police said. The adult male hasn't cooperated with detectives, police said, and it wasn't clear if any money was taken....
[Some archival material cut to save server space - with questions, contact us]
June 3, 2002
The connection of Procida Construction to the indictment of Bronx State Senator Guy Velella is not as simple as we (or the N.Y. Daily News) first reported (see Report of May 13, below). In fact, the Daily News ran a retraction of sorts: "A lawyer for William Procida and William Procida Inc. denies that any bribe was paid by his clients and tells the Daily News that neither William Procida or William Procida Inc. has had any contact with law enforcement agencies or with the Velellas. The indictment does not name William Procida or William Procida Inc., and they have not been charged with any crime. The News regrets the error." Ditto. But--
The indictment, 64 pages in length, states that:
In or about December 1997 to in or about January 1998, defendant Hector Del Toro made a telephone call to a person known to the Grand Jury ("Client #1"), a principal and vice-president of a company that builds affordable housing in the New York area, and, in substance, told Client #1 that he wanted to meet to discuss: (i) a housing project involving A[ffordable] H[ousing] C[orporation] funding that Client #1's company was building and (ii) whether Client #1's company was qualified to build that project... At various times from in or about January 1999 to in or about March 1999, Client #1 made political contributions to defendant Guy J. Velella after being told by defendant Hector Del Toro that he was expected to do so.
Inner City Press has now reviewed the 1999 NYS Board of Elections Financial Disclosure Report of "Friends of Senator Velella," paying particularly close attention to the Jan. 1999 through March 1999 period specified in the indictment. Corporate and individual / partnership donations are separately listed. Thirty nine corporate donations are listed during the time frame, including from:
Procida Realty & Construction ($2,500); Procida Construction ($2,500); Gibraltar Contracting ($1,000); Gibraltar Waterproofing ($1,000); Andrew Valez Construction ($2,000); etc..
There are 42 individual / partnership donations listed in the time-frame -- only seven from Bronx addresses. This list includes:
Finbar O'Neill of Yonkers, $3000; (developer) Donald Capoccia, $1000; the ubiquitous Francesco Galesi, $5000; Donald Trump, $1000; etc.
Inquiries into this Affordable Housing Corporation (e.g. Partnership New Homes Program) corruption, and the sordid tale of the sale of 696 E. Fordham Road to the Department of Motor Vehicles, described elsewhere in the indictment, continue...
More positively, here's some upcoming concerts in The Bronx this summer: in St. Mary's Park, July 16 - Joe Cuba; July 23 Conga Kings; July 30 Harold Melvin's Blue Notes. In Crotona Park: July 17 - Bamboleo; July 24 Doo-Wop Allstars; and July 31 Charlie Thomas' Drifters... And, click here for ICP's June 3, 2002, challenge to Citigroup's applications to acquire Golden State Bancorp, including analysis of Citigroup's lending in New York and The Bronx...
May 27, 2002
This week: some digging into Bronx history over Memorial Day weekend. The Daily News' Bronx page of May 22, 2002, uncritically reported that "the city has sold 2 acres of property blighted by the Transit Authority's former West Farms Bus Depot to be developed into a $2.5 million entertainment-retail complex by CBC Associates... Fred Rubin of CBC Associates said that with the recent surge in new housing and housing rehabilitation in the area, his company saw the need and opportunity for matching community and entertainment facilities. 'I grew up in this neighborhood, and as a child, I could walk to a dozen movie-houses, all of which are now closed,' he said."
And it's true: closed now are theaters at Boston Road and 174th Street (now a church); the Fairmount on Tremont Avenue (storefronts, including a supermarket, open; theater abandoned); the theater in West Farms Square, etc.. A new theater would be welcome in the neighborhoods. But a bit of due diligence:
"CBC Associates" is a limited liability company "organized" in 1999; its service address is 2750 Olinville Avenue, The Bronx. An earlier Daily News article (April 16, 1999 -- more than three years ago) reported that
Developers want to build a retail center and possibly a 12-screen movie theater on the site of the city's abandoned West Farms Bus Depot in the Bronx. GR2D Inner City Development and the Mid-Bronx Desperadoes Housing Corp. are negotiating to buy the defunct depot on Boston Road from the city Economic Development Corp.. The deal... was approved by Community Board 3 on Tuesday... [T]he developers expect to have the retail center open for business by Thanksgiving 2000. Ralph Porter, Mid-Bronx' executive director, could not say what theater company is interested in the site. Porter did say, however, that a third developer, Fred Rubin, was close to gaining an agreement that would make the theater a reality in the neighborhood by next year. 'We'll call it "the New Millennium,"' Porter said, jokingly. Rubin could not be reached for comment. " (Emphasis added).
Researching a "developer Fred Rubin" in The Bronx, we come across a June 7, 1987 New York Times article, reporting that "an entrepreneurial group, headed by the investor Fred Rubin... reportedly intends to bring in a nonunion manufacturer from out of state and use workers represented by a local of the building porters' union. " Searching Bronx incorporations for any Fred Rubin, there is only one: Fred P. Rubin, with an office at 369 E. 149th Street. He's incorporated 19 companies, with names ranging from "Community Village Corp." through "JNM Realty Corp." to "Ridgewood Theatre Inc." to "1031 Southern Boulevard Realty Corp.." Fred P. Rubin, from an address on Cuttermill Road in Great Neck, sold a South Bronx land parcel to Vigliotti & Sons Container Service; Fred P. Rubin is listed as owner of a six-story apartment building on Hoe Avenue in The Bronx, which has 18 code violations against it listed, ranging from "defective plastered surfaces" to " nuisance consisting of vermin mice and roaches." So we shall see...
May 20, 2002
The April unemployment numbers are in, and Bronx County once again has the highest unemployment rate of NYS, at 8.9 percent. For comparison's sake, the rate in Albany County is 2.9 percent; the statewide rate is 5.8 percent...
Earlier this month there was a fire in a two-story commercial building on Third Avenue, just south of Tremont Ave. in The Bronx. For several decades the ground floor of this building contained a Flat Fix / tire repair shop, a used furniture and mattress shop, and, more recently, a church. All three were destroyed in the fire. While the FDNY extinguished the blaze, Third Avenue was blocked off. Busses and other traffic proceeded on Bathgate and Park Avenues. Now the building is being demolished...
Still on the lam is Luis Raul Acosta, the accused rapist who waltzed out of the former "Fort Apache" station house on Simpson Street earlier this month. Police went to great pains last week to deny that he was left in an unlocked room. Rather, they say, he pried a piece of metal from a radiator and used it to gouge into a wood door frame and jimmy a deadbolt lock. Oh, alright then...
In NBC's program "The West Wing" on May 15, a Presidential staffer says the first political campaign he worked on was for Bronx Borough President. "A question arose about my guy's tax returns. So we called a press conference. It was 104 degrees that day on Bronx Boulevard--"
Screech! It seems clear that "on the Grand Concourse" was meant; perhaps it was viewed as too local a referent. Still...
May 13, 2002
Under-reported in last week's tabloid coverage of the indictment of Bronx state senator Guy Velella is the allegation that Velella took bribes from William Procida Inc. to push for subsidies from the NYS Affordable Housing Corporation. Procida has been a major contractor for the NYC Housing Partnerships "New Homes" program, which replaced five-story apartment buildings with two-story middle-income homes throughout the South Bronx and elsewhere in low-income NYC. Through that program, the NYC Partnership came to dominate the city's housing agency, HPD, installing its hand-picked commissioners and monopolizing HPD's dwindling housing budget. Now a major contractor in the program is named in a corruption scandal.
[Note: the N.Y. Daily news has run the following correction: "A lawyer for William Procida and William Procida Inc. denies that any bribe was paid by his clients and tells the Daily News that neither William Procida or William Procida Inc. has had any contact with law enforcement agencies or with the Velellas. The indictment does not name William Procida or William Procida Inc., and they have not been charged with any crime. The News regrets the error." Ditto. The NYS Board of Elections campaign finance data base lists, from 1999 to 2002, a total of five campaign contributions from Procida Construction Corp., two of which were to "Friends of Sen. Velella," including the largest of the five, $2,500 on March 24, 1999 (also, $1,000 to "NYS Senate Republican Campaign Committee," and two contributions to Bronx "Democratic Trustees Committee." Bipartisan, apparently. And see Report of June 3, 2002, above.]
Keystone cops: last week a suspected serial rapist was taken for questioning to the headquarters for the Bronx detective command at 1086 Simpson Street. He was put in an unlocked first-floor interview room while detectives checked his identity. "He was left alone in a room uncuffed, and when the detectives came back in the room, he was gone," said Deputy Chief Joseph Reznick, commanding officer of Bronx detectives. "He walked out the door and made a left toward Westchester Ave." Less than a month ago, robbery suspect Miguel Santiago, 27, was found dead in his cell on the third floor of the same building. Police said Santiago tore his T-shirt into strips and used it as a rope to hang himself from the bars... So what's going on, at the old "Fort Apache" stationhouse? Alumni of the precinct are holding a reunion on May 17 at the Castle Harbor catering hall in Castle Hill. Inquiring minds might want to ask their views...
May 6, 2002
Inner City Press' Bronx reporter goes experiential, this time into the Bronx Criminal Court on 161st Street and Sherman Avenue. There is a long line to pass through the metal detectors. Lawyer go to the front of the line. Among those waiting are women with strollers, come to see their babies' fathers arraigned. Once you get past the metal detectors, the main floor is a maze of police barricades; half of the main floor has been subdivided into cubicles. Up one flight of stairs, you can look down into the cubicles. A television is playing soap operas.
Begin in the basement, the "lower main floor." At the back is Room AR 2, Judge Arnold Birnbaum presiding. A first-time visitor will not know the judge's name: it is not posted on the door, nor on his desk. The room is small. At one side is a door from the lock-up. The court officer calls out docket numbers, and people are led into the room in handcuffs. The lead charge against them is "involuntary return on a warrant;" then the underlying crimes are described. They are mostly petty: drinking alcohol from an open container, public urination, unleashed dog, possession of a knife, possession of marijuana. The defense attorneys are assigned, a mixture of Legal Aid, Bronx Defenders and 18-B lawyers. The defendant with the unleashed and unlicensed and unvaccinated dog, a pit bull, tries to explain that his dog did get his shots.
"Fine," Judge Birnbaum says. "I'll set this over for trial and set bail at $1,500 over $1,000." The man cannot afford this. He is taken back into lock-up.
A teenager is brought in by two detectives from the warrants squad. Judge Birnbaum explodes: "I see you laughing -- I'm going to sentence you to five days in jail! You think that's funny?" The teen's 18-B lawyer stumbles to say that he didn't mean to smile, he didn't think it was funny. "Second call," Judge Birnbaum says.
A reporter jots this down, and the court officer gestures and then says, "No writing in the courtroom!" Later in the hallway, this court officer says that these are his orders, "people could be writing down the names of judges and lawyers." Yes, that's right. The court officer's badge is partial obscured; his name is not visible. His badge number is 3022 and he has a key chain with the Colombian flag. "I mean, if you're a journalist you have to have credentials," he says. He confirms that the judge inside is the Honorable Arthur Birnbaum. Subsequent research finds Mr. Birnbaum criticized for his campaigning for this post in 1997, and offering a long adjournment to Police Officer Francis Livoti, who strangled and killed an unarmed Bronxite in 1993.
Upstairs on the second floor, most arraignments take place in Room AR 1, Judge Robert Torres presiding. Judge Torres appears to have two black eyes. This courtroom is bigger and Judge Torres speaks softly and can't be heard. The crimes here are more serious. A 19-year old accused of sodomizing a 4-year old boy; another teen accused of a push-in robbery during which he threatened to burn the victim's face with an iron. The latter has confessed; his confession is read out by the Assistant District Attorney. Judge Torres sets bail at $50,000. For the pedophile, bail is set at $250,000.
The most interesting courtroom of the day is Part F, Judge Michael Sonberg presiding. Defendants are led out of lock-up; others who are out on bail arrive through the metal detectors. Most cases are adjourned, pending the defendant testifying to a grand jury. One defendant arrives with his mother, which whom he argues loudly on the benches in the back. When he's called to the front, Judge Sonberg reiterates an earlier demand that he hire a lawyer. "I'm not going to give you a free lawyer -- your mother posted $7,500 bail in cash the same day I set it. Tell her to hire an attorney. There are lawyers that will accept assignment of bail as their fee. But you won't get a free lawyer." The mother exploded, but Judge Sonberg does not allow her to speak. He also unbraids Assistant District Attorney Rizzo, asking how can it be too late for a defendant to testify to the grand jury if it's only three-fifteen and the defendant was only brought to the court at two? "You have an ethical duty not to...". He pauses. "Do I make myself clear?"
But nothing is clear except chaos. Bronxites are incarcerated for drinking a can of beer in the park. In the suburbs people get drunk at backyard barbecues without a problem. The Bronx, it appears, is a different world, with a different standard of pain, different rules. "You can't write in the court room."
Back down in the basement, there's the Integrated Domestic Violence court. A woman with two attorneys is getting an order of protection and a judgment of custody. The father is not present. Judge Ruth Levine-Sussman offers to hold an inquest into the custody issue, whether or not the father arrives. An unrelated male is crying on the back benches.
The Bronx criminal court building is filled with sad stories, with parents awaiting the arraignment of their wayward son who did a push-in robbery and threatened to burn the victim's face with an iron and then confessed. What can be done to make this place more in keeping with idea(l)s of justice?
April 29, 2002
Bronx criminal law, from the mundane to the lofty to the false: on April 24, more than $350,000 worth of phone cards were reportedly stolen from Vision Phone Card, breaking through the ceiling via the meat market next to the shop on 763 Allerton Ave., store owner Shakil Washwell said... More seriously, last week police arrested Tafori Burton, 24, and charged him with wounding a 5-year-old boy who was caught in the crossfire of a street battle last month. Adam Samuel was shot in the left arm March 23 as his mother took him to a Saturday morning karate class on Boston Road in Williamsbridge. During a stakeout late on April 25, detectives grabbed Burton as he entered the building. He's been charged with attempted murder, weapons possession and reckless endangerment. Burton's girlfriend, Melody McBeth, 42, was arrested in her fifth-floor apartment and charged with hindering prosecution. "It was very obvious from talking to witnesses that she was trying to sneak him in and out of her apartment," police sources said. [Stray note: interesting age difference there, no?] Police seized a 9-mm. handgun in the apartment and were testing it to determine whether it was the gun used in the shootout....
Lofty (well, Constitutional law): the impending capital-murder trial of Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez on charges they killed police confidential informant Eddie Santiago in June 1999 to protect a Bronx drug ring last week gave rise to a pre-trial decision reported nationwide. U.S. District Court judge Jed Rakoff issued an 11-page order indicating that he is prepared to declare the federal death penalty unconstitutional unless the government can quickly explain why so many condemned inmates turn out to be innocent....
Fiction-in-the-making: on Arthur Avenue on April 23, two eighteen-wheel rigs were parked, cameras on dollies rolling in and out, actors congregated in the little-used community center across from the bakery, in black canvas chairs with signs, "Law & Order, Special Victims Unit." It was a shoot for that television series, a scene in the bakery's warehouse, mock-detectives in well-pressed raincoats...
April 22, 2002
State comptroller Carl McCall was in The Bronx on April 17, lauding what he called positive developments in the borough. McColl and the borough president released a study that found, among other things, that Bronx unemployment stands at 7.3% (still higher than the city, state or nationwide average). However, population in the borough grew 10.7% in the 1990s, higher than the citywide growth of 9.4 percent. The Bronx in 1990 was more abandoned than the rest of the city...
The Washington Post of April 18 reported on community struggles in Arlington, Virginia, a District suburb: "Arlington residents... awoke one morning to learn that their houses had been targeted for demolition to make room for playing fields. During a community meeting about the proposal in December 2000, maps accompanying the plan showed homes marked with giant X's, marking them for elimination. Residents lamented that Arlington was going to become 'the Bronx.'" Hey, thanks, Washington Post...
In crime news, Albert ("Chemba") Losada, wanted for allegedly murdering a man in a Bronx bodega in cold blood, was spotted by the Dominican Republic National Police on April 5, pumping gas just outside of Santo Domingo. As the police approached, Losada pulled out a semiautomatic pistol and fired 15 shots at cops, who escaped the gunfire unharmed. Police returned fire and shot Losada in the left leg before capturing him. Last week, Bronx prosecutors indicted Losada - awaiting extradition from the Dominican Republic - on charges that he killed Celsio Perez point-blank with a .357 magnum because the victim 'said something he didn't like' in a bodega on Ogden Avenue... "We had a feeling he would shoot it out. He's a very dangerous felon," said Sgt. Tom Rice of the 44th Precinct detective squad. "We're just all grateful none of the police officers there were hurt."
From the Bronx Times police blotter, word-for-word: " WED, MARCH 27th, 11:34 p.m. 2401 Beaumont Ave. A woman requested police assistance after a bullet broke a window in her home. The female victim heard the noise of a bullet being fired, and then her window being broken by the projectile. A search was conducted for the person who fired the gun, but it proved to be meaningless." Meaningless?
* * *
April 15, 2002
Inner City Press' Bronx reporter goes experiential. This time: jury duty in The Bronx.
You live in The Bronx, and you get a jury duty summons. You are to report to Room 212 of the Bronx County Courthouse on a Monday morning. There you will find an enormous room with 1,000 chairs. A clerk at the front desk gives a speech over loudspeakers. If you do not return from lunch you can be fined $1,000 and arrested. The only grounds to be excused are that you are a convicted felon, a non-citizen, or no longer reside in The Bronx. In each case you will need written proof; you can line up to present it. If all you have a letter from your employer explaining why service at this time is inconvenient, you will be called to the front desk to have your letter stamped "Denied."
The enormous room is held up by columns. A metal arm on each column supports a television set, which is padlocked to the arm. A video tape is played. Diane Sawyer and Ed Bradley tell you how important jury service is, and that you should not expect any "Perry Mason moments." Clips of the Perry Mason television program are shown. From the front of the room prospective jurors' names are called out, among them Shoshana Chestnut, Lovejoy and a man named Arafat. Finally your name is called, and you troop up to the fifth floor with forty other people. A court officer asks you to wait in the hall. Ten minutes later, you are told to go downstairs. You ask the guard why; you ask if the case has been settled. He nods. You wait until 4:00 o'clock, then you are told you can leave, return tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.
The second day you lounge around in the enormous room. They've said that you'll be held two or three days; if you're not on a jury by then, your service is over. Late in the morning of the second day you are again called, this time to a small room that leads off the enormous room. It is jury selection in a civil case. At the front of the small room are four lawyers in expensive suits sitting behind a cheap-looking table. Each of the twenty prospective jurors fills out a one-page form. Among other things it asks if you have ever made a claim for personal injury, and whether that or any other lawsuit you've been a party to was "resolved to your satisfaction." A fifth man in a older suit comes in. He is a retired judge; he explains that questions will be asked but he will not remain present. He puts an octagonal wheel on the table, and six names are chosen. These six prospective jurors move to the front row.
One of the four lawyers, well-tanned, speaks first. His name is Mr. Silverman. He launches into a speech about his client, Octovio "Not His Real Name" Mata, who slipped and fell in a now-defunct mall in Westchester County ten years ago. "Octovio has been waiting a long time for this," Silverman says. The mall is gone but Octavio remains, a decade later, waiting for justice. Octavio, Silverman says, fell and hurt his left knee. Then he fell and hurt his right knee. It is all due to water that came in through the roof of the mall. Octavio worked at a pizzeria in the mall. The defendants are the now-defunct mall and its erstwhile management company, and a security guard company. Silverman introduces each defendant's lawyer, calls each of them a colleague. Finally Silverman asks the first prospective juror a question: can you be fair to Octavio? The prospective juror does not answer. Finally the prospective juror says, "No hablo ingles." The four lawyers nod, make notations on their yellow pads.
Silverman asks if any of the six has any particular knowledge about knees. One woman works at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. But she is not in the knee department. Another woman is retired from the city's Human Resources Administration after working there for thirty-two years. Her granddaughter had an accident and "the company never paid," she says.
"Can you award money to my client, Octavio Mata?" Silverman asks. "I can do that," Ms. HRA says. "You will also hear from Octavio's wife Jasmine," Mr. Silverman continues. "She will explain the loss of services she has suffered." Prospective jurors exchange glances. At 12:40 there's a lunch break; you're told to return at 2 p.m..
There's a Burger King and a cuchifritos on Walton Avenue; there's the dimly-lit Yankee Tavern on Gerald. On the other side of the Grand Concourse there's a mall with a food court: a pizzeria chain the same as the one where Octavio Mata worked. Above 161st Street is Joyce Kilmer Park, with a waterless fountain named for the German poet Heinrich Heine. Below 158th Street is Franz Sigel Park. There are few Germans living in The Bronx, virtually none in the South Bronx, where these parks are located. The baseball memorabilia shops on River Avenue across from Yankee Stadium are all closed. The Yankees are out of town this week. On 157th Street between Gerald and River Avenues there's a small restaurant with five tables, all of them occupied with people in suits, all of whom are white. "Paniniteca," a small sign says. A little piece of lower Manhattan in The Bronx. Perhaps inside Silverman is eating an expensive sandwich.
At 2 p.m. you return to the small room, where you are told that you can now leave for the day. Why you were not told this at 12:30 is not explained. You overhear that one of the four lawyers has a doctor's appointment at 3 p.m.. Scheduling is for the convenience of the lawyers, not the prospective jurors. The government holds you prisoner to this saga of the slip-and-fall in the now-defunct mall. The retired judge has not reappeared. There is no one to complain to. You leave.
Overnight research reveals that the mall opened in 1968, with a Macy's department store as its anchor tenant. In May 1992 after the Rodney King verdict exonerated the Los Angeles police officers who beat him, high school student "rampaged" through the mall and shoplifted from Macy's. This was reported by the New York Times and on Associated Press. In August 1992 Macy's closed; eliciting a squib in Westchester County real estate newspapers. In December 1992, Octavio Mata slipped and hurt his left knee. This was nowhere reported. Jasmine Mata knew, and now twenty prospective jurors know. In the mid-90s the mall closed. It was demolished in 1997. The closure and demolition were reported in the New York Times.
The court's web site reveals that the case was filed in 1995, and has been repeatedly adjourned over the years. Eighteen months ago, summary judgment was denied. The case appears nowhere on the calendar of the judge it's been assigned to. Mr. Silverman's firm is also suing two doctors in The Bronx for medical malpractice. Neither his firm nor any of the defendants' law firms are based in The Bronx. Perhaps they adjourned the case repeatedly over the years without ever coming to The Bronx. They live in the suburbs where jury service, when it occurs, last less than a day. When possible, plaintiffs' lawyers file their cases in The Bronx, where the jury-pool is predominantly poor and is reputed to award the highest verdicts. The defunct mall is in suburban Westchester County, but Octavio Mata lives, or at least lived, in The Bronx. Perhaps if he wins and wins big, he will leave.
You return on the third day. You buy a coffee at the Supreme Deli on 161st Street, drink it on the courthouse steps looking down at the stream of lawyers with briefcases coming from the elevated 4 train and the parking lots on River Avenue. On Walton Avenue in front of the court, judges and police park their cars. In the small room upstairs, Silverman stands, well-rested and false humble, and says he's afraid of asking the next question but he must. He clears his throat. "Will you be able to decide this case as you would have on September 10th?"
At first there is no answer. Then all six say yes. Mr. Silverman smiles and sits down. One of the defense lawyers asks if anyone in the room has any questions. So you ask, how long is this going to take? Why don't they just ask questions about possible conflicts of interest rather than give speeches about their cases? None of the four lawyers answers. What's the process, you ask. Do all twenty people have to keep coming back until the jury of six, and two alternates, are chosen? "We could be here 'til August," the security guard company's lawyer jokes. No one laughs.
Silverman says that Octavio will testify at trial, but he will not arrive in a wheelchair or even be limping. "But you can still award him money, right?" Silverman asks Ms. HRA. "You won't judge a book by its cover, will you?" She nods and slumps back in her chair.
The defense lawyers pounce on Ms. HRA's willingness to award money damages. They ask a series of questions: have you decided how you hope the case comes out? Do you identify with Octavio Mata? The primarily Spanish-speaking prospective juror is no longer being asked questions, even by Silverman. Apparently he will not be on the jury -- but neither is he allowed to leave. At 12:35 you are told to go for lunch and return at 2 p.m..
Outside on 161st Street, the nurse from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital says she'll just walk around, "there's nowhere good to eat around here," she says. Another prospective juror makes fun of Jasmine Mata's claim. "I mean, it's his knee, alright?" she says. "And what does this case have to do with September 11? A friend of mine was killed down in the Towers. But it ain't got nothing to do with this case. He shouldn't even have brought that up." She will forego lunch. She will go spend the hour in the small room, with its view of the empty seats of Yankee Stadium.
The first six prospective jurors are called out into the hall. Inside the small room those remaining are complaining about the waste of their time. The four lawyers re-enter, and they call five people to the front row. Seat Number One is left empty: the nurse from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Apparently the other five of the six were released. This could go until August...
The next five are questioned: can you be fair? What about when you sued your landlord, Miss Velasquez? One of the defense lawyers asks only three questions and he is applauded by the remaining prospective jurors. The next lawyer says that unfortunately he has more questions. Then launches into a speech about the allocation of blame. Are you willing to find that Octavio bears some of the blame? All five say yes. At 3:20 you are given a ten minute break. The enormous room is full again, another 1,000 Bronxites having been summoned for jury duty. You are trapped in a slip-and-fall about a non-defunct mall. You could be here until August. Where, you ask, is the retired judge? Why he didn't stay and keep the proceedings on track. Why allow this speechifying, this stop-and-start, these endless days of rhetorical questions followed by unexplained challenges?
Back inside it now appears that the second knee, the right knee, was not injured in the mall at all. Silverman says that the left knee was weakened, "destabilized," he calls it, leading to the second fall. Octavio will not be limping, you are again told. This should not preclude the award of damages. "A full measure of justice," Silverman calls it. One of the defense lawyers jumps to his feet, tells Silverman, "let's talk outside." All four go out. In the small room prospective jurors are groaning. "They better pay the man," someone says. "Maybe he was drunk," says another. You have been told not to talk about the case, even at this stage. But what are people going to talk about, during these delays?
The four lawyers re-enter; they announce that work is done for the day. Two of the five prospective jurors in the front row are given bar-coded tickets. They are being released. So far four jurors have been selected for this earth-shattering case. Two more jurors and two alternates must still be found. Return at ten a.m., you are told.
Outside the enormous room is empty. It will fill again tomorrow morning. Lawyers will arrive from outside of The Bronx, to slowly pick their ideal juries to joist about a twisted knee ten years ago. "A full measure of justice," Silverman called it. He has also said that Octavio is not looking for sympathy; he gets that from his family and friends. He is looking for payment for pain and suffering. He believes this is the Nuremberg trial, in a too-small room with no judge present. Thank God for Bronx juries, he thinks. Thank God for these people giving up full days under threat of a $1,000 fine, eager to mete out justice sometime before August. Perhaps the lawyer for the erstwhile manager of the defunct mall will see fit to settle the case before the jury returns a verdict. The jurors will be thanked for the important role they have played in our system.
The enormous room empties and fills; verdicts are announced and malls are rampaged then closed. History is written but some events take place in silence. There is a system for these events and this is how it works. In theory, this jury will force the management to better maintain the mall. But the mall's been demolished. In its place they've built a skating rink which has now declared bankruptcy. People slip and fall while skating, but it's considered a risk they assume. Octavio Mata was not prepared to skate, that night ten years ago. Somewhere you've heard that justice delayed is justice denied. It's a nice phrase but how does it apply here? Is a decade too much delay? Did Silverman agree to, or even request, some of the adjournments? Why did Silverman take Octavio's case and not someone else's? Perhaps Octavio's second fall was more serious. Silverman has said that he will not limp. Perhaps a new precedent will be set, for secondary injuries arising from an initial slip and fall. It seems doubtful. Money will change hands -- Silverman taking a third of it -- and these Bronxites will be thanked for their patriotic service and then forgotten. Until they are summoned for jury duty again, for some injury taking place right now, today.
In the hallway the floor is wet and there is no sign saying "Caution." Silverman steps gingerly over the water, turns back and sighs that the enormous room is empty. The defense lawyers ignore the water, already calculating how to spend their nights. We will reconvene at ten a.m.; it could go on forever.
[Note: names have been changed in the above, otherwise-true account -- because the case is still pending. On April 15, 2002, the case was assigned to a new judge].
* * *
April 8, 2002
This week we travel to Hart Island, less than a mile off the coast of The Bronx at City Island and Orchard Beach. Since 1869, Hart Island has been New York City's potter's field, the burial place for the indigent and unidentified. It is only accessible by a ferry from Fordham Street on City Island. The (mass) graves are dug by Rikers Island inmates; 148 adult coffins are placed in each plot. As with most things in The Bronx, there is a history. In 1954, Nike missiles were installed on the island. The bleachers from Ebbets Field are there. In 1925, Solomon Riley applied for a license to operate an amusement park on the island; his application was denied, and the wood frame bathhouse he had built burned down. Variously described as "the loneliest place on earth" and as a necropolis, Hart Island is visited once a year by churchgoers for an ecumenical service. Here's an Inner City Press poem of Hart Island:
Three deep in plywood box the poor
Return to dust in twenty years
By name He called His children home
Some no-name box left overnight
The ferry workers went on strike
And so they rot without dirt
Vandals arrive by canoe on the shore
Strip the Dynamo Room of every tool
Peeling copper wires from Nike missiles
Various fantasies buried and the bodies still
Arrive, are stacked, jotted on clip boards and filed away
Infants with AIDS, infants abandoned
Winos bloated wash ashore, prisoners dig
Under shotgun mind, not wanting
To end without care, with so many others
Over a million now, a century's dust churned
Five deep in pine wood box the poor...
And a "Recuerdos of Los Cuernos" at 156th Street and Third Avenue:
This was a place where the brick boxes
Of another generation were smashed
For a future that never arrived. So
On plywood dance floors, to bare
Light bulbs strung from street lamps' base
We gyrated between the past and future
Old men, their faces red their fingers stubby
Strummed them 'til bloody on the cuatros' strings
The youthful cavort like horses
In a pasture to which the future never came.
They fenced the vacant lot awaited K-Mart
Which lost its plans in Caymans subs
And weeds re-grow, no place to go, no
Place to dance.
More sad and serious news: Detective Jamie Betancourt's stabbing death on Easter has given rise to a nationwide manhunt for Luis Alberto Gomez Gonzalez. Last week Claritza Fernandez Gonzalez (no relation) was charged with hindering prosecution for allegedly helping him elude police by driving the suspect to Reading, Pa., the day of the stabbing and then to a motel in Elizabeth, N.J. the next day. Deputy Chief Joseph Reznick said "his ultimate goal is to get back to the Dominican Republic."
* * *
April 1, 2002
Again this week we go experiential: a carnival was held over Easter weekend in Crotona Park, where the Bronx County Building used to be. There was a miniature roller coaster; most of the other rides were for small children. Proud parents videotaped the scenes. Meat fried, carnival barkers took cigarette breaks leaning against tractor-trailer rigs with North Carolina license plates. The streets of East Tremont were teeming, giving rising to the following Inner City Press micro-poems:
They're sweating in ski caps on the last day of March
Shrieking on a ferris wheel over the ghetto, little boys
In crew cuts, girls with hoop earrings, teenage parents
Film the scene with cameras made in Singapore.
Further north on Mapes Avenue:
The swimming pool ringed by razor wire, later in summer
Drug dealers bathe their pit bulls there. Now metal bats clang:
A liner off the lone remaining tenement's a ground-rule double.
Hoses wash cars under the watchful patrol of the police.
On last week's topic, the wake for Astin Jacobo:
They carried a blue enamel coffin
Shined like a bowling ball
Into the church. Women in overcoats
Held palms and heard each station of the Cross.
Voice of a midnight East Tremont panhandler:
He said he'd like a jar of mayonnaise
But a quarter would help, to fight off the cold.
He has family in North Carolina but doesn't
Like to see them when he's high.
And finally, in this 50th anniversary of the plan for the Cross-Bronx:
When Moses sent the dispossess--
That a highway was slated for the space of your bed--
Some mothers wrote letters and others, they prayed.
Bought votes brought down the house; rats followed.
In the years before, black and white
Mixed to brown. Coffee into milk,
Milk from coffee, only the grounds
Remained, ground down.
Now the map shows shortest route;
The map of race shows color separated
As in a spinner. Salad leaves cleaned
Greens without grit, grit for green.
They drive through my bed, a tribute to Moses
Old man died schematic blue
To erase the ghetto
And its residents.
Stray notes: The Archdiocese of New York announced on March 27 that it is shutting down 45-year-old St. Helena's Commercial High School at 925 Hutchinson River Parkway in The Bronx -- the only high school in the Archdiocese geared to helping academically struggling and troubled students. The school, which opened in 1957, has 220 students... in the U.K., Manchester's Moss Side neighborhood is nick-named the British Bronx...
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March 18, 2002
Our focus this week is the scandal surrounding Assemblywoman Gloria Davis. Her protégé Carlos Jenkins, who won a Civil Court judgeship last year despite not being approved by the Bar Association of the City of New York, has given up his judgeship and his law license. It is reported that Mr. Jenkins and Ms. Davis received $19,000 in bribes to ensure that an entity known as JPM Associates won the construction contract for the rehabilitation of the Bronx Citizens Committee detox center at 1668 Webster Avenue. This began to come to light 18 months ago, when investigators probed an organized-crime labor racketeering case in The Bronx involving Carl Valverde, who died in October 2001 without being charged (but not before wearing a wire on Ms. Davis). For the record, Mr. Valverde is listed in incorporation papers for the labor organization "National United Brotherhood" of 1272 Boston Road, and "Local 1888 Apprenticeship Program," care of 800 Grand Concourse, Suite 3V.
The Webster detox / JPM Associates investigation is well underway, and has included the seizure of Ms. Davis' purse and examination of large quantities of cash therein, and the search of her district office on 169th Street. Inner City Press' research indicates the probe's expansion. Ms. Davis essentially controls another Bronx organization, the Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers, Inc.. Her protégé Carlos Jenkins incorporated the Friends of Harriet Tubman Charter School; Ms. Davis is on the board of directors of the school, along with her previous judge-"protégé," Hansel McGee. The school opened in September 2001 in temporary quarters at 169th Street and Boston Road (certainly, a construction contract there); it will reportedly move to larger space at 161st Street and Webster Avenue. It is currently managed by Edison Schools...
Inner City Press has determined that JPM Associates was incorporated on the last day of 1998, service of process to be directed to the corporation at 1200 Route 22 East, Bridgewater, New Jersey. This is ironic in light of Ms. Davis' references to immigrants as being "from outside the community," regardless of how long they've lived in The Bronx. Times, it appears, may be changing....
* * *
March 11, 2002
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Robert Moses' eminent domain, "you must move" letters to Bronxites in the path of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, we could not miss the irony of the March 5, 2002 fire in the abandoned bus terminal in Crotona Park East. As reported in detail in Robert Caro's biography of Moses, "The Master Builder," the future of the East Tremont neighborhood was sealed by Moses insistence on demolishing dozens of apartment building rather than this bus terminal, which has now sat vacant for decades. And now it has burned, again...
In this sad and ironic mood, we mourn also for those displaced on E. 181 Street and Quarry Road, for a hospital that was never built; and more recently for those high-handedly displaced for the now-stalled Melrose Commons plan. Robert Moses died in 1984; it is too late for an apology from him. From the other mis-planners of The Bronx, we await word.
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January 28, 2002
We will continue with last week's theme: Bronx media critique. This time, the grassroots. First, an exclusive news squib; then a more detailed review of BronxNet. Since the mid-1990s, Columbia School of Journalism has each spring run as a student project a weekly newspaper covering The Bronx. Given the limitations of student turnoff every year (and the resultant repetition of the same feature stories, year after year), the Bronx Beat has had its supporters in The Bronx. Well, the Bronx Beat will not be published in 2002, despite its Web site's statement (as of Jan. 27) that "[y]ou can read us again in February 2002!" Reportedly it is due to a lack of student interest. But more ominously, the Columbia J-school administration is said to be using this hiatus to reconsider the whole project -- i.e., to consider scrapping it not only this year, but for all future years. We are well aware of the problems occasioned by looking "gift horses" in the mouth, but nevertheless question what alternative service to the community Columbia J-school envisions. A sociologist might wish to inquire into why student interest in a weekly covering The Bronx would wane in 2002; other might wish to question what the J-school administration could have done to maintain the project this year, and what factors will be considered in deciding whether to even offer the Bronx Beat as an option to students in 2003 and beyond. We will continue to follow this story.
In terms of the Bronx covering itself, ICP's earlier reporting on non-Bronx programming on "BronxNet," which controls four channels (67-70) on Cablevision, the Bronx' cable television monopoly has been followed up on, in a battle of letters to the editor to the Riverdale Press, focused on a program that exhibits violence against women -- but only simulated, as the disclaimed states. BronxNet's executive director Jim Carney has responded with a Jan. 17 letter claiming that the First Amendment is to blame. No response is offered regarding the presence of non-Bronx, near-pornographic programming, and of the many hours of the day where all four channels broadcast nothing but a repetitive "community calendar." It's nice work if you can get it...
More detailed inquiries reveal the following: BronxNet got a ten-year contract with Cablevision to run the four stations. Then-borough president Ferrer appointed three board members, and the chair of the board. The executive director is the aforementioned Jim Carney. But the work, such as it is, is carried out to by directors: Greg Sumpter, programming director, and Audrey Duncan, director of training and outreach. Bronx residents may have noted a lack of outreach by BronxNet, a lack of presence at Bronx events. Viewer may also have noticed months-old programming running, programs running in forms that are virtually unintelligible, etc.. Issues have been raised, but changes have not been forthcoming. While we are generally supportive of non-profits (and certainly of public interest journalism), in the case of BronxNet the lack of competition, and the surety of payments under the ten year contract with Cablevision, seem to have resulted in inattention, apathy and mis-service of The Bronx. It is said that the new borough president takes this seriously; only time will tell. We will continue to follow this issue; this is the first in a series.
Finally, for this week, in the political orbit: newly-elected Councilman Oliver Koppell, an Assemblyman from 1968 through 1993, has complained that he has not been appointed as chairman of any City Council committee. He attribute this to the influence of the chairman of the Bronx county Democratic organization, who replied inscrutably that "I think he does both the speaker, himself and the legislative body a disservice when he attributes his non-getting a chair to someone such as myself. Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere." Yes, the truth is out there, somewhere...
* * *
January 22, 2002
This week: media reviews, positive events.
The New York Times of Sunday, January 20 contains twelve references to The Bronx. The only news story concerns a failed real estate development in the Northeast Bronx, in Baychester. The Real Estate section lists two "recent sales" -- in Riverdale and on City Island. Two wedding announcements mentions the Bronx, in both cases because one of the bride's parents works (Horace Mann in Riverdale) or has worked there. The Westchester Desk reports that the Cloisters is in Fort Tyron in The Bronx. As Bronxites, we'd love to claim this is in our borough. But it isn't. It's in upper Manhattan. Thus does the supposed paper of record cover a county of 1.3 million people in its headquarters city.
In other Bronx (related) media news, ICP has learned that radio station WKTU's public affairs program "Bronx Beat" has been eliminated by the station's new owner, Clear Channel Communications. The program was one result of ICP's challenge of the station's sale from Viacom to Chancellor / Evergreen; the program won awards for its coverage of The Bronx. And now it is gone, at Clear Channel's whim. Gone too is Lite-FM's director of public affairs, Sandy Jackson. Reportedly, the union AFTRA is attempting to address the latter. Shame, shame...
Now, a selective list of positive events. The Bronx rowing and waterfront group Rocking the Boat is holding a launch, Jan. 25 and 4 p.m., at the end of Lafayette Avenue and Edgewater Road in Hunts Point. St. Raymond High School will be presenting the musical "Little Shop of Horrors" on Feb.14, 15 and 16, in the auditorium on the corner of East Tremont Ave and Purdy Street. Call 914-738-7854 for information. And the Citizens Advice Bureau is offering free English as a Second Language classes, at 391 East 149th Street. Positive, no?
January 7, 2002
Last week Inner City Press was taken on a tour of the past by a long-time resident of Parkchester. He had been a charter member of a committee then attempting to integrate the housing complex; later, when he got married to another Parkchester resident and applied for an apartment, he was turned down as a troublemaker. This was his first visit back in some time. He noticed most the changes. The walkway added to the front of Macy's. His mother had worked there, at the notions counter; he'd look down at see her from his window in 1469 West Avenue. The beauty and nail shop by his front door, which used to be a Western Union. A long-gone storefront that was called the Corset-orium (selling, naturally enough, corsets). Where the post office is used to be a parking lot, on which kids played stickball and ate pickles. A restaurant that used to deliver hamburgers to tables on little model trains. The Met supermarket used to be a Gristedes; just outside of Parkchester was a medical office of the neatly-named Doctor Browse. It was similar to, if more poetic than, the nostalgia of many ex-Bronxites. What it lacked was the bemoaning of the present that is so often (and unnecessarily) a part of such nostalgia. The Bronx of 2002 is at least as mythical as its past incarnations. Along with hard news (including a review of CPC's actions in Parkchester), it is on the present-creation of future Bronx myths that we will focus in 2002. You will see.
* * *
December 31, 2001
The week between Christmas and New Years has been relatively quiet in The Bronx. On January 6, incoming borough president Carrion will be sworn in, at 161st Street and the Grand Concourse. It seems an appropriate time to complete our review of Big City D.A., the memoir of Mario Merola, who served as Bronx district attorney from 1973 until his death in 1987.
The parts of Merola's memoir that may be of most ongoing interest concern arson. He notes that in 1976, over 13,000 buildings in New York City burned in deliberately-set fires; he recounts the arrest of landlord Imre Oberlander on April 25, 1975 in a car full of gas-soaked rags, at the corner of Southern Boulevard and Aldus Street. Imre owned six buildings in the South Bronx, and all had suffered fires. Nonetheless, he was indicted only for "criminal possession of fire bombs," subsequently pled-down to criminal possession of weapons in the third degree. His sentence? Five years probation. Merola complained that his efforts to crackdown on arsonist landlords were not assisted by the then-borough president's insistence on press conferences on the courthouse steps, proclaiming that all was fine in The Bronx.
In a later, obligatory section on David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, Merola describes how Berkowitz' lawyer came forward with his madman client's diaries, which reflected that he set no fewer than 2,000 fires in The Bronx from 1974 through 1977.
And, in a detail that has become iconic, Merola describes the broadcaster Howard Cosell, while doing the play-by-play of the 1977 American League baseball championship between the Yankees and the Kansas City Royals, pointing out several simultaneous fires raging in The Bronx. This moment is often described as a "wake-up call" or as a "death knell." But the monograph-memoir of then-Bronx police commander Tony Bouza (reviewed earlier this year below), describes Howard Cosell's previous visit to The Bronx on September 28, 1976, for the Ali-Norton boxing match. Cosell's wig was ripped from his head, according to Bouza. Which, to Inner City Press at least, provides some explanatory background for Cosell's Bronx-bashing a year later.
* * *
December 24, 2001
In this abbreviated holiday week report, we'll limit ourselves to a heartfelt plea from this week's mail bag, a poem, and the first part of a book review. We're glad, for a number of reasons, that there's not more (in the way of tragedy, for example) that must be reported on.
The header / title of this missive in this week's mailbag grabbed us:
Subj: Eccentric woman and dogs living in filth
Date: 12/21/01 1:42:07 AM Eastern Standard Time
From: [Name withheld - email firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: BronxWatch [at] innercitypress.org
..On 12/20 I went to an apartment at Fordham Road in the Bronx. What I found was sickening. Five beautiful dogs chained their entire life in a room reeking of urine and feces. Two of which are pregnant. They are collie/poodle mixes. A huge turtle living in a bathtub. Roaches everywhere. An elderly sick dog and a pit bull. They are owned by an emotionally disturbed/eccentric woman. I am in the process of taking them from her and hoping you will cover the story. Thank you.
And now, less dramatic, a poem:
Bronx Holiday by M.Lee, 12/22/01
Bus stops in ghettos, the Christmas lights
Lick out escapes like flame -- storyless lots,
Urban renewal by Alzheimer's, collecting
Fragments of stories like bricks, plot lines rusted
Pipes, the saints on the door frames
Windowless cells of now forgotten confessions
Blinking to say, I am here Click here for more poems
And finally, the first part of what will be a multi-part review of ex-Bronx District Attorney Mario Merola's "Big City D.A." (New York: Random House, 1988).
In a county long-known for political corruption, Mario Merola built a career that was strikingly unmarred by scandal. It's not that he wasn't well-placed: he served in the City Council, then was elected D.A. in 1972. His memoir, now sadly out of print, begins with the case for which he is perhaps best known: the unsuccessful prosecution of Emergency Services Unit officer Stephen Sullivan, for killing Eleanor Bumpurs during her scheduled eviction from her apartment at 1551 University Avenue in 1984. Merola came under fire for seeking Sullivan's indictment, and during the resultant trial in 1987. Merola writes:
I believe there was racism involved. I believe that the cops didn't value [Bumpurs'] life as much as they might have valued the life of a white grandmother. But I saw something else in the Bumpurs case. I saw the absolute stupidity of the whole exercise. For $417.10 [in back rent], an army of city cops and bureaucrats had amassed to drag this woman out of her apartment... If I had looked in and seen that old woman sitting there with a knife in her hand, I would have closed the door and said, "Let's go for coffee." I would have said, "Let's get the hell out of here." I mean, what the hell were they doing there to begin with? They never belonged there. It was beneath them to be evicting old ladies.
Ah, Mario, where are ya when we need ya? Merola doesn't let himself off the hook; he apologizes again for comments he made during the trial, all in folksy language ghost-written by Mary Ann Giordano (her "with" is not listed on the cover, but on the title page). Merola died in 1987, before the book came out. But it's a meaningful piece of Bronx history, one that should be rescued from oblivion, especially in these days of "Print On-Demand" technology. More on that... next year.
* * *
December 17, 2001
In a holiday mood, we begin this week with the positive: the Mount Carmel Pharmacy on 187th Street and Beaumont Avenue has done it again. For Christmas, they've brought in a petting zoo in a trailer, and parked it right on 187th Street. Goats, baby bulls, rabbits and pheasants. The first two can be petted. Kids are squealing, and there's no charge to step up into the trailer. They also have a horse-drawn carriage, with a hand-painted sign: Paganelli Brothers. A dollar a ride, up Hughes Avenue, with music looped and dung in the streets. Popcorn's fifty cents. Que viva Mount Carmel Pharmacy, which been putting on these Christmas shows for years. On December 15, four old men played music: trombone, ukulele and trumpet. The fourth one sang, and it wasn't bad. And in the dusk, a line of children marched, under the flags of Mexico, Puerto Rico and Argentina, toward Mount Carmel church. It's Christmas time in Belmont, and much fun can be had, for little or no money. We'll see you there.
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December 3, 2001
Two grandiose announcements of economic development in The Bronx were made last week. On November 25, outgoing Mayor Giuliani traveled to Hunts Point, for a ceremonial ground-breaking for a new fish market. The reason? To free up the valuable real estate on which the Fulton Fish Market sits. Whether the Hunts Point market has actually been an "engine" of economic development for Bronx residents remains an open question. As does Giuliani's praising the outgoing Bronx Borough President at the groundbreaking that day. Perhaps Giuliani was delivering this message for the then-traveling mayor-elect. In any event, something's fishy here...
Then, on November 28, the city's Economic Development Corporation announced its selection of the Starrett Corporation to build a mall on the ill-fated site at 149th Street and Bergen Avenue, currently a vacant lot (above 149th) and a parking lot and a boxing club in an old post office (south of 149th Street). Just north, on the also ill-fated vacant lot between 153rd and 156th Street, from Brook to Third Avenue, it's said that the developer Related Companies will be building a K-Mart. The City had previously said that a Bradlees was on it way, but that was before both Bradlees and the developer, Rosenshein Associates, declared partial bankruptcy and walked away. That lot, on which every summer music festivals were held, has been fenced and weedy since. Frankly, of all of the previously announced plans for this area, the only one that was built was the prison on 149th Street between St. Ann's and Brook Avenue. And the Burger King and auto parts store thoughtfully tacked on to the sides of the prison...
Now the big boys (Starrett and Related Companies) are getting the subsidies. The Daily News of November 30 (mis-) reported that '[a]lmost 4,000 new homes have risen in the Melrose Commons area... subsidized private homes for working families." The reality? Nowhere near 4,000 units have been created. And the minimum required income for those that have been created is far beyond the reach of current area residents.
* * *
Finally this week, a Bronx restaurant review. In a one-story building on the corner of Arthur Avenue and 186th Street, for years they sold live chickens and rabbits. On the days on which the store was closed, generally Mondays, you could hear the chickens squawking inside, crying out against their fate. The business finally decamped, and the building has been refurbished into the recently-opened Aniello's Pizzeria and Grill. Even before our first visit, it was difficult not to question the business plan. There are already four-count-'em-four pizzeria on the two blocks of Arthur Avenue between 187th and 184th Streets. The Full Moon, Ivana's, Giovanni's, and Catania's. Giovanni's also doubles as a restaurant, replete with photographs of slice-munching by elected officials, and those seeking election via ethnic knoshing. When, in the 1990s, a small McDonald's was opened on the block, opposition was led by these four pizzeria, who felt the availability of fast food would cut into their business. Whether Arthur Avenue can support yet another pizzeria is an open question.
Having now visited Aniello's, the question is more ominous. The walls are white tile, reminiscent of the hydro-therapy room central to the 1976 movie The Drowning Pool, based on the Ross Macdonald novel of that name. The external brick walls have been painted yellow, and are brightly illuminated, long after Ivana's and Catania's are closed for the night. There are problems, however.
During a recent visit, of the three items our party chose off the menu, not a one was available. The manager, whose overbearing energy gave the impression that he was the owner, also informed us that there was no coffee. No chicken rolls -- how about a calzone? No statchatelli (spinach, egg and pasta soup) -- how about pasta fazule? The presence of quiche on the menu seemed strange; the mystery was resolved by its non-availability.
What did arrive was neither the best, nor the worst, pizza on the Arthur Avenue strip. At a neighboring table, a patron was given a three-dollar "personal pizza" rather than the nine-dollar small pie he had ordered. The personal pizza was half-gone when the problem came to light; there ensued a tense, whispered meeting among the manager, pacing in his black satin gym pants, the cashier and the waitress. Finally the manager strutted over to the cook -- the sullen-looking cook, it must be said, no matter how clicheed -- and patted him on the back. "No hard feelings," he said. All for a three-dollar pizza error? Hard times on 186th Street. Penny wise, pound foolish. Or, the ghost of chickens past...
We always like the end upbeat, so this will be no different. Give Aniello's a try in a month's time. Either the menu will have shrunk, or the items listed will be available. But we'd also urge visitors to Belmont to venture off the Arthur Avenue strip, not only the now much-lauded Roberto's on Crescent and 186th, but also further east, to a pizzeria-cum-restaurant called Joe's, on 187th between Beaumont and Crotona Avenues. There is also now a Latin diner, on Crotona and 187th, with a good fish soup and a multi-rhythmic juke box. As to Aniello's, only time will tell.
November 26, 2001
How is The Bronx presented? How is it viewed? This week we'll review the musings of a former Bronx police chief, then consider the (sad) Bronx story of the week, at least according to the four New York City daily newspapers.
Tony Bouza was the NYPD's Bronx Borough Commander from 1973 through 1976. He lost the post, and his taste for The Bronx, following mishaps during the Ali - Norton championship boxing match at Yankee Stadium in September 1976. But he did not forget: in 1990, he wrote a monogram for the Office of International Criminal Justice (housed at the University of Illinois at Chicago). Fans of Bronxania that we are, we've tracked it down, and... yowdza, Tony, we hardly knew ya.
Bouza "arrived at Borough Command Headquarters on April 6, 1973," and provides this thumb-nail description:
Blocks and blocks of solidly constructed, made-to-last-a-hundred-years houses staring hollow-eyed and vacant. Every shattered window was ringed with the telltale blackness of a fire. The streets were awash with glass, water, and bits of debris -- sunken hulks of our city's byways... At some point the landlord could either walk away from the building abandoning it and defaulting on taxes, or have it torched for the insurance money by a nascent, but growing, industry of arsonists, who would do it on the cheap.
The acknowledgement of the role of arson is important, if only cumulative. Bouza misses a root cause of much of the abandonment: redlining by banks and insurance companies (in the latter case, insurers let it be known that they would not be renewing policies in the South Bronx, making the rush to arson that much faster). But no matter--
Here's Bouza's from-the-hip assessment of the Bronx politicians of those times:
The South Bronx has a young Jewish councilman, named Barry Salman, who had been virtually abandoned by his white, Jewish constituents in their flight to the suburbs in the sixties... In my encounters with him he's always appeared to be, at least figuratively, looking longingly northward.. Everyone's relief was palpable when Salman's judgeship came along and he moved to the civil court...
Michael De Marco badgered, bullied and bleated until a tough, young police captain, Larry Hill, was removed from command for the 45th Precinct and driven into premature retirement...In the middle of this public debate I'd had reason to call De Marco's office for one minor thing of another and was stung to hear the report that "he would be willing to work with me when I was ready to work with him." Whatever this meant I believed it couldn't be good and I never spoke to him again...
The Democratic party leader, Pat Cunningham, though very prominent in the papers and the other news media, was in my experience totally invisible. All the years I was in the Bronx I never met him and he was never, so far as I knew, present at a single one of the hundreds of local functions I attended. He obviously preferred to operate in the wings. His was a post with a troubled history...
Jonathan Bingham, a WASP-ish and aristocratic congressmen from Riverdale seem to me to be quintessentially decent and supportive while at the other end of the borough, Mario Biaggi, a much decorated and now long-retired police lieutenant, struck me as possessing the more colorful plumage of his Latin origins... He had, in the course of his public life, been accused of a series of questionable acts that, while temporarily sidetracking him from such quests as the mayoralty, only really interrupted his progress briefly.
As Bouza's monogram was published, the Wedtech scandal moved through the courts, making the interruption of Biaggi's progress more than brief. The "troubled history" of the county leader post continued past Cunningham, though Stanley Friedman, and, it is reported, into today...
November 19, 2001
This week we step back from the still-smoldering Ground Zero, and even from the plane crash of November 12, which affected many Bronxites, particularly immigrants from the Dominican Republic -- we step back in time, via blurry photocopies of minutes of the meetings of Bronx Community Board Six, thirty and twenty-five years ago.
Community Board 6, covering Tremont, Belmont and West Farms, used to meet monthly in the now-abandoned bank branch on the corner of Park and Tremont Avenues. At a meeting there on January 22, 1969, the Board considered the history of the Old Borough Hall, which was on the hill at the corner of Third and Tremont Avenues. The minutes recite that "the President reported that on 9/21/65 the Board voted to support the ETNA proposal that the building be demolished and replaced by a community center and indoor recreation facility... On 4/2/68 the building was gutted by fire. In December and January [1968-69] it was demolished. Action should now be taken to implement the community center proposal."
Jump-cut to 2001: no community center was ever build. The site of the Old Borough Hall stands empty, at the top of a grand (and now absurd) staircase from Third Avenue.
At this same meeting, the Board discussed "the topic of a site for the replacement for Fordham Hospital... The City Planning Commission is in favor of the site bounded by 180th Street, Tremont Avenue, Hughes and Crotona Avenues. The Department of Health favors the site bounded by 182nd and 180th Streets, Hughes and Lafontaine Avenues."
Jump cut to 2001: Fordham Hospital was closed and demolished; all buildings between 181st and 182nd Streets, Hughes to Quarry Road, were also demolished. And then... no replacement for Fordham Hospital was ever built.
We're drawn from time to time to the past. Among other questions raised: what's the future of the Melrose Commons plan, under the incoming Mayoral (and Boro President) administrations? The major construction in the Bronx in recent years has been the new youth jail at 149th Street, Brook to St. Ann's Avenue (directly across from a school), and the new Criminal Court on 161st Street...
Bronx tragedies last week centered around -- but were not limited to -- subways. On November 12, 64-year-old Juan Diaz lost his balance and fell from the platform at East 174th Street and the Grand Concourse. He was trying to climb back onto the platform when the southbound D train entered the station and severed his foot. Less tragic, on November 13, a 12-inch water main broke at Bruckner Blvd. and E. 141st St., near the E. 143rd St.-St. Mary's St. subway station. The station was closed, and service from 125th St. to Hunts Point in the Bronx was suspended for 10 hours. Once the water main was shut off at 5:40 a.m., workers had to pump more than a million gallons from the station and test the line.
Finally, for this week, an update on ICP's opposition to the proposed take-over of Dime Savings Bank by Washington Mutual: on Thursday, November 15 the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) held a "formal meeting" on the application, and on ICP's challenge. ICP began the meeting by explaining the basis for its opposition, specifically focusing on Washington Mutual's subprime lending through Long Beach Mortgage Co. (which does not provide prime-priced loans to applicants with prime credit histories) and through Washington Mutual Finance Group (WMFG, which makes loans at interest rates up to 40%). ICP concluded by asking the nine question that are set forth in ICP's ongoing WaMu-Dime Watch, in our mid-week report of November 14.
[Some archival material cut to save server space - with questions, contact us]
November 12, 2001
The day after the mayoral election, an Inner City Press reporter traveled from The Bronx down to Ground Zero. Climbing up from the subway into Foley Square, the first thing you notice are the shotgun-toting U.S. Marshals in front of the federal court house, the cement barricades and the relative absence of traffic. The fountain in City Hall Park is flowing, but the gates around it are all locked. Banners signed by school children from the Midwest flap in front of the church, now only accessible to firemen and police, many of whom wander east from Ground Zero with dust masks on.
They've half-reopened the side streets between Broadway and Church Street. Haltingly, the pizzerias, pawnshops and jewelry stores have reopened too. They've hung fliers on the lamp poles. One, on Greenwich Street, read: "God Bless America -- Joe's Deli, We Are Open." A strip club is open; business as usual. But Rector Street is being torn up to install new fiber-optic wiring; trucks head south to Brooklyn and Staten Island with twisted steel girders roped to the back. The construction workers double-park on West Street -- you wonder who those who bought into Battery Park City even get to their apartments, now. There's a Thai restaurant open, but with not a single customer inside. The liquor store's having more luck.
South on Pearl Street, a handwritten sign says "Goldman Sachs party, second floor." The limousines which used to line these narrow streets at night are missing. Back east on Wall Street, crowds of floor traders and investment bankers are getting off work, with the cleaning crews arrive for the silent work of sweeping and bagging their detritus. The mood is less arrogant, more halting. There's dust in the air, even here, and the smell of burning rubber.
Back up in The Bronx, there's no burning smell (that was decades ago), but the talk's of anthrax, and of the woman from Crotona Park East who died. There's more talk of the military, because more people from here are enlisted. An Army of One. On the other side of the globe, 15,000 pound bombs are falling, igniting aluminum powder at 10,000 degrees. Five thousand, four thousand, the numbers are numbing and change daily. Who would have thought? At the interstices, there's even a poem:
We who fluctuate between the weather and Dow Jones
We who pull democracy's lever while holding our noses
We still drawn to the cold beer and hair-trigger Jeremiads
Neither cops nor tourists, we ghoulishly peruse the ruins--
A million vagabond minds blown like leaves down Wall Street
Wooden-teethed nation-builders rant on marble stairs
We calculate the cubic feet of terrorists' self-expression
Seek to secede from a band of mud hut video gamers--
In whose name does this aluminum powder burn?
Who counts white powder grains and proclaims their origin?
News anchors parse the tyrant's indictment
Today's accuser tomorrow sees his assets froze--
While warrantless searches replicate
Pawnshops of Columbus relentlessly pounded
By corn-fed special agents, with vacuum and badge
They siphon our minds, cleansing all treasonous doubts...
For or with more information, contact us.
November 5, 2001
The sudden anthrax death of Bronxite Kathy Nguyen at 1:15 a.m. on October 31 has led to a sudden interest in the usually-forgotten streets of Crotona Park East, by agents of the CDC and FBI, some in full hazardous materials suits, and journalists. Ms. Nguyen left Vietnam in 1977, and settled in the Bronx, in a Section 8 development called West Farms Estates. It's a complex of 11 buildings, with 364 apartments, situated between the 2 and 5 train line at Freeman Street and the 6 train on Whitlock Avenue. It's worth considering how the press has characterized the neighborhood in the last week.
The New York Times of October 31 described Ms. Nguyen as living in "a cheap third-floor apartment in the Bronx... on a block of bodegas and parking lots."
The Los Angeles Times of November 1 got more detailed, describing "the dingy lobby of her six-story apartment building....She would take a left on Freeman Street--her home for 22 years--and walk up a block before making a right. Past the carwash, past the Enterprise car rental shop, past La India Mexican restaurant and up the steps at the Whitlock Avenue train station, where she would board the Number 6 going south into the city."
The New York Post of November 1 placed Ms. Nguyen at "2 p.m. Thursday [October 25] on the corner of Freeman and Lenox streets , on her way to the subway." For those interested, there is no Lenox street in The Bronx. The reference may be to Longfellow Avenue, named after the poet.
The N.Y. Times of November 1 reported that "twenty to 30 detectives from the city and the F.B.I.'s joint task force on terrorism are trying to retrace her steps, looking, for example, at stores she might have visited, the subway she took to work... a task made more difficult given Ms. Nguyen's relatively private lifestyle. 'It is like a fugitive investigation,' said Barry W. Mawn, assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.'s New York office. 'We want to know everything and anything.'"
Newsday of November 2 captured the mood of Ms. Nguyen's neighbors on Freeman Street: "Maria Colon, 31, who lives two floors down from Nguyen's third-floor apartment, said the sight would frighten her children, 14, 8 and 4, when they returned from school... 'My tonsils are red and I'm having headaches,' she said outside her building yesterday. 'The health inspectors said "If you want to get the kids tested its up to you. We don't see a danger." ... Yeah right.'" Kenneth Webster, 20, added: 'There's a whole bunch of guys inside the building with space suits. We see this and ask what's going on but they won't tell you. You wonder if you should even be in the building. If this had happened in midtown the whole block would be sealed off'... Gus Primo, a retired plumber, said... 'If they gave Cipro at the hospital why are the neighbors not getting the same treatment?'" Why, indeed...
The neighborhood between the Bronx River and Southern Boulevard -- along the cross streets of Hoe, Vyse, Longfellow and Boone Avenues -- hit bottom in the early 1980s. Buildings burned, and stood vacant and windowless for years. In 1989, local residents who were living doubled-up in the remaining apartments got together, and between repairing a building in the neighborhood, on Home Street between Hoe and Vyse Avenue. In 1990, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) decided it wanted to demolish the building, and replace it with aluminum-sided private houses that sold for over $200,000. On January 29, 1991, the city government sent hundreds of riot-equipped police to evict the 36 families living in the Home Street building. They moved to an informal camp across the street, and watched as the building was torn down. Then as now, the night was full of the crashing sounds of elevated trains, from Southern Boulevard to Whitlock Avenue.
The private houses were built; their residents don't use the subways, rather they drive their cars to supermarkets and malls in the north Bronx or Yonkers. The subsidized West Farms Estates remained. In fact, the Fannie Mae Foundation gushed about the development: "the West Farms Estates neighborhood group in the Bronx decided to repaint all its fire escapes dark red, creating a visible sign that something was going on the neighborhood. 'In the short term, a bunch of buildings with rusting fire escapes were all painted,' said Ken Bowers, senior planner at Abeles Phillips Preiss & Shapiro, Inc., a New York City planning and real estate consulting firm. 'I can't say to you that first the fire escapes were painted, and the next thing all the housing units were rehabbed. But I can say that it created an increased feeling of community pride-just by undertaking a simple task.'"
And now, this sad and sudden anthrax death; investigators in moon-suits; journalists making snap characterizations, not even getting the street names right. And what's next?
October 29, 2001
Local U.S. news has skipped from the September 11 plane-bombing to the anthrax scares, with fewer and fewer mentions of the ongoing bombing of Afghanistan (click here for ongoing news on that).
In Bronx anthrax news (!), parents of children at the public school on Crotona Park East protested last week, demanding that the school be tests and the results released, following the discovery of -- guess what? -- a powdery white substance in the school. This was covered on Cablevision's News 12, and ignored by the written press. They continued to focus on "S11 Aftermath." For example:
Bronxite Fiola Lopez, whose husband, Luis, was killed in the World Trade Center attack, said she may be forced to go on welfare to help her care for her two kids. So far, she has only applied for emergency food stamps. "My salary isn't much," Ms. Lopez said. "With my husband, we could take care of the kids, but without him, welfare may be what I need."
As One Liberty Plaza reopened, Bronxite Kenny Luke, a maintenance worker at the building since 1989, said it felt like the first day of school. "You have to be brave. You can't run from this. Everyone needs to come back here and work like they did before," he said. "If anything, we are probably more safe and more secure than ever before."
Unrelated to S11: at 655 Pelham Parkway in The Bronx last week, Ivan Defoster was refinishing floors when the chemicals he was using caught fire. He leapt out the window to escape the flames; he was pronounced dead at Jacobi Medical Center
The sad stories of those excluded even from benefits continued. The family of Leobardo Lopez, a Mexican immigrant who settled in the Bronx while working at Windows on the World in the WTC, picked up and cashed Leobardo's last paycheck, sending it to Leobardo's widow and four children in Mexico. Leobardo's friend Antonio Melenzez also worked at Windows on the World, and was also killed. His 8-year old daughter told CNN: "My father was nice. He was a good father, a good husband. He didn't like to go out with the friends; he always liked to be with his family." CNN concluded: "But in the Bronx, the rent is dangerously overdue, and back in Mexico, Leobardo's checks have stopped coming. Antonio's wife, Julia, like Cristobal, is left with little official aid -- no Social Security, no unemployment checks, no life insurance -- no government aid for people who worked without government documents. The only thing left are tears, and two families hoping their men come back alive."
Finally, this week, episode #1 of "a terrorist ate my homework:" on Friday, October 26, the New York Banking Department faxed Inner City Press a letter, stating that "due to the tragic events of September 11... the Banking Department was unable to respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests such as yours... A response to your request[s] will be forthcoming within 30 - 60 days." The FOIL requests the NYBD is referring to date from July and August 2001....
October 22, 2001
So: Ferrer conceded, the fish market returned downtown, and already the discount stores are hawking their Halloween wares on the sidewalk, along with framed photographs of the World Trade Center. A Florida-based Muslim, Kem Hussain, the director of the Nur-Ul-Islam Academy in Cooper City, Fla. -- into which a man burst, armed with a baseball bat, late on September 11 -- was slated to speak at a Bronx mosque on October 21. However, he choose to speak at a church instead, preaching tolerance...
An update on relief: the family of Bronxite (and Albanian Muslim) Mon Gjonbalaj, killed in Two World Trade Center on September 11, has received some but not all of the promised aid. Mon's 58-year-old widow, Hanifa, has received $5,000 from SEIU Local 32BJ. Local 32BJ is promising to double death benefits to $ 80,000, plus provide health benefits for 2 years, to families of its 25 dead or missing members. Mon made about $ 40,000 a year as a maintenance worker. She has also received $ 1,055 from the New York State Crime Victims Board. But the Red Cross has said that its check is in the mail. Mon's son Sal remains angry that the World Trade Center did not evacuate his father and thousands of other victims from Two WTC in the 18 minutes after the first tower was struck. "They kept telling people that everything was all right, to go back to work. Yeah, right."
The job-seekers: Bronxite Monique Jordan waited two hours last week to enter the WTC job fair. She was put on a half-time schedule by Morgan Stanley, and told to stay at home. Her office on the 35th floor of the World Trade Center was destroyed, and the company has yet to find her a new one, she said, adding that she can't survive on the half-wages that Morgan Stanley is offering.
Now that the city's fish market has moved back down to Fulton Street, after being relocated to Hunts Point in The Bronx since September 11, we'll run this quote: Joe Centrone, a salesman for Arrow Seafood, told reporters that Hunts Point is "a horror story... None of the customers can find us up here, and even if they could, this ain't the nicest neighborhood in New York." Thanks, Joe...
Click here for ICP's continuing coverage of bank's money laundering and other connections brought into focus by September 11 and its aftermath; click here for an update on ICP's challenge to Washington Mutual's application to acquire Dime Savings Bank.
October 15, 2001
This week: anthrax fears, the end of a Bronx (politico) dream, a local (bank) campaign; more rest-in-peace's
As the bombing of Afghanistan continues, a new fear has hit the Bronx: anthrax. In corner groceries, people talked about it, pointing at the screaming tabloid headlines. "Should I open my mail anymore?" a woman, fresh from a church service, asked. "Yes," most people told her. "Just be careful."
Bronxite National Guardsman Ricardo Garcia patrolled Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, in front of Penn Station. Incongruously, he had no weapon. "Our presence is basically just as a deterrent," he said.
On the evening of October 11, Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer conceded to Mark Green, having lost the run-off 52% to 48%. Ferrer told reporters: "I've never done a negative campaign in my life." Long-time Bronx observers noted that Ferrer was handed the borough presidency in a smoke-filled room, after Stanley Simon was indicted, and never faced a serious challenge thereafter. In his concession speech, Ferrer began a sentence, "wherever I am in the future, and whatever I'm doing...". Speculation has already begun regarding where this might be. Often, defeated politicians who are lawyers hook up with a law firm, "of counsel" (e.g., Mario Cuomo). Mr. Ferrer is not a lawyer. Some post, surely, awaits. [Although, at press time, a recount of the "over-count" is underway...].
More seriously, on October 9, the leader of the Islamic Cultural Center at 371 East 166th Street was beaten, stuck on the head with wood by three men. The incident is being investigated (as it should be) as a hate crime.
Further rest-in-peace's: Hunts Point resident Antonio Melendez worked at Windows on the World, along with his friend Leobardo Lopez Pascual. Antonio and his wife Julia met in their hometown of Puebla, Mexico, and had four children. She was asked what Antonio had wanted for their children. "To study, to be somebody in life," she said, "so they didn't have to be like us, to work like us." Fully 73 Windows on the World employees perished on September 11. Rest in peace.
Helen Cook, nee Garcia, came from Honduras to The Bronx when she was 12 years old. On September 11, she was working on the 82nd floor of 1 World Trade Center. After the plane hit, she called her brother Edson. She was not able to get out of the building. Rest in peace.
There's also this: on the evening of October 6, at Hughes and E. Tremont Avenues, Michael Sanders, 25, was shot twice in the chest and twice in his knees. He was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:05 p.m. The 48th Precinct detectives are at (718) 299-4119...
And -- totally unrelated -- click here for ICP's continuing coverage of bank's money laundering and other connections brought into focus by September 11 and its aftermath; click here to view ICP's Oct. 15 comments on Washington Mutual's application to acquire Dime Savings Bank.
October 8, 2001
It began as another week of funerals. In delicatessens and bodegas, radios were tuned to all-news stations, and people stopped in mid-transaction to listen. It was the British prime minister, paradoxically, who made the more explicit threats. People shook their heads and wondered what would happen next. On October 7, following (and blotting out) a pre-runoff debate between Ferrer and Green, bombs began to drop on Afghanistan. "Operation Omega" sites around the city -- not only the court houses, but facilities like the Con Ed power substation at 179th Street and Third Avenue in East Tremont -- were guarded by police.
First, more rest-in-peace's, prepared throughout the week: Fireman Steve Mercado 39, born and raised in The Bronx. Survived by his wife, Joviana, and two sons, Skylar, 6, and Austin, 2. His parents Mary and Louis, and another brother, Louis Jr., are all from the Bronx.... Fireman Gerard Schrang, who served on The Bronx's Engine Co. 45, Engine 75 and 33 Truck companies, then Rescue 3 company in the Bronx. He was celebrating his 20th year as an NYC firefighter this year... Police Officer Jerome Dominguez, who worked for ESU Truck 3 division in The Bronx...
Kieran Gorman, 35, a construction worker originally from County Sligo in Ireland, who had lived in Woodlawn in the North Bronx for nine years... Myrna Maldonado, 49, a Bronxite who was working as a systems designer for the Port Authority, in One World Trade Center... Nancy Diaz, 28, of the Dominican Republic and The Bronx, who was working as kitchen assistant, tending to the breakfast buffet on the 107th floor of the north tower when the first plane hit... Rest in peace.
Now, some (more) bad news: Newsday of October 1 reported that "last Wednesday, 15 undocumented workers who sought help at the Bronx offices of the state Crime Victims Board were turned away when they were unable to supply social security numbers... Ruben Gomez, 26, who fled the trade center with others working in a deli kitchen, was clearly startled by the official response. 'I heard the first plane hit like a train. I ran out, looked up and saw the second plane hit,' he said, noting that his job had now disappeared. 'But I don't have a Social Security number,' so he wasn't able to get benefits."
Street vendor Ka Badou ventured down from the Bronx, and set up his ware -- books, flags and batteries -- on Water Street.. Police ordered him north of Canal Street, but he set up again on Fulton Street. Bronxite Carl Suvick went down to Uncle Sam's Army Navy Outfitters on 8th Street in Manhattan to try on gas masks. "I guess the feeling I have is hopelessness," he said.
An update: the two men beaten up last week on E. 188th Street have been released from the hospital. Ali Sulah Fawzi, 30, and Yahya Fawzi, 35, were attacked outside a convenience store at 154 E. 188th St. in the Fordham section of the Bronx at 11:20 p.m. Friday by three men. Ali Sulah Fawzi received 11 stitches in the head at St. Barnabas Hospital. Afterwards, he described the attack: "They came back, and they were saying, 'You Arabs get out of my neighborhood - we hate Arabs! This is a war!' One of them dragged me outside and hit me in the head with a bottle." He added: "This is my living. I have to support family back home in Yemen. I'm here until death." Police arrested Christopher Damien, 31, and Allen Davie, 21, and charged them with assault. The third alleged attacker has not been apprehended...
As we go to press, the bombing of Afghanistan has begun. For Yahoo's ongoing coverage and links (including to ICP, on Finance Watch issues), click here.
October 1, 2001
The death certificate process has begun. Among the lost from The Bronx are workers from the Windows on the World restaurant, a janitor, firefighters.
Bronxite Wilfredo Agosto whose wife Myrna Maldonado is among those still missing, said: "It's going to be real tough to get the death certificate, because then it will really set in that she's gone forever." But, he said, it will also give him "final closure. I've been to ground zero. I knew she couldn't make it."
Bronx firefighter Manny DelValle Jr. worked out of Engine Company No. 5, which he'd gotten to participate in the Puerto Rican Day parade. He loved salsa, dancing and roller skating. Another longtime Bronx fireman, Lieutenant Geoffrey Guja, rushed to the World Trade Center on September 11, even though he was recuperating from a previous injury.
Sophia B. Addo came to The Bronx in 1996 from Ghana, where she was a school teacher. She got a job at Windows on the World while studying for the G.E.D. exam, which she was scheduled to take on September 12, 2001. Her husband said, "To me, she was justice."
Leobardo Lopez Pascual came to New York four year ago, from Puebla, Mexico. He got a one-bedroom apartment in Hunts Point, and a job at Windows on the World. He sent part of his earnings back to his family in Puebla. When his sisters came to New York to visit, he took them to his restaurant, and pointed out at the Statue of Liberty.
Mon Gjonbalaj worked as a janitor in the World Trade Center, and lived in The Bronx a three-family house with his three sons, while his daughter worked as a translator for NATO forces in Kosovo. Last year, he went to Kosovo to help his brother rebuild a house destroyed in the war there. After the planes hit the Towers, he managed to call his son, saying, "I'm trapped. I don't think I'm going to see you guys again. Keep the family together. Be strong."
Bronxite Ivan Almendarez narrowly escaped on September 11. Now he works in the nearby headquarters of his union, Building Service Workers Union 32BJ, which lists 26 members as missing. "I have been crying ever since it happened," Almendarez says. "And to this day I am nervous. At night I close the windows, because when trucks go by, the noise sounds like a building is going to collapse."
Carl Chambers worked for 27 years at One World Trade Center, managing traffic flow in and out of the elevators. On September 11, he shift was to begin at 10 a.m.. He was taking the Five Train down from Co-op City, when it was announced that the train could not proceed. He exited at Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall. " I looked up and saw flames. I wanted to go there to help, because I know so many people who worked there. Then I heard this loud noise and the first tower collapsed... This is just too painful. I knew hundreds of the missing people. I had a desk at the lobby, and practically everybody who came into the building in the mornings said hello to me... I have no savings to speak of. I hope the union will be able to help me and the others out. But I know one thing: New York is my home, and I love it. It may take some time, but the city will come back."
Meanwhile, on September 28 on East 188th Street in The Bronx, shouting broke out about the plane-bombings, and two men from Yemen were beaten. Now under arrest are Christopher Damien, 31, and Davie Allen, 21. The victims, Ali Salah and Yahya Fawzi, were taken to St. Barnabas Hospital.
And we'll leave it at that, for this week... Click here to see ICP's second Special Report on banks' business with terrorists.
September 24, 2001
Where the World Trade Towers stood, the recovery work continues. Even two weeks after the plane-bombing and collapse of the Towers, those searching the ruins still express hope. John Morris, a fireman from Ladder 27 in The Bronx, reminds others that "over the years, we've heard stories of mud slides and collapses and of them finding people. We know it's a long shot to find somebody now... "If you find something soft, you put the tools down and start digging with your gloves. You don't want to damage [a body] with tools... We're just hoping for the little miracles now."
Among those cutting through the tangle of girders with acetylene torches and gas-powered saws was Joe Viardalas, an ironworker from the Bronx. As the wreckage is sifted, it is loaded on trucks, to be driven to the landfill on Staten Island. Truck driver Francisco Cintron, a 22 year old resident of the Bronx' Castle Hill neighborhood, has been driving tractor-trailers of rubble from lower Manhattan, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and onto Route 440 to the landfill. Cintron worked around the clock for several days, sleeping only while his truck was being loaded and unloaded. "I want to get the job done," he said. "I just want to get it cleaned up."
As people returned to work in lower Manhattan, they looked shell-shocked. Robert Underwood, an office-temp from the Bronx, paused to look at the wreckage, and began to cry. "That building represents people," he said softly. "It didn't hit me like this on television, though I saw it over and over. But this is really hard."
Jose Gonzalez, a Bronxite who worked in a restaurant destroyed by the plane-bombing, came down to lower Manhattan. He doesn't know why, he said. "I have a 6-year-old daughter," Gonzalez said. "They kept saying not to let kids see it on TV, but every channel, it was on."
Uptown, the Bronx Muslim Center received phone calls and e-mails; one said "You better watch your back, Muslim." The Center's director, Ali Salhab, shook his head. "We are part of this society... We are one community and we should not be targeted," he said. In the Bronx' Belmont neighborhood, a second candle-light march was held on the evening of September 22, including stops at churches on 187th and 182nd Streets, the mosque on 189th Street, and the firehouse on Belmont Avenue between 182nd and 183rd, to mourn two still-missing firefighters... Earlier that day, a car drove down Quarry Road with a loud speaker on the roof, exhorting residents to vote to Councilman Joel Rivera on September 25. Pedro Espada Jr. took to the airwaves in cable television ads, starting in front of an American flag urging viewers to be sure to vote that day. The conclusion of the commercial was more pointed: Vote for Pedro Espada Jr.. Many candidate were hardly seen or heard from, in the two weeks between September 11th and 25th...
And the beat goes on: on the evening of September 18 on Drake Avenue in Hunts Point, police seized a tractor trailer containing 700 pounds of cocaine. Drake Avenue is named for Joseph Rodman Drake, the composer in 1835 of these immortal lines: "Yet I will look upon thy face again, / My own romantic Bronx, and it will be / A face more pleasant than the face of men."
In the aftermath of the September 11 plane-bombings of the World Trade Center and the U.S. Pentagon, Inner City / Finance Watch has prepared a report on bank links to Al Qaeda and other state- and non-state terrorist groups -- and on what the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department have done, and not done, in the recent past on this issue. While initial press accounts centered around Barclays Bank in London, there are many more connections: ABN Amro (owner of LaSalle Bank in the U.S. Midwest) held deposits of Al Qaeda conspirators in India; Deutsche Bank (which bought New York's Bankers Trust in 1999) held millions for a now-incarcerated Pakistani intelligence chief); Fleet is reputed to channel money to the Chechen jihad. Click here to view the complete report. Inner City Press' inquiry remains ongoing...
September 17, 2001
Following the plane-bombing of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, the rescue efforts (as well as those now presumed dead) include many Bronxites. Scroll down this page for our coverage of September 12, 13 and 14.
Among the victims who have now been identified is Dominick Pezzulo, 36, a police officer for the Port Authority and resident of The Bronx. Mr. Pezzulo was crushed while trying to assist in the rescue of two fellow officers, Sgt. John McLoughlin and Officer William Jimeno, according to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Both officers survived... Among those still missing is 37 year old Bronxite Michael Iken, who was at work on the 84th floor of Two World Trade Center when the second hijacked plane flew into the building. According to his sister, Iken's co-workers who escaped the building have said that he remained behind to help others. He has not been heard from since, and his wife of 11 months, Monica, has been posting fliers and photos to assist the search for her husband...
At the Javitts Center, Noha Abdelghany, 16, and her cousin, Galia Ahmed, 15, came in from the Bronx to help the Salvation Army hand out sandwiches, fruit and cookies to the other volunteers. The girls, who are Egyptian Muslims who wore traditional head coverings, said they wanted to dispel anti-Muslim stereotypes held by some Americans. Abdelghany's best friend's father, who is Egyptian, was working at the World Trade Center the day of the attack, and is missing.
Over the weekend of September 15-16, there was a police presence maintained in front of a mosque on 189th Street and Belmont Avenue in The Bronx. Members of this mosque visited Christian churches in the neighborhood, to explain that their theology did and does not justify or support acts like the plane-bombing of the World Trade Center. A candlelight vigil through the neighborhood was held on September 14; the candle were left burning in D'Aurea Murphy park at 184th Street and Arthur Avenue.
NYC political update: voting in the primary elections, which began at 6 a.m. on September 11, was quickly cancelled. The primary election has been rescheduled for September 25. We will restart our coverage -- and the candidates will surely restart their campaigning -- before then. Mindfully, we hope... The Fulton Fish Market will be reopening on September 17 in Hunts Point...
September 14, 2001
In lower Manhattan, it is estimated that over 4,700 people remain buried under the collapsed World Trade Towers. The families of the missing have been directed to bring photographs and dental and medical records to the Armory on 26th Street. Bronxite Jan Julsuwan continued searching for any word of her cousin, Saranya Srinuan, who worked on the 104st floor of One World Trade Center as an assistant in the bonds trading floor of Cantor Fitzgerald. Ms. Julsuwan said, "Someone called me and said they saw her on Channel Five yesterday and that she was fine, but we haven't heard from her. We just want to know that she's OK and that it was her and not someone else."
The chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, was interviewed on ABC television saying that he's not aware of any of his employees having gotten out of the building alive. While Mr. Lutnick consoled employees' relatives at the Pierre Hotel, the Daily News (9/13) misreported that he was at Cantor's London office. The New York Post (9/13) quoted a Deutsche Bank bond trader that "The major concern right now is the lack of liquidity of the market." We hope that the quote was taken out of context -- because liquidity is not "the major concern."
Another Bronxite, Juan Bruno, continued searching for his wife, Raquel Tamares, who worked for Aon Financial Services on the 100th floor of Two World Trade Center. She beeped him at 9:07 a.m., but he could not reach her. "I've called all the hospitals, but they say they haven't admitted her but that I should keep trying," Mr. Bruno said. "All I can think is she's in the hospital unconscious or that they just don't have her name."
Among the survivors was Bronxite Norbert Peat. He was making a delivery on the 79th floor for Personal Computer Rentals; he had never been in the World Trade Towers before. He had just made a delivery and gotten off the elevator before the plane hit. He and a fireman hid behind a police car when the building exploded and "he was able to give me oxygen. Thank God I was with the right person. There was a lot of gas when the plane hit .... I was trying to go back. There were two ladies back there. I was really worried about them. I couldn't get back, so I don't know if they perished or not."
The painstaking search of the ruins continued, with the help of volunteers. Ramon Ramirez, a building superintendent from The Bronx, was among those sifting through the rubble. During his stint, he helped excavate nine bodies. "We did a whole line, passing them one by one over our heads," he said. "There was a lot of blood, and dirt. It was horrible." Felipe Baez, another volunteer from the Bronx, lasted 20 minutes after helping pull six bodies from the ruins. "They were charcoal," he said. "I saw enough."
"We're finding a lot of hands, and arms and feet, half a head, chopped up bodies," said John Jennings, a fireman from Ladder Company 56 in the Bronx. Another Bronx firefighter, Bob Santandrea, described the ruins: "It's like twisted I-beams all over the place. One on top of the other. It's completely mind-boggling." FDNY Lieutenant JJ Vaughan, 60, who heads a battalion in the South Bronx, said that "the whole fire department is now on 24 hours on, 24 off. We can't commit too many people at the moment because it's still too unsafe. There are dangerous buildings there. We['ve] got to take a methodical approach."
Up in The Bronx, the Federation of Taxi Drivers has offered to provide free rides for people who want to donate blood. In Bronx Community District 10, over 70 merchants contributed to an emergency food and supply drive. So many items were donated that a bus was needed to carry it all across the Harlem River into Manhattan.
This -- grassroots solidarity and support -- is the correct approach. Downtown, New York Community Bancorp blithely announced that its CEO would make a presentation at an investors' conference on Martha's Vineyard on September 20 -- no mention of the tragedy in the community that NYCB purportedly serves. We are compelled to note these things... And to repeat this reflection on freedom, since it's being invoked so much: the United States has an unprecedented level of personal and political freedom. The right to petition the government for redress of grievances. The First Amendment. Freedom of the press. These, more than the reopening of the stock market, are what should be defended. There's a need for moral leadership, at the national, regional and neighborhood level. In light of the loss of life, the pervasive and reinforced sense of powerlessness and frailty, the urge to retaliate -- to defend -- is widely shared. But if the response includes killing uninvolved civilians, how would it be qualitatively different than the September 11 plane bombing?
September 13, 2001
In the ruins left by the collapse of the World Trade Towers, the search for victims continued. More than 100 firefighters are still missing. Dominic Bertucci, Bronx Engine Co. No. 50, rested at West Street and Murray, shaking his head. "That's it. That's the World Trade Center," he said. His radio squawked: "There's no way out here. We're trying to get out the other way... Be advised we're going to have to try from the other side." Another Bronx-based fireman, Tony Rodrigo, described the day's digging: "I could see people buried in the rubble - but I couldn't get them."
In the Bronx on September 12, a blood drive was held at Fordham University. Staff members of the New York Blood Center say they collected nearly 500 units of blood at Fordham's Rose Hill campus.
More culled Bronxite perspectives, from September 11 and 12: Antoinette Benion and Brenda Briggins, friends from the Bronx, were on their way to work downtown when there was an explosion. They were at the Fulton Street station at Nassau Street when a wall of soot filled the station from above, Benion said. In an instant, the station was pitch black. They eventually found a light and followed it to the street, she said. "I feel fortunate for the grace of God that it's not our time," Briggins said. On Church Street, Marina Aquino, 37, of the Bronx. "It feels like the end of the world."
At Greenwich and Duane streets, Tony Bristow, a 35-year-old construction worker from the Bronx who was working on Pier 54, said, "I was standing a block away watching people jump. You could hear their bodies hitting the tops of other buildings."
Viola Wiggs, 39, a medical laboratory worker from the Bronx, was one of thousands of New Yorkers stranded in Times Square on September 11 when their subway trains were evacuated and their offices shut for the day, who felt this sense of fear and unease. "I never thought I'd live to see something like this happening," she said. "I never thought I'd be unsafe."
Bronxite Glenda Anselm repeatedly called the cell phone of her cousin, Fitzroy St. Rose. Sometimes his phone would ring, sometimes it would be busy, sometimes it went silent; she didn't know whether that was reason for hope or despair.
An employee of Morgan Stanley said, "It's the not knowing that is the difficult thing." But Morgan Stanley issued a press release quoting its CEO's instructions to employees: "On the client side, I think it is extremely important that everyone get in touch with their clients. The Firm is in great shape." We think this is going overboard, for a company that had 3,500 employees in an office center that's been demolished by kamikaze hijacked airplanes, to state that "the Firm is in great shape."
Other companies issued releases emphasizing that they remain financially strong. We understand a bank trying to give assurances that deposits are safe. But several insurance companies' statement appear more directed at stock analysts and investors. AIG, for example, issued a release stating that "AIG is operational in New York and around the world... [A]ll key business functions are proceeding... AIG is the strongest insurance and financial services company in the world, with total assets in excess of $400 billion. We are well diversified, both as to type of insurance coverages and geographically. Our total losses stemming from this tragedy will not impact our solid financial condition."
We'll say it again: we think it's inappropriate, an insurance company bragging out its assets size and credit rating in the face of the events of September 11. The above-quoted statement is not even directed at consumers, at insurance policyholders. It's directed at the investment community. "The Firm is in great shape...". For ongoing coverage, from the wire services via Yahoo, click here.
September 12, 2001
The plane-bombing of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan has brought New York City, including The Bronx, to a virtual standstill. After hijacked airplanes hit each of the Twin Towers on Tuesday morning, collapsing the Towers, effects moved outwards in concentric circles. In The Bronx, Yankee Stadium was quickly evacuated and surrounded by police. Libraries and most bank branches closed down. Schools remained open until parents could pick up their children; schools are closed on September 12. The primary elections were cancelled. Locally, we note that the Bronx borough president ran to the studios on Bronx cable news. In Washington, several Congress members took to the airwaves to call for the U.S. to bomb someone, anyone, as quickly as possible -- an irresponsible and counter-productive approach. For ongoing coverage, from the wire services via Yahoo, click here. For now, the following culled Bronxite perspectives:
Bronx resident Andrew Mola works -- or worked -- Five World Trade Center. "I saw the debris flying by my window," he said. "Everybody put two and two together and thought it was a bomb... People started jumping out of One World Trade. We think we saw about 13 people jumping to their death. People were just in complete awe. Then we saw the other plane...". He eventually got back home to the Bronx, walking most of the way. "I dont know where to go tomorrow," he said.
In Foley Square, just north of City Hall in lower Manhattan, Bronxite Eddie Garcia tried to wash away the building dust from his eyes in a fountain with about seven other men. "I was riding in on the train," Garcia said. "I could see the commotion and people running away; I am thinking it's a shoot-out or something like that."
Mid-morning, a man standing on the side of the Whitestone Bridge, which connects The Bronx to Queens, said he had just driven across. He "trembled" across the entire expanse, he said, fearing that those who had targeted lower Manhattan would hit this bridge next. Across The Bronx -- and the city and country -- people's eyes were on the sky. Sadly, we must note, several financial institutions seemed as or more concerned with how they would be perceived. As only two examples, Mellon issued a press release stating that its "clients should rest assured that their assets are secure. Please contact your Mellon or Dreyfus relationship manager with any questions." While we understand why the Federal Reserve reiterated its ability and willingness to provide "liquidity" -- former FDIC chief William Seidman even said that "once again deposit insurance will prove how valuable it is in times of uncertainty" -- we found distasteful certain investment-sellers' fast focus on the bottom line, and on their own images. It's one thing to say, "your bank deposits are insured, let's not have a run on the bank" -- and quite another to be putting out press releases about stock "positions," and "call your broker."
There was loose talk, with no evidence (yet) to support it, guessing at who was responsible for the attacks. Such speculation is not helpful. There is much to reflect on, and much work to do. Rest in peace; let us (re-) begin.
September 10, 2001 [Mundane pre-September 11 Report]
Over the weekend of September 8-9, sound trucks inched through The Bronx, glaring exhortations to go out and vote for Fernando Ferrer on September 11. The looped tape spoke of a coalition of African Americans and Latinos, saying, "Now is the time." Community leaders and pundits outside The Bronx continue to parrot the line that Mr. Ferrer rebuilt the entire Bronx. Come check it out, before you parrot that...
Back in the real world, housing court evictions between 1997 and 1999 were recently studied by the Citizens Advice Bureau. According to the CAB report, The Bronx is the only borough in which there was an increase in the number of evictions. Evictions increased by 5.8% in the Bronx but declined in other boroughs by as much as 22.4%. Though it only has 16% of the citys total population, the Bronx has one third of all evictions in New York City.
Comparing selected low-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx, the study found that more than three quarters of Bronx neighborhood buildings were professionally managed, in contrast to half of the buildings in Brooklyn neighborhoods. "Landlords of professionally managed buildings are much more likely to use Housing Court than landlords of small buildings," said the study's author, David Rubel, adding that most large landlords employ lawyers to represent them, while the vast majority of low-income tenants have little or no access to legal counsel. The study concludes that the new Bronx housing court building has "not brought any relief to the tenants of the Bronx."
Speaking of new courthouses, last week, Flour City International announced that its $ 32.3-million curtain-wall subcontract on the planned $ 324.7-million new Bronx criminal court was cancelled.
The hexed urban renewal site at 156th Street and Third Avenue is the subject of a new plan, with a politically-connected developer. Related Companies has been designated to build a $36 million retail and office complex on the city-owned site. The deputy mayor for economic development and finance states that Kmart has expressed interest in being the anchor tenant of the retail space. Earlier, Rosenshein Associates had the site, and claimed that Bradleys was coming. We'll see... ICP's proposal? Until there's a solid plan, the lot should be opened again to the salsa festivals that used to take place there.
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