Inner City Press Bronx Reporter
Archive 2003 - 2004
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ICP has published a (double) book about a variety of Bronx-relevant topics -- a review in Commonweal magazine of Dec. 5, 2003, opines that "Predatory Bender... is as vivid an account of life in the Bronx as you are likely to read" -- click here for sample chapters, here for an interactive map, here for fast ordering and delivery, and here for other ordering information. See also, "City Lit: Roman a Klepto [Review of Predatory Bender]," by Matt Pacenza, City Limits, Sept.-Oct. 2004. CBS MarketWatch of April 23, 2004, says the the novel has "some very funny moments," and that the non-fiction mixes "global statistics and first-person accounts." The Washington Post of March 15, 2004, calls Predatory Bender: America in the Aughts "the first novel about predatory lending;" the London Times of April 15, 2004, "A Novel Approach," said it "has a cast of colorful characters." The Pittsburgh City Paper of Dec. 11, 2003, wrote that it "may, in fact, be the first great American lending malfeasance novel" including "low-level loan sharks, class-action lawyers, corporate bigwigs, hired muscle, corrupt politicians, Iraq War veterans, Wall Street analysts, reporters and one watchdog with a Web site." And all in The Bronx! Click here for that review; for more information, contact us.
December 27, 2004
The run-up to Christmas in Belmont included throngs on the sidewalk in front of Borgati's ravioli shop, looped festive music blaring from bullhorns on poles along 187th Street; lotto and booze sales in the sad Korean liquor store on Beaumont Avenue. A high-end wine store has replaced a laundromat on Arthur Avenue; a new 24-hour grocery is opening on Belmont -- that'll be four all-night bodegas in a two-block stretch. While it might be like the lighting district on the Bowery on the Lower East Side, these four all-nighters contrast with whole swaths of The Bronx without bodegas after midnight.
Up in the Botanical Garden, there's a display of gingerbread houses by a lake that's freezing over. In the plant hothouse there's the holiday train display, bigger than ever this year, with replicas of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges made out of twigs and what look to be popsicle sticks. There are cacti and lemon trees and a welcome wisp of summer. Later in St. Martin of Tours church on 182nd Street, Mass is said in English and Spanish to the scent of incense. Its cold in the church; people have overcoats and ski caps on. Outside, Christmas lights on fire escapes blink in the nearly-empty streets...
In quantitative news, from the 2003 Summary of Vital Statistics, it emerges that teenage pregnancies are down everywhere in NYC except in The Bronx, where Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden calls the rate of 127 per 1,000 "astronomical... That is more than twice the rate of Staten Island and 50% higher than any other borough," he said.
In the week leading to Christmas, ICP made supplemental filings on Toronto Dominion - Banknorth and BBVA-Laredo National Bank, summarized in this weeks Bank Beat Report.
December 20-21, 2004:
In twenty degree weather on Monday night, Gracie Mansion was the site of a
reception for New Yorks press corps. Open
bar, replete with martinis; cheese bread sticks and later Christmas cookies. There was
small shop talk about Guy Velella, slated to return to Rikers next week; there was the
Superintendent of Banks, gracious, referencing setting sights lower now that J.P. Morgan
Chase and HSBC have left state regs behind, then rooting on the Mayor as he strode by in a
cowboy hat (which concealed beneath it two other hats, including a Staten Island baseball
cap). The bar stopped serving in deference to the Mayor and his press secretary (who the
Mayor referred to as the original Pale Male, to some tittering in the audience). The Mayor gave gifts -- Mrs. Atkins
husbands book to New York 1, a calculator to Newsday (to figure out its
circulation), and a Knicks cap to Joyce Purnick, accompanied by jokes about the Dolans and
the Jets playoff chances. It felt like a
small and well-off city, with even the muckraking all among friends. Heading uptown on the M15 through East Harlem,
then Bx15 in The Bronx, the city felt difference. People were bundled up due to no heat on
the bus. People looked tired, coming home from
second jobs. Nothing was free, nothing was easy. The reporters fought for scoops, but only
rarely for the public good, only incidentally, as an after-thought or collateral damage.
Gracie Mansion has been beautifully redone. East
Harlem and The Bronx, less so. Perhaps in
2005, heres hoping.
December 20, 2004
Gunplay in Wakefield: mid- afternoon on December 15, NYPD Detective Romeo Baloy was driving in an unmarked car on White Plains Road in the North Bronx, on his way to the Bronx Criminal Courthouse on 161st Street, when he spotted a gun in the back pocket or waistband of a man walking along the street. Det. Baloy followed the man, identified as Gayle Duran, 19, inside the apartment building at 4727 White Plains Road, and chased him up the stairs. Duran ran up two flights of stairs then turned around and struck Det. Baloy on the head with a handgun. A gunfight broke out in which the detective was shot twice and Mr. Duran was shot several times, at least once in the face. Duran died, but throughout the rest of the afternoon, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes officers converged on White Plains Road, which was closed by yellow police tape to traffic from 241st Street to 242nd Street. Two police helicopters whirred overhead as the police mistakenly searched for a second shooter.
And what is it, thats happening in Wakefield? Earlier on December 15, a man was dropped off at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital with gunshot wounds. He died 90 minutes later, and has since been identified as Michael Young, 28...
animal in the Belmont: once again this year,
the Mount Carmel Pharmacy on 187th Street and Beaumont Avenue has bought in a
petting zoo in an 18-wheel truck, and horses to pull a cart-on-wheels around the
neighborhood, blaring Feliz Navidad. Yes
theres hay and horse excrement, along with the hot dogs and five-dollar photos with
Santa. The petting zoo is free (although food
pellets to feed the animal, so they lick the feeders hand, cost twenty-five cents). There are goats, with and without horns; there are
two pigs, two donkeys, and chickens and rabbits without number. All in all a good time...
Until next report, for or with more information, contact us.
Until next report, for or with more information, contact us.
December 13, 2004
Big brother over Fordham Road: it emerged last week that the NYPD is putting four video-monitors over Fordham Road between the Grand Concourse and Webster Avenue - the department's first effort to keep video watch over a commercial district. There are already cameras in many housing project (including the Bronx camera that gave rise to the rebroadcast of a suicide-in-elevator on the Internet, previously reported and commented on by Inner City Press in March of this year). Whats next: face-recognition software?
Then again, were not saying that NYPD service is not needed. Last Sunday, a man was smashed in the head and left for dead in front of the furniture store at Marion Avenue and Fordham Road. He was found at 8:15 a.m. and was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was listed in critical condition. Can and will the police say, lets go to the video tape?
of electronics on street lamps, 187th Street between Arthur Avenue and
Cambrelleng is now bathed in insanely loud Christmas music, somehow reminiscent of scenes
from movies of totalitarian states. And if you
lived in an apartment facing this street, say, on the second or third floor?
Editor's note: since it's been
asked, in the first paragraph above, the "Big Brother" reference is to Orwell's
"1984;" in the second, it's to a certain New York sportscaster's trademark
phrase leading to highlights. Re ICP's advocacy work, see today: Group Protests BBVA
Deal for Texas Bank, by Hannah Bergman, American Banker, December 14, 2004 and
Community group seeks to block Laredo National deal, by David Weidner, CBS
MarketWatch / AFX, December 13, 2004.
and Community group seeks to block Laredo National deal, by David Weidner, CBS MarketWatch / AFX, December 13, 2004.
December 6, 2004
At the Nov. 30 meeting of the 48th precinct Community Council, the audience was told that crime is down, and that thered been no murders in the previous week. The message was delivered by the precincts executive officer; the commanding officer was not able to attend. After a lull, from the audience came this question: What about the woman who was shot and killed on Bathgate back on November 20? That being ten days previous, the no murders last week claim could still be made. But had the killing of Jasmine Pacheco, 19-years old and the mother of a 1-year old, been solved?
The answer, surprisingly, sounded akin to blame the victim. Her friends were not truthful for twenty four hours, Captain Duffy said. Theyd said she was standing in the street. In fact shed been inside a car with three other people -- one of whom, Capt. Duffy said, was now thought to have been the target. He was asked: any suspects? Any arrests?
Were making some progress, he said, again emphasizing that the lack of candor -- nowhere reported in the four New York dailies -- had not been helpful. He was asked about a daytime shooting on Honeywell and 180th; his assistant responded that the victim of that shooting had himself been arrested, for gun possession, and didnt come from the 48th precinct anyway, but rather from a neighborhood in the West Bronx.
Claims were made about the decrease in last weeks crime (except for an increase in grand larceny); the most recent CompStat data on the precincts Web site was, on the night of Nov. 30, from the week of Oct. 18 though Oct. 24. A video was shown about the evils of graffiti; a question was asked about Operation Clean Halls. And then the meeting was over...
West Bronx stinker: Fumes from what was described as a cleaning fluid forced 250 students and teachers to flee PS 109 at 1771 Popham Avenue on December 1. Sixteen mid-schoolers ended up in North Central Bronx Hospital...
November 29, 2004
From Melrose to Massachusetts: Felipe Santana, 24, was arrested last week in Dorchester, outside of Boston, on a warrant and charged with murder. In October 2001, Santana allegedly stabbed William Mallard, 22, for reasons that remain unclear, at the corner of East 163rd Street and Third Avenue. Mallard later died at Lincoln Hospital. Santana, its reported, went first to the Dominican Republic, then came back and was working construction in Massachusetts. On Nov. 23, he was arrested outside 1635 Dorchester Ave. at 10:45 a.m. while loading tools into his car. `He was basically taken by surprise,' said Sgt. Brian Albert of the Boston Police Department Youth Violence Strike Force. Santana will be arraigned in Dorchester District Court as a fugitive from justice, then face a rendition hearing for his return to New York on the murder charge... In other Bronx-to-New England news, ICPs challenge to Toronto Dominions proposed acquisition of control of Banknorth has been reported for example in the Boston Globe, the Stamford (CT) Advocate, the Portsmouth (NH) Herald News, the Portland (ME) Press Herald, and north of the border, for example on the CBC. See also this weeks Fed Watch report, on the Federal Reserves duties with regards to major banks funding of payday lenders. And this week's CRA Report, for ICP's just-filed comment on Webster Bank (which, beyond Connecticut, is in White Plains and Yonkers)...
War of the beef patties: now nipping at the heels of The Bronx own Golden Krust Bakery, which makes 140,000 patties a day at its Gun Hill Road headquarters, are Bedford-Stuyvesants Tower Isle (100,000 a day). Trumping them both is Tappan, NY-based Caribbean Food Delights, which makes 250,000 a day, selling them even in Wal-Mart... We sample Golden Krust on Fordham Road and Webster, where the storefronts always jammed, and the small cows foot soup goes for a reasonable three dollars. Golden Krust Corporate recently increased its franchise fee by $5,000 to $25,000. Franchisees also pay a royalty of 3 percent of sales. A recent inquiry at the new Subway sandwich shop on Arthur Avenue, for merely oregano bread toasted, was rejected. Franchise fees are calculated by the number of breads sold, as if all of them had sandwich fixings in them... In other Arthur Avenue news, Robertos new spot on Crescent is not yet open; another restaurant that opened on the block sits empty. The Umbertos on 186th Street gets a good crowd -- certainly, when compared to the ill-fated restaurant previously there, which got tied up in criminal litigation -- but sits quiet-but-open until 2 a.m. weekdays, 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday...
November 22, 2004
The weekend saw news of the death of two young Bronxites. On Parris Island, South Carolina, 18-year old Marine recruit Bret Moran, from The Bronx, was found dead during a 54-hour training ritual known as "the Crucible. Yes, thats the name of Arthur Millers play. But what comes to mind in Lumets movie Full Metal Jacket. A 19-year old mother was shot and killed on Bathgate Avenue and 180th Street early Saturday morning; three .45 shells but still no arrests...
In other Bronx news of the week: the Board of Education tossing into the street complete student files, including social security numbers, in front of 3450 E. Tremont Ave... For the homeless, a temporary center at 346 Powers Ave., in the Bronx, called the Prevention & Temporary Housing Office, will serve single pregnant women and families applying for shelter for the first time. Great area, that... The single Bronx item in the Nov. 18 police blotter in the New York Post: Police yesterday identified a mentally disturbed woman found dead in her Tremont apartment. The body of Michelle Rivera, 28, was discovered in her residence on Anthony Avenue near Prospect Avenue around noon on Nov. 7. Theres a problem: Anthony Avenue and Prospect Avenue are not near each other; they run parallel, some twenty blocks apart...
Toronto Dominion and Banknorth have yet to respond to the comments ICP/Fair Finance Watch filed on November 15 (see last weeks Bank Beat report, and AP and Merger Snags, Toronto Star, November 21, 2004). This Toronto Star article opines that ICPs opposition cannot be taken lightly, and quotes TD CEO Ed Clark that "We do not have the management team at the Toronto Dominion Bank in Canada to run a bank in the United States. We were attracted to Banknorth because it had that management." First, Banknorths management is reflected in the disparate lending ICP has documented in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data analyzed in last weeks Report. And second, what does Clarks statement say about the managerial factors that the Federal Reserve must review, in connection with the proposal?
November 15, 2004
Last Monday, November 8, a livery cab driver and his passenger were seriously injured when their car slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, some 200 feet west of the Jerome Avenue exit of the westbound highway at 2:33 a.m., police said. The 54-year-old cabby, whose name was not released, drove his gray 1993 Lincoln Town Car into the back of a disabled 18-wheeler carrying wood chips, police said. The livery driver was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital in serious condition. His passenger - a 27-year-old man who suffered a broken right leg - was taken to Bronx Lebanon Hospital in stable condition. No one was arrested and no summonses were issued.
What is amazing these days is the gridlock on the Cross-Bronx at two in the morning. Truck inch along the elevated section from Clay to Crotona Avenue. Beneath them, on the Third Avenue border of the Bathgate Industrial Park, other 18-wheeler sit parked for days, full of rotting municipal waste. Even in near-freezing temperatures, the stench is noticeable for blocks, all the way down to the Morris Houses on Claremont Parkway. The still-vacant land of the Bathgate Industrial Park was recently mowed, leaving a surreal plain with a few stark trees (rather like the intro to the HBO series Six Feet Under, one wag said). But whats up with the traffic? Whats up with the storage of rotting waste in the hood? Whats up with the scam Industrial Park?
In other scam news, see Crains -- the issue of payday lending was in the spotlight leading up to the merger of J.P. Morgan and Bank One, which was completed in July. Activists were particularly critical of Bank One for making loans to payday lenders, which they said enabled the practice, and J.P. Morgan came under some fire for making the loans as well.
The NY Suns intrepid Daniela Gerson last week reported on the case of Bronxite Jose Marquez-Almanzar, a native of the Dominican Republic who enlisted in the US Armed Forced in the 1980s,and is facing deportation because he was convicted of cocaine possession. When Marquez, who immigrated at 12, enlisted, he renounced his Dominican citizenship, since at the time dual citizenship was not available. If deported he could be rendered stateless.... Marquez applied twice for naturalization. The first time was while he was serving at Ft. Hood, in Texas, as a young recruit. Court papers say that because of "a clerical error," the application "was never fully processed." On his second application for citizenship, following his cocaine conviction, the government said he was ineligible because he had been convicted of an aggravated felony and therefore could not establish good moral character. Despite its name, an aggravated felony need not be either aggravated or a felony. Generally the crimes the term refers to are considered serious, but it has been expanded to include lesser crimes, such as turnstile-jumping or theft of a $10 video. If convicted of an aggravated felony, a legal resident can be automatically deported, without a chance to prove good moral character or family ties. The lawyers are asserting the punishment for committing an aggravated felony should not be applied in the same way to legal residents who are veterans. Youd think not...
Click here for ICP's just-filed challenge to Toronto Dominion's $3.8 billion Banknorth proposal...
November 8, 2004
Death and / of equal justice on 161st Street: While the merger of Bronx criminal court with the State Supreme across the Concourse has occurred, a man beaten Oct. 12 in a criminal court holding cell has been taken off life support. His death has been deemed a homicide, that happened right inside the court. Expect an upgrade of the pending assault charges against Kenny Taylor, 27, who allegedly attacked Ronald Fesce, 54, in the intake area at Bronx Criminal Court on East 161st Street at 8 a.m. on Oct. 12. Fesce's widow, Carmen Cerezo, 50, said last week that prosecutors told her Fesce and Taylor began arguing on the Department of Correction bus that was taking them to court. It continued in the court holding pen. Police said that Fesce, who did not initially report the attack, attended the hearing that day and was returned to the Vernon C. Bain Center, a jail barge in Hunts Point. On Oct. 14 a correction officer spotted Fesce passed out in his cell and took him to the jail's clinic. He was then taken to Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center where he lapsed into a coma, from which he never re-emerged. Theres talk of a lawsuit -- itd be on at least two grounds, lack of protection in the holding cell, and lack of observation while in custody... It would seem to have merit, given for example that the Bronx DA has filed criminal charges against the mother and step-father of Christopher Osbourne, Their 15-year-old son appeared one recent morning looking as if he had been in a bad fight, they put him to bed and went to work. After spending long hours at his bedside, his mother and stepfather, Carlene Francis and Neville Henry, are facing a year in jail. They were charged in State Supreme Court in the Bronx last week -- nearly a month after their son's injury -- with endangering the welfare of a child because they did not take him to the hospital right away. So what, then, of the citys duty regarding Ronald Fesce?
A court order may somewhat protect the Bronx River from raw sewage from Yonkers, from pipes that were illegally connected to the city's storm-water drainage system. New York State Supreme Court Justice Francis Nicolai ordered the city in a decision made public last week to come up with a plan to stop the discharge. State testing in June 2003 showed fecal coli form bacteria levels at 16 million per 100 milliliters at a flow rate of two gallons per minute. Similar suits against the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden were settled, including for the canoe portage paths now in place. But is the water clean yet? Nope...
November 2-3, 2004
Election day. On the radio, reports from Florida and Ohio and even Italy, where a headline reads: The World Holds Its Breath. The image around which election coverage orbits is the flaming World Trade Towers, which melted and collapsed more than three years ago. Ten miles north of the still-empty Ground Zero, in Bronx County, election day is quiet. Inside the elementary schools, following the white paper Vote Here - Vote Aqui signs, there are medieval voting machines wrapped in plastic curtains. Pull a lever thats not unlike a train brake, then flip down smaller levers to choose wholl represent you. On the top line, the presidential race, theres Kerry and Bush, and there, as Peace and Justice, Ralph Nader as well. The other races are virtually uncontested. Senator Chuck Schumer is on the Democrat, Republican and Conservative line, as are slates judges that few have ever heard for. People came to vote for president, even through the moment Kerry wins New York, the extra votes dont count or have effect.
Just north of the Zoo, the trees in the Botanical Garden are almost naked. Halloween was windy and tore most leaves right off. Exiting on Bedford Park, then south on Decatur. There are kids on bikes, their schools closed for election day. On the porch of a three story house, theres a woman in a bright orange Indian sarong. Theres a masjid with a verse from the Koran, an African restaurant, a string of tenements with a hand-painted sign thanking ex-Mayor Koch and his housing commissioner Gleidman for their funding. Just north of Fordham Road theres a glorified pawnshop, the Provident Loan Society. Outside kids play stickball. Inside, through a narrow vestibule, there are three windows with bulletproof glass, through which jewelry and other small valuables can be exchanged for short terms loans. Were all living on borrowed time, which the world, Italians say, is holding its collective breath. [Update November 2-3, 2004, 1:30 a.m. -- At first it appeared thered be no results on Election Night, with absentee ballots being counted. Then Florida was called for the incumbent, then the votes in Ohio began running that way as well. The world exhales, like it or not.]
November 1, 2004
The scourge of payday and car title lending, and big banks funding and enabling of these predators, continues to be our focus. On November 1, ICP / Fair Finance Watch filed opposition to Wells Fargos application to expand in Texas, documenting Wells funding of fringe financiers throughout Texas (as well as its targeting of people of color of higher-cost loans from Wells Fargo Financial). This followed ICPs timely October 28 filing on Fifth Thirds application to acquire First National Bankshares of Florida, for $1.6 billion. See, Consumer Group Challenges Fifth Third Deal, American Banker, October 29, 2004. The Federal Reserve has finally started asking PNC questions about its proposal to acquire [toxic] Riggs -- but PNC is trying to keep its answers confidential. ICP is preparing an appeal, under the Freedom of Information Act. This follows ICPs FOIA lawsuit against the Fed for withholding Wachovias and SouthTrusts list of payday and car title lenders funded. Enabling and coddling, these veils must be pierced... Oh and ICP/Fair Finance Watch was just named an "anti-money laundering hero," for casting spotlight on Riggs-PNC, HSBC and Banco Santander...
Sears to leave Fordham Road? The building at the corner of Webster used to be Rodgers department store, and weve never figured out why it has the pharmacy symbol carved next to all the tall windows. Now this, from last weeks real estate news: In the Bronx, at the corner of East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue, Acadia has spent $30 million to acquire a six-story, 117,000-square-foot building occupied for the last 40 years by Sears, Roebuck. It will spend $20 million more to redevelop and expand the building by 75,000 square feet. Sears still has 33 months on its lease and may or may not remain there, Mr. Braun said.... In the Bronx, new construction will not take place until the Sears lease expires, he said.
A police blotter ignoring the Fourth Amendment, from the NY Post of October 29: A 24-year-old man was arrested on gun charges after cops pulled him over for driving suspiciously in Mott Haven, police sources said yesterday. Cesar Quinones was heading west on 138th Street at 4 p.m. Wednesday when cops stopped his Nissan Maxima at Brown Place. Cops said they then searched the vehicle and found a loaded 9 mm weapon. How does one drive suspiciously on a major thoroughfare at 4 p.m. on a Thursday? Did Mr. Quinones consent to the search?
On the Cablevision News 12 show Ask the Borough President, Mr. Carrion responded to questions about rats and subway token booth closings and high unemployment by saying, Were fighting, were speaking up. One caller asked about Guy Velella; there was nothing about Kleener King. Mr. Carrion referred people -- so we will -- to www.thebronxatwork.com.
was a particularly weak Sunday for the New York Times coverage of The Bronx. A search of that heavy tome results in 13 hits,
most entirely extraneous. For example, three
of the 13 are Wedding / Celebration announcements, involving two doctors with practices in
The Bronx, and an instructor at the Zoo. Theres a real estate notice from the North
Bronx, a rhetorical questions about the presidential election (what if Texas and the
Bronx counted), and a reference to Tom Wolfes insulting book, in a long
profile of the Wolfe-man in the magazine section. The only news reference to The Bronx is
to a deathly hit-and-run in Morris Heights. One
point three million people, in the Paper-of-Records headquarters city, and it all
comes down to one car accident. Until next
Sunday, then... Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
October 25, 2004
The La Paz Funeral Home across from Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx is three stories high. The owner, Hector Marquez, has lived on the top floor. At the back of the second floor, caskets of varying prices are displayed. There is a parlor-like room for funerals in the front half of the second floor, overlooking 149th Street just east of Morris Avenue.
La Paz has a history: it has housed caskets and memorials for salsa legend Johnny "La Vaca" Rodriguez in 2000, for victims of the Happy Land Social Club fire in 1990, and of the Freddy's Fashion Mart fire in 1995. A March 27, 1988 Newsday column noted in La Paz that a "handwritten sign on a wall in the funeral home reads: 'All funerals are to be paid the night before the burial.'" In 2004, that sign (or one identically-worded) is still there. Further back, in 1986, Jimmy Breslin wrote: "One of the walls in the upstairs room in the funeral parlor was mirrored so that when you walked in you thought you saw two bodies, but it was only one, Sal Agron" - the Capeman. And in 2004, the east wall of the second floor is still mirrored...
There is another parlor on the first floor for the larger memorial services. In a one-room office on the first floor, Hector Marquez works with La Paz' licensed funeral director, Robert Klein. The 60-year old Mr. Klein speaks so softly he can barely be heard. They haggle with customers about money. They suggest the most affordable caskets and how to get reimbursed eight hundred dollars by the Human Resources Administration. The most stripped-down funeral costs $1,400. Increasingly, people choose direct cremation (for which F. Ruggiero & Sons on Morris Park Avenue charges $1,300; McCalls Bronxwood Funeral Home brags of its "variety of services from online funeral broadcasts to standard funerals to cremations. Specializing in international shipping to the Caribbean, Africa and South America."
Rest in peace: Bronx historian John McNamara passed away on October 15, in the Throgs Neck Extended Care Nursing Home. He had earlier complained when the second "g" in Throggs was dropped when the Bronx-Queen bridge was named in 1961... We recommend both his "History in Asphalt" and his earlier hobo's journal, "Sand Dune."
Continuing with McNamara's fact-collecting mission: data just released by the NYS Labor Department show that statewide unemployment dipped to a seasonally adjusted 5.5 percent in September, the lowest rate since 9/11/01. Saratoga County had the lowest jobless rate, at 3 percent. Bronx County again had the highest, at 8.8 percent... In the 43rd precinct, which includes Soundview, murders are up 133 percent. So far in 2004, murders are up eight, from six last year, according to the most recent statistics released by the NYPD...
Anti-McNamara, fast and loose at the "Paper of Record" -- the New York Times' October 20 article "U.S. Set to Alter Rules for Banks Lending to Poor" reported among its many inaccuracies that the CRA "gained strength in 1995, when the Clinton administration adopted a series of tougher guidelines that banned noncompliant banks from participating in any mergers, acquisitions or expansion projects." That simply false. Since 1977, the regulatory agencies have been required to consider an applicant bank's CRA record when it applies to merge or expand. A negative CRA finding, however, did not preclude approval until the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The Times' 1995 reference must be to the CRA regulation promulgated that year, which did not change the law's effect on merger or expansion applications. Plus, quoting bankers, including monomaniacal ex-Chasewoman Carol Parry Fox, as the defenders of the CRA was pretty lame. Paper of record? We think not. And now not only due to weak coverage of The Bronx, but also of an important Federal law.
In CRA news, earlier this month, Federal Reserve Governor Bies denied Inner City Press' Freedom of Information Act appeal for a list of the payday lenders and pawnshops funded by merger partners Wachovia and SouthTrust. On October 21, Inner City Press filed a FOIA lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenging the Fed's systematic withholding of predatory lending-related information. The case has been filed; we will update its progress on this site.
Meanwhile, in its second timely filing opposing Citigroup's proposal to buy First American Bank in Texas, ICP has documented the two's funding of pawnshops and check cashiers, including College Station Pawn & Cash Station Jewelry and Loan, Q-Pawn, Inc., Decker Prairie Pawn, Inc., Zerega Check Cashing Corp., Montgomery Check Cashing Corp. of 403 East Third Street, Mount Vernon, NY; Castle Check Cashing Corp., continued in 2002; City Check Cashing of Jersey City, NJ; and Rite Check Cashing Inc. and G&R Check Cashing Corp. of New York. And what, after delay, will Citigroup say?
In further media-watch news, the New York Sun of October 20 reported: "The Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrion, yesterday announced a plan to use Yankee Stadium for Little League games and a Yankee Hall of Fame and Museum. The proposal, first reported by The New York Sun, would depend on the team following through with its plan to build a new $750 million baseball stadium across the street from the current stadium, at Macombs Dam Park." Well, the Sun wasn't the first to report it -- Inner City Press did, based on a presentation at Bronx Community Board 4 on September 28, 2004 (see Report below; we'll have much more about this plan, and the Bronx Terminal Market, as and if they move forward).
But as heard at the October 22 anti-police brutality march, "Don't complain about the media -- become your own media." Including where necessary and possible through Freedom of Information Act litigation!
October 18, 2004
minds: the mother of a premature baby with Downs syndrome who died last week was
questioned as... a murder suspect, on the worst day of her life. This doesnt happened in most affluent
neighborhoods, but welcome to The Bronx. According
to Newsdays account,
Tasha Harding, the baby's mother, called 911, frantically telling the operator her baby was not breathing. The operator tried to give her instructions to help revive the baby. Paramedics responded, carried away the tiny, limp baby and rushed him to Jacobi Medical Center, the same hospital where Victor's fraternal twin sister died four months before. Victor died before reaching the hospital, officials said. Police were questioning the mother last night, and the Administration of Children's Services placed her surviving 5-year-old daughter with a "close relative." However, neighbors and a woman who lives with Harding said there was nothing criminal in the boy's death... Harding moved in with Bryant and her son two months ago. They had acquired the apartment through the Department of Homeless Services, which places some of its clients in the dilapidated brick building at 1011 Manor Ave. Harding does not have any history with the Administration of Children's Services, officials said.
And yet on the day her baby dies, the police essentially accuse her of murder. Only in The Bronx (and places like it) -- ah, equal justice.
Inner City Press has been contacted by disgruntled homeowners who bought in to the NYC Partnership homes in East Harlem, the Madison Park Homes on 119th Street. Its said that the contractor, Andrew Velez, has left leaks in the homes, and other shoddy work. Thats The Velez Organization -- 2 Park Ave., 4th Fl. (212) 684-1700 -- whose Bronx political contributions weve previously identified....
Since its baseball playoffs time,
well begin with a story involving both the Bronx and a baseball player: Ken
Caminiti. He knew or at least traveled in
gritty New York, it must be said. October 9 at
4 a.m., he was roaming in Bushwick, Brooklyn, calling a friend to meet him on Troutman
Street. They drove around, ending up in Hunts
Point. They went to a fourth-floor apartment
in a building on Seneca Avenue; Caminiti grabbed his chest and 911 was called. He was rushed to Lincoln Hospital, where he died
soon after. Rest in peace...
October 11, 2004
proponents of the give-away of the Bronx Terminal Market to Steven Ross Related
Companies have issued a Final Scope for an Environmental Impact Statement, purporting to
respond to the comments of Inner City Press / Community on the Move and others. The Final
Scope was mailed out on October 8; included as Appendix A is the proponents
Response to Comments. Most
responses are dismissive. In response for
calls for transparency, the response is that this is not a subject for the
DEIS. ICPs comments concerning affordably housing, for example, are met with a
claim that no housing is being lost, not even any housing resources. On the other hand, ICPs critique of the
draft scope as not even mentioning environmental justice has resulted a new Section 22 in
the final scope: an analysis will be performed that considers the potential for
disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of the project
on minority or low-income populations... If disproportionate impacts are identified,
discuss appropriate avoidance measures, mitigation measures and enhancements for the
affected population. Well see...
We note the beating death on Rikers Island of Tyreece Abney -- can you say, failure to protect, and, human rights abuse? -- as well as the decidedly different Rikers stay of Guy Velella. An interesting footnote is Raul Russi, who though he voted on the Velella probation, apparently recused himself from a prior vote on Manuel Gonzalez, Velella's co-defendant. According to prosecutors, Gonzalez was a self-described "bag man" who'd acted as consultant to social service groups in the Bronx including the Velez Hunts Point Multi-Service Center. Theres also the other still-no-followed-up strands of the Gonzalez/Velella case, identified further below on this page...
On a lighter note, mystery fiction editor Otto Penzler wrote, in the New York Sun of October 6, of a novel taking readers to Little Italy - no, not the one being swallowed up by Chinatown on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but the larger one in the East Bronx, where Anthony Avenue still sports some terrific pasta-with-red-sauce restaurants. The result is pure storytelling joy, with some eye-popping surprises along the way. Heres two surprises: its ARTHUR Avenue, and its not in the East Bronx... Will mysteries never cease?
October 4, 2004
Parks and politics: on a rainy night in late September, at a meeting of Community Board 4 on Selwyn Avenue, that Boards chairman said it was imperative to quickly vote on a resolution supporting a Vision Plan under which a second Yankee Stadium would be built on top of whats currently Macombs Dam park. Despite the lack of public notice, such a resolution would indicate local support for the conversion of park land into a doppelganger ballpark, for use at a press conference slated for mid-October. Under the plan, the House That Ruth Build (hereinafter, HTRB) would remain as a field for Little League baseball. The Community Board chairman said the plan includes a hotel, a Hall of Fame, and a high school of sports medicine. There were no drawings, no handouts for the members of the public and press who attended: only this demand for a resolution. A question was asked about what benefits, if any, thered be for The Bronx. Another question, by Inner City Press, concerned the legality of this proposed use of parkland, and how much subsidy thered be.
Great question! the chairman exclaimed. The taxpayers of The Bronx would pay nothing. Steinbrenner pays for it all, through bonds.
That doesnt, however, appear to be the case. And in any event, giving tax-exempt status to bonds is not dissimilar to subsidy. Inner City Press was told, by another Board member, that itd be a project of the Parks Department; meanwhile the chairman said its all Steinbrenner. He also said that the Related Companies will be told to cease-and-desist from their hotel-building plans on the Bronx Terminal Market, since the Yankee plan including a hotel and convention center. But at last months public hearing on the Bronx Terminal Market proposal, the hotel there was presented as a sure thing. Theres a lot of smoke and mirrors, boondoggles for developers with the thinnest veneer of Astro-turf support. This is a story well be following...
Meanwhile, from a fluff U-Wire / Washington Sq. News story Sept. 28 about NYUs Bobst Library: the fountain in the reading room? The 3-foot tall, engraved fountain made of copper, stone and brass, was originally located at NYU's old Heights Campus in the Bronx and was a gift from a graduated class, Cricco said. For every part of the normal archival collection, there is always something wild that pops up, she said. There's no place to put them, but nobody wants to throw them out. So lets get this straight -- wrenching history stonework from The Bronx, like a cheap building stripper, was the only way to not throw out the artifact?
Last week, ICP filed related comments on Citigroup - First American Bank (click here to view), on HSBC (click here to view), and on Riggs (and Banco Santanters) money laundering, click here to view...
September 27, 2004
The Department of City Planning is proposing to rezone 11 blocks of the South South Bronx as mixed-use, to allow, they say, new housing or in some cases possibly legalizing unauthorized artists housing in what in this Inner City Press report well dub SOBE -- South Of the Bruckner Expressway.
Many SOBE residents say that the first they heard of the proposed rezoning was last week. At a meeting convened by the Bronx Council on the Arts on September 23, two City Planning staffers fields questions about gentrification, tenants protection, and a particularly pointed question: have existing land owners lobbied for these changes?
No, the DCP staff relied. We havent been lobbied at all.
Later in the meeting it emerged that the plan developed during meeting, going back more than a year, at which among other Harlem River Yards Ventures -- a/k/a/ the Galesi Group -- participated. The Galesi Group is the beneficiary of a cheap $99 lease from the State of the entire Harlem River Yards. After the award, none of the promised beneficial uses were built; rather, its waste transfer stations.
The DCP staffers were asked to explain the two statement: they werent lobbied, but they met repeatedly with the Galesi Groups HRYV. The answer was that the Galesi Group was invited to the meeting not by City Planning, but by the Bronx Borough Presidents Office. We report, you decide. And comment: the plan, its said, will be put on the Departments web site, at www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/home.html. Theres a link for zoning proposals, and also one to send a message to the Chair, Amanda Burden, maximum 150 word and nota bene: Communications made through this electronic mail and message system shall in no way be deemed to constitute legal notice to the City of New York or any of its agencies, officers, employees, agents, or representatives, with respect to any existing or potential claim or cause of action against the City or any of its agencies, officers, employees, agents, or representatives. Which is to say, if youre going to sue, go elsewhere. And it may come to that...
While the response to the questions raised at the meeting was, Well take it back to the Department, the staffers said that the proposal cannot or will not be modified at this stage. They intend to certify the proposal by October 4, starting the uniquely New York process known as ULURP. (For those who dont like graphic-sound acronyms, thats the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, click here for a diagram. Its the same process being started for the proposed development of / on the Bronx Terminal Market by another not-lobbying-but-present Bronx bonanza recipient, Stephen Ross Related Companies). The first stop, the one-stop-shop, the staffers emphasized again and again, is Bronx Community Board One, which will have 60 days to hold a public hearing. Call Community Board One, the DCP staffer said. Theyll tell you everything.
One attendee disagreed: When you call their, a nasty lady answers the phone. Youll never get through to the District Manager. There was some knowing laughter; the one SOBE resident -- now relocated north to the Grand Concourse -- whos a member of Community Board One spoke of piano factory conversion into probation office, about homeless shelters without services, and what she called outrages. We note that as of this writing the most recent calendar of meetings on CB1s web site is May 2004, and that the Port Morris medical waste incinerator operator bragged they had CB1 approval.
Micro-politics aside, the saddest news learned at the meeting was that a year ago, unreported in the local media, longtime SOBE resident Zee Frank passed away. Her building has, its reported, been sold and resold since. The last public report of her work was her fight with Harlem River Yard Ventures and the Galesi Group. Zee Frank -- presente!
Speaking of rituals in Spanish, and staying upbeat as Zee would have like, well finally issue the first report of the fix-up and reopening of the long-abandoned bank branch on Tremont and Park Avenues, as... a restaurant and night club. The fence has been getting painted; the signs have gone up: El Rancho Poder del Norte, grand opening September 30, 2004. Be there or be square...
Last week, ICP/Fair Finance Watch filed
comments based on the Senates Riggs Bank reports findings regarding HSBC and
Santander, click here for
article in the Glasgow Herald, reporting that A US-based human rights group has
written to Britain's financial regulator urging it to halt Santander's £8bn acquisition
of Abbey National until it fully investigates its part in the alleged
"violation" of US money laundering laws. Inner City Press and its Fair Finance
Watch, based in New York, has drawn the Financial Services Authority's attention to the US
Senate's recent report on Riggs Bank's alleged money laundering for former Chilean
dictator Augusto Pinochet, and the dictator of Equatorial Guinea; click here for more.
September 20, 2004
Theres been enough coverage of The Bronx disfunctional political orbit. One footnote, however, that we havent seen elsewhere. On September 13, just before the vote, marginal East Tremont assembly candidate Sigfredo Gonzalez appeared on a handbill, in a photograph with Hillary Clinton. It didnt claim it was an endorsement. It was just that: a photograph. Sigfredo with a crew cut and a checkered blue tie; Hillary in a white suit jacket, yellow shirt and necklace. Did it help? Benjamin 47%, Siggy 23....
The Labyrinth of Starvation, HSBCs tribute to Latinos in The Bronx. This is Hispanic Heritage Month, in The Bronx as beyond it, and one event to which ICP ventured was the Fiesta de Flores at the Botanical Garden on September 18. The much-trumpeted sponsor was HSBC Bank USA, owner of the confessed predatory lender Household Finance (click here for ICPs reporting on that, including 2000 pages just received under FOIA). The day was overcast but, by noon, not raining. The promotions the for event, each featuring HSBC, said All activities take place at Conservatory Plaza and lawns unless otherwise noted. But there was no there there, nor any signs, either. A guard inside the Conservatory said the event had been moved to the bottom floor of the library. But once there, the door to the bottom floor was locked. One walked up, to talk the elevator down, to a basement-like passageway with signs: Fiesta de Flores. Arrows for food pointed one way, for crafts another. From behind a crafts table, a visible drunk woman offered sculpted balloon to scared and starving children. When asked, Wheres the food? she staggered around, pointing toward another passageway, then back the way one came, to a now-jammed elevator up to the fourth floor. There, no food was free -- who knew? Rather, a plate of rice and beans and meat was five dollars; two dollar per pastel, a dollar for water or soda. The food, prepared and served over Sterno was La Caridad Restaurant of 1436 Williamsbridge Road, was quite good. That the putative sponsor, HSBC, provided for no free food at all was not La Caridads fault. The promotions had promised helados and empañadas; neither, however, was present. An officious young woman with a walkie-talkie walked in and out of the fourth story lunch room, urging those eating to take the elevator back downstairs of salsa lessons. No more, the labyrinth of starvation, the bifurcated cultural squeezebox. A reporter asked the woman with the walkie-talkie what had been HSBCs role in all this and she professed not to know, or declined to comment. This was Fiesta de Flores, HSBC-style, indicative of that global corporations abiding respect for the Ibero- and African diaspora, the Native soil, The Bronx...
Editors note: while HSBCs
Fiesta was as reported above, the rest of the Garden was, as always, a place of trees and
squirrels and spiritual renewal, the Bronx River rushing madly past forming white water,
the worms wiggling, the trees just beginning to turn...
Also, ICP has now submitted its timely written comments on the proposed project in (or on) the Bronx Terminal Market, reported on below.
September 13, 2004 : Interim
Report on Bronx Terminal Market, the September 9th Hearing
: Interim Report on Bronx Terminal Market, the September 9th Hearing
On September 9, across 161st Street from the Bronx Criminal Court, a public hearing was held on the proposed destruction and redevelopment of the Bronx Terminal Market by The Related Companies, which along with the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle is also getting the vacant lot on 156th Street and Third Avenue.
The hearing room was full of professionally-dressed people, with artists renditions of Relateds planned mall on easels at the front, next to a stenographer and a panels of Relateds architects, lawyers and environmental consultants. Yet when the hearing began, and after the obligatory three-minute upbeat presentations of the mall plan, no one in the room stood to testify. And so Inner City Press / Community on the Moves representative did, as follows:
What should be addressed in this now-public process, right from the beginning, is how the sole source selection of Related Co.s came about. The current plan is praised, by the Citys EDC, as providing two acres of waterfront park. But how do we Bronxites know if another developer might have offered four acres? The Environmental Assessment Statement scope of work does not mentioned environmental justice, nor the Bronxs well-documented epidemic of asthma. While it speaks of indirect displacement, it considers only rising rents for stores, and the effect on residential rents. There is, for now, no mitigation of any of these effects being proposed.
The Bronx has a tattered history of its land being given away with little transparency or input. The Harlem River Yards, for example, was leased to the Galesi Group for 99 years; now it is a waste transfer station. Theres a need for greater disclosure, greater transparency, and substantively, more for The Bronx and Bronx residents.
After this statement, an EDC official shepherded ICPs speaker out into the hall. Oh this is different than the Harlem River Yards, he said. This will go to the Community Board. But the Port Morris medical waste incinerator, for example, went though Community Board One; that may not be the full solution.
Inner City Press spoke with a number of the Markets tenants, who state that the relocation that has been offered to them has been you better move fast, with no attempt made to keep them together. Related, well prior to any public hearing, was given a 63-month lease, and is already telling all tenants to leave. While there was talk, at the hearing, of a relocation consultant, this is a term youll find in Robert Caros The Power Broker, about Robert Moses and the Cross Bronx. Whats in a word?
Inside, a representative of Community Board Fours economic development committee has asked what kind of businesses Related would have in its mall. The chairman of the meeting said it was not for asking questions, that the speaker (and Community Board Four) would be spoken to privately. The District Manager of CB4, slated to retire after her long service in December of this year, told ICP that the Board has supported the project, in a sense as better than nothing. A local councilman has been quoted to that effect. But is this the way less low-income neighborhoods would act? We shall see.
Some background: the Bronx Terminal Market was begun in the 1920s with a refrigerated warehouse. In 1935, Mayor LaGuardia expanded it along Exterior Street. Some of the wholesales move to Hunts Point in the mid-70s, after which the Market became known regionally for specialty Hispanic foods. Now, even at half capacity, it is known nationwide, including for rare African food and other products.
Tenants Inner City Press spoke to asked, why couldnt they remain, perhaps in fixed-up space? Theyre widely-known, and Bronx-relevant. That doesnt seem to be the plan.
When the plan -- technically, or publicly, the
adoption by Related of Arol Developments 1972 lease of the property from the City --
was announced in April, various observers questioned why there had been no public bidding.
There was talk of an inquiry by the city councils Contracts Committee; unnamed
development sources were quoted, calling it a give away; some
named developers said they would have bid more, presumably not only in money but in
benefits to Bronxites. Now, belatedly, a public process about the proposal has begun. There will be a draft Environmental Impact
Statement, and, it is said, the hearings required by the citys Uniform Land Use
Review Procedure (the graphic-sounding ULURP). But
how meaningful will the review be, with the land already leased to Related, and the
pressure to relocate, now-fast-today, already on? Who
benefits from silence? Not Bronxites.
Well close (for now) with Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jacksons 1950
dictum -- "It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling
into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into
September 6, 2004
A recent visit to the Bronx Family Court's intake unit, on the seventh floor of the building shared with the Criminal Court, found grandmothers' testimony being mistranslated, the judge demanding to know who these court-observers were and then putting on a show, perhaps to the detriment of the grandmothers at issue.
The first grandmother's request was straight-forward: to be appointed guardian for her one-year old grandchild. Judge Myrna Martinez-Perez asked, "Are you the maternal grandmother?" Yes. "And where is your daughter -- incarcerated?" Yes. "What for?"
Thereupon the grandmother, understandably loyal, said that it was all her son-in-law's fault. Judge Myrna was dubious. "They're both in jail?" she asked. Yes. "What for?"
"I don't know," the grandmother said diplomatically. There was talk of finger-printing the grandmother, of home visits, of paperwork to follow.
Grandmother Number Two had been brought in on a bench warrant. "Do you know why I issued the warrant?" Judge Myrna asked, either to the grandmother or to the court observers. "Because you took your granddaughter out of the country without permission! Your daughter lost custody due to abuse and neglect. The father came to court with a habeus corpus and said that his daughter had been taken to the Dominican Republic to be with the abusive mother--"
"That's not true!" the grandmother said, in Spanish. The court interpreter tried to keep up. "The girl's father got arrested, and his wife said she wouldn't take care of the girl, she'd be taken to a home--" [This last word was said in English, the reference was to foster home, an institution for which there is no widely known term in Spanish].
"Stay in one language!" Judge Myrna commanded, and proceeded to ask, "Do you mean his wife? Or his lover?" The interpreter translated this last as "amante," perhaps appropriate on a telenovela, but not here.
"It's not for me to say," the grandmother answered. "They are together."
"You had no right!" Judge Myrna said, as if vindicating the wider Bronx public. The grandmother pointed out that the girl -- whom the interpreter repeatedly referred to as "la creatura," literally, "the creature," less literally an informal term of endearment, hardly legalese -- was out in the hallway and could be questioned.
"I don't do that!" Judge Myrna said. "Bring her back here on Tuesday or you will be arrested."
On the elevator back down to Sheridan Avenue, the grandmother comforted the girl, cooing about their upcoming shopping trip to buy school supplies. The long Labor Day weekend began, including for Judge Myrna. Perhaps she will be given a TV show, like Judges Judy and Millan. If not, woe be to the litigants who come before her...
Also during the visit, the seemingly finishing stages of the unending construction of the new Criminal Court -- the "Superblock"! -- were visible. Sad, it is, that the biggest building project in Bronx history is a criminal courthouse...
Meanwhile, inveterate Bronx media-watchers that we are, here now a summary, satire and review of Cablevision News 12's most recent call-in show with the Bronx borough president. The called-in complaints ranged from out-of-control drug dealing to rats (including one eating out of a Chef Boyardee can, see below), to broken elevators to too-high gypsy cab fares. For each question, the B.P. had a response, such as "we'll get on that landlord" and "that fare doesn't sound high" to "we'll look into local legislation." One wondered what follow up there is, both by the BP's office, and by News 12. Each caller left their phone number (one, Joseph, even said "I hope you call me soon") -- so it wouldn't be impossible for News 12 to check in with them a month from now and ask what, if anything, has happened. There was for example "Tom from Fordham," who called to say that his building, 2605 Marion Avenue, is overrun by drug dealers. He named the landlord, Jerome Associates, and the BP said he knew them well. The BP added that he'd gone on a ride-along with an NYPD narcotics task force and witnessed three buy-and-busts. Okay, but what's going to happen on Marion?
Simone from 965 Tinton Avenue recounted being trapped in her building, watching through the window as a rat ate out of a Chef Boyardee can. One expected the BP to promise to crack down on that rogue chef, Boyardee. But what will happen with the rats? Or with the broken elevators at 30-40 Richland Terrace? Or the uncleaned public areas in 2000 Valentine? Regarding this last, the BP said he recognized the address, that he would crack down on disrespectful landlords. He asked the caller who the owner was -- strange, since he claimed to have fought this very landlord. Note to News 12, or the other tip-seekers who call us: why not look into the campaign contributions of this and other landlords in The Bronx? The injunction to "follow the money" can't stop at the Bronx County line...
Here from the mailbag is a note re Promesa:
Subj: Inside Promesa.
Date: 8/30/2004 10:04:43 AM Eastern Standard Time
From: [Inside Promesa -- name withheld]
To: BronxWatch [at] innercitypress.org
I am a former client of Promesa program and also now an employee. I am very sad to see how this place is changing. Over the last ten to twenty years I have seen how this place becomes a gossiping cut-throat place for the managers and counseling staff. No one can escape this and that more and more GOOD employees leave or are fired because the big people in charge does not like them or just because they have their own friends that they want to hire. They have hired a new person in charge of the financial stuff. He is not very nice and looks like he does not care too much about the people here. He got rid of the nice lady working in the financial office and now there is a younger girl there who he pays 20000 more than the other person. How can he do that without no one knowing? Or do people know. The finance people say she doesn't really do much but look pretty at her desk. Does anyone check to see if these people know what they are doing? She is also getting free parking I am not surprised. He also let go the very nice gentlemen from Panama after many years of service here. Another of the staff members was told that he could not have a chance at that job because it was already taken by one of the bosses' friends. How can people get a chance to get better jobs if when they try to get a better job the boss says, no I have someone already without giving anyone else the chance. The rumor is that he is saying that he is getting rid of everyone because he wants all his people in there so he can do what he wants with Promesa money. There is also a nice gentleman in the department that buys supplies who he said he was going to fire as soon as possible. Why if since he has been here he has helped us so much. There are no more mice in our rooms, the food is better and he painted the third floor of Promesa. What did he do, all he is done is help Promesa and he has to leave. Does someone else have a friend that needs a job. I also heard that the older man in the financial office is also going to be unemployed soon. They only like to keep dummies like the man who is in charge of fixing things or the lady in charge of the nursing home. I hope that you put this in your newspaper so that people can see how it is here.
We've had a particular interest in Promesa ever since, in the 90s, its bookkeeper was shot in the back of the head and killed, and the case was not fully followed up. So keep that mail coming; one never knows.... Finally, as with last week's grape, another thing we didn't know -- there's a Bronx Avenue in Bridgeport, CT. From the Connecticut Post of Friday, September 3: "A man was arrested Wednesday for reportedly assaulting and threatening to kill a woman in Bridgeport. Angel Perez, 36, of Main Street, Bridgeport, was charged with third-degree assault, violation of a restraining order, assaulting a police officer, interfering with police, threatening and first-degree criminal trespass. Police said Perez entered the victim's Bronx Avenue home at 10:19 p.m. and challenged her boyfriend to a fight. He also claimed he had a gun and threatened to kill her, police added. He allegedly grabbed the woman and threw her against a car before running away, police said. Perez, later spotted leaning against a building, struggled with officers, who pepper sprayed him while he was taken into custody. He was held in lieu of $20,000 bond for an appearance in Bridgeport Superior Court." What jumped out at us? Bronx Avenue!
September 1-2, 2004: Bronx-view of RNC (March on the Media)
Who will tell the people? Some of those whose answer is Not the mainstream media held a march on September 1, down the canyon of Sixth Avenue from 52nd to 48th Street. It took at least two hours to move those four blocks: the marchers were penned in by blue wooden and gray metal barricades, and phalanxes of police with white plastic handcuffs encircled the pen at all times. They made it difficult for people wanting to join the demonstration to do so. A man who looked like a shorter Donald Sutherland was directed to try from 50th Street, then returned and said he could. Police Officer Mike Galgano of the Manhattan South Task Force, shield 2671, escorted Donnie Sutherland into the pen, but then continued to misdirect others who asked up to 51st Street, or among the same fruitless 50th Street path. P.O. Galganos white-shirted colleague Heaney snuck a smoke -- Salem Light -- while saying hed have to quit again tomorrow.
Each day of the RNC another nail in the coffin.
On 52nd Street, Dick Cheney spoke from a huge television screen by the Hilton Hotel. [Click here for Inner City Press' report of last week on link between Cheney's Halliburton and Deutsche Bank -- on the boards of directors of both Halliburton and predatory lending-supporter Deutsche Bank is one W.R. Howell, not of Gilligan's Island but J.C. Penney, per www.halliburton.com/about/board_of_dir.jsp ... We sketch these connections, but must still reflect on what they do to stop Bronxites from being sacrificed to both parties' ideologies, in Iraq and elsewhere, see below.] On 50th, the marquee advertised a New York Liberty basketball game for the following night. Whole lanes of Sixth Avenue were coned-off for charter busses, which whizzed through with darkened windows. With the lights of Radio City behind it, one saw there were only three delegates in the bus, peering out at the hand-made signs -- Re-feat Bush, Pink Slip Bush -- and the green-hatted legal observers. The chants ranged from Whose media? Our media! to We arent buying! Slipping through all obstacles were food delivery men on bikes, leaving a fragrant jet-stream in their wake. Less fragrant was the exhaust of the M7 bus, headed up to Harlem. At the fringes, fliers were passed out for demonstrations on September 2, along with the come-on or selling-points, Weve got a permit. Whether a permit should be necessary is another question. Reverend Billy led a recitation of the First Amendment, prayed in his fashion for those locked up on Pier 57, and exhorted, Free Media-lulya!
More seriously, the marchers were energetic and nearly entirely white. That may be a reflection of the current demographics of the independent media movement, or at least this midtown Manhattan wing of the movement. It doesnt make the argument -- for each Fox lie, people die, for example -- invalid. But its worth reflecting on, as is the disconnection between the protests to the RNC and, for example, The Bronx. Some articles this week have mentioned The Bronx, as a symbol of poverty; some delegates took dark-windowed busses to the Bronx Zoo. But The Bronx is not just a symbol: there are 1,300,000 people living here, most of whom dont vote. Those elected by those who do vote seem predisposed to steal. The main nexus between the issues raised at the conventions, both of them, and The Bronx is providing soldiers, including to die.
And who will tell the people?
August 30, 2004
Poverty rates in NYC, from 2003 census data released last week: 28.7 percent in the Bronx; 20.4 percent in Brooklyn; 19.6 percent in Manhattan; 13.4 percent in Queens and 9.3 percent on Staten Island... (American Community Survey, examining the 233 counties with populations of 250,000 or more)... As protests grew in Manhattan, Orchard Beach in The Bronx was jammed back on August 28, right up until a downpour at six p.m.. There was barbecuing and Latin music, and three dollars for a plastic clamshell of watermelon that elsewhere costs a single buck. Visible from the beach was Hart Island, where Potter's Field is, as well as jet skis and planes landing at LaGuardia. In the center of The Bronx, a bank branch opening on Fordham Road and Belmont was running smoothly until the sound truck campaigning for Steve Kaufman showed up, and suddenly much of the food was missing... The sound truck wandered through the streets, blaring that "Steve is a man of action, not of talk." Then why talk so much? Further east in Marble Hill, the new Target and Marshall's stores on 225th Street created traffic and buzz.
Another thing we didn't know, from the San Francisco Chronicle of August 25: "Bronx seedless grapes are to everyday red grapes what a fine Muscat or Sauternes is to Welch's grape juice -- they're rich, silky and flood your mouth with subtle layers of sweetness. You can find them for the next few weeks at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza farmers' market as well as the Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market. 'Grapes with attitude' is what John Lagier jokingly calls these beauties, because of their unlikely name." Unlikely? Why's that? Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
August 23, 2004
First the news from one corner of The Bronx, then wider. The subsidized New Horizons Mall announced with great fanfare that among its tenants-roster is... H&R Block. Beyond tax preparation, this firm makes controversial tax refund anticipation loans, at interest rates over 100%. Its been sued all over the country, including by the NYC Consumer Affairs department. One might think that, if its to be included so unself-consciously in a subsidized mall project, widely characterized as "community development," that perhaps some commitment was obtained that H&R Block wont charge usurious rates to Crotona Park East residents. (NYS has a usury cap of 25%, which H&R Block gets around by claiming the loans arent actually made in New York, but by a federally-chartered institution based elsewhere.) You might think -- but youd be wrong. And its not like the players here werent on notice of these issues: when they proposed included Rent-A-Center, Inner City Press report led to this follow-up in City Limits. So does this new standardlessness flow from lack of institutional memory, lack of knowledge, or something else?
As New York City -- or at least Manhattan -- begins getting spruced up for the Republican National Convention, its time to examine which banks are paying for all this, and what theyre getting in return. Financial services firms have hit the top-ten in terms of contributing (or bribe-paying) industries, up from 17th in 2002. Of course, in the we-are-shocked Casablanca (White House) world of McCain-Feingold, its supposedly not the corporations which are giving money, but only their employees, through corporate PAC and as bundled by their CEOs.
Take, for example, the CEO of Wachovia, Ken Thompson. He has bundled more than $200,000 for the Bush campaign, making him like Bank of Americas vice chairman Jim Hance a so-called "ranger." (Those bundling over $50,000 are merely "mavericks;" over $100,000 and youre a "pioneer"). Wachovia also funds high-cost payday lenders, and is applying to the Federal Reserve for regulatory approval to buy SouthTrust, which counter-factually denies that it funds payday lenders and pawnshops (click here for Inner City Press proof).
While corporations cant directly fund the campaigns, theyre free to pay for the conventions and the parties. Whos paying for the RNC? The list includes AIG, BofA, Bank of New York, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, New York Life, State Street and others.
Several of these, including Citigroup and Bank of America, are also top donors to the Democrats: they are amoral, or meta-political, desiring access whoever wins. BofA, fresh for dissembling about its major Fleet Bank layoffs, will be the principal sponsor of a so-called salsa party on August 31 at Rockefeller Center. Theres talk of a protest of the other sponsor, for supporting policies that undermine Latinos well-being the length of the continent. Another more stealth connection: on the boards of directors of both Halliburton and Deutsche Bank is one W.R. Howell, not of Gilligans Island but J.C. Penney, per www.halliburton.com/about/board_of_dir.jsp ... Well see. Seen at the DNC in Boston was Citigroups Robert Rubin, strategically placed in the quasi-royal box to ensure "chatter" (to use a word thats that lately been shifted from Al Qaeda to demonstrators, see below) that Rubin might, just might, become the chairman of the Federal Reserve if the Democrats win. So either way, bankers will rule. Surprised? We arent. Were just outraged... In further even-handed news, payday lender Advance America, run by ex-Clinton scheduler Billy Webster, is preparing $340 billion predators initial public offering, according to a recent SEC filing. Ah, the Democratization of capital..
New York-specific, on August 20 two reporters described the NYPDs show-and-tell of anti-protest toys at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. One was WNYC radios reporter, who asked who these toys might be directed at. The other was NY Times reporter Randal C. Archibold, who pontificated about the implications of the show-and-tell, then admitted he hadnt even been there. "But Im aware of it," he said, as sort of bush-league Thomas Friedman, as if the elite status of ones employer conferred veracity even on an ill-informed third-hand account. The Times Mr. Archibold then adopted the NYPDs phrase about Internet "chatter" about anarchists coming to New York. When asked if this isnt a word these days associated with terrorists, Mr. Archibold said, "Thats not how I meant it." He didnt say if we was aware of the words resonance -- or if he cared. The Times, by the way, has contributed over $1.5 million to the Republic National Convention, while reporting breathlessly that Credit Suisse First Bostons Richard Holbrooke might, just might, be Secretary of State if the Democrats win. Like we said, bankers inappropriately dominate. This must be addressed...
Click here for the judge's decision in ICP's August 18 FOIA win over HSBC Household, the admitted predatory lender... On Riggs-PNC, the plot has thickened -- the Washington Post of August 21 reports on the widening criminal investigation of Riggs. CBS MarketWatch, which covered ICP's filing last week, now notes that "a lengthy probe could affect the company's pending acquisition by PNC." Another conflict has been identified, and raised: PNC awarded $50,000 to the Fed chairman's wife in April 2004. With all due respect, click here to view a summary of ICP's second comment, a petition for recusal. And click here, for ICP's outreach to... Santiago, Chile, regarding Riggs' money laundering for Pinochet. It's all connected..
August 16, 2004
From the week in which overzealous principals and custodians at the old James Monroe High School in Soundview painted over an AIDS education mural that cost $25,000, heres Inner City Press medley of stray signs around The Bronx:
--On the fence in front of a three-story house on Webster Avenue, next to El Buen Placer restaurant and a muffler shop, just south of 180th Street, taped-up signs with photographs of a soldier, all saying "Welcome Home"...
--On Broadway and 230th Street in Marble Hill, two-count-em-two recreational vehicles with signs, "Mobile Law Office of John C. Dearie"...
--At the meeting of Kingsbridge and Fordham Roads, in the storefront with signs for the law office of Roberto Ramirez (with dueling phone numbers, 502 5000 and 220 5700), a new sign: office of Councilmember Maria Baez. (The rolling gates were being pulled shut at seven pm)...
--Full circle to Webster, north of East Tremont: on a side street, a sign: "Doctor Computer." And below Tremont, a Bronx Lebanon hospital psychiatric center...
Lets say it: its time for more security at the Murphy Houses, specifically 1010 East 178th Street, where residents sense a serial killer. Two similar murders in the past seven months. The NYT (8/11, Alan Feuer) reports that "as of July 18, there have been eight murders this year in the 48th Precinct, where the building is located, compared with five during the same period last year." Meanwhile, not to say we-told-you-so, but on August 13-14 a man was killed, his girlfriend injured, at the Rhumba club on Tremont and Webster, on which we reported a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, while a recent visit to the Grand Concourse branch of the N.Y. Public Library, on 173rd Street, found it full of readers, all computers in use, the branch is closed all day on Tuesday. Does no one want to read that day? Or are the citys funding priorities elsewhere?
Inner City Press' Fair Finance Watch has just filed two 28-page challenges to applications by the PNC Financial Services Group to acquire the scandal-plagued Riggs National Corporation, with the Federal Reserve and OCC. ICP's comments include evidence that PNC funds payday lenders such as Check n Go of Washington DC, Inc. and elsewhere; ICP contrasts this with PNCs peer SunTrusts July 12, 2004 response to ICPs comments, that SunTrust will no longer fund payday lenders. See, e.g., "SunTrust pledges to drop ties to payday & title lenders," www.investors.com/breakingnews.asp?journalid=22274151&brk=1 and here.
PNC's funding and enabling payday lenders is hardly indicative of an "ongoing commitment to improving all the communities in which we do business." Also, ICPs own recent research finds for example that Riggs served -- or serves -- as correspondent for, among others, Bank of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Commercial Bank Ltd, Energobank of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Banco de Cabo Verde, Banco Internacional SA, and others - evidence has been submitted. ICP has formally requested hearings. Click here for a summary of ICP's PNC - Riggs comments; click here for an update on Wachovia-SouthTrust, and their, uh, misstatements about SouthTrust not funding fringe financiers... We admit to liking the twangy guitar in Wachovia's television ads - but Wachovia is enabling loan sharks. Maybe the twangy guitar is now in (a SouthTrust-funded) pawnshop? We'll see.
August 9, 2004
On Thursday, August 5, Tremont Avenue between Webster and Park Avenue was closed by police. Red Con Edison emergency trucks parked around the manholes on both sides of Tremont. A man in the crowd talked about manhole covers flying thirty feet in the air. Traffic was diverted north on Park Avenue; it backed up on Webster, and spilled onto Carter Avenue.
Meanwhile, now it can be told: the Jet Set Café, previously of 180th Street and Third Avenue, is now in a glass-fronted building on Webster, just north of the Cross Bronx Expressway. Also on Webster, further north between 182nd and 183rd, is the Blessing African Restaurant, which the Village Voices intrepid reviewer Robert Sietsema missed in his recent three-restaurant tour of Melrose and Webster Avenues. (He only got as far north at the B.B., which is just south of the Cross Bronx). Sietsema, come on back: we hardly knew ye
In the scandal surrounding the "Casa Cultural Puertorriqueña," beyond the nepotism -- which is becoming the norm in Bronx politics these days -- the saddest footnote is the argument that the CCP's pipedream of buying and fixing the abandoned Beaux Arts courthouse on 161st Street and Third Avenue explains the waste of money and lack of action. That building'll be fixed up yet...
Nothing but the trains: The northern leg of the D subway line has some of the most decrepit and dirtiest stations in the city, according to a survey released last week by the New York City Transit Riders Council. "It's like part of the D is forgotten," intoned council Chairman Andrew Albert as he stood in the 205th St.-Norwood station. At the Kingsbridge Road D stop in the Bronx, ranked third-worst, 25-year-old student Kesha Williams of Tremont stared at water dripping from peeling ceiling paint. "Just looking at that bothers me," she was quoted as saying. Farther down the D line, at the 174th-175th Sts. stop, ranked second-worst, water damage was not the problem. "It's smelly down here," said Evelyn Esperanza, 45, a child care provider from Grand Concourse. "It's like a bathroom." Yep... Coverage of the report noted, as a bright spot, that among the five best stations is the 2/5 stop at Intervale Avenue. What was not reported was the reason: the station was entirely rebuilt after a fire in the 1990s. Give it a few years...
News of the Bronx' renewal apparently hasn't reached England: here's from the Birmingham Evening Mail of August 5, 2004, form an article entitled "Families Protest over 'Bronx' Estate" -- "It's been abandoned, neglected and left to rot - welcome to Birmingham's Bronx. Everywhere you look on the Wyrley Birch estate in Erdington there are smashed windows, boarded up houses, graffiti strewn walls and rubbish piling up on the streets. Home to more than 700 people, this West Midlands estate has become overrun by drug addicts and alcoholics... 'We call it the Birmingham Bronx now. 'The druggies have taken over, gangs come in from different parts of Birmingham and burgle our houses and nobody does anything about it.'" Sounds like...
While awaiting receipt of HSBC Household's long-shot appeal in Washington State to block release of information, on August 5 oral argument was held in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware on ICP's ongoing request for the Delaware AG's documents about HSBC Household's predatory lending and settlement, and the Constitutionality of Delaware's FOIA. See, "Federal Judge Weighs Delaware Records Law: Residency Requirement Is Unconstitutional, Complainant Asserts," by Mary Allen, Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, August 6, 2004.
August 2, 2004
Weve tried to avoid it, but our topic this week is crime. The murder on which well hang out hat took place in broad daylight on July 26 on Third Avenue and 144th Street, in the playground of the Patterson Houses. Kevin Freeman, 25, of East 143rd Street in the Bronx, was pronounced dead at Lincoln Hospital after he was shot in the neck at 3:55 p.m.. A 19-year-old man was shot in the head and was taken to Lincoln Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. A man of unknown age was stabbed in the neck and shot in the leg, and was able to check himself into the hospital. A 20-year old man was treated at the hospital for a split lip and a laceration to his head. Witnesses say that at least 50 teenagers ran from the scene.
The Daily News, in a next-day, "Im-leaving-the-Bronx" story, reported that in Police Service Area 7, which serves Patterson and 24 other housing developments in the South Bronx, felony assaults, which include shootings, stabbings and beatings, are up 50% from the same period last year. This was followed two days later by a correction, apparently at the police departments request: "Felony assaults at PSA 7 are down 14% between Jan. 1 and July 25, compared to the same period last year. They are up, however, by 50% between June 28 and July 25, and up by 57% between July 19 and July 25."
On July 24 on 150th Street a priest, Francis Gargani, was beaten during the daytime in front of his church. The priest told reporters, ""I love the neighborhood. I love the people here, and I would not stop because of this." A nice sentiment, but not one that the City should count on...
The same day, 46-year old Dean Nicholson was shot and killed in the lobby of 424 Morris Avenue; ten months ago, Nicholsons son was stabbed to death on the Grand Concourse -- at three in the afternoon.
Despite sunny reports and manipulated statistics, those of us living in The Bronx -- and this is based on ICPs outreach throughout the borough -- have noticed an increase in violence and the threat of violence throughout this summer. A recent precinct visit to view mug shots was less then useful: they are not searchable by neighborhood, or even borough. The tens of thousands of "hits," viewable in sets of six that download only slowly, makes for few-to-no photo identifications anymore. In this detective squad, they were watching the Yankees on YES network cable, while bemoaning the insolence of their own children, out in the suburbs. As to safety in The Bronx, they opined that the Rhumba Club on Tremont and Webster is the source of many problems, that dont get resolved because it is on the border between precincts: falling between the cracks, so to speak...
Bronx, as concept, in the news: from the National Journal of July 27, 2004, reporting on the DNCs tour of Roxbury in Boston: "See if New York sends the Republicans through the South Bronx, one city official remarked as he approached the entrance of the Franklin Park Zoo, the site of the California reception." From the Czech News Agency wire of July 29: "Trebic, one of the Czech monuments added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, is not safe... three drunk Romanies rudely threatened a temporary worker in the Trumpetka restaurant and when manager Stanislav Neuman asked them to pay and leave, attacked him and he had to be treated by doctors. Police had to intervene. Seven Romanies came here. They were throwing ash-trays against the walls and broken a glass, Neuman, who ironically calls the Jewish quarter Trebic's Bronx, said." Note: were troubled by the references to "Romanies" - and to The Bronx...
Look who connived a spot on the podium at the DNC: Fab Five Freddy, fresh from exposure in the Velella tapes as a wheeler-dealer supporting (or not) the executive directors of public hospitals, in exchange for, well you know, campaign contributions. We agree that the DNC lacked a Latino speaker, but disagree with the one they chose...
Library beat: the newly fixed-up library on 140th and Alexander still has only six public-access Internet terminals. But theres an exhibit on display, about the Piccirilli family of sculptors, who in a workshop at 463 E. 142nd Street between 1893 and 1944 carved thousands of statues, including Abe of the Lincoln Memorial (from 28 five-ton blocks of Georgia marble). The workshop was demolished in the 1970s; now on the site is a Jehovahs Witnesses Kingdom Hall. Similarly, on the site of the James & Kirkland foundry, where the Capitol Dome was cast, now sits the Horizons youth jail... Similar photos of the Piccirilli familys sculptures are on display at the Belmont public library, which after being close for a week, re-opened with new (gray metal) furniture, and better air-conditioning (but still not enough computers)....
Street fair and carnival beat: on July 31, there was a street fair on 187th Street between Beaumont and Cambrelleng. From the bandstand, a Mexican sextet played. Tacos were for sale, from a grocery that is morphing into a restaurant. (The transition was when they started serving meals to workmen in the back, on the removable back seat of the van they use to get produce from the Hunts Point Market.) There was a Spiderman game and not much else: the event, an annual one, was mis-scheduled to compete with a larger festival out on 189th and Third...
On July 26, JPM Chase issued a press release bragging that, in the entire year of 2004, it will open sixteen branches in the tri-state area around New York. Since many banks wouldnt issue a press release about opened 16 branches in a year, one might assume that these sixteen would be in low and moderate income areas. JPM Chases press release admitted that "in the late '90s, banks including Chase closed branches as the result of mergers" -- for Chase, that was more than 100 branch closings, including at least 12 in The Bronx. So where, you ask, are these sixteen new branches of which Chase is bragging so much? Not in The Bronx, and mostly not in low or moderate income neighborhoods at all. The press release listed seven "locations that have recently opened: Englewood, NJ (55 W. Palisade Ave, NE)-- Hoboken, NJ (125 River St.)-- Lake Success/Long Island, NY (2335 New Hyde Park Rd.)-- Garden City/Long Island, NY (106 7th St.)-- Princeton, NJ (16-18 Nassau St.)-- Carnegie Hill, NY (181 East 90th St.)-- East Hampton, NY (35 Main St.)" and nine "that are scheduled to open by the end of the year: Howell, New Jersey-- Tribeca/Manhattan, New York-- Linden, New Jersey-- Manhasset/Long Island, New York-- Red Bank, New Jersey-- Midtown Manhattan, NY (Chrysler Building)-- Elizabeth, New Jersey-- Franklin Square/Long Island, New York-- Elmhurst/Queens, NY." Thats a total of four, of the sixteen, in New York City itself: three in Manhattan, and one in Queens. None, that is, The Bronx. And still they fund payday lenders and pawnshops... From the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel from their July 30 edition, "SunTrust was Right to End Business with Payday and Car Title Lenders" -- "SunTrust made its decision to cut ties with such lenders after a consumer group filed a complaint with the Federal Reserve opposing the bank's pending merger with National Financial Corp. of Memphis, Tenn. Among other complaints, Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch said records showed SunTrust had at least 60 customers making payday or car-title loans. Announcing its decision, SunTrust cited the potential reputational risks and consumer harm that could come from lending to such companies. How candid, and how refreshing. ICP believes SunTrust's decision could persuade other banks -- especially those seeking government approval for mergers -- to follow suit. Let's hope so." Thanks, Orlando Sentinel. And what does JPM Chase have to say? Well see. Here also is an editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal of July 31:
"National Commerce Financial Corp. and SunTrust Banks recently decided to stop doing business with companies that provide payday or car title loans. The move, while commendable, appears to have been done to win favor with federal regulators who will decide whether to approve a merger between NCF and SunTrust. Whatever the motives, the decision shows why high interest loans that are frequently made to lower income borrowers deserve careful scrutiny....A protest by the Inner City Press/Community on the Move and Fair Finance Watch apparently helped NCF and SunTrust see the light... Those words should be a wake-up call to local companies that want to deal in those types of loans. Unless they're willing to accept more regulation and greater accountability, maybe more major financial institutions will follow the lead of NCF and SunTrust.
And then car title lenders will know what it feels like to struggle to get a loan."
That last sentiment, we like how the Commercial Appeal's editorial board put it. (Click here for the full text of these editorial, and more). Still, what's up with JPM Chase and the others? Developing...
July 26, 2004
The New York Times of Sunday, July 25 refers to The Bronx a total of 14 times. Two are baseball stories, one a "Memo to Elton John;" a death notice, a sale of a home, a wedding / celebration. There's a "New York Up Close" piece which claims that the 212 area code is still "routinely assigned" in The Bronx -- not. Other than Seth Kugel's piece about Target (even that focused on the Marble Hill irony of the Bronx-Manhattan border), no substantive coverage. For shame.
What then is the best way to see The Bronx? Well heres one way thats relatively cheap, either two dollars a ride, or three dollars a day if you get an unlimited MetroCard.
A recently rainy Friday (okay, it was July 23), an Inner City Press reporter boarded the Bx 41 bus on Webster Avenue, heading north. One could get off at Fordham Road, or at Bedford Park and walk into the Botanical Gardens. But the rain was getting heavier, so the reporter stayed on the bus. This Bx41 route goes to 241st Street, near the border of The Bronx and Mount Vernon. It takes nearly an hour to get there, but if you have the time its worth it.
Between 205th Street and Gun Hill Road, Webster Avenue is a green leafy speedway (where, were not unaware, some drag-racing youths and their unwitting passengers have lost their lives, RIP). Just south of Gun Hill is an old faded sign, for the Bronx Republican Club, with Italian names rarely heard anymore. Then the Bx 41 turns east on Gun Hill, on an overpass carved "BR PP" that passes the Metro North station called Williamsbridge, and over to White Plains Road, under the elevated train. Here every other storefront refers to Jamaica or the West Indies. There are at least three Golden Krust bakeries; theres also, in no particularly order, Alis Trinidadian Roti Shop, a restaurant specializing in "Guyanese and Chinese" cuisine, Arkansas Fried Chicken and a grocery called Texas Farm, a Chinese take-out called Jackie Chen, presumably after the Rumble in The Bronx actor, and the Act III nightclub up on Nereid Avenue.
At 216th Street theres El Rancho Motel. Then theres councilman Larry Seabrooks office, which has windows fifteen feet up from the sidewalk, unbreakable. Next door at 3763 White Plains Road is an education center named for Leon Eastmond, on information and belief the man involved in the tragic boiler death of a workman on Arthur Avenue, covered (much) further below on this page. Theres a storefront office of American Home Mortgage, near a Navy & Marine Recruitment office. There are numerous check cashiers, a Jackson Hewitt and an H&R Block, a Rent-A-Center, and many small (spill-and-fall) law offices. There are a number of nurses training schools, in second floor lofts, mysterious.
Or take another route, which well call "From Dreiser to Poe." The Bx26 from Bedford Park and Webster out to Co-op City, via Allerton. After passing the Botanical Garden, the commercial strip of Allerton Avenue has a pawnshop screaming "CA$H KINGDOM," with paintings of diamonds and computers and musical instruments, and the medieval pawnbrokers logo of the three golden balls. Theres a branch of Primerica, Citigroups multi-level marketing subsidiary which many call a pyramid scheme. The streets turn suburban, and suddenly the cluster of high rises of Co-op City is upon you, reminiscent of Clockwork Orange, the distance between the towers enormous, at the end of the line at Erskine Place some views of a landfill, and weird well-fed geese... Theres Einstein Loop, and Asch Loop, and Dreiser Loop, which well assume is for Theodore Dreiser, author of the not-irrelevant American Tragedy.
Return on the Bx 28, which shows you Gun Hill east of White Plains Road, full of jerk shacks and jerk centers and even a jerk yard; a foreclosure consultant and a bike store thats closing; a place offering musical lessons, then Evander Childs High School, Immaculate Conception then the projects. From there the route gets weird: up Gun Hill to Bainbridge, past the illogical (or Greenwich Village-like) intersection of 204th and 205th Streets, across the Concourse to Tracey Towers, along Paul Avenue to Lehman College, east on Bedford Park to yet another pawnshop, this one also screaming of Cash Loans; a church, the armory, and east to Poe Park, to which Edgar Allan Poes signature has been added, on a plaque on the fence.
No matter how long youve been here, including your whole life, you can view The Bronx anew, it never stops changing, and yet it never really changes...
July 20, 2004
After 4 p.m. on July 20, the Federal Reserve announced it had approved the application by North Fork Bancorporation to acquire GreenPoint Bank. Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch challenged the deal beginning in April, based on North Fork's lending disparities and support of pawnshops and check cashiers in the low income areas which it avoids with its branches, and on GreenPoint's subprime lending.
On the lending disparities, the Fed admits on page 16-17 that
"The 2002 HMDA data indicate that North Fork s percentage of total HMDA-reportable loan originations, which include home purchase, refinance, home improvement, and multifamily loans, to borrowers in predominantly minority census tracts generally was comparable with or lagged the percentage for the aggregate lenders in the areas reviewed" and that " North Fork s denial disparity ratios for African-American and Hispanic applicants for total HMDA-reportable loans generally were comparable with or higher than those ratios for the aggregate lenders in the areas reviewed."
These disparities continue despite North Fork hiring a "CRA lawyer" to defend its practices, and despite North Fork hiring an ex-regulator to run its CRA programs (see ICP's Bronx Report of July 19, 2004, below). The Fed argues, as North Fork did, that the CRA doesn't require a bank to do mortgage lending. But when a bank makes homeownership loans available in the more affluent, less minority suburbs, but limits its credit offers in communities of color to non-homeownership (often, slumlord) loans, there's a problem, including under the Fair Housing Act. We will get to the bottom of this. The Fed's order is available here in PDF format.
The Fed's order downplays North Fork's pawnshop and rent-to-own connections, to focus on check cashing. On page 7 of the Order, the Fed summarizes that ICP "contended that the banks do not make their products and services available in low-income and predominantly minority areas, particularly in the Bronx, and instead provide financial support to 'fringe banking' businesses, such as check cashers and pawn shops, in those areas." In fact, the Fed asked North Fork about rent-to-own shops, too, after ICP showed North Fork's funding of Rent To Own, Inc. of 146 West Main Street, Bay Shore, New York, as well as Empire Pawn Brokers, Inc. of New York City. The Fed's treatment of these issues in the order is weak -- consider that a bank larger than North Fork, SunTrust, announced earlier this month in response to ICP's comments that it will no longer fund or lend to payday lenders or other fringe banking institutions. Can it be that there is greater consumer protection in the South than in the South Bronx? The order refers to an action against North Fork by the NYS Attorney General, but characterizes the fine that North Fork paid as "small" -- too small, we'd add; the Order argues, for more than half a page, that outsourcing is legal. (ICP has presented whistleblower's complaints about GreenPoint's specific practices, not outsourcing as a generic issue). Perhaps most tellingly (and troublingly), the Fed recites in footnote 30 that " North Fork stated that neither North Fork nor GreenPoint offers subprime mortgage products." That's contrary to the evidence, and the views of many stock analysts of GreenPoint's business. North Fork mis-spoke (we're being diplomatic here); we will pursue these issues. For now, consider the results this week of work around SunTrust (dropping lending to payday and car title lenders) and HSBC Household (which was denied a preliminary injunction to block release of information to Inner City Press). We will pursue these issues -- as to North Fork.
July 19, 2004
Glimpses through the revolving door: Inner City Press months-old Freedom of Information Law request for the New York Banking Departments communications with its ex-employee, now North Fork Bank shill, Stacey M. Cooper, has finally been responded to. Without cover letter, the department has mailed ICP 22 pages of e-mails. Most are from a CRA staffer of the NYBD, Gail Bernstein-Gold, including this exasperated description of the scope of response:
"Pauline- I have two emails that I wrote to Stacey Cooper pertaining to this application. Its not clear to me from reading the request whether [ICP] means correspondence related to this application, or communication since the beginning of time (since Stacey Cooper left the Department six years ago)... It would be very time-consuming to go through all of these; its not clear to me that this is what [ICP] is looking for. -Gail."
The few emails that are provided reflect invitations, chatter about ex-Superintendent McCaul getting a job at Promontory Financial Group, where, the attachment says, she "will work with a variety of financial clients, advising and consulting." Theres exchange of contact information, under the header "hi there." And now, its reported, Ms. Bernstein-Gold is leaving the NYBD -- through the revolving door to NYBD-supervised Independence Savings Bank. Perhaps that explains her exasperation that anyone would dare inquire into the propriety of agency favors given to an ex-employee and the bank that now pays them from this entrée?
Sausages frying, long slides sliding, a bit-player from the TV show The Practice serving as master of ceremonies on Saturday night -- all this took place at the street fair / Feast on 187th Street, July 14-18. In the Arthur Avenue market, free samples of hot and/or sweet sausage were given out; a poster on the doors celebrated the long public service of Congressman Serrano.
From the immigration case against AG Ashcroft and Tom Ridge, Santillan et al. v Ashcroft et al.: Anita Lasbrey, a native of Nigeria living in The Bronx, N.Y., was granted Lawful Permanent Resident status on Jul. 7, 2003. Because she had not yet received documentation of her status, Lasbrey attempted to obtain a Social Security card using the immigration judge's order but was told that it was insufficient proof of her status... Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
July 12, 2004
This is about views, and only then news. With the demolition of the Fordham Arcade, just north of Fordham on Webster, now the Provident Loan Society pawnshop is visible again. One block further up is the storefront of Punjab Food Enterprises, doling out spicy chick peas, its television tuned to news from Pakistan. There's a Jamaican restaurant there too, with a wider selection than the Golden Krust just south of Fordham. There's the enormous North End Liquor Store, which runs ads on Bronx cable, a goofy pitchman with a faux arrow fake skewering his brain, and bottles of wine which speak in three languages. For those able to make their way onto Fordham's Rose Hill campus, there have been baseball games visible from Jack Coffee Field's aluminum stands, next to the long-paralyzed radio broadcast tower about to be disassembled. The games, last week between a team from Van Courtlandt Park and an out-of-borough squad, start at six and finish at or after dusk, sometimes in a tie. There are many wild pitches, much stomping of spikes on the floor of the dugout to rattle the pitcher (it's not hard). Dusk falls over Fordham's elm-lined paths; seventy Jesuits, it is said, still live on the campus. Across Southern Boulevard, the Botanical Gardens closes strangely early, at six p.m.. After that, on the weekends at least, the Garden is sold out to the weddings of the affluent, held at Snuff Mill, and other corporate events, in a tent across from Fordham. We South Bronxites have been swept out by them: this peace is not meant for us, but rather commuters. But it's hard to complain, when the humidity is low, the grass is green and dusk is falling...
Back in the grit, the Federal Reserve Boards secretary on July 6 decided to continue withholding the list of pawnshops and check cashiers funded by North Fork Bank, despite the fact that many of these connections are already public, in UCC filings and elsewhere. Inner City Press has appealed, attaching Royal Bank of Scotland's most recent submission and the relevant UCC filings:
Empire Pawn Brokers, 43 West 47th Street, NY NY 10036;
CashPoint Network Services, 143 E. 72 St., NY NY 10023 (and Uribea Realty Corp);
David's Check Cashing, Inc. of 3015 Third Ave., BX NY 10455;
Pay-O-Matic Check Cashing Corp. of 160 Oak Drive, Syosset NY, 11791;
Parente Check Cashing Corp., 593 Myrtle Ave, Bklyn NY 11205;
Inbox Check Cashing Service, 3257 Westchester Ave BX NY 10461;
Hillside Check Cashing Corp., 179-39 Hillside Ave Jamaica NY 11432;
F.S. Quality Check Cashing, 43-39 91st Place, Elmhurst NY 11373, etc.
No FOIA exemption applies to information that is "otherwise publicly available" - not only the information already identified and submitted to ICP, but any other information that is publicly available elsewhere. North Fork's withholding is designed to conceal information which is not entitled to FOIA exemption, and which is related to a material issue in this proceeding, one that ICP timely raised.... ICP has filed legal papers in Seattle, regarding HSBC Household and predatory lending, click here for more.
July 5, 2004
The Velella wiretaps continue casting light. Late June saw impassioned defenses of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, and claims that the BOEDC has never been political. But tapes of Velella concerning his assistance to Dick Gidron, in selling the corner of Fordham Road and Crotona Avenue to the state for a Department of Motor Vehicles office (Village Voice, July 6) bring back up a connection, not addressed by the Voice, between long-time Bronx real estate player (and Ferrer donor and crony) Kathy Zamechansky and the corrupt placement of this DMV office, on which Inner City Press reported, back in 1999. In 1998, Zamechansky was "spokesman" for the developer of the DMV site, Triangle Equities (for whom she bragged, "We have a building permit, a fully executed lease with the state, and we have an asbestos abatement firm signed up. We have all the pieces together, and we're all prepared to go" -- now we know why). Previously, Zamechansky performed the same role for Rosenshein Associates (whose mall plans on Third Avenue and 156th Street raised money but ever happened). Even earlier, Zamchansky was the head of the BOEDC; she even showed up in the investigations of Wedtech: " Kathleen L. Zamechansky... set up a meeting with Miss Frank, the Ports and Terminals Commissioner. As a result, Mr. Thomas was given six more weeks to obtain the defense contract. But, while the eviction proceedings loomed, Mr. Ehrlich asked for 10 percent of the company's stock in exchange for his legal help, according to a draft agreement on Biaggi & Ehrlich stationery... According to Mr. Thomas, Mrs. Zamechansky was initially very helpful but later opposed the company's effort. He attributed this to a letter dated March 5, 1984 - a critical period only days after the city deadline - in which Mr. Ehrlich informed her that the law firm ''has ceased representing Freedom Industries." NYT Oct. 20, 1986. Then, she only testified after promise of immunity. She is now described as a "community relations" consultant (paid $60,000, for example, by the Blumenfeld Development Group) and she runs KZA Realty Group, Inc., 1604 Williamsbridge Road. But who's following up on the Velella tapes?
For now, in terms of the claims that Velella's corruption didn't conflict with serving Bronxites, let's remember that many Belmont residents opposed the placement of the DMV there; little did they know the arrangements between Gidron and Velella, et al. Back in 1998, without mentioning his efforts for Dick Gidron, Velella told reporters that he supported the new DMV site because he didn't want to see the building fall into further decay. But what was decaying, even further, was the political and civic culture of The Bronx.
June 28, 2004
Even the beauty of the Botanical Garden in June can't eliminate the stench of corruption in The Bronx. Guy Velella has been sentenced to one year -- but during the preceding investigation, former borough president Ferrer was implicated. A wiretap request filed by NYS Police investigator Gustav Talleur stated that Victor " Cintron hosted a Fernando Ferrer fund-raiser at his home. "In exchange, Cintron and Gonzalez have worked with Fernando Ferrer and José Ithier . . . to obtain for Cintron a small-business construction loan without . . . collateral. " The loan was from the BOEDC. Ferrer has said: " "As I understand it, every loan from the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. had to go through a committee and the entire board. It was intentionally set up that way so no individual could do anything like this." But those same supposed safeguards existed when the BOEDC was controlled by the lineage of which goes back to Stanley Friedman and Stanley Simon (for whom Ferrer worked). More: " 'Here he [Fernando Ferrer] is being asked to remove two lots from public auction. In the case of Tinton Avenue, the benefit to Senator Velella was cash funneled through the Velella Law Firm. Here, the benefit to Ferrer is the requirement that contractors hold fund-raisers for Ferrers mayoral campaign. This is no less than a quid pro quo.'"
Talleur says Ferrer and Gonzalez had a "close friendship," adding that
Gonzalez used that relationship to "assist his clients with political patronage In
the course of wiretapping Gonzalez, prosecutors watched him trade favors with other
politicians. In one case, the operator of several pharmacies and health centers, Victor
Cintron, asks Gonzalez's help securing a contract with Promesa, a drug-treatment agency.
Gonzalez encourages him to retain the legal services of Roberto Ramirez, the
ex-assemblyman who was also the Bronx Democratic chairman. "Almost all of their
money, for Promesa, is from the state of New York," Gonzalez explained. "The key
person for them is Ramirez. That's why I told you, let's sit down with him. You pay him
two or three thousand dollars, give half up front and the rest later. Let him negotiate
for you. Because then you are negotiating in a position of strength." Mr. Cintron did
as he suggested and won the contract with Promesa -- whose bookkeeper was shot
execution-style, let it not be forgotten. Ferrer states that he doesn't recall ever
hearing of Victor Cintron. "If he held a fund-raiser for me, I'm grateful,"
Ferrer said. All this in the run-up to another supposed run for the mayoralty?
In another taped conversation, Mr. Ferrer offers to oust two board members of a local hospital to protect its executive director, who was an associate of Gonzalez. "If I throw these two people out, I just want to make sure it helps you," Mr. Ferrer said. "Yes, because if it helps you, I'll do that."
Here are the executive directors of Bronx-based hospitals, during the time-frame: Bronx-Lebanon: Miguel A. Fuentes Jr.; Jacobi 1999: Joseph Orlando' Lincoln Hospital circa 1997: Roberto Rodriguez, then Jose Sanchez (who headed North Central Bronx circa 1996, followed by Emilio J. Morante; now, Arthur Wagner). Further back, there was the executive director of Morrisania's Martin Luther King Jr. Health Center, Gloria Perry -- it was this MLK Health Center which ex-Assemblywoman Gloria Davis used to shake down bags of cash, the same Gloria Davis with whom Ferrer collaborated in calling for evictions in Crotona Park East and elsewhere -- in retrospect, to benefit whom?
June 21, 2004
Two to The Bronx, the hard way: late on June 18, trying to return to The Bronx on the Two Train from Herald Square, suddenly it stopped at 96th Street. "This is the last stop," it was announced. "Go upstairs to catch the shuttle bus to 149th Street in the Bronx." The bus filled up quickly; the air conditioned was broker. It lurched north of Central Park West, through Harlem, east on the 145th Street bridge. It stopped at the Grand Concourse, where those destined north on Third Avenue -- over which the elevated train was demolished and never replaced underneath -- took the train one stop east, then up to wait for the bus. Total transit time? Two hours...
We don't usually do this, but.... The June 7 Crain's New York Business had an article about Inner City Press, the news hook was the Federal Reserve's $70 million fine of Citigroup for predatory lending. The next week's Crain's, dated June 14, had a letter from a New York lawyer, complaining that "Crain's puff piece reports as fact a laundry list of alleged [ICP] victories over banks, but fails to include even a single quote from an industry representative or regulator on the receiving end of [these] attacks. Whatever the merits of [ICP]'s ongoing crusade against New York banks and their regulators, Crain's readers are entitled to at least a little analysis and critical reporting to help them arrive at an informed opinion."
Okay then: ICP can report that JPM Chase's CRA officer was given an opportunity to comment, but declined to do so, and that a Federal Reserve official was interviewed, on condition of anonymity, and was quoted without name in the article. So what's (and where's) the beef? Or is it merely, as it's put in Spanish, uvas armargas? The letter-writer happens to be representing a Long Island based bank ICP's opposing, noting among other things its pawnshop funding; this is not disclosed in the letter or signature block... Perhaps beyond sour grapes the letter's an invitation to call for negative quotes. We'll see.
This next item is not sour grapes but mere observation: the New York Times of Sunday, June 20 hits a new low, referring to The Bronx, population 1.3 million, a grand total of ten times: four weddings / celebrations, two death notices, two real estate (both north-north Bronx), a reference to Orchard Beach, another in an magazine article about Harlem. Therefore, not a single substantive article about The Bronx. What's happening?
June 14, 2004
A new low's been hit by the Sunday New York Times: a mere 12 mentions of The Bronx, of which one is an obituary, four are announcements of weddings / celebrations, two are real estate blurbs (one tongue in cheek about the Zoo), a reference by Maureen Dowd to "Ralph Lifschitz of the Bronx," a story of two brothers killed by a fire, and story about a fast food stick-up gone wrong. The analysis? The substantive news? It is elsewhere, apparently...
Now here is global praise that we like to see: in Ghana's Accra Mail of June 11, 2004, Kwabena Sarpong Akosah writes: I enjoyed the Bronx because of the pronounced Ghanaian presence in the borough. I must acknowledge the growing numbers of Senegalese, Gambians, Guineans, Sierra Leoneans and Malians in the Bronx...There are several Ghanaian shops in the Bronx, where you could buy Ghanaian stuff - food, clothing, music, etc. My favorite shop was Makola." Two fairs we must review. The carnival in Old Borough Hall park, on Tremont and Third, wasn't as well attended as in previous years. The rides and sideshows were, if anything, better. The largest Ferris wheel that's been on that site, high on a rock, over the Cross Bronx Expressway; from its top, one saw the glittering of the George Washington Bridge, Manhattan through the haze and projects. There was a booth at which knife-throwing was scheduled (in fact, Inner City Press responded to info requests from another knife thrower, see below). But at least on June 10 around 8 to 9 p.m., no knives were thrown. The zeppole, however, were piping hot and sugar-coated.
A few blocks north on 187th, a showdown was promised (on fliers) between zeppole and ricotta frittolo. King Z won by TKO on the afternoon June 12: the ricotta booth by Hughes Avenue was empty. But on June 13 a crowd had gathered, including for the music on the corner of Arthur Avenue. Still there was no Worlds-Largest-Rat, no un-p.c. dwarf-show, none of that. Those come later in the summer... Some Q&A:
Subj: Re: Fair on Tremont Avenue- Hi, it's Third Av & Tremont, hope you can throw
Date: 6/9/04 4:08:23 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: [Knife Thrower] To: BronxWatch [at] innercitypress.org
Thank you for the quick, courteous and informative response. Yes, I am a knife thrower. A carnie / burlesque thrower is going to be in the show and I wanted to "check him out." Hey, I'm glad you liked the site. There ain't too many of us around.
Subj: Re: Throw- Hi. How'd ya know of carnie's inclusion on Tremont?
Date: 6/9/04 6:27:53 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: [Knife Thrower] To: BronxWatch [at] innercitypress.org
... some sideshow / carnie / burlesque friends traveling with a road carnie show from San Francisco are appearing there... wasn't sure of where it was thus I dropped your site (you) an e-mail to gets the specs.
See also, "HSBC Hit on Downstate Minority Lending Patterns; Activist Also Seeks to Block Merger of Charter One, Citizens Financial," by Jonathan Epstein, Buffalo News, June 13, 2004.
June 7, 2004 -- From Charlotte Street to Wedtech: the Passing of the Great Communicator, Viewed from The Bronx by ICP
Of the dead it is said if there's nothing kind to say, say nothing. But amid the torrent of revisionist praise, the view of Ronald Reagan's presidency from The Bronx and places like it seems strikingly absent.
This is as it was when Reagan visited Charlotte Street, in August 1980. He came to a then-famous block of burned out vacant buildings, where Jimmy Carter had come three years before. He met with Jesse Jackson (who more recently in 2004 has opined on the South Bronx fight, click here to view). Reagan in 1980 stood before television cameras in a cream-colored suit. Across the street, protesters gathered. As captured by ABC News, Reagan tried to shout them down: "I can't do a damn thing for you if I don't get elected."
A woman responded: "Afterwards what are you--". She was cut off, and Reagan drove away in his limousine. Later on a the campaign plane to Chicago his only regret was that he hadn't spoken to, or at, the protesters before giving his speech for the cameras. The response to the cut-off woman's question, if there was one, was not pretty.
Reagan slashed rental housing subsidies of the Section 8 program. Regarding the Bronx, Reagan's Economic Development Administration in 1981 refused to guarantee a $12.4 million loan for the Hunts Point Terminal Market in The Bronx, saying that it was unable ''to find reasonable assurances that the loan would be repaid.'' The Reagan administration had a different definition of repayment: when Bronx-based military contractor Wedtech gave stock options to presidential advisor Lyn Nofziger and to Edwin Meese's friend E. Robert Wallach, a $32 million Army contract resulted. Then, at a Republican fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria in March 1984, Reagan praising Wedtech and its founder John Mariotta as "heroes for the Eighties," who succeeded due to "faith in God." Mariotta pled guilty to corruption charges; the Department of Justice opened investigations into Nofziger and into Meese himself, just as the Iran-Contra hearing opened in 1987. Wedtech declared bankruptcy and laid off all its Bronx employees.
Reagan's effects on Nicaraguans was more visceral: the contras, called freedom fighters by Reagan, mined harbors and blew up literacy teachers -- by nearly any definition, terrorism. The connection, if any, between these deaths in the Central American countryside and the fall of the Berlin Wall is not clear. Yet few in the mainstream media are exploring these connections, these voices. Like the woman on Charlotte Street, these questions are cut off. China did this for Mao, and Russia did it for Lenin. But what sets the U.S. apart is the range of voices, the pursuit of truth, or more accurately truths. So consider Reagan from the South Bronx, if not from Nicaragua. Ronbo had Alheimer's. His forgetting is forgivable. Ours is not.
On a lighter note: from the Hub to old grown forest: facets of The Bronx.
You stand on the island of 148th Street, where Third and Willis Avenues meet. There is a cinder block bunker where bus dispatchers sit. Soon enough the BX 41, a double-length bus the back half of which can at times be entered for free. The bus rumbles north on Melrose, next stop 161.
On 156th there's the housing project police, PSA 7, across the street from a rehab named for ex-City Councilman David Rosado. Somewhere there must be something named for Castaneira Colon, Rosado's predecessor, shipwrecked on corruption. Speaking of corruption, on 158th Street the NYC Partnership townhouses are up: few in the neighborhood could afford them, and yet they're called affordable.
At the symbolic address of 911 Melrose there's a bodega whose sign claims, "Nadie vende mas barato" (no one sells cheaper). Perhaps it's true. There's an overpass, glimpses into factories. On Webster on the other side, Sheffield Milk is now a storage placed called Tuck It Away. On 167th there's a place with live chickens, its sign in Arabic, next to Al-Madina Furniture. Then the canyons of housing projects; by Claremont a one-story church, one room, really, a bunker covered with a gate saying "Solo en Cristo Hay Salvacion" (for which no translation should be necessary." There's a gaggle of fast food and the Cross Bronx Expressway; a crowd awaits the bus on the corner of Tremont. Fordham Road is yet more congested. And then, at Bedford Park, an entrance to the Botanical Gardens. There are waiters in tuxedos, offering valet parking to some private function, probably a wedding. This is where non-Bronxites come -- back on Fordham Road there's a run-down Rose Hill park, merely three benches, with the strong smell of urine. Here, just off the Bronx River and Moshulu Parkways, the non-Bronxites coast in for the weddings, surrounded by trees. Though with only a ground pass can walk on by, past the Beaux Arts Mertz library and into the city's last remaining old growth forest. There for a moment, all the clashing and corruption, the gritty asphalt striving, fades away. Trees and birds and air that smells clean. Not to say it's better -- but it's a good contrast, a respite, still here in The Bronx...
June 1, 2004
Anyone who doubts that The Bronx and Mount Vernon, just over the Westchester County line, are connected, needs to consider last week's saga of Robert Quinones, who we'll call "Don Q" for reasons that may become apparent. Police raided 410 Locust Street in Mount Vernon on May 25, finding just over a gram of cocaine and arresting Don Q. Once at Mount Vernon police headquarters, Don Q said he had information about unsolved crimes in The Bronx. NYPD detectives traveled, quickly, up to Mount Vernon, and interviewed Don Q in a first floor room in the police headquarters. Just after they left, Don Q jumped out the window and took off. He escaped.
Police, however, went directly to Fulton Avenue in The Bronx, Don Q's known stomping grounds. Knocking on doors, flashing badges and more, they were told they should look in 1625 Fulton, where, at 4:45 a.m. on May 27, they found Don Q, in an otherwise vacant apartment. He was taken to Westchester County jail in Valhalla, charged now with two felonies: fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and second-degree escape. Bail was set at $10,000. He is due in court on June 7...
Speaking of sleaze that's criminal or should be, ongoing public hearing into the abuses of the New York State Empire Zone programs have revealed that HSBC Bank, as it proposes to shift its headquarters out of New York and down to Delaware, reincorporated itself solely to obtain NY tax benefits, as if it had created new jobs. For shame!
Again, something we must praise: the Botanical Garden. A visit on Memorial Day weekend, via the Bronx River Parkway foot overpass, found five dollars as the rate for Bronx residents to "walk the grounds." For too many parts of the Garden, extra pay is demanded. But trees and roses were in flower, the north paths were nearly empty; looking down at slow-running water, there were tires at the bottom, and hub caps. In the 1896 library building, on the top floor, there are the drawings of botanist Margaret Mee. On Wednesdays, the Garden is free. Hope to see you there... Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
May 24, 2004
Sources inside Promesa tell Inner City Press that, in a frenzy of cost-cutting, the organization's housing arm, Casa Promesa, now leaves its site at 1794 Anthony Avenue without any security at night. It's a 108-bed residential health care facility described by Promesa itself as for a "special needs population." Not special enough to have security, apparently...
Updates, street views: we need to supplement our review of the Zoo's new riverwalk, from earlier this spring. On a second visit, there were even more birds, fewer cars, and one could enter the main Zoo from Pelham Parkway without paying. In the House of Darkness, bats fluttered in cages; in the monkey houses, screeching; in the Hall of Reptiles, snakes lay digesting. West on Fordham Road, between Hoffman and Arthur Avenues, the Latino Café has been closed -- by the marshals, no less. The pickled fish was good. We'll miss it.
On Sunday, May 23, children played in the hydrant's spray on 161st Street just west of Third Avenue, behind the abandoned courthouse. Very nice... This less so: yet another puff piece of the Bronx' Hall of Fame. This time it's in NYU's Washington Square News of May 20; it quotes the Hall's new director that "I don't have this feeling like NYU owes us something." Except of course that it fled the Bronx when the going got tough, but not before pulling strings to overcharge New York State for the campus it was abandoning. Most landlords who abandoned their buildings weren't able to sell them... L. Jay Oliva, an NYU dean back in 1973, is quoted that "there was talk of moving the busts down to the Square. But the Hall of Fame was already a landmark, and NYU ultimately decided to leave that part of its legacy behind.... 'There were so many things to be focused on, that the Hall of Fame wasn't the main one.'" So what else was taken?
May 17, 2004
Among ICP's current anti-redlining campaigns is the fight against North Fork Bank's and GreenPoint's exclusion of Mott Haven, Port Morris, Melrose, Morrisania and Hunts Point. ICP filed comments opposing the banks' merger applications to the Federal Reserve, NY Banking Department, and FDIC. By letter dated May 10, North Fork submitted a consolidated response, a close reading of which confirms a number of adverse issues ICP has raised, while evading others. North Fork's recitation of its mortgage lending shows it repeatedly to be worse and more disparate than the aggregate; nor does North Fork claim to have any branches or plan for branches in South Bronx Community Planning Districts 1, 2 or 3, the southernmost and lowest-income, most predominantly minority section of The Bronx (and of New York State). Rather, North Fork claims, in a footnote that runs from page 4 to 5, to be planning a branch in Harlem. In a phrase, too little too late. North Fork has opened fully 25 branches in Manhattan below 96th Street, a pattern as or more disparate than, for example, that of Chevy Chase Bank in the Washington / Maryland area, which gave rise to a discrimination charge and settlement. North Fork's has been a disparate pattern of expansion, one not excused by a late- and footnote-announced plan to open a single branch in Harlem. Similarly, none of the three GreenPoint branches listed on page 9-10 is in the Bronx Community Districts 1-6. North Fork's apparent disputation of ICP's analysis of "less minority parts of the Bronx" misses the point: while parts of the north or east Bronx may be "71% minority," Bronx Planning Board's 1-3 are each over 95% "minority." As with income statistics, the demographics of Bronx County as a whole should not be allowed to obscure underservice to the lowest income, most predominantly minority sections, like North Fork's and GreenPoint's lack of service to Bronx Districts 1-3 (Port Morris, Mott Haven, Melrose, Morrisania, Hunts Point, etc.).
Even as recited in its Response, North Fork's record of lending to Latinos and African Americans is weak. We'll begin with North Fork's Appendix, about its original home base of Long Island: "To Hispanics, North Fork Bank made 3.1% of its home purchase loans versus 12% for all lenders."
If true, that's outrageous. If it's a typo, it should be corrected, and all of the 2003 data (including the consumer lending data cited but not provided by the Resp.), as well as the locations of the projected branch closings, should be made available for review, and the comment period extended.
Note that under this Long Island banner, North Fork states that "for home purchase and refinance lending," it is below aggregate for lending to both African Americans and Latinos; in Queens, it is below aggregate in lending to African Americans, with and without refinance lending included.
In the text of the Response, at 3, North Fork admits to being below-aggregate in lending to Latinos, throughout its assessment area. ICP wishes to emphasize that beyond this "percentage of loans made" test proffered by North Fork (under which North Fork is still revealed as disparate), ICP has timely raised North Fork's relatively lack of homeownership lending in New York City, particularly the South Bronx and Harlem. It is contrary to the fair lending laws to focus offers of homeownership loans in suburban, less minority areas, while limiting credit offers in minority areas to rental housing (with the loans often made to non-minority, absentee landlords). Despite its hires (see infra), North Fork's record has not improved, ICP has concluded, based for example on North Fork's opening of 25 branches in Manhattan without a single opening in Harlem or Washington Heights, or in the South Bronx of Districts 1-3. As to the single branch on Bronx District 4, we note that this Mt. Eden branch was planned, including with ICP's involvement, by Northside Savings Bank, prior to North Fork announcing an interest in acquire Northside. Since then, North Fork has opened many branches, but NONE in the South Bronx, Washington Heights, or even Harlem (where there's now, too late, a plan for a single branch).
ICP has shown North Fork's support for check cashiers and fringe finance institutions in the areas North Fork has refused to serve with branches, including support for rent-to-own. This last is a fringe financial institution of the type the agencies have acknowledged is relevant to predatory lending issues; North Fork's two paragraph "response" on this issue, full of generalities, is not sufficient. Even the one specific offered, that "North Fork Bank does not currently have any lending relationship with CashPoint, a company that has recently come under scrutiny by the banking regulators," misses or evades the point. Is North Fork saying that the Uniform Commercial Code document that ICP timely submitted is incorrect? If the relationship was terminated after that, when was it terminated, and why? [FN: ICP on May 7 submitted a Freedom of Information request for just such information, and will be submitting further comments once the responsive records are received. In the interim, North Fork's narrow and evasive answers (for example, the phrase "not currently" in response to a date-specific UCC filing) should not be countenances, and should be replaced, as on the Greenpoint issues, with a less vague and evasive response.] What due diligence is done before North Fork funds a pawn broker? Similarly, North Fork's Response's description of GreenPoint's non-prime (that is, subprime) lending and applicable consumer and fair lending safeguards is woefully inadequate. North Fork's treatment of how the overcharging of customers occurred, and the implications of its CEO's stated lack of awareness, are mis-summarized in the Resp. at 8; the managerial implications must be addressed, even after a fine has been paid. ICP awaits a real response from or about GreenPoint, and/or the FRB asking the type of questions that it now routinely does, concerning non-prime lending operations.
The professed surprise at ICP noting that North Fork's outside counsel explicitly cc-ed an ex-NYBD employee on its cover letter to the NYBD, but not on a simultaneous cover letter to the FDIC, is itself surprising. ICP concern is not limited to the technicalities of the NYS conflict of interest laws, but rather to the broader concept of good government -- it still appears that the only reason to explicitly involve the ex-NYBD employee in the NYBD process, but not the FDIC (or FRB) process, was to use the influence of an ex-NYBD employee. ICP remains concerned, having been made aware that the NYBD has, as part of its file on this North Fork - GreenPoint proposal, the cell and even home phone numbers of the ex-NYBD employee, now in North Fork's employ. ICP is formally requesting further disclosure, on this issue, and of all records reflecting communication with this ex-NYBD employee, as well as North Fork's response to the NYBD questions of April 14, 2004. Additionally, since North Fork's Resp. in purporting to summarize ICP's comment does not even MENTION the impacts the branch closings projected, to boost investors' view of NFB and this proposed merger, by North Fork's management, the locations of projected closures should be demanded, and the comment period extended on this ground as well.
We have more to say, but will await the above-described information, including copies of the questions that the Federal Reserve and FDIC should (and perhaps have already) put to North Fork and GreenPoint, and the institutions' responses thereto...
Just the facts, ma'am: the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has focused its landmarking on Manhattan; here it is, by borough, since 1965: Manhattan, 585; Brooklyn, 112; Staten Island, 76; The Bronx, 64 (and Queens, 51). How Staten Island has more landmarks than The Bronx is unclear...
America's Most Wanted, in the Bronx -- the May 8 edition of AMW showed a photo of the shooter of Jason Tavares, son of 1970s disco singer Antone "Chubby" Tavares, and asked for viewers' help. The broadcast resulted in more than a dozen calls, and on May 1o, police in the Bronx descended on 1501 Bryant Ave, where they arrested Peter Cunningham, 21. ICP note: this is four blocks from where Leon Trotsky holed up, just before the Russian revolution. Disco inferno, indeed. Or perhaps -- time for a Trotsky (and other) landmarks in the South South Bronx.
May 10, 2004
This week, a second take on Hubert Selby, Jr., a classic inner city writer. But first a too-Selbian Bronx story from last week: Keith Wilson moved into a modern Bronx apartment building with 24-hour security cameras. But while those cameras may help convict the person who beat him Wednesday, they weren't enough to save his life, police said. Wilson, 36, a member of his church choir, was attacked by another tenant in front of the building at 2333 Webster Ave. in Tremont following a dispute about 7:30 a.m. on May 5, police said. About noon on May 6, Ayinde Washington, 26, of the same address turned himself in at the 46th Precinct, where he was charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon. Police said Washington used a garbage can to hit Wilson and then punched and kicked him during the attack. Wilson was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. At the victim's former address at 176th Street, residents said Wilson was a well-liked superintendent. After he went to school, he got a new job, and moved into the new building with his wife, they said. Looking for a supposedly better life that eluded him... RIP. For the above account, we thanks the Daily News (which did not, however, comment that a move further north in the Bronx in this instance led to more danger, and that the fancy fixed-up building was less safe than the older-school one... Speaking of old-school --
Selby's Missed Exit (A Second Bite at the Apple)
"Harry locked his mother in the closet" -- that was Hubert Selby's opening line to Requiem for a Dream, on a topic that's not often touched in mainstream American literature. Last week's limited point, that Selby's novel Requiem was set in The Bronx while the 2000 movie wasn't, made us think to take a second look and bite at the apple, with Selby's death still fresh. Most critics have noted that Selby never again reached the heights (or depths) of Last Exit to Brooklyn after its publication in 1964. If descent is the measure, his second book The Room was even bleaker, involving the sadistic revenge fantasy of an anonymous -- yes, Kafkaesque -- inmate. The Room has not been, and perhaps could not be, filmed. But Last Exit was, by German director Uli Edel.
It was filmed in twelve weeks in Red Hook in the summer of 1988, nearly always at night. While many had called Selby's portrayal of New York's inner cities unfair and skewed, artificially negative because inconsistent with The Honeymooners or paeans to the Dodgers, lords of Flatbush, it couldn't be missed that Red Hook and its residents by 1988 were in worse shape than in the novel. While race plays little part in the novel -- reflecting a blindness of Selby's, one of the exits he missed -- by 1988 large parts of Brooklyn and The Bronx were like products of apartheid. There weren't even any jobs to go on strike from; brass knuckles, booze and bennies had been replaced by Uzis and crack.
The novel had been optioned by Kubrick and De Palma, but never made, until Uli Eden called Selby in late 1986. They spent $16 million making it, and released it first in Europe, with a launch party in Munich's Olympic Stadium. They paid for Selby and his mother to tour with the film. When it opened in the U.S., most American critics denounced it as, in essence, a foreign invasion. "Lance your own boil," one critic wrote. But often it does take an outsider to present and diagnose. A Bronx Tale, the Godfather, even the canonical Mean Streets: they're all infected by schmaltz, in retrospect. Eden's only concession, it seems, was to replace the prostitute Tralala's death with her placing a hand softly against the cheek of her goofy flap-capped suitor, while saying softly, "Don't cry." This is at the film's conclusion, as the striking workers return to their jobs in the plant. Forty years after Selby wrote the novel, the factories and shipping jobs are gone, there's incipient artists' gentrification, the poor are worse off than before. Selby has checked out, and from these ruins we salute him.
Including by taking action -- on May 4, it was leaked then announced that Royal Bank of Scotland proposes to acquire Charter One Financial, for $10.5 billion. The spinning was interesting, including Fred the Shred projecting a "gross" 1000 lay-offs, Larry Fish bragging in a 12th story conference room that Providence will do well (nothing was said of Cleveland). It was opined that the supposed new era in corporate governance "forced" to Koch family to sell, since they wouldn't want a non-family member as chairman or CEO (unless, apparently, it's Fred the Shred calling the shots).
Unbeknownst to many, RBS' Citizens Mortgage Corporation has loan origination partnerships with subprime lenders, including Option One, Fremont Investment and Loan, and the KeyCorp unit known as Champion ("when you bank says no, Champion says.. yes," as the TV ads have it). Additionally, RBS owns the investment bank Greenwich Capital Markets, which securitizes subprime loans for such lenders as Aames, Accredited, and Delta (including while it was being sued for predatory lending). RBS has been defensive and arrogant about these connections with questionable subprime lenders; now RBS wants to more than double its size in the U.S..
ICP / Fair Finance Watch sprung into action, preparing a detailed filing and submitting it, on May 10, to federal and state regulators, and to RBS' "home country" regulator, the FSA in London. Click here to view.
Finally, for this week: leave it to the New York Times (May 6, F1) to breezily describe a "subsidized" house in the South Bronx for $300,000 without mentioning that very few people here can afford that, nor questioning the use of subsidy for housing unaffordable to over 90% of the residents of the neighborhoods where its built. The oversight is perhaps not surprising, in light for example of deposed editor Howell Raines' recent Atlantic article, unself-consciously bragging that the Times seeks out the most affluent readers...
May 3, 2004
This week -- North Fork's ties to closed-down check cashier, and a requiem for Hubert Selby, Junior.
A week after its first filing opposing the proposed NYC merger of GreenPoint and North Fork Bank, ICP learned, from the salt mines of Uniform Commercial Code research, that North Fork Bank was the only New York State bank to fund the now-closed check cashier and bill payment fiasco, CashPoint Network. CashPoint has faced suspension orders in New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and other states; that North Fork funded it raises serious questions, on which ICP is demanding public hearings. A bit more detail:
After ICP's April 26 first submission, the New York Banking Department extended its comment period to May 3, 2004. Even while continuing to review the hundreds of pages the NYBD provided last week, including on a conflict of interest issue on which we may have more, ICP on May 3 supplemented its initial presentation on North Fork's funding of pawn shops, rent-to-own and, extensively, check cashiers, noting that CashPoint Network, currently embroiled in scandal to say the least, lists only three banks in its UCC filings, only one of which is a New York State chartered bank: North Fork. ICP has submitted a UCC filing proving this, and raising further questions about North Fork's due diligence, and its safeguards while doing business, as it does, with fringe finance institutions like check cashiers, rent-to-own and even pawnshops (as evidenced in the sample exhibits ICP has submitted).
The Allentown PA Morning Call of April 24, 2004, reported that " Customers of two Pennsylvania utilities can no longer pay their bills at CashPoint payment centers. PPL Corp. of Allentown and natural gas provider UGI Corp. of Valley Forge have terminated their relationships with CashPoint after learning the company owes between $33 million and $38 million to other creditors... On Wednesday, the company had its license to transfer money suspended for 30 days by the New York State Banking Department. The banking department said CashPoint owes about $13 million to a New York State chartered bank and between $20 million and $25 million to other creditors." Emphasis added.
The Albany Times-Union of April 23 reported that the NYBD "suspended Manhattan-based CashPoint Network Services Inc.'s license to transmit money late Wednesday following revelations that it owes about $13 million to a state-chartered bank and at least $50 million to other creditors, said Bethany Blankley, a spokeswoman for the department, which regulates most state banking and credit activity. The department will freeze the company's check-cashing license for similar reasons today, she said. "
Newsday of April 29 reported that "The Bronx check cashing branches are located at: 101 E. Burnside Ave., 1893-95 Andrews Ave., and 426 E. 138th St., according to Bethany Blankley, a spokeswoman for the New York State Banking Department. Based on circumstances surrounding the company's money transfer business, 'it is likely that [CashPoint's check cashing operation] will default in performing its financial obligations,' the suspension order said."
ICP has asked three banking regulators to demand and release a list of all check cashiers, rent to own, pawnshops and other fringe financiers funded by North Fork (and/or GreenPoint). For the proposition that such questions are now part of the merger review process, and that North Fork has no basis to seek to withhold such a list, ICP has pointed to (and reports on, in this week's ICP CRA Report), a similar disclosure by a peer of North Fork's, National City Bank, after FRB questions based on an ICP's presentation of UCC filings no more detailed than here.
In ever-expanding circles around the now-closed check cashing location at 426 E. 138th Street in the South Bronx, neither North Fork nor GreenPoint have any branch presence, despite branch openings by both banks in more affluent areas. Closer to 426 E. 138th Street than any North Fork or GreenPoint branch are other North Fork-funded check cashiers, for example, as evidenced by the sample exhibits ICP has timely submitted, D & R Check Cashing Corp. of 535A Southern Boulevard, The Bronx, and David's Money Center of 3015 Third Avenue, also in the South Bronx. These two banks have redlined the South Bronx, while North Fork finances dubious check cashier here (and pawnshops and rent-to-own). ICP concludes: these merger applications should be denied.
Inner City Press Arts-but-not-Leisure: Coda to Selby's Dream
Hubert Selby Jr. died last week of lung disease. This is not an obituary. Nor is it a review of the novels Last Exit to Brooklyn or Requiem for a Dream, nor of the movies subsequently made from them. We'll merely note a small detail, and see where it leads.
Requiem for a Dream, published in 1978, is set in The Bronx. Those who try to pull Selby out of his time and place -- for example, European critics who call Selby's stories "timelessly" American, or the decision to transpose the filmed version of Requiem from Bronx 1978 to Coney Island 2000 -- make his work more of a fable, and less of the indictment Selby intended and carried off. Here's a representative sentence from Selby's 1978 novel:
"The deserted buildings that stretched for miles and made the city look like a battleground of WWII, that gave it the pathetic and devastated look that froze on the faces of the people that inhabited them, were spotted with tiny fires as shivering bodies tried to keep warm and survive long enough to get some dope, one way or another, and make it through one more day so they could start the same routine again." (Pg. 189).
In the 2000 filmed version, this is turned into science fiction, an imaginary city where the government through benign neglect allows drug dealing to flourish. But it's not science fiction -- it actually happened. The Bronx, from the mid-70s to the mid- to late-80s had sections as described, for example all of Boston Road from 163rd Street to Claremont Parkway. Junkies stripped buildings for copper wiring, pipes, even the fire escapes. To de-historicize this, to shift to the easy funhouse mirror analogy of Coney Island, is to devalue what happened, what people lived through, and the accuracy of (some of) Selby's critique.
In later years, Selby couldn't get his work published in the United States; he worked for a time as a clerk in the gift shop of a Los Angeles hotel. The 1989 filming of Last Exit to Brooklyn, and the 2000 adaptation of Requiem, brought Selby both some money and renewed recognition. In a 2002 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Selby said it was the filmmaker's decision to shift Requiem from The Bronx to Brooklyn." Of the shift, director Aronofsky told the Washington Times, "The culture was exactly the same, and Selby didn't seem to mind." But was the culture of The Bronx in the mid-70s was exactly the same as Coney Island in the late-90s? No. Selby didn't mind because, well, Selby was just happy to see it filmed. An important American writer -- and writer about The Bronx-- has passed away; he'll remain presente, here and elsewhere...
April 26, 2004
Spring has sprung, and Earth Day's just passed -- and so this week we review a new addition to Nature's faces in The Bronx: the half-mile "Riverwalk" just opened in the Zoo, sponsored by Mitsubishi. The Zoo held a grand-opening on April 15, lavishing praise on "Mitsubishi International Corporation Foundation, which promotes environmental causes and funded the walkway." The next day's Daily News ran a canned quote from the Zoo's CEO Stephen Sanderson: "We're interested in preserving living landscapes, not only in the Rockies or in the Serengeti, but also in the Bronx, where a river runs through it." The News also reported that "the walkway is free to the public entering the zoo at its Bronx River entrance a block or two from Pelham Parkway and White Plains Road. Car parking is available for $7."
Since the Zoo now charges $11 as an entrance fee, the prospect of any part of it being free led Inner City Press to venture east from Belmont, on the sidewalk next to cars, to the Zoo's northern entrance. A sign demanded $11. When asked, an attendant gestured further east. "It's only free at the Bronx River Parkway entrance," he said. So ICP continued, on the shoulder of the traffic ramp leading onto the Parkway, which grew progressively more narrow -- hardly something Mitsubishi or the Zoo would brag about. Back to the attendant, who clarified that pedestrians have to walk under the highway's overpass, then double back again (under another overpass), to get to the free entrance. "If you had a car," he said deadpan, "it'd be easier."
Trudging under two overpasses, smelling urine and exhaust -- including from passing Mitsubishi Monteros and Galants and Eclipses -- one wonders why entry for those eschewing (or not affording) autos isn't facilitated. From the green copper north gate, the riverwalk is plainly visible. A simple wooden bridge, of the type Mitsubishi has thoughtfully provided further along, between the parking lot and the riverwalk, would do the trick. Is the Zoo so hard-up for eleven dollars?
Kvetching aside, once one enters, following Boston Road into the Zoo, the walk is quite nice, with a view of two waterfalls, informative signs, daffodils and dozens of kinds of birds, include geese and egrets and hawks. ICP's hawk-eyed conclusion, and suggestion: make pedestrian entry easier, directly through the north gate. Hats off to Nature; a more mixed review to Mitsubishi and the Zoo.
Last week, ICP attended and raised predatory lending issues at Citigroup's annual shareholders' meeting (click here to view ICP's report). Similar question are on the agenda for AIG's annual meeting, including in the form of a shareholders' resolution that would link, at least loosely, addressing (and stopping!) American General Finance's predatory lending with executive compensation. Hank Greenberg raked in $29.7 million. According to Business Week, " Though Greenberg doesn't participate in AIG's supplementary bonus program, the board gave him a $ 6.5 million bonus anyway." There are many definitions of predatory... We will have more on this. For now, this week's CRA Report covers ICP's challenge to North Fork - GreenPoint, on very Bronxy issues. And for a CBS MarketWatch article on all this, click here.
April 19, 2004
Last week's publicly-reported Bronx news included in no particular order the opening of a new riverwalk just inside the Zoo, by White Plains Road; the death in Montefiore of longtime bar-keep Jack' Kilcommons; a smashed up body found April 14 by the Major Deegan Expressway (described by police as " wearing a gray fleece sweatshirt, a blue T-shirt decorated with the Puerto Rican flag and a black Casio watch. He wasn't wearing pants or shoes"). ICP, venturing down to Wall Street on April 15, noted the needless demolition of the old Con Edison building on Kingsbridge Road and Fordham (why couldn't the new library have been put in that building?); the temporary closure of two stations on the elevated 4 Train line, and the absurd, machine gun-outfitted security presence at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. There was public hearing, on JP Morgan Chase's proposal to merge with Bank One (and, relatedly, move Chase's retail headquarters to Chicago). Some New York and even Bronx-based groups mouthed support for the proposal. On the question of payday lending (and pawn & gun shops), squarely raised by ICP's comment and exhibits, the American Banker of April 16 quotes a Bank One spokesman that "'We have ethical standards for all the companies we do business with and we think we have adequate standards today.' A spokesman for JPMorgan referred questions on payday lending to Bank One." But the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch of April 15 reported:
"Bank One is aware of concerns about the type of businesses that Inner City Press cited and has a "small number of lending relationships" with those firms, spokesman Jeff Lyttle said. 'We require our customers to comply with the law,' he said. 'If they comply with the law, we do business with them.'"
So that's these two banks' standards -- anything that's not illegal is fine with them, including misleading high-cost payday lending. That's a long way from "best practices," and from the standards that JPM Chase claims to have... Speaking of predatory (this time, Bender), ICP's book appeared last week in the Times of London, where it's described as having "a cast of colorful characters, not least Sandy Vyle, chairman of EmpiGroup, the world's largest bank. Vyle is a foul-mouthed monster, determined to screw the best terms out of his so-called customers. Under no circumstances is Vyle to be confused with Sandy Weill, chairman of Citigroup, the non-fictional world's biggest bank. 'This is a creative work. Resemblances to non-public figures, locales or institutions are coincidental,' goes the blurb."
April 12, 2004
This week, two reviews. We're happy to see the Easter carnival that's set up shop at the top of Crotona Park, where the old borough hall used to be. There's a ferris wheel and a slew of other rides; it's a yearly sign of Spring, and we're glad that the community board (and the insurance industry) still allow it. Ten blocks north on Third Avenue, on 184th Street, the "Oriental House" has opened, with a buffet of hot (well, warm) Chinese food, $3.50 a pound. It's not half bad; you can't beat the view, or the prices.
Back to an ugly view: the long vacant lot on 156th Street and Third Avenue. Last week it emerged that Stephen Ross' Related Companies, fresh off its no-bid win of the Bronx Terminal Market, will be applying for "Liberty Bonds" for a mall on 156th Street (to which the Department of Finance will move, seemingly abandoning 1932 Arthur Avenue). While we're all in favor of Bronx development, this one smells fishy. The lot is blighted -- by corruption and corporate bankruptcies going back more than a decade. Liberty from corruption is what we Bronxites need...
April 5, 2004
The confinement of unsavory news to Friday afternoon, so it can only be covered in little-read Saturday newspapers, is a pattern in The Bronx as well. On April 2, the hand-off of the Bronx Terminal Market to The Related Companies, with no RFP or public bidding processes, was quietly announced. It was suggested that the businesses currently in the Bronx Terminal Market might move to the Bathgate Industrial Park -- another City development that has never been fully built-out, and from which other businesses and their minimum wage jobs have fled. Meanwhile, "people associated with The Related Cos...have given $131,700... to state level candidates since 1999," according to the Bond Buyer of October 21, 2002.
We note and mourn the passings of Steve Shenkman -- on behalf of St. James Park, among other affiliations -- and of Richard Perez, of the Young Lords then the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights. Richie Perez - presente!On April 1, ICP appeared on Birmingham, Alabama radio station WAPI, ready to debate Regions' officials. But Regions' Amy Minchin declined to appear, asking host Frank Matthews to instead read a statement from the bank. Ms. Minchin was quoted in the Birmingham Post Herald that "We have a long-standing record of providing a full range of credit products and services on a nondiscriminatory basis to all individuals." The Memphis Commercial Appeal of March 30, 2004, quotes Union Planters' spokesman that "Regions will be responding in the context of the Federal Reserve approval process" -- ICP awaits that response. The Birmingham Post Herald of March 31, reporting on ICP's challenge to Regions - Union Planters, quotes Rep. Bachus: "I think they have had an exemplary record under CRA (Community Reinvestment Act)," said U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer credit. Bachus said the merger is good for Birmingham because it will mean Regions will continue to be based here."
An issue in ICP's challenge is Union Planters' funding of the payday and car title lender Community Loans of America. Rep. Bachus, it is reported, spoke at the payday lenders' trade association conference and trumpeted that he will "oppose any moves to block payday lending through regulatory agencies. In the keynote address, Bachus pointed out that bank fees for several bounced checks can add up to hundreds of dollars. 'I dont hear any criticism of that,' he said." Then he's not listening: ICP and others criticize that, too. But the payday and car title lending industries have issues that are, shall we say, unique. ICP has filed a supplement on Union Planters-Regions, noting that UP-funded Community Loans of America (and its predecessor Title Loans of America) have been and are 50% owned by an individual who has been barred by gambling commissions in such states as New Jersey and Nevada for having organized crime connections. ICP has submitted to the Federal Reserve (and would happily forward to Rep. Bachus) evidence, including the pertinent portions of sworn deposition testimony, of Alvin Malnik's ownership interest in Title Loans of America (which was renamed Community Loans of America when it sought to branch out from car title loans into payday lending). See also, The Oregonian of JUNE 24, 2000, "FIRM LINKED TO REPUTED MOB FIGURE GOT LOANS"
"Alvin Malnik, a Boca Raton, Fla., lawyer and investor, is the beneficiary of two trusts that hold 100 percent of the stock of Title Loans of America, the nation's largest title-lending chain, according to Don Tucker, a Title Loans lobbyist in Florida. The company is part of a burgeoning car-pawning business that has drawn fire nationally from consumer groups for charging interest rates as high as 300 percent.
"The New Jersey Casino Control Commission denied Malnik a casino license in 1980, citing, among other things, his long association with mob financier Meyer Lansky. The commission ruled that Malnik was "a person of unsuitable character and unsuitable reputation." And in 1993 the commission disciplined two Atlantic City casinos for allowing Malnik to set foot in them.... the New Jersey Casino Control Commission denied a license to two Malnik business associates in substantial part because of their association with Malnik. In doing so, the commission noted 'the evidence establishes that Mr. Malnik associated with persons in organized criminal activities, and that he himself participated in transactions that were clearly illegitimate and illegal.'"
These matters, ICP's comments state, raise substantial adverse issues under the managerial resources and other BHC Act factors, and also in terms of reputational harm, as construed in the Basel Accord and otherwise...As to Rep. Bachus, his recent CFSA speech was hardly his first support for payday lenders. US Banker of March 2002 reported, now ironically, that "Bachus makes the ridiculous, but much-used argument, that 'the,,,, regulatory approach in this area risks shutting off a critical source of credit to consumers who have few, if any, alternatives in trying to meet their short-term financial needs'... We suspect he'd make the same argument favoring the loan-sharking activities of the Mafia." US Banker said that two years ago -- and now, organized crime and payday lending is at issue in Union Planters - Regions....
As we've reported for weeks, JP Morgan Chase and Bank One, confronted with evidence of their funding of payday lenders and rent-to-own stores, have essentially said, "So what?" and that they'll continue the business. The Federal Reserve asked about this, and other matter; JPM Chase has confined the list of subprime lenders it enables to supposedly confidential exhibits -- which ICP is pursuing, in the run-up to the Fed's public meetings on the proposed merger. Developing...
Finally, for this report, Bank of America is floating trial balloons about lifting the 10% deposit cap, in the first instance by including credit unions in the calculations. See the April 3 Boston Globe for BofA's Ken Lewis' (and ICP's) statements on this gambit.
March 29, 2004
Last week a company in the Bronx, often but sloppily lauded, was fined for safety violations in connection with the death of two of its employees. The city's paper of record did not even mention the fine; the lead tabloid covered it, but did not mention the earlier controversies that have surrounded the company. There's been no mention of -- much less move to return -- the company's not-insubstantial political campaign contributions, nor awards it has gotten for putative community service. This is The Bronx -- where corporations can kill people seemingly without repercussions.
In the nutshell (or oil tank, to be precise) -- on September 15, 2003, two employees of Eastmond & Sons Boiler Repair and Tank were found floating in oil in the boiler room of 1876 Arthur Avenue. They had been overcome by toxic fumes, and had not been provided with a working gauge to warn them of the danger. They were Manuel Ramos, 49, and Addison Rivera, 33, both of The Bronx. Manuel Ramos, one of 12 brothers and sisters from the Dominican Republic, lived in Castle Hill, the Bronx, with his wife, Altagracia, and sons Robinson, 17, and Jason, 21. Assistant Police Chief Joseph Callen was quoted: "Obviously, something went wrong." Eastmond declined to comment.
More than six months later, OSHA announced that it had " found that Eastmond failed to evaluate hazardous conditions in the oil tank before workers entered and while they were working inside it. The company also did not provide workers with equipment to test the air in the tank prior to and during entry and failed to properly prepare and maintain required entry permits." U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L Chao was quoted: "To ensure that workplace fatalities continue to decline, we must make sure that employers protect employees from workplace hazards. The significant penalty of $134,800 in this case sends a strong signal that disregard for worker safety will not be tolerated."
But how strong a signal is a $134,800 fine, for the deaths of two employees? Eastmond had been in the news for a decade for running a lax shop. See, for example, Newsday of October 21, 1994, reporting that
" The Housing Authority last year stopped $ 2.4 million in payments to contractors that installed Eastmond boilers after they repeatedly broke down in city housing projects. Eastmond / Gordon Piatt boilers have been installed in 40 city schools. Five of the school boilers have been involved in explosions during the last 20 months, New York Newsday reported last week. Goodman's committee, acting on that report, intends to examine if the city conducted proper inspections of the boilers before they were fired up, said Rachel Gordon, the panel's chief investigative counsel. 'How could a product that had such a faulty reputation be used so extensively?' Gordon said. 'They should have known that this company did work that was substandard.'"
Inner City Press has reviewed federal and city campaign contribution records, and find at least twenty-one recent NYC contributions by Leon Eastmond, including $6,500 to Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion (and $4,750 to previous BP Ferrer before him, the discrepancy perhaps reflective of inflation). Mark Green was given $2,000; Alan Hevesi, $4,500. Larry Seabrook got $575. The federal contributions range from the National Republican Congressional Committee to... Sen. Chuck Schumer. Following the death of two Bronxites, and now the OSHA finding, what will happen? This is a story we'll be following.
Meanwhile, on March 26 the Federal Reserve finally granted the request, by ICP and others, for public hearings on JP Morgan Chase's proposal to acquire payday lender-enabler Bank One (and to move the headquarters of its retail business to Chicago). The New York hearing will be on April 15, 2004; we'll be there. In other anti-predatory lending news, ICP's Fair Finance Watch has just challenged the $6 billion proposed merger of Alabama-based Regions Financial with Memphis-based Union Planters, click here to view.
March 22, 2004
We who cover The Bronx are deluged with strange press releases -- it comes with the territory. For example, last week's announcement by a law firm that it had filed a "Complaint After Bronx Funeral Home Abducts Man's Deceased Wife." It takes a moment to remember that to be adducted, you have to be... alive. The release seems to be a play for inclusion in News of the Weird. But why would the name of the firm make it in as well? But even more mystifying was another press release last week, smacking of a compensated endorsement: "Former Bronx Beep Ferrer Kudos Ambassador Yellow Pages." The use of "kudos" as a verb sure saved space. It began:
"Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, President of Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, chaired by Ambassador Andrew Young, has extended a warm Bronx welcome to Ambassador Yellow Pages."
Welcoming a yellow pages -- who knew? And the implicit endorsement of Andrew Young -- the civil rights movement laid on the line for a telephone directory!
In need of a directory is the Financial Times newspaper, the March 20 real estate column of which opined that "If you are relocating to New York and in search of a family house on a large plot with good local schools, the 'burbs' are the place to go. One of the closest suburbs to New York with an excellent public school system is Scarsdale - technically part of the Bronx." Well, that's highly technical - and incorrect. Maybe the FT was thinking of Bronxville? Or projecting Riverdale's ambivalence further north? On a (much) more serious note, Thursday is the 14th anniversary of the Happy Land Social Club fire. (We've yet to receive any press release about that).
* * *
On March 22, ICP / Fair Finance Watch filed with the Cleveland Fed a detailed challenge to National City's $2.1 billion proposal to buy Provident Bank -- including documentation of NatCity's support of payday lenders, Provident's warehouse funding of predatory lenders, etc. It's covered in this week's ICP Bank Beat (click here to view); it will be updated on this site. As will County Bank, a payday lender notorious, including in New York, which filed with the Federal Reserve an application blandly stating that
"The Board of Directors of County Bank has determined that the Bank should be reorganized into the holding company form of ownership structure...The reorganization would permit CB Financial to diversify operations and better serve the needs and convenience of the community while helping to safeguard the Bank's operation in accordance with safety and soundness requirements. The holding company structure provides flexibility in terms of corporation organization and capital formation... The reorganization will not appreciably affect the strategic plan or lines of business of the Bank and the Bank's record of service to the community is expected to remain intact."
This is followed by a 14 page merger agreement (of the Bank with a shell), and an FFIEC report of condition and income. It appears that nowhere in the application does the word "payday loan" or "cash advance" even appear. In fact, County Bank's web site does not mention the issue -- it sticks to the story of County's focus on southern Delaware -- but a fast Internet search turns up a March 6 report that " Cash Today uses loans by the County Bank of Rehoboth Beach, Del., to make payday loans in Pennsylvania," Check n' Go's statement that " North Carolina loans made by County Bank of Rehoboth Beach," and governmental lawsuits, including in New York (click here for a PDF of the complaint). The Federal Reserve's comment period runs, appropriately it seems, through April Fool's Day; ICP will be working on this with groups all over the country.
March 15, 2004
Bronx-based Inner City Press went on the road last week, down to Capitol Hill, to grill New York's senators about predatory lending, JPM Chase - Bank One, and the Community Reinvestment Act. The results weren't pretty, but here they are:
...In the Dirksen Senate Office Building, four senators and an equal number of Reps denounced predatory lending. The junior senator from New York, her speech quickly deemed the keynote, criticized both predatory lending and the agencies' proposed amendments to the Community Reinvestment Act regulations -- including a proposal to make public census tract-by-tract small business lending data (rather than the current reporting by income-tranches of census tracts). To the surprise of most of the community advocates in the audience, Sen. Clinton said that this increased data reporting would be "very burdensome." After announcing, as a trope, that "I like rich people," Sen. Clinton swept out of the room, leaving in her wake the question of whether she'd misspoken, or misunderstood that aspect of the proposed amendments to the CRA regulation, the one part that most community and consumers' organizations favor. It was reported that the issue, prior to Sen. Clinton's remarks, had been explained in detail to Clinton staffer Anil Kakani, who confirmed that this was Sen. Clinton's position: that more detailed reporting of small business lending data would be a burden on the banks. "Another senator from Wall Street," an audience member remarked. (New York's senior senator has been asked to comment, as his Senator colleagues in other states have on other mergers, on JP Morgan Chase's proposal to acquire Bank One. At press time, his response was not known).
The one and only Independent Rep in either house of Congress denounced the chairman of Citigroup, saying he's paid himself $500 million in the last five years, and that Capital One's management is not far behind. We'll have more on both companies in the coming weeks -- this week, ICP/Fair Finance Watch filed a timely request for reconsideration to the Federal Reserve on Bank of America - Fleet, and another timely comment to the Fed opposing JPM Chase - Bank One. On that, numerous requests for extension and for public hearings went in. Meanwhile, JPM Chase's executive vice president Mark Willis took questions at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, at a session on predatory lending at NCRC's annual conference. When asked if the standards which Chase claims for its own subprime lending are extended to the subprime lenders for which JPM Chase securitizes, acts as trustee, and to which it makes warehouse loans, Mr. Willis said that he wasn't sure, but that it is "a good question," one that he will look into and then definitively answer. The interim answer was that JPM Chase aspires to and/or claims to have achieved such consistency in practices -- a proposition that was immediately met with skepticism, by interlocutor and audience. Among the inconsistencies are the imposition of mandatory arbitration by subprime lenders JPM Chase works with, their use of five year prepayment penalties, YSPs and other matters. At press time, it is unclear if and when the Federal Reserve will hold the multiply-requested public hearings. But there and/or elsewhere, the issues will be pursued...
"Predatory Bender," and some hard-sell sales in DC, are covered in the Washington Post of March 15, 2004, on page E1, "A Novel Approach to Predatory Lending"....
Returning to New York, there were cops and bullet-proof shields on East 166th Street, as , a nearly-fixed library on Washington and Tremont, and the beautiful Bronx, so real, so immanent, so constantly mystic... Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
March 8, 2004
Back on January 23, 2004, NYS Corrections Commissioner Glenn Goord announced the planned closing of three jails: Camp McGregor in Saratoga County, Camp Pharsalia (18 miles west of Norwich in Chenango County), and the Fulton work-release facility in The Bronx, which faces Crotona Park. While Inner City Press is dubious of jails as economic development, we note that last week Binghamton's state senator announced that, following lobbying, Camp Pharsalia will remain open, employing 71 correction officers and 34 civilians to guard 258 prisoners. The Chenango County Chamber of Commerce estimates that Camp Pharsalia generates $11.6 million a year for the local economy. The figure must be comparable for the Fulton Avenue facility. Yet there was no effective advocacy or lobbying to keep or re-use the Bronx work-release site. When a county of 1.4 million people can't lobby-compete with Chenango County, there's a problem. Perhaps its that all or most of the guards live outside of The Bronx?
In the political-slash-payday lending orbit, Sterling Bancorp, where ex-borough president Ferrer is a director, count among its customers a high-rate short-term lender, "Payday Check Cashing, Inc." -- this according to an August 28, 2003, UCC filing in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. ICP's Dec. 29, 2003, Bronx Report, below, reviews Sterling's weak lending to Latinos and African Americans. The question is, when Ferrer hits the campaign trail, will he be asked and answer about the bank he served (as front man?) for the past three years?
A footnote: Inner City Press' research ran across the Sterling Bancorp UCC filing while researching JP Morgan Chase's proposed entry into payday lending funding, along with buying Bank One. This is covered in more detail in this week's ICP Community Reinvestment Act Report...
March 1, 2004
Bronxites have the longest commutes of any county in the United States, according to data released last week by the Census Department. The average Bronx commute, at 41.8 minutes, is substantially longer than in the suburbs of Westchester and Nassau County. One reason is that MetroNorth slices through The Bronx, without stopping at Claremont, or Tremont, or elsewhere. Another in the dearth of jobs in the borough...
Meanwhile, in London (yes, boroughs), they're talking trash: the Feb. 27 "This is Local London" Regional Press bemoans graffiti in South Wallington, saying " it is up to the council to take the lead in tackling graffiti. Until it does many parts of our borough will continue to look like the Bronx." You wish...
The NYT City Section of Feb. 29, in its single substantive Bronx article, covers the so-called amnesty being offered in Co-op City, in which illegal sub-letters can buy the apartments they live in from the owners, without regard to what's called the "long waiting list." Analogy is made to President Bush's phantom immigration amnesty offer -- but one thing not answered is how long the waiting list is, given the broken elevator, collapsing parking garages, and increased crime... Interesting, though..
Again, click here for ICP's Report on the Bank One-JPM Chase proposed mega-merger; here for a Daily News (Feb. 24) article; and, if you register, here for the Charlotte (NC) Observer of Feb. 29, about Predatory Bender..
February 23, 2004
Last week the South Bronx, in Bathgate and beyond, was blanketed with fliers singing a siren song of tax Refund Anticipation Loans. On H&R Block's now-ubiquitous green square, white lettering screams: "More Money. On the spot." A footnote discloses an "additional fee, disclosed as an interest rate, charged by Imperial Capital Bank." And who's that? Well, Household Finance, owned by HSBC. As reported in the American Banker newspaper of June 9, 2003, "Household has an agreement with the $1.5 billion-asset ITLA Capital Corp. in La Jolla, Calif., that lets ITLA originate the loans, and then immediately sell them to Household." ITLA is the parent of Imperial Capital Bank. Household has settlement agreements with the New York Department and others. Yet it's still actively soliciting people to rip off, right here in the South South Bronx... Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch has now raised the issue to the New York Banking Department, including in the context of Bank One's involvement in high-cost RAL lending, Bank One's funding of payday lenders, and Chase's apparently insatiable interest in high-cost subprime lending... [Click here for ICP's Report on the Bank One-JPM Chase proposed mega-merger.] It is reported that Chase's Community Reinvestment Act hatchet men have responded to community groups' questions about the proposed Bank One mega-merger by asking the groups to conduct their own "surveys" of what Chase could be doing better. But here's a better question: beyond its standardless subprime mortgages, does Chase now plan, like Bank One, to fund payday lenders, and engage in high-cost tax Refund Anticipation Lending? The answer, it would seem, is yes... And so we say "No."
Counter-punching media watch / The Eye of the Beholder. The same mad incident -- a drunk man calling 311 from The Bronx and babbling about shooting the mayor -- was reported quite differently by the New York dailies last week. We'll begin with the paper-of-record: " A Bronx man was arrested Wednesday evening, after he called the city's 311 information hotline and threatened to kill Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg." Only in the last sentence of this 157-word report do we learn that "[t]he police said there was evidence that Mr. Yaya had been drinking" -- this after his Afghan birthplace, and possible terrorist connections, were broached.
The Daily News led with inebriation: "A drunken Bronx man who threatened to shoot Mayor Bloomberg in a rant on the city's 311 information line has been busted."
The Post trumpeted, including in the headline, the Afghan connection, but then let slip that "inside his apartment, on White Plains Road, were posters of Afghanistan and videos - of 'North by Northwest' and 'Crime and Punishment.'" Hmm-- that Hitchcockian code...
February 16, 2004
If you're a sportswriter for the New York Post, and want to advance, and a few bucks, what do you do? Well, if you're Dave Curtis, you pen an out-of-market article about an event in New York, and trash low income neighborhoods like the South Bronx in ways even your prime employer would probably not allow.
The brother of University of Louisville basketball player (and Bronxite) Francisco Garcia was shot and killed; because of the sports connection, the news went national, via ESPN. Seeing an opportunity, New York Post sportswriter Dave Curtis sold a profile to Louisville Magazine [its web site is http://18.104.22.168/loumag/current_issue.html, although this issue is not yet online. Hats off to Louisville's Betty Baye.]. Curtis' screed including this characterization of Garcia's and his brother's neighborhood on the Grand Concourse: "drowned out by screams, gunshots, sirens and more screams. The wealthy and thriving are long gone... They took hope with them too, and only a sliver remains. All that's left on the Grand Concourse are families like Francisco Garcia's, struggling to stay safe, searching for a way out."
Even the New York Post would probably not run such a description, at least not without some qualification or caveat, about the history of the Grand Concourse, or the rising rents, or the Lewis Morris building -- something. But Louisville Magazine owes nothing, least of all the truth, to Bronxites. What's the accountability mechanism for local journalists who export toxic waste like this? Perhaps the fresh class of Bronx Beat-ers at Columbia Journalism School will look into this....
Last week, Inner City Press filed five Freedom of Information Act appeals with the Federal Reserve Board's, challenging the Fed's increasing opaqueness and lawlessness, on behalf of JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America -- click here to view.
February 9, 2004
Sad Bronx event of the week was the eight-story plunge of Jose Viscano on February 5, through a window of an unfinished building on Washington Avenue at 168th Street. He was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital on 183rd Street (and not to the closer-by Bronx-Lebanon, at 168th and 173rd Street), but died. The first news accounts declined to provide the name of the deceased, "while cops tried to determine whether he was using someone else's identification, police said." (Daily News Racing Final Edition). Despite the N.Y. Sun says he was in his 30s, subsequent reports (there've only been four) place his age at 46, and quote Ilyse Fink, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, that city building inspectors issued Joy Construction Corp. a violation for failing to install guardrails on several windows on the eighth floor and a safety railing on a sixth-floor setback. All four report said that Joy Construction Corp. could not be reached.
Inner City Press' inquiries so far find a Joy Construction Co. working at 638 Sagamore Street in The Bronx, and 668 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, with central offices at 40 Fulton Street, Manhattan, and with loans from J.P. Morgan Chase. The parent company appears to be Jonathan Enterprises, LLC. The phone number is 212-344-3277; the answer machine lists seven different employees, then plays the disco song, "Rock Me, Baby." Mr. Viscano was rocked, and one wonders what the repercussions will be...
Quick hit media watch: the New York Times of Sunday, Feb. 8 mentions The Bronx a total of seven times -- five of which are about Riverdale. These include a house sale in Riverdale, a student at Bronx Science (in Riverdale), two mentions in an article about circus performers (one's about Pelham, "just over the Bronx border"), and a rare Bronx restaurant review (of a new venue in Riverdale). It's been pointed out to ICP that some non-Sunday coverage has been more detailed -- and it's true, particularly this recent article about arts in The Bronx. More on this in coming weeks.
On anti-predatory lending work, in continuing opposition to HSBC's application to the New York Banking Board to acquire Bank of Bermuda, ICP has submitted a fourth comment, and Freedom of Information appeal. Back on December 14, 2003, ICP requested among other things "records relating to the NYBD's October and December 2002 predatory lending settlement with Household...[and] all records reflecting any NYBD personnels communications with HSBC or its affiliates regarding compliance with the above-referenced settlements and commitments, or regarding the referenced Bank of Bermuda." In its incremental responses, which terminated February 4, 2004, the NYBD has denied ICP access to the entirety of a PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP report "which relates to certain compliance monitoring services provided by PWC in connection with certain lending practices of Household International." ICP contests this withholding in full: the NYBD must provide reasonably segregable portions, and should not be withholding, in full, predatory lending related documents upon which it will presumably rely when the Banking Board rules on HSBC's pending application to acquire Bank of Bermuda.
While the NYBD provided ICP with five pages listing complaints against Household, one line per complaint, ICP contends that at least redacted copies of complaint documents should be provided, and notes that numerous other state banking department provide full complaint files (sample copies available on request). Since the NYBD publicly claimed that it limited its settlement with Household to branch-originated loans because that, and not brokered loans, was the most complained-about delivery channel, there is a public interest in the release of the withheld complaint information.
We note that it appears that HSBC's Household / Beneficial Finance continues to engage in predatory lending practices, including duping Spanish-speaking consumers with loan documents they cannot read, and then gambling whether the duped consumers could obtain and afford counsel to seek redress. [Citations omitted]. ICP is contesting all of the withholdings, noting for example the redaction in full of page 8 of the "Consumer Protection Plan" upon which the NYBB will presumably rely when it rules on HSBC's Bank of Bermuda application. We'll see...
February 2, 2004
Seen in The Bronx: in Belmont, among the string of Kosovar-Albanian restaurants on Arthur Avenue, bumper stickers for Wesley Clark, ex-NATO general who bombed the Serbs... Meanwhile the local councilman endorsed Howard Dean. Bronx-based Albert Einstein College of Medicine reports, in a study entitled " Long-term effects of prenatal morphine exposure," that " There were no differences in maternal activities such as presence in the nest, contact with pups, grooming of pups, and/or manipulation of nest shavings."
Slightly less surreally, following up on Predatory Bender, not only chronologically but also as a matter of genre, on February 1 Inner City Press' Human Rights Enforcement project put forward a text, what the French call a récit, called "Faust in Rwanda." Click here to view the first ten chapters (which are intentionally set before April 6, 1994: the run-up, the lead-in, the often forgotten background). With views, complaints or other feedback, contact us.
January 26, 2004
Crotona Park Watch: in Albany on Jan. 23, NYS Corrections Commissioner Glenn Goord announced a plan to close down, within two months, the work release center on Fulton Avenue, a/k/a Crotona Park West. Normally, Inner City Press would unequivocally cheer the closure of prisons or prison-like facilities. While we are cheering, the state's cavalier attitude to any future plans for the site is troubling. They say they'll save $7 million by closing the site -- but what will happen with it? Another hulking abandoned building? Time for a plan...
While our main focus, in JPM Chase-Bank One, is one Chase (and its predatory lending conduit, Chase Funding), it must be said that Bank One also enables predatory lenders. Take, for example, the 10-state payday lender First American Cash Advance. Bank One shows up as a UCC-secured lender to FACA's subsidiaries in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Texas. First American is a controversial company, to say the least -- even the U S. Army has declared it an "enem[y] at its gates," see Washington Post of December 28, 2003, " Army Launches Offensive Against Lenders; Military Says Payday Loans Promote Fiscal Irresponsibility, Hurt Troop Morale." A more detailed account of First American's practices was made public by a FACA employee, as recounted in the Charleston (W. VA) Daily Mail of April 29, 2002:
Ginger Moore began working for First American Cash Advance last June as manager of the company's St. Albans branch. She left earlier this month with a bruised conscience and an unpleasant aftertaste from her time with the company. Moore said she quit. First American, which makes payday loans, opened its first offices in West Virginia last summer. Now, there are offices at The Shops at Trace Fork, St. Albans, Huntington, Parkersburg, Beckley, Clarksburg, Fairmont and Elkins. Even though Moore holds a master's in business administration from West Virginia Wesleyan College, her training at First American "was like, 'Oh my gosh, what a wake-up call,'" she said.
The wake-up: First American charges interest that would equate to an annual rate of 938 percent on a seven-day, $ 300 loan... Earlier this year, Moore reached a conclusion. "I felt the interest amount was extremely high - a form of legalized loan sharking," she said.... Moore insists she is not a disgruntled employee. "I'm just glad to be out of that kind of environment," she said.... Moore said she contacted the Daily Mail because "consumers need to know about the interest they're being charged. "I am thankful that I am no longer an enabler in such a vicious cycle of greed targeted at those on fixed incomes and the low-income working class," she said.
Bank One is a secured lender to First American Cash Advance -- not once, or three times, but at least six times. Inner City Press is submitting UCC print-outs to the states at issue, specifically in opposition to the JPM Chase - Bank One proposed mega-merger. For more on all this, see ICP's Predatory Bender.
January 20, 2004
The (mis-) use of the name of The Bronx always intrigues us. The Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News of Jan. 14 reports on the robbery of a pizzeria; according to police spokeswoman Anita Shell, " "They told him they didn't want to hurt him but they were from the Bronx and they would do what they had to do." The Alaska newspaper then speculates, "Whether they really hailed from the New York City borough or only wanted to don its invincible and menacing aura was unclear." Menacing is an insult (we recall, even if you don't, Bobby Bonilla, prima donna Mets outfielder, telling reporters he'd "show them The Bronx"). But "invincible"? That's a compliment!
But the following isn't a compliment: from Ireland, "Housing chiefs are considering sending in bulldozers to a trouble- torn housing estate in Downpatrick. The Housing Executive has admitted demolition is one of the options it is considering for part of the Meadowlands estate. Despite the shortage of public sector housing in the town, and the longest waiting list in Down district, the housing body has had to brick and board up a row of the most modern houses in the estate, dating back to the 1970s. Once the most popular housing estates in the Co Down town, it has now been dubbed 'the Bronx' and has gained a reputation in recent years that has made it difficult to let the houses." Ouch...
To mark Martin Luther King Day, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch prepared the filed its initial comments on the proposed mega-merger of JP Morgan Chase and Bank One. As demonstrated by Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data and otherwise, including analysis of The Bronx, Chase has grown more disparate and less responsive after each of its previous acquisitions. Click here to view ICP's comments, which will be updated.. It is important, ICP believes, that action begin at the earliest time on this mega-merger proposal: already posturing has begun, including propping up Trojan horse "opponents" who will, invariably, end up praising the companies and their merger. We've seen it before; live and learn.
In other subprime (and NYC-based bank) news, finally for this week (advisory: somewhat graphic content follows, not by ICP's choice), we continue to inquire into what it is, exactly, that Citigroup is acquiring along with Washington Mutual Finance Group. WaMuFi's operations in Mississippi, where it is subject to a $70 million predatory lending jury verdict, were cynically (and quietly, until exposed) excluded from the deal. Now, Inner City Press has been made aware of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed earlier this year against WaMuFi, branch manager Clarence Porter and other management at Aristar and its successors (i.e., Citigroup). We'll first quote from the Complaint, then add details from a recent ICP interview with the plaintiff, Glynda Shealy:
"Plaintiff was first hired by [WaMuFi] on or about August 26, 1988... During Plaintiff's employment, here supervisor, Clarence Porter, made repeated unwanted advances of a sexual nature to the Plaintiff, including, but not limited to, inappropriate graphic sexual comments and actions. These actions were uninvited, unwelcomed and resented by the Plaintiff."
ICP note: these actions, the plaintiff has told ICP, included Clarence Porter putting a lion sock-puppet "on his, uh, private area" and ordering the plaintiff to "pet my Leo until he roars." When complaints were made up the chain of command, nothing was done. Ms. Shealy (who thankfully is not subject to any gag order, since Citigroup due to the above-recited never "acquired" her) also states that WaMuFi engages in predatory lending, including selling overpriced credit insurance that is not requested, and charging 24% interest even if the borrower has a pristine credit history. This, is what Citigroup is acquiring...
January 12, 2004
A Jan. 11 column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Inner City Press that "National City avoids minority neighborhoods with its regular lending programs, while targeting them for higher-cost loans from First Franklin. In Cleveland, for instance, African-Americans received 43 percent of First Franklin's loans in 2002 but only 2.9 percent of National City's conventional mortgages." ICP raised this to the Federal Reserve on NatCity's application to acquire St. Louis-based Allegiant Bank. NatCity's chairman, David Daberko, has written his own response to ICP's comments -- but it's a response that doesn't say anything. It's a two page letter, that provides no explanation of the lending patterns at First Franklin, or of anti-predatory lending safeguards, referral-up, nothing -- all things that the Fed has asked other subprime lenders about. So the Fed will, if it follows its own precedents, ask NatCity some questions. Will Mr. Daberko be the one responding? We'll see...
ICP's new action this week involves the insurance merger announced in late September 2003, between Manulife and John Hancock. ICP has commented to the Federal Reserve Board, and insurance regulators in several states, click here to view.
On January 9, Charles Mannino, 46, was beaten to death in J-Lana's Lounge, at 156 West 231st Street in The Bronx. Mr. Mannino was described as "a Staten Island man" who " had worked for years at J-Lana's, cleaning it after closing time." And traveling back to Staten Island each night? That's a two hour commute each day: four hours a day, twenty hours a week. Rest in peace...
ABP: Police have named a second suspect in the murder of Evodio Roque on Dec. 11, 2003, on the corner of Belmont and 188th Street. Police says have charged suspected Vatos Locos gang member Julio Munoz, 26, with second-degree murder and announced last week that they are also seeking Flores Roke, 35...
January 5, 2004
The last murder of 2003 took place in The Bronx: Ricardo Chavis, 21, was shot in the head on E. 229th St. in Baychester. Then at 5 a.m. on New Year's Day, Elliot Velasquez, 20, was killed by a single shot to his chest at his home on Ryer Ave. in Tremont...
Beyond rehabilitation, how about some minor due diligence? Six hours after being freed from Green Haven Correctional Facility on Dec. 31, Kevin Carroll was seen screaming and "acting disorderly" on the southbound platform of the No. 2 train at the 149th Street and Grand Concourse station in the Bronx. Two police officers spotted approached Carroll, and, the police said, he then attempted to throw one of the officers onto the tracks. Neither this nor an attempted gun-grab worked; Carroll was re-arrested. Great job they're doing up there in Green Haven...
Damn that's sad: Lenders Direct Capital Corp., third-tier purveyor of subprime (high-cost) loans, has announced it has hired ex-Yankee Reggie Jackson to be its spokesman, saying that Reggie's "rock solid credibility, intelligence and experience are assets to us as his new teammates." Batter up!
December 29, 2003
Happy holidays. Thirteen months ago, we noted ex-borough president Ferrer sitting on Sterling National Bank's board of directors, despite that bank's weak record of lending to Latinos and African Americans. In a fairness some might call feigned, we speculated that perhaps Ferrer would make the bank more accessible to Latinos. Well, on Dec. 22 Sterling announced an acquisition of a branch, from City & Suburban -- in Yonkers. That'll mean that of Sterling's eight-going-on-ten branches, NONE are in The Bronx. (Sterling's web site needs work -- the most recent annual report there is for 2000). In 2002, for conventional home purchase loans in the New York City MSA, Sterling denied Latinos' applications seven times more frequently than whites. Among Latinos, African-Americans and whites, only 6.7% of Sterling's loans were to Latinos (versus 13.47% for all lenders); only 5.5% of Sterling's loans were to African Americans, versus 13.87% for all lenders. Sterling's slogan is "Focused on the Community and Beyond" -- the emphasis, it seems, is on the "Beyond." Sure, Phil Gramm is cashing in at UBS -- but he's not planning on running for office again, that we know of...
December 22, 2003
Bronx experiential: take the 9 bus up the hill, a snowy Monday, to Jerome. There's slush under the El; F.E.D.S. magazine at the newsstand, a 24-hour laundry. The sunken field of Lehman is white, a swirl of footprints. Deep in a basement Serrano's on the line, then a quartet of more local guests. A CD will be released, you're told, of Afrika Bambaata. Walk East then on Kingsbridge, south down the windy canyon of the Concourse. Poe's cottage's only open on the weekends; the Book Place on 188th has suffered a flood and smells like old paper or old dog. The public library on Bainbridge is worn but well used; Fordham U is brand spanking new and impossible for most to reach. Have a taco, in the quasi-fascist plaza, observe the Citicorp Center at the end of the MetroNorth's gash. This is The Bronx, these are the outskirts: we live for this.
Compare and contrast, then, to Nostrand in Brooklyn. It's an hour and a half on the 5 or 2 express; at Sterling there are dueling restaurants, a Taste of Haiti versus a Taste of China, then Barbados and Jamaica. Approaching the park's prospect the houses are larger, the demographics mixed. This is not The Bronx, it is both higher and lower, disquieting somehow, a last frontier for later days...
December 15, 2003
We're Bronx-Active -- for example, on BronxNet Channel 67 at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 15, about predatory lending, and last week questioned Citigroup's Robert Rubin on this topic, on WNYC radio, see this week's ICP CitiWatch, and see this week's HSBC Watch, for analysis of Household and HSBC in NYC -- but also Bronx-Reflective. This week, the appearance of the Bronx in two recent books: one a history of the 1904 General Slocum steamship disaster, the other the memoir of the NYT's Arthur Gelb, "City Room" (Putnam 2003).
On June 15, 1904, the steamship General Slocum was carrying a church outing from the Lower East Side slowly up the East River when the ship caught fire, just of the Bronx' Port Morris. The captain tried to get the now-flaming ship to the Bronx' North Brother Island, but the dead count was immediately over 500, and rose from there. The story is told, novelistically, in historian Edward T. O'Donnell's "Ship Ablaze" (Broadway Book 2003). Bronx fixated as we are, we noted on page 133 a reference to old police precinct designations in The Bronx: what was then the 34th is now the 40th, but it's still on Alexander Avenue (pg. 191). The story's unspeakably sad, but well-told. The afterword connecting it to 9/11/01 seems a bit forced.
Arthur Gelb's tome is about The Bronx more recently then 1904: but you might not know it. His parents moved to The Bronx, near the Grand Concourse, when he was five. They ran a children's dress-making shop and lived "in a sun-drenched apartment nearby on a tree-lined street." Later they moved to the Concourse itself, and Gelb writes that he explored "every inch of that boulevard and three of its landmarks will forever be etched in my memory" -- Loew's Paradise theater (now empty), the Concourse Plaza Hotel (once empty, now senior citizens' housing), and the Poe Cottage (still there, but not open enough). He describes Echo Park as "a quiet neighborhood oasis;" he writes that "in contrast to my earliest years in Harlem, I never saw a black person in my Bronx neighborhood. I witnessed only white poverty - which was pervasive. One heartbreaking childhood memory was the sight of bereft parents clutching their infants, huddled on the sidewalk after they had been dispossessed for not paying the rent." Hey, Arthur (and NYT) -- it still happens today.
Jump cut to 1969, two-thirds of the way through this 641 page book: Gelb is now an editor at the Times; he assigns Dick Severo to cover Hunts Point, where, Gelb writes, "it was rare for a resident to die of natural causes... Parents considered themselves lucky if their children preferred marijuana to heroin." Much of the description appears to come from "Fort Apache, The Bronx" -- including description of prostitution half a block from the 41st Precinct House, on Westchester and Simpson Avenues (in the movie, it's Pam Greer playing the carnivorous prostitute). Gelb writes that "Remarkably, some longtime residents who could have afforded to move refused to leave the neighborhood, and I sympathized with Severo's genuine distress as he told me - upon his return each day from his Hunts Point expeditions - about their stories of anguish. A seventy-four-year-old widow, who had lived there for more than forty years, stayed out of stubbornness and nostalgia, remembering the days when there were cows and trees." Not unlike the Times' identification(s) in The Bronx today...
The Pittsburgh City Paper of Dec. 11, 2003, says that the "novel Predatory Bender: A Story of Subprime Finance may, in fact, be the first great American lending malfeasance novel... which simultaneously helps us understand why predatory lending goes on, and why theres hope that it might be curbed." Here's hoping. Click here for that review; until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
December 8, 2003
Bronx (mis-) presented in the news last week: from an analysis of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal 2004 (H.R. 2673) by Citizens Against Government Waste, highlighted as pork: " $400,000 added in conference for the New York Botanical Garden's Virtual Herbarium project in the Bronx."
From the (London) Mirror of December 5, a report that in Berlin they're filming "a movie based on the life of 60s singer Bobby Darin. The idea was to recreate New York's the Bronx, but as the set was being built two bazookas were found. Bomb experts had to be called in, delaying filming."
From the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman of December 2: "A college may sound fabulous on paper, but seeing it firsthand is better. Fordham University, for example, has the Gothic and lovely Rose Hill Campus, but until you wade through the Bronx neighborhood to get there, you have no sense of the crowded inner city that surrounds it."
And now, a plug and a link: Commonweal magazine of Dec. 5, 2003, under the heading "Critics' Choices for Christmas," says this of Predatory Bender: "as vivid an account of life in the Bronx as you are likely to read; more than that, it is a brilliant act of subversion, for within the thriller plot is found a dramatic account of the ways corporations prey on the poor while the rest of us aren't looking."
Speaking of looking, ICP's Constitutional challenge to the Delaware Freedom of Information Act's "citizens-only" provision is proceeding, having been assigned to Judge Joseph Farnan, is now described on FirstAmendmentCenter.org (click here to view); a editorial in the Wilmington News-Journal of December 4, 2003, "Our View: Change the State's Open Records Statute So It Applies to All," recounts ICP's "federal lawsuit asserting Delaware's open-records law is unconstitutional because it refuses access to non-residents," then opines that the "exclusion is silly and probably unconstitutional. The General Assembly should attend to this when it returns to session next month." We'll see. Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
December 1, 2003
A story sad and short, from Saturday's Daily News (followed by ICP's view): "Police are investigating the death of a 2-month-old boy who died Thanksgiving morning at a Bronx homeless motel. Mykeal Wall stopped breathing at the Cross Bronx Hotel on E. 175th St. in Bathgate and was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at St. Barnabas Hospital, police said. A preliminary autopsy proved inconclusive. The city Administration for Children's Services is investigating an allegation - triggered by the child's death - of inadequate guardianship, a spokeswoman said."
That is the entire story: 83 words. Without knowing more, we question whether, if an infant died in Bronxville and not The Bronx, whether the parents would so quickly be assumed to be negligent, and would become targets for investigation, during bereavement. The Cross Bronx Hotel, it must be said, looks out over the elevated highway, and vacant land the City cleared for the half-built Bathgate Industry Park. Who's negligent?
Of St. Barnabas we can say: it's always boom-time over there, mysterious fundraising powers of Ronald Gade, et al.. Right now there's a side building being constructed, by the 183rd Street entrance. So to get to the emergency room, you can no longer walk up the hill -- you wait, and then a van takes you, all of forty yards. You must give your name, in a sign-in sheet on a clipboard. They're getting paid per trip, apparently...
All cynicism aside -- or perhaps not -- the American Banker newspaper of December 1, 2003, says that the ICP-published novel Predatory Bender "draws from years of challenging bank mergers and lending practices, and appears to blend the images of companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp... [ICP will] fight Citigroup's deal, announced last week, to buy Washington Mutual Inc.'s consumer lending unit." Well, yeah -- Inner City Press has now filed comments and exhibits opposing Citigroup's WaMu Finance proposal, and asking for investigations of CitiFinancial, with regulators in 25 states; each is viewable by clicking the name of the state: Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia.
And so the battles continue, heating up in the holiday season. On November 24, Inner City Press filed a lawsuit against Delaware Governor Minner, and the state's Attorney General, for enforcing an unconstitutional provision of Delaware's Freedom of Information Act, limiting the right to documents to residents of the state. Click here for the Wilmington News-Journal's article (also onsite here).
November 24, 2003
This week we unveil an interactive map of The Bronx and its twelve community planning districts -- click here for the map, click here for the accompanying text, much of which is new and experiential, such as this entry in to the Bronx from Manhattan:
...one enters on the Willis Avenue Bridge, past housing projects to 138th Street and its cuchifritos and medical supply houses. Willis is somewhat bleak up to the Hub: funeral parlor with empty building on each side, a methadone clinic, churchs on sidestreets lined with brownstones and Partnership homes. The intersection with Third, at 149th Street, is full of cheap electronics, old Class B office buildings, preachers with bullhorns and hot dog stands and tacos. Again it gets quiet at 156th: gardens waiting to be evicted, the precinct house used in Fort Apache, The Bronx; the long abandoned courthouse, an apartment building with a sign for a pawn shop. More seriously, this area is targeted for Melrose Commons, expensive housing eating up dwindling subsidy with few units from South Bronxites.
In the 2003 novel, Predatory Bender, Bertha Watkins lives with her three children in Apartment 4B of a building on St. Ann's Avenue and 149th Street, across from St. Mary's Park. In summer, "on St. Ann's Avenue the electricity was off. The wires that came in from the street were old and thin; they'd burned through, the super said, when two of the tenants installed air-conditioners bought on credit from the Crazy Prices discount -- meaning "stolen" -- electronics store on Melrose Avenue. Mrs. Morales bless her heart had taken Duwon and the girls to the public swimming pool in St. Mary's Park. Bertha lay on the four-poster bed, pulling the trigger on a spray bottle from time to time. The breeze from the window would evaporate the water and she'd feel cool for a moment. Then she'd spray again." (PB Ch. 14, pg. 78-79). Also in the novel, Micah Levine has a storefront law office on Morris Avenue across from Lincoln Hospital, with a neon sign trolling for victims of lead poisoning and medical malpractice...
Finally last week, Unidos Inc., the former management firm of the Diego-Beekman complex in Mott Haven , agreed to pay over $690,000 to settle a civil dispute over equity-skimming....
November 17, 2003
Not that you, gentle readers, thought that we were -- but ICP is not gun-shy about promoting a story that presents the Bronx, in its view, as it is. And so here's more of Predatory Bender -- the beginning, in fact, based on a certain mall where, due to the inattention of non-profits big and midsized, a Rent-A-Center slipped in (click here for City Limits' account of that). Here's hoping that doesn't happen, on 156th and Third Avenue and elsewhere; and, here's Predatory Bender:
1. Jack in The Bronx
The West Farms Mall was built in the former South Bronx in the second year of the new millennium. While ostensibly the fruit of three decades of community struggle, the land beneath the mall was owned by Anguilla-based EmpiBank. The anchor tenant, too, was a part of Empi's empire: a storefront office of the high-rate lender EmpiFinancial. Jack Bender had worked for EmpiBank on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, the so-called Queen City. He was offered the position of deputy branch manager for EmpiFinancial in The Bronx and he took it.
And so it was that Jack Bender parked his Ford Taurus under the towering halogen lights that late-May dawn, fumbling with his keys to open the storefront of EmpiFinancial.
It was Jack's custom to come to the office an hour early, alone. He poured himself a cup of yesterday's cold coffee, slipped into the machine a dry filter-bag and pushed the orange "On" switch. Jack used this silent hour to review the promissory notes his staff had managed to cajole from South Bronx residents the day before.
Bertha Watkins had agreed to pay twenty-four percent interest for a $2,500 loan to buy a new bedroom set at the Sicilian Furniture outlet on 161st Street. Gina had creamed her for credit insurance too. Two hundred dollars a month, prepaid, to protect a garish canopy bed that EmpiFinancial would never foreclose on because it couldn't be re-sold. People who buy pseudo-mobster furniture want it new. The point was to have the trappings of the nouveau riche; pre-owned (the euphemism for used) defeated the whole purpose.
Jack nodded as he reviewed Gina's handiwork. She was getting more and more vicious, which was just what EmpiFinancial liked in its employees. Vicious and smiling. Jack closed his eyes and pictured the closing:
"This way if you die, Ms. Watkins, you can rest easy that no one will come repo your beautiful new bedroom set. This protection, this peace of mind, costs only pennies a day."
Jack chuckled, lighting his first unfiltered cigarette of the day. Pennies a day was the classic phrasing, impervious to challenges from state attorneys general, or from Bush II's Federal Trade Commission, if for some reason they freaked out and sued. Any dollar figure was composed of pennies, wasn't it? EmpiBank's chairman was paid pennies a day -- 63,562,600 pennies a day, to be precise. Jack had calculated it. $232 million a year, all told. Divide by 365, multiply by a hundred and you had it. He was paid just pennies a day.
Gina came in, her shoulder-length dark hair not as neat as usual, an expression that Jack pegged as doped-up on her face. "Gina, baby," Jack said, standing up from his desk. "I like the way you reamed this Bertha Watkins. The credit insurance on the mobster bed is priceless."
...And here's how it went:
Bertha Watkins never intended to come to EmpiFinancial. Where she went was to the enticing showroom of Sicilian Furniture, which was located on 161st Street where Third Avenue wiggles, right in front of the abandoned courthouse. You passed it on the bus -- bedroom sets in fake rooms with mirrored walls -- and you couldn't miss it, especially not with the "E-Z Credit and Lay-Away" banners that flapped in the breeze.
Easy Credit was an attractive come-on in the South Bronx, as anywhere else. (In the second year of the millennium Argentina found out just how low those first free hits can take you, but that's another story.) Bertha Watkins stood looking in through the window until she saw the four-post bed she wanted: carved wood all glazed with varnish, a fluffy pillow and everything except insect netting but you could buy that elsewhere, later, when the bugs got worse when school got out.
The man in Sicilian Furniture -- a real Italian, he -- let her lie down on the bed, bounce around a bit, stare up at the discolored ceiling tiles on which water dripped until the roof was fixed.
"Tell me 'bout the easy credit," Bertha said, still bouncing.
"It's through a major bank," the man said. "EmpiBank -- ever heard of it?"
Of course she had. They ran ads on TV showing thin yuppies, some of them Asian, drinking cappuccinos in SoHo's narrow streets. Or maybe that was Volkswagen -- it was hard to tell the ads apart. They had a new slogan, "Live richly." Like on this four-post bed. "Where do I sign?" Bertha asked. And that's where Gina came in.
"I'll just fax the form up to their branch on 174th--"
"I'll take it there myself," Bertha said. "I want this bed today. I wanna sleep in it tonight." What was the point of E-Z Credit if you had to wait? And how Easy was it, then, if they had to check your credit history?
The Sicilian called EmpiFinancial and Gina answered the phone. "Tell the Cracker we got a live one."
"I'll be right there."
Gina liked to go out and do these deals herself, while the pot was hot, while the borrower was still staring at the trinket of their eye, looking right past the fine print and all the predatory niceties. Gina showed up with her clipboard, didn't disagree when Bertha said, "You're from EmpiBank, right?" Let her think it was a bank. For some reason people assumed that banks wouldn't screw you, at least not as badly as they could. Bank are regulated, right? They're insured by the government. They don't come after you with a baseball bat, don't break thumbs or knees to collect on loans. According to television they help yuppies drink cappuccino and live richly.
Gina used her cell phone to call in to the office, reading off Bertha's social security number digit by digit like some secret code. "Just a fast credit check," Gina told Bertha.
"I pay my stuff on time," Bertha said. But she was beginning to wonder if E-Z, in fact, meant Easy.
Bertha was known by Fair Isaac; Bertha was in and in deep with EquiFax. If Gina had wanted, she could have known everything that Bertha'd ever bought. But that wasn't the point. Bertha Watkins had a FICO score of 685: mainstream by any measure, "excellent" in Empi's matrix. At any conforming lender, the lady could get a mortgage at six percent, in the post-September 11 economic downturn. She'd pay twenty-five percent interest on this bed. You want Easy? You want to bounce on the four-poster tonight? You live in the South Bronx? You're gonna pay. And then there was the insurance.
Gina closed her eyes and tried to remember what if anything had been said about insurance. She hadn't used the word. "You'll want protection, of course" -- that's how she'd said it.
Bertha was lying back on the bed, watching the uncomfortable suckers on the BX 55 bus driving by. "Protection for what?" Bertha asked. Perhaps she meant "from what."
"In case something happens, you get sick or disabled or... whatever. God forbid."
Bertha didn't answer.
"It's just pennies a day," Gina continued with her pitch. "You won't have to pay anything, not anything at all, today. It'll just be part of the loan. And the bed will be in your apartment before the sun goes down."
That closed the deal. The Sicilian was nodding too. "Tonight," he said. "You'll be on that bed."
"It's a walk-up," Bertha was saying as she signed the contract.
"We're used to it," Mister Sicily said.
"Hey this is almost five thousand bucks," Bertha said, looking up. "In the window it says nine ninety-nine--"
"That's without the mattress and stuff," Sicily said.
And without the insurance and finance charges, Gina thought.
* * *
Somewhere Micah Levine was thinking: bait and switch. Actually Micah was picking a jury on 161st Street and the Grand Concourse, just eight blocks west, in the case of a baby whose forehead was pierced with forceps by a Filipino doctor-trainee who'd worked forty hours straight -- but that's another story.
Which also will be told. The Charlotte NC reference becomes timely, with Charlotte-based Bank of America having now applied to take-over Fleet Bank. On that, and on redlining and subprime lending, etc., see this new ICP map, which addresses state anti-predatory lending laws, including New York's, and efforts to preempt them -- click here to view and use. We're preparing a similar (but different!) Bronx map, coming soon [see Bronx Report of Nov. 24, above, and here]
November 10, 2003
There's Bronx news to report, but this week we're going even more self-serving and allegedly literary than usual. The occasion is Inner City Press' publication of a Bronx-set novel, Predatory Bender. Information on how to order it is available on the Inner City Press Books page (it's Amazon.com, Powells.com, Barnes and Noble.com, etc.-- to cut out the middleman, call 800-247-6553 or order online here. That hard-sell out of the way, the descriptions in Predatory Bender of The Bronx are extensive; here's one small sampling:...From the West Farms Mall Bertha Watkins took the Two Train south past the ticky-tacky houses of Freeman Street, the crazy corner on Simpson where you're two feet away from the judo loft, then the old vaudeville theater on Prospect that was now a discount store, underground after Jackson Avenue and off she got at 149th Street. They were tearing up the intersection of The Hub, where Third and Melrose Avenues meet; all the traffic was rerouted, so Bertha could walk in the middle of the street up the hill to Courtlandt, down the hill again to Morris. Micah Levine's storefront was as blinking as ever. Through the vertical venetian blinds she could see Micah, leaning back in his puffy expensive chair. Across the desk from him was a man in blue workman's clothes with his arm in a sling.
"Mister Levine is meeting with a client," Micah's secretary told her. She probably didn't know that they were friends, actually friends, that she wasn't just another longshot client trying to make money off a dead kid. Fine. She waited.
Finally Micah came out, shaking the workman's unslinged hand. "I'll write them a demand letter," Micah told him. "If they won't settle we'll sue their asses off... Oh, Bertha, I didn't expect--"
"They wouldn't cancel nothing. The guy said it was totally legal, I just have to pay. Cracker guy they got running the office. Like loans from the Klan if ya axe me."
"Did you tell them you have counsel?"
Bertha laughed. "Yeah. The guy axed how much you're chargin' me."
Micah glanced over at his secretary, then gestured for Bertha to come into his office. Then he stopped. "Let's go get something to eat." Bertha followed him out onto the sidewalk. An ambulance went screaming by, pulling into the driveway of Lincoln Hospital. "We can drive up to Arthur Avenue," Micah said. "Maybe we'll drive by these loan sharks' office and put the fear of God into 'em."
Micah left his BMW parked in the municipal lot between Morris and Courtlandt. He paid the attendant extra to keep an eye on it. Some might call it extortion but Micah called it smart. He got the best cases because he was right across from Lincoln Hospital. A hundred a week to keep his car unscathed was worth it.
They drove up Morris, behind the Melrose and Jackson Houses, turned east on 161st Street. Micah turned on his CD player. "Duwon's gettin' into trouble with his English teacher," Bertha said.
"What kind of trouble?"
"She says he didn't do a paper but he says he did. She don't like nothing that he writes. Says it's too raw. Least that what Duwon tells me."
"Nothing wrong with raw," Micah said, thinking that might make a good lyric beginning. "Nothing wrong with raw at all."
Bertha was waiting for something more than that.
"Maybe you should go in and talk to the teacher," Micah said. "Don't they have a PTA or something?"
"That won't do no good. That's just some political shit, to collect ballots for the school boards. Nah, those teachers don't stay in the school not one more minute than they got to. Two forty five they're pullin' out in their cars, down to the Bruckner and they're gone."
Micah didn't respond. Even if it wasn't what Bertha meant, he felt implicated in this view of white professionals in The Bronx. They come in to make money then they leave. Probably like the guy Bertha called the Cracker, up at EmpiFinancial; like most of the doctors in Lincoln; like most of the lawyers whose storefronts encircled the hospital; like the police captains who surveilled the whole chaos keeping score. Micah wanted to turn the music back up but resisted the impulse. "They must have parent - teacher nights," he finally said.
"Yeah I'll look into it. It's up here, in the new mall."
Micah turned east on 174th Street, then left across traffic into the mall's parking lot. There was EmpiGroup's red logo; two storefronts down was a Rent-A-Center, its window filled with sofas and stereos and a dozen other overpriced, never-to-be-owned things. There was talk of a nationwide class action and Micah wanted a piece.
"That's the guy," Bertha said. The cracker had just come out of the office, like a rat out of his hole, walking toward the three-stand food court at the center of the mall. Bertha rolled down her window.
"Remember me?" she shouted.
To be continued. Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
November 3, 2003
Inveterate Bronx-watchers, we -- we've held off criticizing the N.Y. Times for its strikingly lack of Bronx coverage, because more than before we've seen the paper on sale at bodegas in El Condado. But they've hit a new low: the Sunday, November 2 edition mentioned "Bronx" a grand total of ten times. Two are weddings / celebrations; one's a home sale in Kingsbridge. Stray mentions of The Bronx in articles about Greenpoint and Morningside Heights, and in a litany of the five boroughs, concerning a benefit for Habitat for Humanity. A mentions of the EAU shelter, in one of the "Neediest Cases." A mention of a Bronx Opera Company, and of a fireman, in a historical piece about a fire department strikes. Finally, a mention in an article about housing -- in the Westchester Weekly. That is to say, not a single substantive article, not even one Neighborhood Report in the City Section. Paper of record indeed...
And how 'bout the bank of record? JPMorgan Chase, they with the ATMs switched off, the abandoned branches on Tremont and on 174th Street, we found last week that in merely two years, over 500 complaints were filed against them, with the New York Banking Department. Now Chase is trying to convert its mortgage company to a federal savings bank, to preempt (that is, evade) state laws. Here's a sample of complaints:
6/25/03 Mortgages - Privacy Issues - Valid - 03 M 1573
6/19/03 Mortgages - Escrow account, non-payment of taxes from - Valid - 03 M 1533
6/16/03 Mortgages - Release of satisfaction - Valid - 03 M 1502
6/13/03 Mortgages - Release of satisfaction - Valid - 03 M 1491
6/12/03 Mortgages - Release of satisfaction - Valid - 03 M 1485
6/09/03 Mortgages - Payment not posted to account - Valid - 03 M 1453
Other complaints acknowledged as "valid," even by the New York Banking Department, were for "Foreclosure" (Valid, o3 M 236); "Loan Terms Changed" (Valid, 03 M 133); "Closing Delays" (Valid, 03 M 676); "Foreclosure" (Valid, 03 M 843); "Insurance Funds - Difference FDIC and Other" (Valid, 03 M 869); etc. And so what's up (and will be up) with Morgan Chase's applications to the OTS, FDIC and Delaware to convert to a federal savings bank and evade all state consumer protection laws and agencies? Click here to see ICP's somewhat New York-related challenge to AXA - MONY (yes, that's them on Broadway below Columbus Circle)...
On a lighter note, last year around this time, we reviewed an outdoor taco stand on Westchester and Bergen Avenues, in front of the fruit and vegetable market there. Well, that stand got chased away by police, cilantro and all. Now, on the other (east) side of Bergen, a new stand has arrived: more organized, licensed, and the tacos are almost as good. It's a stand on wheels, fully boxed in with plexiglass. Tacos are two dollars and they're quite good -- try them, if you're nearby.
October 27, 2003
On October 21, by the fortuity of a Channel 2 television crew being in the area, footage was obtained of a dozen police officers surrounding, and two officers kicking, a 30-year old man laying handcuffed on the ground of the delivery ramp of Montefiore Hospital in The Bronx. Another fortuity, that the hospital was so nearby: the man was subsequently treated for wounds to the head, and check pains. A resident of the apartment building across the street stated that the man was handcuffed when kicked, and that he'd shouted down, "You got the guy, why do you have to keep on messing with him?" Good question... By week's end, one of the officers filmed administering the kicking was suspended from the force - well, "placed on modified duty." This is a case we'll be following. That the kicked-man was a criminal is not the point: beating already subdued and handcuffed prisoners is, frankly, a human rights violation.
October 20, 2003
We are by no means automatically opposed to the local defense campaigns sometimes characterized as "Not in My Backyard" or NIMBY. But not all such campaigns make sense. We're thinking of recent opposition to a planned Howard Johnson's hotel in West Farms Square in the South Bronx, regarding which an informal public hearing was held on October 15. The local Community Board, with which we sometimes but not always agree, has come out against the project (which is already being built), claiming to know in advance that it will be a "hot sheet motel" -- in other words, a haven for prostitution. Why assume that? Well, the hotel previously on that corner, the Swiss Alps, was. We at Inner City Press are generally skeptical of corporate claims, but it would seem that the involvement of a nationwide chain like Howard Johnsons, they of the orange roofs and spires, makes immediate hot sheet action less likely. Plus, many in The Bronx have been lobbying to get a hotel for some time now: there's a proposal, on which very little's been done, for a hotel on 149th Street; Mount Vernon, it is said, is planning a hotel to capture among other things parents coming to visit their children at Fordham University and other local colleges. To presume that any Howard Johnsons in West Farms must be for prostitution is just that: a presumption. It seems to contradict the often (too?) loudly expressed confidence in the economic rebound of the area. HoJo in West Farms -- ho' ho' ho' or (Christmas-like), ho ho ho? Time will tell... This week's ICP CRA Report covers comments ICP Fair Finance Watch has just filed on a controversial proposal by New Haven Savings Bank to convert from mutual to stock ownership and to acquire two other banks. The mayor of New Haven and numerous state legislators have opposed it, but the banks have seemed to batten down the hatches, take out paid advertisements and try to weather the storm. But NHSB's lending record is strikingly disparate. So ICP on October 20 filed comments with the FDIC, Federal Reserve and the Connecticut Banking Department.... Also, following last week's PNC filing, an Associated Press report in the Bergen (NJ) Record and elsewhere quoted PNC spokesman Brian Goerke that PNC "will respond appropriately with any matters raised" during the acquisition approval process. We'll see...
October 13, 2003
New York City daily creates, if that's the right word, four hundred tons of metal and plastic that can be recycled. Recently a company put in a bid to handle all of this citywide recycling, in a scrap yard in Hunts Point in the South Bronx. One would expect local opposition to such a proposal, which would impose a citywide burden, including the increase in transport in and out of the area, on a community already packed with the whole city's junked cars, two huge sewage treatment plants, nine waste transfer stations and a vegetable and meat market serving the tri-state area and beyond.
Surprisingly, however, both the tabloid Daily News and Cablevision-owned News 12 The Bronx found an organization named Sustainable South Bronx, often pegged as an environmental justice group, to speak up in favor of the plan, and in support of the bid by the (also surprisingly German-named) Hugo Neu Schnitzer East recycling firm.
This gives rise to some contrarian rumination, including on the question, "What is environmental justice?" On which of these two words does the emphasis go? Environmentalists favor recycling: that is a truism. But where does the recycling facility -- which is similar to a junk yard, at least to its neighbors -- get sited? Sticking to the geo-politics of New York City, such a facility would never get placed on the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan. Though if you took a poll in that neighborhood, sometimes called the Silk Stocking District, you'd find a higher percentage of support for recycling than in many poorer areas.
There are two issues, then: whether a process (like recycling) is good for the planet, and where it should be sited. More affluent areas have homeowners' associations, obstreperous lawyers as residents, and campaign contributions to shower on politicians. This is sometimes called NIMBY, short for "Not in My Back Yard."
Here's a thought: environmental justice, among other things, is the (needed) NIMBY of the poor. The procedural / due process aspects of environmental justice -- better public notice, translations, full public participation -- are meant to make it less difficult for poor areas without lawyers and such to mount NIMBY campaigns.
NIMBY is a phrase that is most often used pejoratively, almost despairingly: no one wants to accept a burden for the greater good. But until a new world arrives, the reality is that if more affluent areas can use NIMBY, poorer neighborhoods and communities of color should be able to use NIMBY tactics too. Otherwise, even more than is currently the case, all noxious or controversial land uses will be jammed into the poorer areas. Said otherwise, a disparate distribution of environmental burdens can only be discouraged by more and more effective NIMBY tactics by the poor. This is analogous to our American adversarial system of justice: if each side is equally uncompromising and obstreperous, the theory goes, that's how the truth will out.
The system breaks down when those who are presumed (and supposed) to be the NIMBY advocates of the poor areas adopt more enlightened, less parochial views -- while laudable, this leaves the poor area without aggressive advocates, while the rich areas still have them.
This conflation of environmentalism and local justice (or, this masquerading of environmentalists as local advocates, most often in neighborhoods they don't live in) leads to complicated conflicts that the media is unequipped to report on, even in retrospect. In the South Bronx, the National Resources Defense Council proposed a state-of-the-art paper recycling plant, a project praised by big-picture environmentalists beyond New York City, beyond the United States. But there was some local opposition, which NRDC first tried to co-opt, then denounced. The project was never built; tellingly, a writer from The New Yorker magazine published a book on the saga, blaming some in the community for being short-sighted or worse. But a question-- why didn't NRDC propose this recycling plant for the Upper East Side? Or for the suburban zones north of The Bronx, where NRDC's scientist lives and is involved in local politics? Answer: because these more affluent areas have effective NIMBY groups.
Affluent homeowners (and condo- and coop-owners) fund their own NIMBY groups, while non-profits in areas like the South Bronx look beyond the local community for most of their funding. Since most foundations aspire to grander mission statements than, say, NIMBY for the poor, environmental justice non-profits in areas like the South Bronx end up portraying themselves as, and becoming, more big-picture "environmentalist" than they began, or than it makes sense to be. Lack of money makes it difficult for grassroots residents to hold not only politicians, but also non-profits, accountable.
In conclusion, to this contrarian rumination: local low income communities are ill-served if their "environmental justice" organizations are taken over by big-picture environmentalists. Environmental justice is not only environmentalism -- it is also the NIMBY of the poor, and that is okay, that is how our system works, to the degree it does. Self-sacrifice for the greater good is laudable: but it shouldn't be only the poor who are doing it.
A final caveat: here at Inner City Press, we love environmental justice. We cover it, we write about it, we engage in it. We participated, with others, in the campaign against the (Royal Bank of Scotland-funded) medical waste incinerator in Port Morris, against the storage of radioactive syringes near Zerega, and the concentration of toxins in East Tremont. In these types of fights, against blatant pollution, big-picture environmentalists and local justice folks are on the same page. But when the proposal is for a state-of-the-art recycling facility, whether for paper or metal or plastic, the two movements have different interests. ICP likes big-picture environmentalism, too -- but not at the expense of low income communities.
This reminds Inner City Press of controversies and conflicts that arose during ICP's first forays in enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act. ICP filed challenges to Bank of New York, HSBC and others; some other citywide groups came to the banks' defense, saying they had good CRA records in, say, Manhattan. Bronx-based ICP said, "What about The Bronx?" Which was and is, of course, the lowest-income county in New York State. Now, ICP engages in both local CRA (for example, comparing a bank's lending in The Bronx and Manhattan) and in big-picture CRA (looking at nationwide lending trends, and even combating the export of predatory lending, by Citigroup, GE, AIG and HSBC, beyond the U.S.). But it's inescapable: big-picture CRA is not the same thing as local defense. Where the two conflict, ICP has what the liberation theologians have called a "preferential option" for local grassroots advocacy -- because it tends to be swallowed by, or subservient to, larger, more powerful issue - groups, and because there's just not enough of it. If the rich use the laws -- and they do -- then why can't the poor? Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
October 6, 2003
"Organic" stink, editorial stink, el lindo Bronx as autumn comes - and AIG: the protests to the re-licensing of New York Organic Fertilizer Co., which brings 40% of New York City's sewer sludge to Hunts Point, are well-taken. The company has been stinkin' up the joint for years now, with very little respect to the surrounding community and its complaints. Call it NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) if you want -- but this facility would never have been sited in a more affluent area.
Also well-founded is the free press outrage directed at the owners, since June 2003, of El Diario-La Prensa. Last week the owners caved to pressure to spike a planned op-ed that provided a perspective from Cuba on education. Combined with the corporate consolidation of Spanish-language broadcasting, it's time to fight (and work) for freedom of the press.
While we usually cover such things in our Bank Beat (which this week is devoted to the New York Banking Department's sell-out to a bank the NYBD admits has a "very weak" record of lending to African Americans and in low-income areas, NYCB), here's in raw form is a message from inside the insurance company American International Group (AIG), which has a New York State (Jericho -- suicide) connection, if not directly Bronx -- that'll come soon:
Date: 10/2/03 2:42:10 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: [ ]
To: AIGwatch [at] innercitypress.org
...You should look into the fact that AIG Claim Services, Inc. P&C Division has laid off hundreds of employees in an attempt to "streamline" its operations or so it says thanks to Steve Iller and Chuck Shader. The remaining operations are being staffed by a bunch of trainees because they cannot find qualified candidates or so they say. Most likely its just another cost cutting measure. If you can hire a trainee for $25k a year, it certainly less than hiring a qualified person for $45-50k. Obviously at this point they have no concern about their "customers" who have paid thousands of dollars for their premiums. The bottom line is how much AIG can put in its pockets is all that counts. They have done virtually nothing to assist soon to be unemployed personnel. Their Human Resource Dept. is ineffective and has provided no concrete information regarding some key issues on this layoff. They are clearly attempting to screw as many people as possible. And no one in the media has ever reported on the fact that one Jericho NY employee committed suicide after receiving the layoff news. Notice AIG kept that one hush hush. Nor did AIG offer any counseling to its employees after this tragic suicide. It is believed that other AIG claims divisions will soon have the same fate and fall to the axe... I say keep your eyes on AIG I am sure more will come to light after the recent current events.
Kinda speaks for itself. Also on the New York (or Only in New York) tip, here's hoping that the reports last week of AIG's Hank Greenberg pressing Dick Grasso to make specialist SLK buy more of AIG's stock is acted on, by John Reed (right...), Donaldson and the SEC, or even the NYS AG. AIG is among the most abusive of corporations, from community issues and predatory insurance to the stock markets and beyond (for example above: employee abuse). And they generally frighten-off inquiries before they even begin. It's time for that to end...
September 29, 2003
Last week we touched lightly on the emerging public stance of the (relatively) new N.Y. Banking Superintendent. This week we have a bit more (re JP Morgan Chase's proposal to preempt consumer protection laws in 32 states, click here). In lower Manhattan, the New York Community Bancorp - Roslyn proceeding at the New York Banking Department has heated up. On September 23 NYCB issued a press release trumpeting its "understand[ing]" that its application has been put on the NYBB's agenda. Since in the past the NYBD has always said, at least to us, that the meeting agendas are not public until the meetings begin, Inner City Press immediately wrote to the Department and inquired. An explanation was quickly (and kindly) proffered; it's been superceded by documents the NYBD faxed to ICP on September 26. Essentially, the NYBD required a commitment to improve from NYCB and its CEO Joe Ficalora, explicitly in exchange for allowing them to put out a press release announcing their "understand[ing]" about the agenda. The NYBD acknowledges, as it must, that NYCB's lending record, particularly to African Americans, is weak. Now, the commitment the (new?) NYBD / Superintendent obtained from NYCB is different than that obtained from, for example, HSBC, Citigroup, and others, following ICP's comments. Frankly, it's weaker.
Among the documents provided is NYCB's general counsel Mark Ricca's e-mail to the NYBD, at 5 p.m. on September 23, asking "if all is okay" with a revised draft [commitment] letter and proposed press release; if so, "please advise... and we will send you an original signed letter from Joe Ficalora and proceed with the press release."
[Note: this shows that the specifics of NYCB's "commitment" letter was directly related with NYCB being permitted, by the NYBD, to announce its "understand[ing]" that its application was on the NYBB agenda. The New York Banking Board members are supposed to deliberate independently, but here, the fix is in, so to speak.]
But there's a problem, though, a departure even from past NYBD practice: no commitment to increased lending, to African Americans or other underserved communities, is made in Mr. Ficalora's letter, only vague commitments to marketing. Mr. Ficalora's September 24 letter, after four self-serving paragraphs of preamble, states that "NYCB is committed to taking the following action" -- followed by three ill-defined, entirely procedural "commitments." NYCB is "more regularly place advertisements for residential mortgages in publications that regularly reach low- and moderate-income and minority individuals;" there's a canned reference to "church bulletins and other local media," and to "mortgage workshops, financial literacy programs, and home maintenance workshops."
It is inescapable that this vague "commitment" is far different than that which the NYBD has required from, for example, Citigroup, HSBC, Independence Savings and North Fork Bank. Here, the memo recites that concerns were raised about NYCB's lending to African Americans when it applied to acquire Richmond County Savings Bank, and that "[d]ata for the past two years indicate continued weakness in this area." Particular in such a case, a substantive (and not merely procedural) commitment would seem to be called for -- if not the outright denial of further expansion, as ICP has requested. In the recent past, and often following detailed public comments by ICP, the above-named institutions made specific lending commitments to the NYBD. Why is NYCB, an institution with identified and continuing weakness in lending to African Americans for more than two years now, not so required? It seems to reflect a weakening of resolve at the NYBD -- from the documents received, there's no other explanation. But we'll see.
* * *
We try to defend -- without necessarily liking -- Bronxites wherever they may be. Therefore, we note upstate at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County that Bronxite Eddy Ortiz recently had 2 1/2 to 5 years added to his sentence for... throwing urine at a guard. It's not a nice thing to do, we'll concede. But five years for it? The Incident -- capital I! -- took place on April 26, 2000, when Ortiz was in the Auburn Correctional Facility; the re-sentencing was Sept. 23 in Cayuga County Court, before Judge Mark H. Fandrich. Cayuga County District Attorney James B. Vargason told the Syracuse Post-Standard, "I wanted to make sure that this defendant was ultimately held responsible for his revolting action." Yes: urine is bad. But again we ask: five years? What about "anger management" -- or bladder control?
September 22, 2003
Sometimes we view the anti-redlining and the (New York) political beats as separate, or less than dynamic given the undue sway that the financial industry wields over many elected officials in New York. But here's sometime at this cusp: ICP has been challenging the largest New York bank merger proposal of the year, New York Community Bancorp's proposal to acquire Roslyn Bancorp for $1.7 billion. Our analysis is in ICP's Bank Beat Report, where last week we also noted with concern a quote by the New York Superintendent of Banks in the American Banker newspaper of September 15, an article which also noted that ICP was "troubled." Since the American Banker doesn't have much of a readership / subscriber base in The Bronx, here was the quote:
Ms. Taylor made it clear in the interview that though she considers it important to talk with consumer groups, she is not fond of their attempts to delay bank mergers. She will "not bring them into the fold" during deliberations on merger approvals, she said.
One city activist, Matthew Lee, the executive director of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, called that stance "troubling." Mr. Lee often uses merger reviews as opportunities to complain of predatory lending.
The NYC tabloids, reporting on Ms. Taylor, focus more on her personal life than her day-job with the NYBD. How that will play out remains to be seen -- but following the above-quoted, the Superintendent both called ICP, and sent a letter to the editor of the American Banker newspaper, which ran on September 19:
HEADLINE: N.Y. Banking Chief Welcomes Input From Activists
To the Editor: I believe strongly that there is an important and powerful role to be played by community groups and advocates in New York State. The line in the profile about me ("N.Y.'s New Superintendent," Sept. 15, page 1) that I "would not let them hold up mergers" implies that I do not value their opinion, commitment, or experience in their communities. This is absolutely untrue. My clear message is that community groups and advocates are allies, not antagonists. They are our eyes and ears in neighborhoods that are underserved by the banking industry. They can and do provide valuable input to the work done by the Banking Department. In many cases these groups, with their well-established networks of volunteers and outreach specialists, lawyers, and advocates, are the front line of defense for people who have become victims of predatory and payday lenders and other questionable, if not illegal, banking practices. I have made it very clear that I welcome community activists' comments, input, advice and criticism. In every case, Banking Department staff and I will weigh all the evidence and act -- always -- on the merits. There will be times when we don't agree. That is how democracy works -- but making the banking system work equally well for all New Yorkers is my goal. And I believe it is a goal we can all embrace. There is a real role for CBOs and advocates to play within the system, and I have invited them to join me at the table in these education, advocacy, policy, and outreach initiatives.
Ah, that "network of volunteers and outreach specialists, lawyers, and advocates, are the front line of defense for people who have become victims of predatory and payday lenders" -- we love it. The proof, however, is always in the pudding...
In the meanwhile, our work watchdogging Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase (this week: further opposition to preemption!), and other (NY-HQed!) behemoths continue...
September 15, 2003
Last week we touched lightly -- with nose pinched shut to keep out the smell -- the world of city politics. This week we go one level closer to the street, usually a strata which we find rejuvenating, even cleansing. We'll focus on the September 10 meeting of Bronx Community Board Six. It began with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, in the upstairs meeting room of the Belmont public library (which doubles as the "Enrico Fermi Cultural Center"). CB6 chairwoman Wendy Rodriguez instructed those gathered -- perhaps three dozen people -- to rise and pledge allegiance, particularly in light of the two year anniversary of the plane bombings of 9-11-01. This done, Wendy expressed gratitude to city councilman Joel Rivera, sitting next to her and beaming, and to Joel's mother, CB6 district manager Ivine Galarza. Whether in the other 58 community planning boards there is another councilman's mother -- or father -- serving as district manager is not known. Later in the meeting, CB6 chairwoman Rodriguez praised Joel again, comparing him to his father, Jose Rivera, and saying that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." This truism seems to have metastasized in The Bronx, where the children of politicians seem to hold a higher percentage of seats than in any other borough.
But the "public session" was, as always, interesting. Now that Prospect Avenue has been paved, it is said, it has become a drag racing strip. A plea was made for stop lights and speed bumps. The principal of C.S. 211 explained the trips her students have taken -- "first Yankee Stadium, then the Garden -- and now the New York Nets, out in the Meadowlands in New Jersey!" Meanwhile there were school children sitting in the back row doing their homework. The Bronx River Arts Center made a presentation, including of an interesting-sounding child-and-parent program, for free, about the arts and the environment (that is, the Bronx River). The owners of a dry cleaners on 175th Street stoke up, asking for support for a zoning variance (Joel Rivera spoke in favor of the variance, saying "you have to work with business"). A presentation was made about food stamps, another about the Police Athletic League. All very nice -- but then, some trouble.
A woman from 182nd Street rose to state that she's a victim of bias-related crime: to whit, green paint splattered on her house, and the wires to her central air-conditioning cut. Nearly immediately, Ivine Galarza contradicted her, stating that in her nine years as district manager, there's been no bias crime in the district. Oh that it were so. Also, a man name Fabian came to the front, stared at Joel Rivera and an Assemblyman in attendance, and said that elected officials have refused to help him.
"What's your problem?" someone asked. Fabian explained he was fired from his job as pharmacist, and that his union (1199) didn't help him. Another in attendance speculated that given the interplay between politics, particularly in The Bronx, and 1199, a working person with a beef with the union has a hard time proceeding.
We'll close with that: conflicts of interest do not help the people. The community board shouldn't degenerate into what verges on a rah-rah rally for politicians; people with claims, whether against unions or landlords or banks, should be heard out. That's participatory democracy, and we remain in search of it.
September 8, 2003
Next foray, this time at the N.Y. Insurance Department in lower Manhattan: a month ago -- August 4, to be precise -- a proposal was announced under which a New York-based insurance company owned by General Electric, Financial Guaranty Ins. Co. (FGIC), would be acquired by a team lead by the PMI Group, described as a mortgage insurer. But PMI has been under fire for months for its ownership of the troubled Fairbanks Capital Corp., widely accused of being a predatory mortgage servicer. While Fairbanks has recently being trying to make peace with some, consumers continue to be injured. And yet, PMI proposes to spend over $600 million to acquire 42% of FGIC, and get it more deeply involved in securitizations of subprime loans. ICP's Fair Finance Watch on September 8 submitted a 14-page comment to the NYSID opposing the proposal; we'll see. (More is available in this week's ICP CRA Reporter, click here to view.)
We've stayed away from reporting on local politics recently, because of the stench. But here's a Bronx quote of the week, regarding endorsements for Israel Ruiz for a Councilmanic (we've always loved that word) seat: it's Freddy Ferrer, saying, "That's mind-boggling -- are we seriously talking about electing an ex-felon to office?" But who was it, again, who only became borough president because he served and did the bidding of felon Stanley Simon, under the watchful eye of felon Stanley Friedman? Perhaps not so mind-boggling... Also, ex-Freddy aide Basil Smikle has signed on as NYS director of the Lieberman for President campaign.
In N.Y.-based but national political news, In political news, a search of recent federal campaign contributions for "Prince, Charles" (Citigroup's incoming CEO) reveals four contributions: two to "Shelby for U.S. Senate," and then the classic gift-split: $2000 to Bush-Cheney 04 Inc., and $2000 to John Kerry for President, Inc.... For the top two at N.Y.-based insurance company AIG, a search for "Maurice Greenberg" reveals seven contributions: Missourians for Kit Bond (2), Chris Dodd, Carper for Senate, Bush-Cheney, Judd Gregg and Mark Foley. A search for AIG general counsel Ernest Patrikis reveals five contributions: Missourians for Kit Bond, Chris Dodd, Carper for Senate, Republican National Committee and "Team Sununu"...
September 1, 2003
There's a decidedly Bronx (redlining) angle to the biggest bank merger proposed so far this year in New York. ICP Fair Finance Watch has just filed comments with the New York Banking Department and federal regulators, including that
[i]n The Bronx, New York Community Bank made only one mortgage loan to an African American, and only one to a Latino. While NYCB might attempt to explain these disparities by claiming to be primarily a multi-family lender, the 2002 data reflect that, for example, NYCB made over sixty one-to-four family mortgage loans in Nassau County, and over 80 one-to-four family mortgage loans in Suffolk County. It is not legitimately, under the fair lending laws, the CRA and otherwise, for NYCB to provide homeownership lending only in more affluent, less diverse suburbs, but to essentially refuse to provide such homeownership financing in lower income, more diverse urban counties like The Bronx (and to provide only renter-related financing in such counties).
In The Bronx, New York Community Bank has a deposit-collecting branch at 1720 Eastchester Road; its target Roslyn Saving Bank has a branch at 3681-83 East Tremont Avenue. In 2002 in the New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area ("MSA"), for conventional home purchase loans, NYCB made 53 loans to whites, six to Latinos, and only three to African Americans. For these three groups, the aggregate made 13.87% of its loans to African Americans, and 13.47% to Latinos. For NYCB, the figures were much lower: only 4.8% of loans to African Americans, and only 9.7% to Latinos.
For refinance loans in the NYC MSA in 2002, NYCB was even more disparate: NYCB made 101 such loans to whites, only six to Latinos, and only seven to African Americans. Among these three groups, only 6.1% of NYCB's refinance loans were to African Americans (versus 17.42% for the aggregate); only 5.3% of NYCB's loans were to Latinos (versus 9.9% for the aggregate).
Nor can NYCB's defense (and answer to the question, "where do the deposits collected in lower-income NYC go?") relate to it small business lending. ICP has reviewed NYCB's 2002 CRA data, and finds for example that NYCB made only one small business loan in Brooklyn (where it has six branches), while it made five small business loans in Manhattan -- four of these loans were in census tracts whose median income was over 120% of area median.
And so we've raised these issues (more is available here).
August 25, 2003
If Fox News can claim to have trademarked "fair and balanced," then there are (at least) two tag lines we'll stake out: Bronx Confidential and Bronx Rights. On the former, and in the spirit of the tabloids' exposé of mice in Au Bon Pain, Inner City Press has documentary evidence of infestation by "large mice" of Montefiore / The University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Specialty Suite 220 at 1575 Blondell Avenue, Bronx, New York... On the latter (Bronx Rights), ICP / Fair Finance Watch commented to the Basel Committee on Bank Supervision, mostly to the effect that predatory lending and others lack of standards should be included in any assessment of capital, but also touching on the Federal Reserve's refusal to consider U.S.-based holding companies' actions overseas, despite the fact that many countries defer, even on events in their countries, to banks' home-country supervisors. Click here to view ICP's comments, in PDF format...
Not mice but pig(s) -- at Ferragosto on Arthur Avenue on August 24, staffers from the Retail Market set up in the street, barbecuing two whole pigs. When the spits stopped turning, a line formed. Ten dollars a portion was steep -- the Calandria cheese store, for example, handed out free mozzarella; on 187th Street there was free spaghetti sauce, a sample bowl with pasta for two dollars. The public library was open (good move, including paying overtime to the staffers who came in). At least five musics -- two live, two recorders, and one karioke-ing in between -- competed; old folks danced in front of Pasquale's Rigoletto, all in all a nice afternoon...
August 18, 2003
Some Snow Day: Lightless Tales from The Bronx
Lights flicker and fans slow down -- then they stop and, for a moment, a silence. Soon there are voices: "Hey, who didn't pay their Con Edison bill?" On the corner of Tremont and Washington Avenues the traffic lights are out. Some cars, emboldened, barrel through the intersections without even slowing down. Will it be an hour or will it be a day? This section of The Bronx was looted then burned down the last time this happened. Already the talk radio stations are saying that this time, it's different: this is "post-September Eleven" and, counter-intuitively, Americans trust their government more, not less.
Up on Arthur Avenue, the supermarket is letting people in to its dark cavern, but only in groups of three. No one is allowed in the back. The hope was for prices cut before it all melts. But they're sticking to their guns. They have dry ice, and Styrofoam coolers to get you through the night. The pharmacy owners have taken their action into the street: from the back of a minivan they sell flashlights for six dollars apiece.
The sun sets, but not before a half dozen policemen take up positions on 187th and Arthur. They're standing in front of the bank, protecting the darkened ATMs from crowbars. After dark the cops go from restaurant to restaurant like jackals. Inside a Chinese take-out on the corner of Hughes, it is over 100 degrees and yet still egg rolls and chicken wings and plantains are frying. On the other side of Belmont there's a pizzeria run by recent immigrants from Kosovo. "All we have is calzone," the teenage girl behind the counter says. There's a police car in front; its swirling red lights give the restaurant the air of a war zone. "I can't believe this happen in this country," she adds. The calzone, when it comes, tastes particularly good. It's the ricotta and the sense of timelessness.
Later its the drinkers and drug dealers who rule the block. They set a garbage can on fire and put it in the street. The few brave bodegeros who stay open sell quickly-warming beer out through spinning plexiglass boxes. "I could burn you down, 'bro," is a phrase that is heard. On the talk radio -- and all radio now is talk -- they are singing paeans to New York's new conviviality. In Times Square, it's said, tourists are sleeping on the sidewalk without fear of being mugged. Without fear! "How unlike Seventy Seven," the disk jockey says.
But it wasn't Midtown Manhattan that faced the fire last time: it was The Bronx and Brooklyn. And now there are reports, in tones of voice conveying the dashed hopes of hype, of "limited looting in Brooklyn." How limited? The radio will not say. What's being emphasized is that this is not, repeat not, a product of terrorism. Our own lack of maintenance, our tax-cuts and deregulation have caused it -- not our enemies. We can sleep soundly with this knowledge: if we can sleep at all.
It is eighty degrees. It is humid, it is dark. There are no street lights. Outside, loud in the relative silence, there's the shouting end of a common law relationship and the beginnings of the fight. On the radio they're reminiscing again. On WNYC-AM, they report that "Uptown" -- presumably in Harlem, from which they are proud to have a dispatch -- it's been "one long party," with a lot of beer. "People here will sleep late tomorrow," the reporter says. In more normal times it might seem racist. One doubts that the church ladies were drinking. There's a tale of a woman and her daughter trying to return to The Bronx from Brooklyn without subways, which are still out. On National Public Radio from Washington they've gone philosophic, saying that the looting in Seventy Seven was tied to the zeitgeist: "you know," host John Neilson says, "the Vietnam War was on TV every night." It's a nice theory, except: the Vietnam War was over, or America'd pulled out, before 1977. No matter! Politicians are spinning the blackout with an eye to the future. They want to look -- or sound, since there's no TV -- like leaders; they want to sound upbeat and somehow responsible for the goodwill they claim is on the loose in the city. "If the people aren't killing each other," they argue, "it must mean they love me." There's a barrage of unsolicited advice: to stay inside, to visit the elderly, to turn most appliances off, to skip work tomorrow and "treat it like a snow day." But snow is an act of God, while this blackout's a product of infrastructural neglect. No matter! Uptown we're drinking -- we're gonna treat it like a snow day!
[Post script: in this section of The Bronx, electricity returns at 7:38 a.m.. Fans begin turning, the TV's on loud; there is, if one listens, a sigh of relief. For some others it will be several more hours or even days. But attention will pass on to other topics before the scope of the looting is reported, before the cause of the blackout is widely recognized, before the polyanna analogies to snow days can be assessed or disproved. How 'bout another tax cut? Why 'bout another war in which we drop million dollar bombs on other countries' power plants? Then wonder why, in the heat, they shoot our soldiers rather than treating it like a snow day?]
August 11, 2003
From Newsday of August 4: "there are only two bookstores in the Bronx." We'll qualify it: there are, to our knowledge, three "general interest" bookstores in The Bronx: one in Riverdale, a chain outlet by Co-op City, and a thin storefront on the Grand Concourse and 188th Street. Below there, in Community Planning Districts 1 - 6 there over 400,000 live, no bookstores.
And the Federal Express that used to be in Fordham Plaza? Gone. And the Kinkos that had announced on Webster Avenue that it was "coming soon"? Never came. There are basis services...
On Citi-Sears, while we await Citigroup's response to our August 4 comments, we've learned that Citi has been arguing to the Illinois Insurance Department that no application should be required, to acquire Sears Life Insurance Company, because insurance is "an insignificant part" -- the full language of the statute is "its insurance business either directly or through its affiliates is an insignificant portion of its total business." This seems strange, that the larger a conglomerate (and therefore the smaller a part its insurance business is), the less scrutiny would be given. We've requested all documents from the Illinois Insurance Department; also click here for a Crain's article.
Coming on Sunday, August 24: Ferragosto, on Arthur Ave. between 187th and 184th Street, starting at 11 a.m... [We thank the steadfast reader who alerted us to an earlier error in the date.]
August 4, 2003
With the 2002 mortgage and small business lending data released, surprisingly quietly, by the federal regulators on August 1, it seems a good time to review what went on in 2002 in The Bronx, in New York City, and with the world's largest bank, Citigroup. (Also triggering this analysis is Citi's applications for regulatory approval to acquire Sears' credit card business, for $3 billion -- click here to view ICP's just-filed comment). But there's even a news (hype) hook for this lending analysis: Newsday of July 31 reported that " More Banks Set Sights on Harlem." The articles available, for now, here; ICP is quoted that if the banks "come, take deposits from everybody and only give loans to people with money - which some banks have done - then that's a problem." Well check out the numbers, for Citigroup's normal interest rate lenders and then the industry as a whole, first for mortgages then small business loans:
The analysis below cumulates CitiMortgage and Citigroup's lead bank in the analyzed market, and calls the two together "Citibank;" Citibank's exclusion of African Americans and Latinos from normal-rate loans stands in contrast to the high-rate and predatory practices of CitiFinancial, described below, which are disproportionately targeted to African Americans and Latinos.
In 2002 in the New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area ("MSA"), for conventional home purchase loans, Citibank (Citibank, N.A. and CitiMortgage together) denied loan applications from African Americans 4.67 times more frequently than applications from whites. Citibank denied Latinos 3.17 times more frequently than whites. This is much worse than other lenders in this MSA: the denial rate disparities for the industry as a whole in 2002 were 1.89 for African Americans, and 1.68 for Latinos.
Citibank's higher-than-aggregate denial rate disparities are not explained by any greater-than-normal outreach with normal-priced credit to African Americans or Latinos. In 2002 in this MSA, Citibank made 3607 conventional home purchase loans to whites, only 390 to African Americans, and 458 to Latinos. For the record, the aggregate industry in this MSA in 2002 made 6567 such loans to African Americans, 6365 to Latinos, and 34,336 to whites. For these three groups, the aggregate made 13.87% of its loans to African Americans, and 13.47% to Latinos. For Citibank, the figures were much lower: 8.7% of loans to African Americans, and 10.3% to Latinos.
For refinance loans in the NYC MSA in 2002, Citibank denied applications from African Americans 4.13 times more frequently than applications from whites. Citibank denied Latinos 2.73 times more frequently than whites. This is much worse than other lenders in this MSA: the comparable denial rate disparities for the industry as a whole in 2002 were 1.87 for African Americans, and 1.71 for Latinos. Exclusion is part-and-parcel with Citibank's notably higher denial rate disparities between whites, African Americans and Latinos: among these three groups, only 9.3% of Citibank's refinance loans were to African Americans (versus 17.42% for the aggregate); only 6.8% of Citibank's loans were to Latinos (versus 9.9% for the aggregate). Citibank is a redliner; as documented in ICP's Citi-Sears comment and the exhibits thereto, CitiFinancial is a predatory lender.
Citibank is also disparate in its small business lending. ICP has analyzed the just-released 2002 CRA data. In New York City, Citigroup's headquarters, Citibank disproportionately excludes from its small business lending the county with the highest percentage of African Americans and Latinos: Bronx County. Considering loans to businesses with gross annual revenue under $1 million ("small business loans"), Citibank, N.A. made 14 such loans in Manhattan for every loans it made in The Bronx -- a much worse record that the aggregate, which made seven such loans in Manhattan for every loan in The Bronx. Here is a table:
2002 Loans to Businesses with Revenues under $1 Million (Amt in $1000s)
Citibank Citibank % of Citi Aggreg Aggreg % Agg
Loans Amount # of Loans Loans Amount # loans
Bronx 41 $1441 3.86% 3778 $113,019 6.65%
Manh 584 $21038 55.00% 26587 $824,889 46.6%
Bklyn 186 $6900 17.51% 11846 $299,682 20.9%
Qns 216 $8110 20.34% 12443 $364,476 21.9%
Stat Is. 35 $1160 3.30% 2129 $59,559 3.75%
Total 1062 $38655 100% 56783 $1,661,625 100%
As a fair lending matter, The Bronx is the most predominantly African American and Latino county in New York City (and New York State); it is the only county where Citibank, N.A. substantial differs from the aggregate's lending pattern, in that Citibank disproportionately excludes The Bronx... Until next time, for or with more information, contact us.
July 28, 2003
In light of an incongruous public meeting scheduled last week by Waste Management, regarding its proposal to expand by 1,000 tons a day the capacity of it permit for its controversial Harlem River Yards facility, Inner City Press revisited that fight, and the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition, which called for a demonstration against Waste Management, its proposal and its meeting. An intern doing a background news search found only four articles about "Bronx Clean Air Coalition" in the database; troublingly, three of the four were reviews of Allen Hershkowitz' book and/or paper mill proposal (and The New Yorker's Lis Harris book about it). These are all hatchet jobs, at least as regards the Clean Air Coalition. From the Nation, March 17, 2003: "Harris reports that the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition became a vocal and pivotal critic after it tried unsuccessfully to extort money from the BCPC in exchange for its support. The coalition subsequently waged a public relations war fraught with misinformation, including charges that the mill would poison babies." This selection is repeated by the Earth Action Network's "E" Magazine of May 1, 2003, thusly: "The community group, Banana Kelly, helped wreck the plan, as did the apparently misnamed South Bronx Clean Air Coalition (which at one point said the mill would 'kill babies'). 'I didn't anticipate evil,' says Hershkowitz, who was NRDC's indefatigable point man on the project."
Our position? The "indefatigable" Mister Hershkowitz has, in effect, smeared a positive force in The Bronx, which played a large role in fighting off the NatWest (now RBS) funded medical waste incinerator in Port Morris. Deeds like those carry more weigh here than NCRC scientists working out their "green business" schemes, or New Yorker staffer writers (and putative progressive publications like E and The Nation) repeating calumny against grassroots groups in the areas they purportedly care about). The end result is Waste Management seeking even greater polluting powers, in the Yards that NRDC and Mister Hershkowitz were supposedly so indefatigable about -- and where, we ask, are NRDC and Mister Hershkowitz now?
We meant that rhetorically - but, as to Mister Hershkowitz, we can report that he is... running for town council in Westchester County's Lewisboro (Hershkowitz lives in Waccabuc). As part of his campaign, and contrary to his mischaracterization of Bronx opponents, it's Mister Hershkowitz playing NIMBY: "Hershkowitz said the current town board has made very little progress in the area of land preservation, ADA compliance and town facilities - issues he raised when he ran unsuccessfully for town board in 2001.... Hershkowitz added that he has yet to be sold on the town board's proposed facilities plan. 'I haven't seen adequate justification to move the highway department,' Hershkowitz said." Journal News, May 29, 2003. The same paper on Feb. 2, 2003, quoted Hershkowitz that "[f]olks aren't calling me a sellout. They're calling me a radical." Uh, where's that? Certainly not in the South Bronx.
Speaking of that, recent moves to rename the area the "Downtown Bronx," frankly we're not in favor of them. Too defensive. It is what it is; it has a history; per capita, it has created more late 20th century (global) cultural trends than anywhere else. So leave well enough alone, ya hear?
July 21, 2003
The Bronx as backdrop: Jimmy Carter did it, coming to Charlotte Street to muse amid the rubble. Ronald Reagan did it, to criticize Carter's failure to act. Bill Clinton did it, schmoozing with MBD's Ralph Porter soon before he was fired. And, last week, John Kerry came to The Bronx, to deliver a campaign speech about, among other things, homeland security. On the podium behind Kerry were various "uniformed personnel," as they're called -- including the on-duty police and fire chiefs of Mount Vernon. Afterwards, Mount Vernon mayor Ernie Davis said he had misunderstood the invitation sent to him by Kerry: he'd thought the event was a "meeting" about homeland security funding, not a political event. "I thought I was going to get something out of it, not a headline," Davis said. .
July 14, 2003
We don't like to pile on, but sleazy is sleazy: the eviction threats issued on July 8 by the organization "Homes for the Homeless" -- to throw previously homeless families out of the Prospect Family Inn in The Bronx and another shelter in Queens -- were an outrage. As it turns out, after creating chaos with this threat, HFH (as they call themselves on their web site) got a new $40 million, two year contract with the city. But at what cost? We'll see say: it's hard to believe that this organization, or at least its leadership, has much respect for its "clients," to use them as pawns in this way. HFH's web site, by the way, has a "News Room" listing press releases, none more recent than April 2003. Why, when negotiations broken down in May, or as the June 30 deadline approached, didn't HFH try to advocate, without threatening families with eviction? One of their press releases, " July 9, 2002 A Home Run- Saratoga Eagles Win Queens Little League Championship," now seems ironic: such professed joy for a Little League baseball win, followed by a willingness to threaten the little leaguers and their parents with eviction, without other obvious strategies being tried. Dog collar magnate Leonard Hertz, seller of the Village Voice, where are you?
Perhaps HFH's position should not be surprising. In 1999, when then-Mayor Giuliani proposed evicting from the shelter system the children of mothers who didn't follow "work rules," most shelters refused to comply. But, according to the Daily News of December 18, 199, "Giuliani senior adviser Tony Coles... cited one nonprofit organization, Homes for the Homeless, as willing to eject families of parents who defy work rules. Ralph Nunez, the group's president, confirmed he would 'work with' the policy." Two and a half years later, HFH threatens to throw families out of its shelters due to a contract squabble with the city. As the kung fu movie cliché has it, has the student (of evictions) become the master? For shame...
On the positive / folksy front, we must praise the current street fair on 187th Street, which runs through Wednesday. Rather than exploiting midgets and "the world's biggest rat" (see below in this Report), this one had sausage and pasta and kids' rides. On July 13, the streets were full; a couple sang Volare from the bandstand, there was not only a variety of Italian food, but also a stand on the corner of Hughes Avenue cooking some mean alcapurias... Nine blocks south on 178th Street, corner of Bathgate Avenue, the 505 Tenants Association Garden had live music; the garden was packed as the sun set over the tenements of Webster Avenue, very nice...
July 7, 2003
Fourth of July snapshot from The Bronx: on 189th Street between Hughes and Hoffman Avenues, some serious fireworks were going up. Launched from a pipe stabilized by a five gallon bucket full of sand, the explosives, red, white and green, flew high above the tenements, and in some cases into them. In the corner pizzeria, run by Kosovar Albanians, customers cowered behind the plastic tables and benches. Periodically police cars came by; in one instance, an officers knocked over the sand-filled bucket, and then drove on. Old folks were out on their stoops, in fold-up beach chairs. The streets were on fire...
Meanwhile, the U.K. news publication This is Bradford "described [an] area as becoming 'like the Bronx'" due to "loutish behaviour" -- we think this is a global phenomenon. More seriously, see this alert / call to action regarding Rwanda...
June 30, 2003
A case we've followed -- the murder of Bronx minister Angel Colon in his Yonkers condominium last September -- has resulted, for now, in a guilty plea by Lee Hernandez. As the linked-to story reflects, it was a crime with many subplots: if it had happened in an affluent Colorado suburbs, perhaps, it would have been nationwide cable television fodder. It's probably for the best that it wasn't. But we note that the 180th Street Tabernaculo's peers kept very quiet: not only after Rev. Colon's death, but also before...
June 23, 2003
Back on the Promesa beat:
Subj: Promesa Rehab
Date: 6/19/03 5:29:26 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: [Inside Promesa]
To: BronxWatch [at] innercitypress.org
...I really feel sorry for the underserved clients in Promesa. The same people that Promesa's Administration is entrusted to serve and provide quality services are being denied the opportunity to move forward. The only thing they are getting is ride by Carlos Nazario and his sidekick Ruben Medina. The administration really doesn't care about some low life tecatos... heir main goal is to get any funds available for the clients to build a private enterprise. Mainly the mall in Florida so, they can start draining the state of Florida's tax money. Let's take a good look at what the administration is doing with the state money (tax payers' money for the clients)
1. Building a state of the art facility in Florida
2. Renovated the Medical area to maximize revenues from the same clients in Promesa.
3. Carlos Nazario Salary is well over $300,000 for maybe three day a week three hours every other week. After all, Carlos' residence is in Orlando Florida. Hmm, I wonder if this has anything to do with the mall.
4. Constructing a new 5-story building for the administration to move in.
5. Allowing certain staff (the maintenance department) to remove State property to be sold for personal gain (so far, floor safe, power tools, air conditioners, furniture and much more).
All of this while sacrificing the clients' quality of life in the following areas:
1 Poor therapy treatment
2 Poor quality of nutrition/food
3 Poor quality of building services
4 Old broken client's mattress and furniture
5 Very poor and dirty linen
6 No house keeping above the administration floor
7 Unsanitary laboratories
8 Unsanitary kitchen full of rodents and roaches
9 Unsanitary cooking equipment
10 Denial of clients' own weekly money
On another note, the staff of Promesa is still without a union contract. The holdback is Pension Plan and Medical Insurance. Carlos Nazario and his sidekick will not let go that easy. To let go of the Pension Plan and Medical Insurance is like taking a pay cut. But, this is a story for another day.
And, that day will come.... We're focused again this week on General Electric and Royal Bank of Scotland -- other than having fun in The Bronx, of course...
June 16, 2003
We need to follow-up on last week's report, on the world's smallest (church-sponsored) lady. On June 15, the St. Anthony street fair on 187th Street, sponsored by Mount Carmel Catholic church, came to a close, with a procession of several hundred people, following a brass band from Newark and a statue of St. Anthony east toward the Zoo. The world's smallest (well, the 29-inch) woman, Linda, remained in her booth at the fair the entire time, as did the world's largest rat (see last week's Report, below). At the cutting edge of the church-and-state separation, Police Officer Martin from the 48th Precinct, badge number 31392, helped install St. Anthony on the rolling table, and stood guard over a metal box into which people stuffed dollar bills. The crowd was primarily Italian-Americans, some from the neighborhood (like Joe Libertore, who sells plants and seeds in the Arthur Avenue market), and some not. Other neighborhood residents stood and stared as the procession moved by. Now Linda and the rat will move on: God's Speed!
June 9, 2003
It's summer and the street fairs begin. This past weekend, June 7-8, the three blocks of 187th Street between Cambrelleng and Arthur Avenues were lined with a mixture of food trucks, arcade games and freak shows. This last is something new. There was a booth called "Killer Rat," promising a glimpse of a hundred pound rodent. A large sign said, "Today's Special, 50 cents." But in much smaller type it added, "Children under 10." Regular entrance was a dollar. Through a metal grill, one made out the silhouette of what looked like a sheep. But the head was unmistakably that of a rat. A loudspeaker played, again and again, "Come see the world's biggest rat! He drinks gallons of water a day! He eats huuuge quantities of food! It's so strange, you must see... the world's biggest rat!"
In an interview, the couple running the Calzone and Zeppole truck next to the rat show denied that their business is down this year. Another staffer, stuffing calzones, speculated that the rat came from Chinatown.... This was by far the only deviation from political correctness. On the corner of Arthur Avenue, a truck's sign promised a glimpse at "The World's Smallest Woman -- only 29 inches! Hands only two inches wide! You talk to her, and she talks to you!"
In an interview, she said her name is Linda. She is 29 years old and comes from Haiti. She has been displayed throughout the United States, and Puerto Rico. While we wish her well, we wonder at the congruity between this exhibit, seemingly anachronistic, and the sponsor and beneficiary of this street fair, St. Carmel church....
Following last week's blind item, here's more from tabloid land, in standard click-n-see blog style: first, see this report of Chase-conflicted judicial rulings. Unreported (or unconnected) there is the judge's recent recusal from a case regarding NYC's anti-predatory lending ordinance. Now it makes sense (to some), given Morgan Chase's involvement in subprime, through Advanta and otherwise...
June 2, 2003
While we focus this week on the redlining and predatory lending links of Royal Bank of Scotland and its Citizens Bank(s) (click here for more), here in The Bronx we received this from a whistleblower inside Promesa:
Subj: Need help at promesa / 911
Date: 5/28/03 2:18:38 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: [Name redacted]
To: BronxWatch [at] innercitypress.org
I am writing you this e mail because this drug treatment center called promesa is a dirty place; it has mice /rats running around and nobody cares about this place or the clients here. They're thinking about going on strike and the medical department is lazy -- they have night watch men staff giving out psych meds... Their night workers took a 3 hours class about psych meds and they're giving out medication without having the right training and they don't even wash their hands... Please help us here... "A patient in Promesa."
And where are the authorities? Stray note: in a May 29 profile of new "administrator" of Iraq, Paul Bremer, Primetime Live correspondent Claire Shipman said, of ex-NYC Police Commissioner Kerik, "The hope, he'll do for Baghdad what he did for the Bronx."
But wasn't it Kerik who refused to fire the four officers who shot and killed unarmed Amadou Diallo in The Bronx in 1999?
May 26, 2003
From last week's "Report Card on Parks," some annotations by Inner City Press (in italics), beginning with park names from literary history:
Poe Park, Grand Concourse, East Kingsbridge Road and East 192nd Street, Fordham. D [Given its size, this much-used park, recently repaved, is not bad...]
Joseph Rodman Drake Park, Longfellow, Oak Point and Hunts Point avenues, Hunts Point. F [Near cemetery, much prostitution, a sad case.]
Quarry Ballfields, Quarry Road, East 181st Street, Oak Place and Hughes Avenue, East Tremont. D [Actually, this has been fenced, and the restrooms renovated.]
A Farm in the Bronx, Washington and Bathgate avenues, East 181st to East 182nd streets, Tremont. F [This is essentially a community garden -- but if it's under Parks Department control, it should be cleaned...]
And now, a blind item, in NY Post Page Six style: Just asking -- which NY Times business columnist (a Pulitzer Prizewinner, no less) had her own plagiarism scandal, on which the Times has yet to act? It involved lifting a story, wholesale, from an industry newsletter, and was resolved out-of-court, so to speak: out of the spotlight....
May 19, 2003
We continue, at least for this week, on the Jason Blair / Times beat. For all the chucking and jiving, we couldn't miss the similarity between Blair and... Nick Leeson. Yep, the whippersnapper who blew up Barings. Venerable institutions which claim they can be brought low by a single twenty-something employee, and yet refuse to accept any of the blame. Leeson has argued, not without effect, that it was his employers' pressure to make profit that led to his secret trades. Will that be Blair's defense? Stay tuned.
Okay: on May 12, the city's Office of School Safety and Planning announced that "[s]erious crime in city schools has fallen 8% since September." Then on May 14 in Evander Childs High School in The Bronx, 16-year old Leon Luke was stabbed in the back with a handleless kitchen knife. The assailant may have smuggled the blade through the school's permanent metal detector by hiding it in a metal-ringed binder, police told the Daily News...
May 12, 2003
In this space, we have periodically reviewed the New York Times' coverage of The Bronx. And so how could we not chime in on the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal? Especially given that Mr. Blair reported on The Bronx and even on ICP's advocacy (regarding Citigroup: "Citigroup Agrees to Widen Welfare Recipients' A.T.M. Access," April 11, 2001, B2). [Note: while the corrections go back to March 2000, no one was ICP was called about this April 2001 story.. . But onward:]
The Times approach screams of smugness, stating, for example, that "[e]very newspaper, like every bank and every police department, trusts its employees to uphold central principles." It explains Mr. Blair's assignment to the Washington sniper story thusly: "'This was a `flood the zone' story,' Mr. Roberts, the national editor, recalled, invoking the phrase that has come to embody the paper's aggressive approach to covering major news events under Mr. Raines, its executive editor." So wait: is this apology or self-promotion?
The Times explains that Blair's deceits went undetected due to "his savviness and his ingenious ways of covering his tracks;" Blair's "tools of deceit were a cellphone and a laptop computer which allowed him to blur his true whereabouts as well as round-the-clock access to databases of news articles from which he stole." Ooooh - cellphones and databases: with tools like that, how could Mr. Blair be caught?
The Times self-expose insists on repeatedly pointing out how otherwise credible the Times is -- questioning, for example, "how such fraud could have been sustained within the ranks of The Times." Then they quote (after presumably calling Marmet, W. Va.) "a woman named Glenda Nelson learned that Mr. Blair had quoted her in a news article, even though she had never spoken to anyone from The Times. 'The New York Times,' she said. 'You would expect more out of that.'" Because, of course, if it had been another newspaper, plagiarism and invented interviews would have been expected.
In post-hoc profiling Mr. Blair, the (or is it "The"?) Times quotes unnamed "editors" that "he was energetic and willing to work all hours. He was also a study in carelessness, they say, with his telephone voicemail box too full to accept messages, and his writing commitments too numerous." But note -- the Times as a whole, especially its business desk, routinely leave their fax machines out-of-paper, assuming that the hoy paloi who would deign to fax them must have nothing to say. That's professional? Here's typical: " In addition, The Daily Kent Stater, a student newspaper, published an article in December in which school officials took issue with Mr. Blair's reporting. The writer of the article, who said that he could not reach Mr. Blair because his voice-mail in box was full, then left detailed messages for The Times's sports department. No one at the paper responded to the messages." That's a problem that goes well beyond Mr. Blair; it's called arrogance. [Our diagnosis is that that's at the root of the problem here...].
The Times' post-mortem quotes from Mr. Blair's e-mails, but then delicately reports that "[a]t that point Mr. Blair told Susan Edgerley, a deputy metropolitan editor, about his considerable personal problems, she said, and she referred him to a counseling service." But then no further detail of these "considerable personal problems" is given. There is, however, another (heavy-handed) hint: " Mr. Raines" added "that he had seen no need for such a discussion because Mr. Blair's performance had improved, and because 'we do not stigmatize people for seeking help.'" There is an earlier reference to Scotch; this is screaming, all too vaguely, substance abuse. The Daily News specifies that Blair "vacated his last registered address - an apartment in Brooklyn - several months ago, leaving behind what was described as structural damage and extensive filth that cost several thousand dollars to undo." The Times, on the other hand, states that "Mr. Blair did not have a company credit card the reasons are unclear." Why unclear? The conclusion has "[e]mployees accept[ing] the condolences of callers." Interestingly, the long expose reveals that reporters ask for reimbursement for trips to Starbucks (and, strangely, for blankets of "hotel room beds"); and, more substantively, that editors at the Times don't ask about reporter's unnamed sources...
May 5, 2003
It's time to ask -- what's up with the abandoned courthouse at Third Avenue and 161st Street? There's a dumpster in front, but very little work being done. Meanwhile, a building across 161st Street from it is being demolished; storefronts among Third Avenue from 163rd Street south are vacant.
The courthouse was sold at auction in 1998, for $300,000. The purchasers, Henry Weinstein and Benjamin Klein, then put it up for re-sale in 2000, for $1.8 million. The Tamerlain Realty signs are still up on it, so presumably it hasn't been sold. It's 2003: que pasa?
A more arcane question, for historians: a corrections history web site mentions "the Sixth District Prison was variously referred to as Fordham Prison or Morrisania Prison. The 1875 structure was replaced in 1924 with another. This, at 161st near Third Ave., the Bronx, provided six pens for men and three for women." Is the building still there?
In response to a comment ICP filed against HSBC with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand on April 28, a "bank spokeswoman" has been quoted, in the Hong Kong Standard of April 29, that "HSBC's purchase of Household had been approved after stringent regulatory scrutiny in the U.S.." No, it wasn't stringent. But the battle continues -- on May 5, ICP filed comments opposing HSBC applications for regulatory approval in Mexico and South Africa....
April 28, 2003 - we have started a new GE [General Electric] Watch project, click here
The news of the April 27 cock-righting "raid" in The Bronx went out worldwide, via the Associated Press. The putative guardian angels of the fighting birds have, however, killed them, saying that they could not be rehabilitated. The Bronx District Attorney's office is crowing (pun intended), calling the whole thing a felony. While no fans of animal cruelty, we think the crowing here is overblown....
Inner City Press' Bronx restaurant review are usually reserved for small, authentic places that we like. But we turn now to a larger place that's sprung up on Southern Boulevard just south of 180th Street: the Bronx Buffet, a large room with seating for several hundred and a parking lot for two dozen cars outside. It's "all you can eat," dinner for $9.99. On Tremont and Southern, just by the Happy Land Social Club fire memorial, a pedestrian talked the place up: "Oooh, it's gooood," she said. So we ambled up there. From outside, the price is not clear. The location's surprising: there is no other restaurant even 50% of the size of this within twenty blocks in any direction.
Here's the complaint: the food's no good! Quantity has replaced quality. For example, there are unlimited egg rolls: but they are filled with a uniformly yellow filling, akin to sauerkraut without flavor. The dumplings are too big, and grow stale on the steam table. The seeming favorite of the diners, many of whom are notably large, is crab legs. There is a soft ice cream machine, and a ten year old boy was seeing spitting in the rice pudding. The vibe was strange and, sadly, we cannot offer a positive review.
April 21, 2003
...A question arises: what is SOBRO, the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, does managing the rehabilitation of 321 St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem in Manhattan? The building was "vacated" by the Buildings Department on April 16. Apparently, after the tenants brought a legal challenge to SOBRO's rehab plan, SOBRO contracted an architect whose April 15 report required the removal of all tenant, more than 100 people in all. The articles in the NY Times and Daily News did not question what SOBRO was and is doing over there. But we will. In the Bronx, SOBRO hardly does housing -- it did co-sponsor co-ops in a former casket factory on Brook Avenue, and dabbled in a similar coop plan on the site of a former brewery on St. Ann's and 156th Street (never built). But SOBRO's constant claim to fame is job-creation in Port Morris. Doing rehab of Central Harlem properties?
April 14, 2003
In this week's medley, Co-op City blues, MetroNorth snooze, and the landlord from Hell. On April 9, Moody's Investors Service downgraded $345.7 million in nonprofit housing project bonds sold by the New York State Housing Finance Agency to Baa3 from Baa2, based on a decision by the board of Co-op City make only a partial mortgage loan payment on Dec. 1 and to skip the Jan. 1 payment. Moody's said the co-op board's decision raises the risk that future mortgage loan payments will also be postponed, forcing the housing authority to use debt service reserves and triggering the moral obligation of the state, which also backs the bonds. This is for deferred maintenance.
Speaking of maintenance too long deferred, NYC Comptroller Thompson's review of 14 Metro-North and 26 Long Island Rail Road stations in the city identified three Bronx stations as among the four worst. These included the following MetroNorth stations:
Fordham: Exposed electrical third rail, rotting platform edges, peeling paint and water leaking onto the platform; Wakefield: Cracked and crumbling cement, peeling paint, exposed third rails and cracked staircases; and Tremont: Rusted and rotting staircases, peeling paint, loose platform edges and an exposed rusty nail.
In response to this last, MetroNorth offered as justification that the Tremont station may be the least-used in the Metro-North system, with just four passengers boarding there on an average weekday to go to Grand Central...
On April 9, the skeleton of a Bronx woman was found in a lot near the Metro-North railway tracks at 237th St. and Bullard Avenue. Talina Bryant, 21, may have been the victim of a hit man and an accomplice hired by her landlord, who wanted her out of her Hull Ave. apartment, police sources said. Cops were told on Sept. 8, 2000, about Bryant's disappearance by her mother, Debra Mayers. Officers who went to Bryant's basement apartment declared it a crime scene when they found bloodstains and saw that a piece of carpeting and some floorboards were missing, said NYPD Deputy Chief Joseph Reznick, commander of Bronx detectives. Police said Dennis Mundo, 24, of Story Ave., admitted killing Bryant. He led them to a desolate lot near the Metro-North railway tracks at 237th St. and Bullard Ave. Cops using cadaver dogs found the remains in the lot on April 9, and the next day questioned the victim's landlord at the 52nd Precinct stationhouse, according to his 41-year-old daughter."We are surprised," quoted her as saying. "It's an injustice. The neighborhood knows and loves him," she added. "He houses people." No comment.
Click here for an HSBC-Household update. On the journalistic tip, the Washington AG's office continues to delay in providing documents responsive to Inner City Press' Jan. 10, 2003, freedom of information request. For the partial shooting-down of the Indian AG's Office's withholding of Household-related documents, click here for a recent ruling.
April 7, 2003
April Fool's Day on Southern Boulevard: at Tremont you pass the fenced-in obelisk memorializing the 81 victims of the Happy Land Social Club fire. The long-abandoned bank branch on the corner of Freeman Street has become a laundromat, but the carniceria there is now shut down, and the Freeman Theater is still empty. Despite the city subsidies spent on the NYC Partnership Small Homes on both sides of Southern Boulevard, this commercial strip is still struggling, to put it mildly. Between Westchester Avenue and 163rd Street, things are jumping; so too in the run-up to 149th Street, where just before Prospect there's an Ecuadorian restaurant, across from long-time fixture Morales Hardware. The pace of change in The Bronx is slow; the mood, approaching Spring, is hopeful...
HSBC follow-up: two days after its rubber-stamp approval of HSBC-Household, the New York Banking Department finally sent Inner City Press some HSBC-related documents which ICP had requested more than three months previous, including HSBC's reports to the NYBD on the commitment it made in 1999 to improve its prime-rate lending in "majority-minority" ("MM") census tracts. Notably, as of the most recent reports provided by the NYBD, HSBC is not in compliance with the commitment. Regarding home purchase and refinance loans, HSBC's CRA officer Phyllis Rosenblum wrote to the NYBD on Sept. 18, 2001, reporting that while HSBC's goal / commitment was for 11% of processed applications to be in majority-minority tracts in New York State, the 2001 year-to-date was 8.7%. When Ms. Rosenblum wrote again, in Feb. 2002, with year-end 2001 number, this figure had decreased to 8.1%, further below the commitment / goal. There is more to be said about this HSBC reports; for now we emphasize that the NYBD's withholding of them until just after they approved HSBC's applications was transparently a defense of HSBC, a violation of the freedom of information laws, and a dereliction of duty.
Other documents continue flowing in. See, for example, the March 31, 2003, Open Records ruling of the Texas Attorney General's Office (available here). Back on Jan. 10, 2003, Inner City Press/Fair Finance Watch asked that Office for documents about its settlement with Household, and about complaints against Household. Some responsive records were provided, but most were withheld, at Household's request. ICP pursued the matter with Texas AG's Open Records Office and, in the above-linked March 31 decision, all of Household's arguments were shot down. But HSBC and Household obtained delay in release, which was their objective...
From a whistleblower's letter to NYS OASAS in Albany, cc-ed to Inner City Press:
OASAS Department of Investigation:
This letter is to inform the office of OASAS of the abuse that is taking place at Promesa Inc. 1776 Clay Avenue Bronx, N.Y. 10457, an organization funded by your agency.
On 01/23/03, a floor safe box was removed from the facility by the maintenance department supervisor Mr. Mendoza, and two other staff from the same department. The safe was transferred (using Promesa's vehicle) to a local vendor (Tremont Lock Smith 515 East Tremont Ave, Bronx, N.Y. 10457) and sold. Mr. Mendoza has the tendency of removing other equipment (Window Air Conditioners) with monetary value from Promesa and selling it for personal gain. What is most abusive of these acts is the fact that, he uses Clients to commit these unauthorized removals and sales of Promesa's property. The use of client for personal gain is a violation of Promesa's policy. These actions are a clear compromise to the client's therapeutic treatment.
The following are the Clients that were used by Mr. Mendoza and the other two staff: Angel Torres, Dexter Duskin, and Rocco Romeo The clients were paid 5.00 each from the sale of the safe. While removing the safe, Mr. Mendoza hurt his arm and, he is now taking sick days off (Promesa is paying for this). He claims that, he got hurt while working in Promesa. As a taxpayer and an employee of Promesa, I strongly suggest that an investigation be conducted, and disciplinary action be taken. Attached, are some pictures of the mentioned safe. It is know for sale at Tremont Lock Smith for a cost of $995.00.
That's what we like: detail....
March 31, 2003
As in a rigged game of cards, last week the regulatory approvals for HSBC - Household all fell in a row, days before closing. On March 26, the New York Banking Department, purported protector of consumers, posted a mere three sentences on its Web site: "we have approved." The following day, the N.Y. Superintendent of Banks, Elizabeth McCaul, announced her resignation. Whether this timing was coincidence is something we'll explore, along with the issues summarized in the Hong Kong Standard of March 26, 2003 ("HSBC Target Household Accused of Shredding Papers," by Sebastian Tong).
On March 25, the Ohio Department of Insurance approved. The next day, the Delaware Insurance Department and the NYBD. Then Thursday, March 27, the OCC approved. Also on March 27, ICP filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Insurance's approval. With only two days to prepare it, it was a mere eight pages long (plus detailed exhibits). But the court was not able to hear the case in time. On March 28, the companies "consummated" the merger. But the joke, we predict, will be on HSBC. The Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation has bought a notorious predatory lender, which restated its income in August 2002, settled charges of false and misleading statements on March 19, 2003, and is cooperating with an ongoing investigation by the SEC. Meanwhile, ICP on March 28 received from the Maryland regulators a large box of complaints against Household (great timing, no?), and an interesting Freedom of Information ruling regarding the improper withholding of Household-related information, on which we'll be reporting in due course. ICP has begun petitioning regulators in the various countries to which HSBC has said it will "export Household's business model."
In contrast to the NYBD's capitulation, the Delaware Insurance Department (the "DID") imposed conditions on the deal. The DID Order consists of a 41-page Proposed Order by the Hearing Officer, and a shorter Order by the Commissioner, accepting the findings of fact and imposing conditions. The Proposed Order characterizes as "bureaucrat-speak" the DID's statement that it could not and would not monitor or enforce the credit insurance provisions of Household's settlement. We at ICP call it an abdication of duty, and a major loophole in the Settlement (there are others). But the Hearing Officer's rhetorical Recommendations bear quoting at some length:
"Would it be a good idea to have a prophylactic examination of [Household's] two Delaware insurers in the near future? Given the Settlement and the Delaware Consent Judgment, should the examination be broadened to include the Department's Consumer Services and, for purposes of expert advice in establishing standards, possibly even the Fraud Bureau? Should the Department be concerned that its individual licensees are educated as to the Settlement and the Delaware Consent Judgment? ... Is Household Life a possible microcosm to examine the organization [Household International]?... Should Household have to account in better fashion as to its self-styled Best Practices on the insurance side of its business?"
The answer to these questions is "yes." Whether and how these recommendations will be implemented remains to be seen; the conditions imposed, however, are what they are. ICP's advocacy continues...
And now, some Bronx Notes: unemployment in the Bronx surged to 11.1% in January, double the national average... The music and life of Tito Puente will be celebrated April 21 at Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall... From UrbanOutdoors: "Legislation is about to be introduced in Albany that will alienate part of Van Cortland Park to build a chemical plant to treat drinking water. The revised plan is believed to bury the industrial facility deeper in the park than the one that was rejected by the courts. NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will go ahead without local review and on the basis of groundwork laid by the work on the defeated facility. This is in spite of significant changes in the plan and in the need to secure public water supplies. DEP believes that they can place a heavy industrial plant in a park without rezoning because a park is 'unzoned land.'" And finally, for this week, unclean teeth: in Bronx Supreme Court, dentist Dr. David Sobel pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree in satisfaction of a 57-count indictment pending against him for false Medicaid reimbursement claims. Sixteen years ago, Dr. Sobel lost his privilege of participating in the Medicaid program due to irregularities. Between February 1989 and January 2000, Dr. Sobel submitted numerous reimbursement claims in which he falsely represented that dental services had been provided to Medicaid recipients by Dr. Steven Eidman when he was in fact the treating dentist. Ouch!
March 24, 2003
This week: guns, and (Bronx) Times-watch. As bombs began to fall on Baghdad, on March 20 Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson held a press conference on 161st Street to announce that "You are going to do federal time if you carry a gun in the Bronx." It's a new federally funded initiative, "Project Fed Up," and of New York City's five boroughs, it starts in The Bronx. U.S. Attorney James Comey, also present, said that prosecutors plan to move gun cases that in the past would be prosecuted in state courts to the federal courts, where sentences are longer and where parole has been abolished. The announcement of the switch in tactics will be delivered through an aggressive advertising campaign on two billboards and 80 bus stops in the Bronx, Comey said. "We're using the tools of commercial advertising to get the message out to the criminals of the Bronx that we are fed up having you on the streets with guns," Comey said. "Advertising works, and it influences human behavior. And we believe it can influence criminal behavior."
Those two billboards are going to have a lot of effect, we're sure. Meanwhile, while we know that the New York Times is in foreign (well, war) affairs overdrive, we note that the Sunday Times of March 23 contains eight references to The Bronx, rather than the customary twenty-some. And within these eight? A real estate sale in the North Bronx; a mention in a story about the two recent Yonkers fires, a reference to North Bronx councilwoman Madeline Provenzano, and a quote from a North Bronx community board district manager, in a (City Section) article about a bar on 158th Street in Manhattan. So: not a single substantive Bronx article, and no mention of the South Bronx. And how many South Bronx residents are among the U.S. troops in Iraq? Quite a few. Paper of record, indeed...
Finally for this week, though beyond-theBronx, this we must
say: the immediate agreement by many U.S.-based television stations to refrain from
showing the footage of captured American soldiers that was shown throughout the rest of
the world was, we think, shameful. The argument was that the U.S. POWs were being
"paraded;" and that even showing this footage might violate the Geneva
Convention. How this particular footage was different from that of captured / conceding
Iraqi soldiers -- or of earlier interrogations in Afghanistan -- has not been explained.
What happened to freedom of the press? Isn't that one of the rationales for the war?
March 17, 2003
This week: inside Promesa; the job-drain, and book review, part two. In fairness, we want to supplement our previous interim review of "Random Family," Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's blow-by-blow account of "Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in The Bronx." For a variety of (class) reasons discussed in our first review, this book has been addressed three times so far in the New York Times, with additional coverage in the Washington Post, Newsweek and elsewhere. This is a portrayal of The Bronx which travels far. The problem is that it is an extremely selective account. Protagonist Coco has four children by the age of twenty, by three different men, two of whom are in jail. The "main man," Cesar, has shot his best friend in the back of the head in White Castle. It is all very poignant; it is all very well described. But is this (the totality) of The Bronx? No. It is a high-brow version of the Fox TV show "Cops." Here is some typical editorializing: during a jail visit, Cesar offers a candy to his daughter Mercedes, then pulls it away and chews it, then "smother[s] her hurt feelings with hugs." Of this, Ms. LeBlanc writes: "In the subtle tyranny of that moment beat the pulse of Cesar's neighborhood -- the bid for attention, the undercurrent of hostility for so many needs ignored and unmet, the pleasure of holding power, camouflaged in teasing, the rush of love." (Page 162).
Let's review: would teasing with food among any other social class be subject to such a strained analogy to one's community? Ms. LeBlanc, we intuit, means well. But the impression given of The Bronx is that all the young girls are pregnant, all the young men are in jail, all of their parents are separated and dysfunctional (not that those are the same thing). This is not The Bronx that we know. Sure, you can -- and we have -- found such characters in The Bronx. But you have to reach for them, with blinders on to everything else. When, decades ago, sociologist Oscar Lewis did this, he was roundly denounced. Why is this different?
On the flip-side, Ms. LeBlanc's contextualization of the middle income homes thrown up by the New York City Housing Partnership ought to be read by the city's housing agency, HPD: "the houses presented a surreal façade of cheer. They might have been intended to inspire, but the impossibility of acquiring something so close somehow had the opposite effect. The proximity made the failure pointed and personal." (Page 175).
It's certainly a view you won't hear at the City Council, where these Partnership New Homes programs are funded; nor at the local Community Planning Board, where they are approved. That's another example of what Ms. LeBlanc misses: the web of institutions that exist in the community she purports to cover. She writes of Thorpe House on Crotona Avenue and 183rd Street -- the project was debated at Community Board Six; the building is four blocks from the restaurant row on Arthur Avenue, the same distance from the Zoo. Neither are mentioned in the book; Thorpe's location is described in terms not unlike Clockwork Orange, when it's considered one of the nicer parts of the (semi-) South Bronx. You find what you're looking for -- the problem, perhaps, is that credentials like Ms. LeBlanc's give her Cops-like account far greater distribution and/or "credibility" than more rounded accounts by people who actually live here. By the way, sometimes a game with candy is just that: a game with candy. To find in it an S&M dynamic which you ascribe to a whole neighborhood is not non-fiction...
Okay then -- back to the investigative beat, this week in letter-to-the-editor format:
Subj: PROMESA REHAB
Date: 3/13/03 10:50:09 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: [Promesa source]
...new info-regarding Promesa Rehab, and Carlos Nazario, the Chairman: Mr. Nazario has a new Business Partner by the name of Twinkles Foods. The staffs of Promesa's Purchasing Department and the Accounting department are mandated to purchase all supplies from this company. This is by order of Mr. Nazario. Question: as a federal and state funded agency, isn't Promesa obligated to obtain competitive bid to maintain the lowest cost possible? It is my understanding that the Manager of the purchasing department was let go, because he refused to follow Mr. Nazario's order to Purchase all supplies from Twinkle Foods. It is also my understanding, that the Manager of the purchasing department along with the accounting department, were twisting vendors arms to get political donations for several candidates. Including out of state politicians, like Tony Suarez, from Orlando Florida...
Editor's (interim) note: there is a "Twinkle Beverages" at 110 East 149th Street; Robert Rodriguez, president, at which he also owned "Twinkle Import Company." Hey -- we aim to serve.
News you will not hear from the rah-rah Bronx business boosters: the relocation to Port Washington, Long Island of Ice-Cap, a refrigeration and heating company that supplies HVAC units to hotels, hospitals and apartment buildings, to a 90,000-square-foot facility it is leasing at 275 Grand Blvd (in Port Washington). The company is consolidating from the Bronx and Long Island City...
March 10, 2003
We'll be the first to admit it: for now, we've fallen off in general-interest Bronx reporting (we'll be returning to that, don't you worry). But ICP's campaign against HSBC's proposal to acquire the predatory lender Household International has been heating up, including at the New York Banking Department (and, this week, about HSBC's lending record in so-called "majority-minority" census tracts, of which The Bronx has many).
On March 7, ICP received its copy of HSBC's "presentation" to the NYBD of its 2001 mortgage lending record. HSBC dramatically trailed its competitors in lending in the majority-minority census tracts in which HSBC had previously committed to improve its performance. In terms of penetration, measured (as HSBC's commitment measured it) by applications received, HSBC Mortgage Corp. had the second-highest volume statewide in 2001 -- but was in fifteenth place in terms of penetration of majority-minority census tracts. HSBC had a 4.05% share of mortgage applications taken statewide in 2001, but only a 2.12% share in majority-minority census tracts. This disparity existed in fully twelve of the thirteen MSAs HSBC has reported on (the one exception being the Newburgh MSA). Significantly, the same disparity existed in terms of loans actually made: lower market share in majority-minority census tracts in every MSA except Newburgh. HSBC has claimed to be performing better (that is, more fairly) in New York City than elsewhere in the state. But even in the NYC MSA, HSBC in 2001 had a 3.70% share of all mortgage applications taken (ranking fifth), and only a 2.26% share of applications taken in majority-minority census tracts (ranking thirteenth). HSBC was also disparate, here, in terms of loans made. This is, well, troubling, particularly given that the NYBD itself saw fit to explicitly require a commitment from HSBC in 1999 to improve its performance in majority-minority census tracts; ICP has submitted a number of comments at that time highlights HSBC's redlining. Now HSBC wants to be a predatory lender too, and it appears that the NYBD is shielding them:
In a Feb. 15 Freedom of Information Law appeal, ICP submitted to the NYBD sample records, including communications with Household and about the Settlement, it has obtained from other governmental agencies (primarily state attorneys general) which settled with Household. The NYBD General Counsel's cursory FOIA Appeal Denial of March 3, 2003, states in this regard:
"As for ICP's claim that in response to identical requests, other state agencies have provided it with copies of communications with Household International, Inc. and with other agencies, the Department is not aware of the manner in which ICP obtained such documents."
This purported lack of awareness, after ICP has stated how it obtained the documents, makes clear that the NYBD (or its general counsel) do not believe ICP's unequivocal statement that such documents were provided to it in response to FOI / open records requests. While surprised, ICP is annexing hereto documents it obtained from the Washington State Attorney General's Office, including a December 4, 2002, e-mail from Sandra Kane of the Arizona Attorney General's Office stating that
"The Negotiating Team had a conference call yesterday to discuss the letter that [ICP] has sent to several attorneys general in opposition to the Multistate settlement with Household and the HSBC acquisition of Household."
ICP understands that NYBD staff took part in the referenced conference call, three months ago, and yet that no records in this regard have been provided. This is troubling, including because the degree of NYBD / Superintendent involvement in the settlement, and in the subsequent defense thereof, is a question of fact in the previously-quoted NYS Ethics Commission inquiry into the Superintendent's compliance with the N.Y. Public Officers Law. In this regard, note that the Washington State Attorney General's Office has stated, in a Feb. 21, 2003, letter to ICP, that
"You have requested 'any records reflecting your Office's communications with...the [OCC], the New York Banking Department, or the insurance regulatory agencies in Delaware, Ohio, Michigan, New York or Arizona'... Of the agencies you list, our Office has had contact only with the New York Banking Department regarding these matters.. Though we have not yet reviewed and redacted these e-mail records, I estimate that there are approximately 1000 documents in this category."
According to the Washington State Attorney General's Office, there are one thousand documents reflecting NYBD communications about the Household settlement and/or HSBC's proposal. Yet the NYBD has not provided ANY of these documents to ICP, despite ICP's numerous FOIA requests since November 18, 2002. This is an outrage. The Washington State Attorney General's Office is now, following ICP's inquiries, begun reviewing and redacting specifically these 1000 NYBD-relevant records. ICP has urged the NYBD to begin producing these records, of which the NYBD clearly has copies, as quickly as possible, and certainly before it considers HSBC's applications for anything but denial. We'll see...
March 3, 2003
During the Feb. 25 special election to replace disgraced (and disgraceful) ex-Assemblywoman Gloria Davis, a van from the C-Town supermarket on Crescent Avenue crept through Belmont and Tremont, broadcasting a looped tape, in English and Spanish, promoting Michael Benjamin. The tape played salsa; people stared, and most didn't vote. Mr. Benjamin received 54% of the vote; Gloria Davis' chief of staff Claudia Nisbett lost out.
Predatory lending outrage of the week: the City Council's consenting to an injunction against the ordinance they themselves passed, and that was to become effective on Feb. 17. But since Citigroup refused to certify that it is not a predatory lender, but was an underwriter on a Feb. 26 issues of NYC general obligation bonds, the Council agreed to stay the law. Question: then why'd ya pass it?
Maybe it's the cold of this winter; maybe it's the publishing houses' absurdly slow schedules. Anyway, this Bronx Report has veered into book reviews (and, below, a letter to the editor we particularly liked). This week we'll do two book reviews:
The first is "Tilting at Mills," about the (never-built) paper mill once slated from the Harlem River Yards. We've previously reviewed Allen Hershkowitz first-person treatment of the subject. Tilting is by Lis Harris, whose primary identification on the dust jacket is "staff writer for the New Yorker." Accordingly, we'll use big words: the book is hardly different than Herschkowitz', except it engages in more open hagiography that Mr. H himself could do. [Hagiography, for what it's worth, is the study of saints, or "venerated persons," per Websters.] It is similarly dismissive of the concerns that led many organizations to oppose the dollar-a-year lease of the Yards to the Galesi Group, and the attempted sub-lease to the paper mill. Ms. Harris repeats Mr. H's story of being shaken down by activists-unnamed (p. 39); she blames community residents for not better informing themselves about the project. The book is by Houghton Mifflin; it is well-written but adds strangely little to Mr. Herschkowitz' first-person account. Straying beyond the text, Ms. Harris appeared on an environmentalists' radio show and named the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition, and a still unnamed shakedown artist, as the main reason the mill wasn't built. If it's that central, names should be used -- no? The book may be accurate as to the science, but it is inaccurate as to The Bronx.
Not so with our second selection of the week, Mel Rosenthal's "In the South Bronx of America." It's a collection of photographs he took of Bathgate Avenue, between 1975 and 1983. Virtually every building shown was subsequently demolished for the Bathgate Industrial Park. The photographs are haunting -- a teenage girl and her boyfriend in front of a wide-open, half-burned storefront; a woman in a white dress dancing in front of the ruins. It's interspersed with quotes from the time -- Roger Starr's call for planned shrinkage, Robert Caro regarding the Power Broker Robert Moses, an old Bill Moyers' special, "The Fire Next Door." The book is not only about suffering and injustice: it shows people's humanity. It captures some of the magic of the South Bronx. We recommend it highly -- along with a now-out-of-print book called "The Block," by Herb Goro, focused on a strip of now-gone buildings a block east from Rosenthal's Bathgate haunt. An Inner City Press artist(e) says she prefers Rosenthal's approach; his photographs, she says, are "less angry." Goro's book was published soon after his Block disappeared; Rosenthal's, after a twenty year hiatus. Both have their place in the pantheon of Bronx (photography) books.
But back to the present! Responding to Inner City Press' previous inquiries into Promesa, including its business foray into Florida (see below on this page), we've received this:
Subj: PROMESA REHAB IN THE BRONX
Date: 2/28/03 12:28:26 PM Eastern Standard Time
To: INFO [at] INNERCITYPRESS.ORG
To the interested party that would like to know why Promesa Rehab is investing in Orlando Florida and Tony Suarez a candidate for a Florida senate seat in 2002.
Follow the Chairman: Carlos Nazario (a Politician and a Businessman) and you will get the answer. This is the only Not For Profit Org., with a Non Active Chairman making over $250,000.00 and Two CEOs making another 200,000.00 each.This make good business sense for Mr. Nazario.Making this kind of money in N.Y and living in
P.S., guess who pays for his traveling expenses? Its no wonder why Mr. Nazario sold his beer distributor business in the Bronx. To Mr. Nazario, the Not For Profit Business is a more Profitable business to be in.
Like I said, follow the Chairman$$$$$$$. Wait, there is more: I will keep you posted.
Please do. Returning full-circle to the New Yorker, their Feb.17-24 piece about the chairman of Tyco, who also surreptitiously used company money to move to Florida, made us again reflect how the world is in some ways similar at all its different levels. It's a biological or perhaps theological thought, the scope of which goes beyond this Bronx Report, at least for this week.
February 24, 2003
The fall-out from toxic ex-Assemblywoman Gloria Davis continues: as Correctional Services Corporation vice president Jack Brown is now cooperating, the Post quotes a source that Brown "admitted to helping 'other candidates,' including some in The Bronx, but that no additional names were mentioned." The Daily News of Feb. 20 quoted Lobbying Commission Executive Director David Grandeau naming two Bronx assemblymen, one now a councilman, the other riding high as a consultant...
Speaking of falling, we have to report on the snow. Mid last week, Tremont Avenue was a war zone, with Sanitation Department bulldozers piling gray mountains to a height of ten to twelve feet. Snow was moved from one place to another, without a thought for the car-drippings and rock salt therein (environmental justice, anyone?). Many side streets when unplowed until they melted. And now they are cratered, with holes five feet wide.
If this seems petty, we'll admit we're distracted. Inner City Press has taken its campaign against HSBC - Household "on the road" -- see our Global Inner Cities report for comments we've just filed in a dozen African nations, opposing HSBC's proposals there, including the "export" of Household's practices, and an acquisition of 40% of the shares of Equator Bank.
Travel, real or virtual, provides time for reading -- and so to conclude for this week, half of a book review. We managed to get the first copy to arrive at our local library of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Random Family," subtitled "Coming of Age in The Bronx." It sure is gritty, ya gotta give it that. Actually, it's reminiscent of the two novels of Abraham Rodriguez, "Spidertown" and the more recent "Buddha Book" (which was scarcely reviewed in the "mainstream" press). Full disclosure: we're fans of A. Rodriguez; we've published him, early on, in Inner City Press. But compare the reviews of his Buddha Book (we've only found four) with the gushing for Random Family. Both books focus on teens and young adults involved in the drug culture. Mr. Rodriguez -- we'll adopt that pompous Times-ism for now -- actually "came of age in The Bronx." Yet both of his books have been criticized from their gangsterism. Ms. LeBlanc, whose dust jacket pedigree includes Smith College, Yale Law School and Oxford -- very Clintonian -- appears to believe that all young women in The Bronx spend their time looking out their tenement windows at drug dealers; she describes with glee the dumb waiter drug-pitching system that is treated, from the inside, by Mr. Rodriguez. As we continue with Random Family, we'll want to explore the outside world's disparate reactions to these two writers, and question how much is a matter of style, and how much of pedigree. Okay then -- that's it for this week.
February 17, 2003
Far be it for Inner City Press to be pegged as having a bleeding heart for civil liberties. But the announcement last week that, as part of the ballyhooed "Clean Sweep" program, leases will be modified at 2427 Webster Avenue in The Bronx, to allow families to be evicted if a family member commits (or pleads guilty in a plea-bargain to) drug sales, even outside the building, doesn't sit well with us. We've seen representatives of the Bronx District Attorney's Office brag about families they've evicted: sometimes the evicted are grandmothers who no longer pose a danger (since their grandchildren have already been arrested). We're not much for collective punishment: this one bears watching.
Meanwhile, we've received a response from the New York State Ethics Commission to our Jan. 21 complaint regarding the conflicted involvement of the Superintendent of Banks in negotiating a narrow predatory lending settlement with Household International in October 2002. By letter dated Feb. 12, 2003, the executive director of the Ethics Commission responds that it "ha[d] been apprised... that Superintendent McCaul's only role in the Household matter subsequent to the announcement of the HSBC-Household merger involved negotiations among the states as to the dividing of the previously-determined amount to be paid by Household. Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the Commission." ICP has replied:
Since our Jan. 21, 2003, letter, we have become aware of new facts. In an amended Proxy Statement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission ("SEC") on Jan. 31, 2003, Household and HSBC state that Household formally retained Goldman Sachs, where the Superintendent's husband is a managing director, on May 1, 2002, to find a buyer for Household. We contend that the need for the Superintendent to recuse herself from dealings with Household, particularly the negotiation of a Settlement that would play a large role in Household's ability to sell itself (at least at a particular price, which would affect Goldman Sachs' and her husband's compensation) began, at latest, on May 1, 2002.
In fact, that is precisely when the Superintendent became involved in the investigations and negotiations that led to the announcement of an agreement in principle with Household on Oct. 11, 2002. And, according to the Proxy Statement, it was on Oct. 11, 2002, that HSBC signed a confidentiality agreement with Household to begin its final round of due diligence leading to the Nov. 14, 2002, merger announcement. As previously noted, the Merger Agreement (not made public until Dec. 20, 2002 -- after the Superintendent executed the final Consent Order with Household) provides that the merger is contingent of the Settlement(s), in which the Superintendent played a large role, not being expanded in any material way.
This is an increasingly troubling matter, and one regarding which we have sought answers from the Department, the Superintendent and even from the members of the New York Banking Board. No such answers have been provided. In fact, the Department delayed from at least Dec. 18, 2002, until Feb. 11, 2003, in responding to our Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") request for records that would reflect the Superintendent's involvement in the negotiations with Household, in advising other states' agencies to sign onto the settlement, and any consideration given to the Superintendent being recused from these activities, given that Goldman Sachs, where her husband is a managing director, had on May 1, 2002, been formally retained to find a buyer for Household. It is widely accepted in the financial / analyst community that Household could not have found a buyer, at least not at this price, absent having in place a settlement of the predatory lending charges which had long gathered around it.
Significantly, the Department's delayed Feb. 11, 2003, FOIL response provides only the settlement documents themselves, and none of the underlying requested records. Other states' agencies, faced with identical requests, have provided records reflecting their communications with Household, and even some documents reflecting the New York Superintendent's involvement in the negotiations with Household. The Department's Feb. 11, 2003, FOIL denial states that its "decision not to disclose the aforementioned information may be appealed to the Superintendent" -- hardly a satisfactory answer, for the reasons set forth above.
We have also appealed the N.Y. Banking Department's denial of access to records reflecting the Superintendent's involvement in the Household Settlement, including requesting an advisory opinion from the NYS Committee on Open Government.
February 10, 2003
Inner City Press continues advocating against HSBC's proposal to acquire, prop-up and expand the high-rate lender Household International, because of the negative effects it would have on consumers and communities, including in The Bronx. In this regard, ICP has now received a letter from the State Board of Elections, dated February 5, formally confirming receipt of the Elections Law complaint ICP filed against Household (see below on this page), thanking ICP "for bringing this matter to the Board's attention," and stating that the Board's Enforcement Counsel is reviewing the Complaint. What's to review? The Albany Times Union of Feb. 3 confirmed the numbers: "[t]wo of the subsidiaries -- Household and Beneficial New York Inc. -- overspent the contribution limit... according to financial reports filed with the Board of Elections." The question is, what's the remedy? ICP contends that it must include public hearings on HSBC's proposal to acquire Household. Developing...
Meanwhile, we must report of the New York State Insurance Department that is the most secretive and least accountable of any state financial regulators we've yet encountered. The NYSID refuses to confirm that it has an HSBC application before it (despite the fact that HSBC's preliminary proxy statement, filed with the SEC on Dec. 20, 2002, says just this); the NYSID has denied access to any portion of HSBC's application. The NYSID, it is clear, does not want to hear from the public. Whether the NYSID's positions, both on Freedom of Information and public participation, are legal and/or comport with NYS principles of open government, is another question into which we're inquiring.
Given ICP's focus right now, the remainder of this week's truncated report notes a wacky (and negative) reference to The Bronx in the Chicago Tribune of February 7, 2003, reporting on the unfortunately-named town of Worksop in England : "'This one they call the Bronx,' said Steve Williams, pointing to a forlorn subdivision of semidetached homes. Williams, a former police officer, works as an aide to Mann. 'Every home in there has probably been burglarized at least once,' he said."
For those 'round here interesting in predatory lending, a reading this coming Wednesday (Feb. 12) at the Kingsbridge Public Library on 231st Street, 6:30 p.m., will include portions of a text, also wacky, on the topic...
February 3, 2003
While ICP's Elections Law complaint against Household International, reported on in this space last week, remains pending, we turn to the impending effects of budget cuts on The Bronx. As part of a $2.4 million cut, the Fire Marshalls are leaving The Bronx, and will respond across bridges from Queens to fires in the borough. ICP agrees that "there ought to be a museum of the history of arson," a suggestion by Jim Fairbanks, a staffer to Councilwoman Helen Foster (and to her father before her).
Also slated for closure, in the Governor's proposed budget, are the 600-bed Bronx Psychiatric Center and the 90-bed Bronx Children's Psychiatric Center.
On HSBC - Household, the beat goes on. On February 3, ICP filed additional comments to the N.Y. Banking Department, the Fed and OCC, along with some more internal Household documents and other consumer complaints. ICP's exhibits include a Jan. 15, 2003, e-mail from Household's Teresa X. Lewellyn entitled "mid month projections." The chart shows, among other things, Household tracking "insurance points per account executive" (thereby virtually ensuring the hard-selling of credit insurance) and tracking the percentage of loans on which Household's much-criticized "EZ Pay" program is imposed. In the time frame covered by the chart, Branch 840410, for example, made three real estate loans, and 20 non-real estate subprime loans. Branch 845201 made five real estate loans, and 70 non-real estate loans. This shows what a small percentage of Household's subprime business is covered by the "multi-state settlement" which HSBC is trying to hide behind.
ICP has also submitted a consumer complaint exemplifying another of Household's questionable lines of business not covered by the Settlement. The complaint states "Some people representing the Electrolux Vacuum Co. came to my house. I agreed to buy a project of theirs... The interest rate was 21%... Beneficial handled the financing. For the 21 days they charged me interest [at] a rate of over 40%." This is Household's "retail sales financing" line of business, with 40% interest loans on products sold door-to-door, entirely unaddressed by the Settlement.
Another consumer complaint submitted by ICP exemplifies how Household converts non-real estate loans into liens, while mis-representing interest rates. The complaint states: "We are contacted by Steve Lucero at HFC to convert our line of credit into a home equity line. I asked what the interest rate would be. Steve quoted me 12%... We set up a closing time at the HFC office. When we arrived for closing the interest rate was 12.97%. We said, what happened to 12%? His response: oh, we're sorry, 12.97% is our best rate. The manager came in and said sorry, nothing can be done. Also I paid $375 for an appraisal and have never received one. I have asked seven times."
ICP has also submitted a copy of a letter to Household from an Attorney General, exemplifying Household's non-response to consumer complaints, stating, "As you know, we have contacted you two times previously about the complaint filed with this office by the above-referenced consumer. To date, we have received no response from you on this matter... Our closed complaint files are open records, and we do make available to the public all information contained in those files. Consequently, any person who contacts us seeking information regarding you or your business will be informed of the fact that we received no response from you...". The underlying complaint is for debt collection involving harassment: "even after I requested them (Beneficial) not to contact me at work because my employer does not allow this type of phone call, the calls have continued.. The worst part of the all their harassment phone calls is that they have threatened to foreclose on my home... I have stated to them when I am able to pay but they have refused to accept the payment." So much for Household's so-called sensitivity to its customers' (read, victims') "bumps in the road."
January 27, 2003
People tell you that everything's connected -- and sometimes that turns out to be true. Following Bronx Assemblywoman Gloria Davis' guilty plea to bribery earlier this month, Inner City Press took a second look at her 2002 campaign contribution records and found -- Household and Beneficial, the high-rate and, yes, predatory, lenders which HSBC Bank is applying, including to the New York Banking Department, to buy. (Click here for more on ICP's opposition to HSBC's applications).
Household has been lobbying against anti-predatory lending legislation in New York, and all over the country, so these Household contributions to Gloria Davis, the Queen of Pay-To-Play, were perhaps to be expected. But ICP then cumulated Household's and its affiliates' New York State contributions in 2002, and has concluded that Household is in violation of New York Election Law Section 14-116, which limits corporations to $5,000 in contributions in any calendar year. Even viewing Household's data in the light most favorable to the company -- that is, excluding contributions made in late 2001 for use in 2002, and assuming for the sake of argument that each Household subsidiary could contribute up to the $5,000 limit -- the following subsidiaries are in open violation of the N.Y. Elections Law: Beneficial New York, Inc., and "Household," with an address of 1501 Feehanville Drive, Mount Prospect, Illinois.
With something of a heavy heart (well, we're using a somber reportorial tone here), ICP is raising these issues to the relevant authorities in Albany, asking for redress including that the NYBD be directed to grant the requests for a public hearing on HSBC's applications. While even that wouldn't go far enough -- as set forth here, HSBC's applications should be denied. Herebelow is a summary of ICP's complaint to the NYS Board of Elections, cc-ed elsewhere:
Jan. 26-27, 2003
Dear Mr. Wilkey, Ms. Berman, Mr. Daghlian, others:
This concerns campaign contributions given in 2002 by Household International, Inc. and certain of its subsidiaries, including Beneficial Homeowner Services Corporation and Beneficial New York, Inc. (collectively, "Household"). As set forth below, it appears that Household and several of its subsidiaries, individually, are in violation of N.Y. Elections Law §14-116(2). This is a formal request for the Board of Elections to inquire into and act on the matters raised herein.
N.Y. Elections Law §14-116, "Political Contributions by Certain Organizations," provides that "any corporation or an organization financially supported in whole or in part, by such corporation may make expenditures, including contributions, not otherwise prohibited by law, for political purposes, in an amount not to exceed five thousand dollars in the aggregate in any calendar year." §14-116(2), emphasis added. We further note St. Bd. Elections 1977 Op. #11 (If a parent corporation transfers funds to a subsidiary corporation for the purpose of circumventing the campaign contribution limitation of Election Law § 14-116, subd b, the contribution is deemed that of the parent and will be considered determining whether the parent has exceeded the limitation).
Household International is a high-rate consumer finance lender, recently charged with predatory lending by attorneys general and regulators in the 50 states, including New York. See, <www.banking.state.ny.us/pr021217.htm>. Throughout 2002, the Legislature was considering proposals to crack-down on predatory lending; in late 2002, Household announced a proposal to be acquired by a London-based bank, HSBC Holdings plc, with approval needed from the N.Y. Superintendent of Banks, who is appointed by the Governor, and/or her staff (see infra).
A search of the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Database reflects impermissibly high campaign contributions in 2002 by Household and several of its subsidiaries individually. For example, it appears that "Household," with an address of 1501 Feehanville Drive, Mount Prospect, Illinois, directly made at least $9,200 in campaign contributions subject to §14-116(2) in 2002. The specific contributions are listed infra; the $9,200 total is conservative in that it excludes contributions directed at elections held in 2002, and does not include the argument, separately made herein, that within the meaning of St. Bd. Elections 1977 Op. #11, Household International, Inc. [FN 1: In this, its full corporate name, Household International on April 11, 2002, contributed $300 to the "Committee to Re-Elect Gloria Davis" as Assemblywoman from The Bronx, which in some sense triggered this inquiry and analysis -- but note that beyond the attempt to influence anti-predatory lending legislation, Household in late 2002 reached a narrow settlement with the N.Y. Attorney General and the N.Y. Superintendent of Banks (see supra), and now seeks regulatory approval to be acquire by HSBC from the appointed Superintendent of Banks and her staff. We ask that the Board of Elections inquiry and action be expedited and that it take appropriate action, including in connection with Household's / HSBC's pending (and tainted) applications for regulatory approval from the N.Y. Banking Department] appears to have transferred funds to other subsidiary corporations for the purpose of circumventing the campaign contribution limitation. Note the contributions of "Household Bank," also of 1501 Feehanville Drive, Mount Prospect, Il, and of Household Credit Services and variations of "Household Finance;" note also that since 1998, Household has owned Beneficial and Beneficial New York, Inc., which separately appears to have violated §14-116(2) in 2002.
Contributor Amt Contr. Date Filing Year Recipient Sched Office Dist
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNER SERVICES CORP, 1,000.00 11-JUL-02 2002 FRIENDS OF ZACH GREENHILL B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 73
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNER SERVICES CORP., 1,000.00 14-AUG-01 2002 FRIENDS OF PATAKI B GOVERNOR N/A
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNER SERVICES CORP., 1,000.00 12-AUG-02 2002 FRIENDS OF PATAKI (CONSERVATIVE PRIMARY) B GOVERNOR N/A
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNER SVCS. CORP., 1,000.00 09-AUG-01 2002 FRIENDS FOR THE ELECTION OF DEAN SKELOS B STATE SENATOR 9
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNER SVCS. CORP., 2,000.00 17-AUG-01 2002 SALAND FOR SENATE '94 B STATE SENATOR 41
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNERS SERVICES CORP., 1,000.00 29-AUG-01 2002 NYS SENATE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE B N/A N/A
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNERS SVCS. CORP., 1,000.00 29-OCT-02 2002 FRIENDS FOR THE ELECTION OF DEAN SKELOS B STATE SENATOR 9
BENEFICIAL HOMEOWNERS SVCS. CORP., 1,000.00 05-NOV-02 2002 CITIZENS FOR JOSEPH ROBACH (SENATE) B STATE SENATOR 56
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK INC, 250.00 16-MAR-02 2002 FRIENDS OF JIM HAYES B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 148
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK INC, 1,000.00 31-OCT-02 2002 FRIENDS OF MARTIN GOLDEN 2002 B STATE SENATOR 22
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK INC., 1,500.00 13-AUG-02 2002 BALBONI FOR SENATE B STATE SENATOR 7
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK INC., 1,000.00 31-OCT-02 2002 ERISTOFF FOR STATE SENATE B STATE SENATOR 26
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK, INC, 275.00 02-MAY-01 2002 COMMITTEE TO RE-ELECT GLORIA DAVIS B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 79
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK, INC, 1,000.00 11-JUL-02 2002 FRIENDS OF ZACH GREENHILL B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 73
BENEFICIAL NEW YORK, INC., 500.00 14-NOV-01 2002 CITIZENS FOR JOSEPH ROBACH B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 134
BENEFICIAL, NEW YORK, 225.00 10-DEC-01 2002 FRIENDS OF PAUL A. TOKASZ B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 143
INC. BENEFICIAL NEW YORK, 500.00 20-MAR-02 2002 SENATOR SPANO COMMITTEE B STATE SENATOR 35
And, for Household:
Contributor Amt Contr. Date Filing Year Recipient Sched Office Dist
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 25-JAN-02 2002 ROBERT C. WERTZ RE-ELECTION COMMITTEE B STATE SENATOR 2
HOUSEHOLD, 300.00 30-APR-02 2002 FRIENDS OF RICHARD L. BRODSKY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 92
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 15-JAN-02 2002 FRIENDS OF ASSEMBLYMAN TEDISCO B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 110
HOUSEHOLD, 1,000.00 20-NOV-01 2002 FRIENDS OF PAUL A. TOKASZ B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 143
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 21-FEB-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO ELECT JOHN FLANAGAN B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 9
HOUSEHOLD, 350.00 28-JAN-02 2002 CITIZENS FOR LARKIN B STATE SENATOR 39
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 29-JAN-02 2002 FRIENDS OF CHARLIE NESBITT B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 139
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 21-FEB-02 2002 FRIENDS OF JAMES GARY PRETLOW B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 87
HOUSEHOLD, 1,500.00 17-SEP-02 2002 FRIENDS FOR FUSCHILLO B STATE SENATOR 8
HOUSEHOLD, 500.00 13-JUN-02 2002 FARRELL 2002 B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 71
HOUSEHOLD, 800.00 11-DEC-01 2002 FARRELL 2002 B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 71
HOUSEHOLD, 1,000.00 13-AUG-02 2002 FARRELL 2002 B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 71
HOUSEHOLD, 200.00 23-AUG-02 2002 FRIENDS OF JIM HAYES B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 148
HOUSEHOLD, 350.00 03-JUN-02 2002 FRIENDS FOR FUSCHILLO B STATE SENATOR 8
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 23-APR-02 2002 FRIENDS OF MIKE SPANO B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 93
HOUSEHOLD, 1,000.00 28-JUN-02 2002 CITIZENS FOR DEFRANCISCO B STATE SENATOR 50
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 07-JUN-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO ELECT JEFFRION AUBRY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 35
HOUSEHOLD, 500.00 13-DEC-01 2002 FRIENDS OF ALEX GROMACK B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 94
HOUSEHOLD, 250.00 31-JAN-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO ELECT WEISENBERG B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 20
HOUSEHOLD, 1,000.00 18-JAN-02 2002 COMM. TO RE-ELECT SENATOR BRUNO B STATE SENATOR 43
HOUSEHOLD, 1,000.00 31-OCT-02 2002 FRIENDS OF PAUL A. TOKASZ B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 143
HOUSEHOLD BANK, 1,500.00 12-SEP-02 2002 THE BUSINESS COUNCIL PAC, INC.. B N/A N/A
HOUSEHOLD BANK, 1,000.00 23-AUG-02 2002 FRIENDS OF JOHN FLANAGAN B STATE SENATOR 2
HOUSEHOLD BANK, 250.00 21-MAY-02 2002 THE TOWNS COMMITTEE B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 54
HOUSEHOLD BANK, 250.00 20-MAY-02 2002 SENATOR VOLKER CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE B STATE SENATOR 59
HOUSEHOLD CREDIT SERVICES, 800.00 10-DEC-01 2002 WINNER FOR ASSEMBLY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 137
HOUSEHOLD CREDIT SERVICES INC, 250.00 20-MAR-02 2002 CANESTRARI FOR ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 106
HOUSEHOLD CREDIT SERVICES, INC, 400.00 31-MAR-02 2002 MIKE NOZZOLIO FOR STATE SENATE B STATE SENATOR 54
HOUSEHOLD CREDIT SERVICES, INC., 300.00 01-FEB-02 2002 WINNER FOR ASSEMBLY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 137
HOUSEHOLD CREDIT SERVICES, INC., 1,000.00 14-AUG-01 2002 REPUBLICAN ASSEMBLY CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE B N/A N/A
HOUSEHOLD CREDIT SERVICES, INC., 1,000.00 06-JUN-02 2002 FRIENDS OF JOHN FASO B COMPTROLLER N/A
HOUSEHOLD FINAN. REALTY CORP. NY, 500.00 12-AUG-02 2002 REPUBLICAN ASSEMBLY CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE B N/A N/A
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE, 1,000.00 20-JUN-02 2002 FRIENDS OF PAUL TOKASZ B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 143
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE, 300.00 30-APR-02 2002 KLEIN FOR THE ASSEMBLY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 80
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORP, 250.00 31-MAY-02 2002 FRIENDS OF BRIAN HIGGINS B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 145
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORP III, 650.00 10-DEC-01 2002 FRIENDS FOR FUSCHILLO B STATE SENATOR 8
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORP., 500.00 18-JAN-02 2002 FRIENDS FOR THE ELECTION OF DEAN SKELOS B STATE SENATOR 9
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORPORATION, 1,000.00 27-FEB-02 2002 NYS SENATE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE B N/A N/A
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORPORATION III, 2,000.00 31-AUG-01 2002 MIKE NOZZOLIO FOR STATE SENATE B STATE SENATOR 54
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORPORATION III, 1,000.00 06-MAR-02 2002 FRIENDS OF SILVER B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 64
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE CORPORATION III, 500.00 26-JUN-02 2002 SPITZER 2002 B ATT. GENERAL N/A
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORP NY, 350.00 10-JUL-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO ELECT JIM ALESI B STATE SENATOR 55
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORP OF NY, 300.00 30-APR-02 2002 COMMITTEE FOR AUDREY PHEFFER B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 23
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORP OF NY, 2,000.00 18-SEP-01 2002 BALBONI FOR SENATE B STATE SENATOR 7
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORP OF NY, 300.00 12-FEB-02 2002 CITIZENS TO ELECT JOHN BONACIC B STATE SENATOR 42
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORP. OF NY, 500.00 25-APR-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO RE-ELECT ASSEMBLYWOMAN AURELIA GREENE B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 77
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORP. OF NY, 1,000.00 24-APR-02 2002 FRIENDS OF PATAKI B GOVERNOR N/A
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORPORATION OF NEW YORK, 600.00 12-FEB-02 2002 NYS DEMOCRATIC SENATE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE B N/A N/A
HOUSEHOLD FINANCE REALTY CORPORATION OF NEW YORK, 1,000.00 11-JUL-02 2002 FRIENDS OF ZACH GREENHILL B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 73
HOUSEHOLD FINANCIAL CORP., 1,150.00 28-JUN-02 2002 FRIENDS FOR THE ELECTION OF DEAN SKELOS B STATE SENATOR 9
HOUSEHOLD FINANCIAL GROUP, LTD., 1,000.00 12-JUN-02 2002 FRIENDS OF PATAKI B GOVERNOR N/A
HOUSEHOLD INTERNATIONAL INC, 500.00 13-DEC-01 2002 FRIENDS OF ROANN DESTITO B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 116
HOUSEHOLD INTERNATIONAL INC, 300.00 29-APR-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO RE-ELECT ASSEMBLYMAN JOE MORELLE B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 132
HOUSEHOLD INTERNATIONAL INC, 500.00 18-DEC-01 2002 PEOPLE FOR MAGNARELLI B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 120
HOUSEHOLD INTERNATIONAL, INC, 300.00 11-APR-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO RE-ELECT GLORIA DAVIS B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 79
HOUSEHOLD INTERNATIONAL, INC, 500.00 10-DEC-01 2002 FRIENDS OF BRIAN HIGGINS B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 145
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SERVICE INC., 60056 250.00 26-APR-02 2002 ABBATE FOR ASSEMBLY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 49
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SERVICES, 350.00 23-APR-02 2002 FRIENDS OF HELENE WEINSTEIN #7 B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 41
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SERVICES, INC, 500.00 09-NOV-02 2002 WINNER FOR ASSEMBLY B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 137
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SERVICES, INC, 250.00 14-MAY-02 2002 CHILDREN AND FAMILIES FOR GREEN B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 57
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SERVICES, INC, 1,000.00 25-MAY-02 2002 FRIENDS OF FARLEY B STATE SENATOR 44
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SERVICES, INC., 250.00 04-MAY-02 2002 FRIENDS OF MIKE GIANARIS B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 36
HOUSEHOLD MORTGAGE SVCS, INC., 1,000.00 22-OCT-02 2002 FARRELL 2002 B MBR OF ASSEMBLY 71
HOUSEHOLD REALTY, 300.00 12-FEB-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO ELECT MAZIARZ STATE SENATE B STATE SENATOR 62
HOUSEHOLD RETAIL SERVICES, INC, 250.00 13-MAY-02 2002 COMMITTEE TO RE-ELECT SENATOR NELLIE R. SANTIAGO B STATE SENATOR 17
HOUSEHOLD RETAIL SERVICES, INC, 500.00 08-MAY-02 2002 FRIENDS OF FARLEY B STATE SENATOR 44
The names and addresses above, and the amounts reportedly given, make out a prima facie case that Household International, within the meaning of St. Bd. Elections 1977 Op. #11, has presumptively been transferred funds to other subsidiary corporations for the purpose of circumventing the campaign contribution limitation. By our count, using the most conservative parameters (only contributions to campaigns, and not committees, and only in calendar 2002), we arrive at the following totals:
"Household" -- $9,200; "Household Bank" -- $1,500; Household Credit Services -- $1,950; Household Finance -- $1,300; Household Finance Corp. -- $1,850; Household Finance Corp. III -- $2,000; Household Finance Group LTD -- $1,000; Household Finance Realty Corp. of NY -- $3,450; Household International, Inc. -- $1,600; Household Mortgage Services -- $3,600; Household Realty -- $300; Household Retail Services -- $750; ["Household" 2002 sub-total: $28,550.00]; Beneficial Homeowners Services Corp. -- $3,000; Beneficial New York, Inc. -- $5,250; ["Beneficial" 2002 sub-total: $8,250.00] Household International 2002 NYS Total: $36,800.00
Beyond its attempt to influence anti-predatory lending legislation, Household in late 2002 reached a narrow settlement with the N.Y. Attorney General and the N.Y. Superintendent of Banks, and now seeks regulatory approval to be acquire by HSBC from the appointed Superintendent of Banks and her staff. We ask that the Board of Elections inquiry and action be expedited and that it take appropriate action, including in connection with Household's / HSBC's pending (and tainted) applications for regulatory approval from the N.Y. Banking Department, particularly in light of these other Household-related conflicts of interest that have arisen at the NYBD, under Sections 73 and 74 of the N.Y. Public Officers Law.
The Superintendent has recused herself from decision-making on applications filed Nov. 27, 2002, by HSBC Holdings plc ("HSBC") to acquire the NYBD-licensed businesses of Household, which are among the campaign contributors listed supra. The basis of the recusal is that the Superintendent's husband is a managing director at Goldman Sachs, which is Household's investment bank, for the HSBC proposal and otherwise.
However, on Dec. 17, 2002, the Superintendent announced a Settlement of predatory real estate lending charges with Household. The Superintendent did not recuse herself from negotiating or finalizing this Settlement, despite the fact that
(a) Goldman Sachs has, since at least September 2001, even before the HSBC proposal, been engaged in extensive investment banking business with Household, including but not limited to buying billions of dollars of subprime mortgage loans from Household;
(b) Goldman Sachs' $27,000,000 in HSBC-related compensation from Household is tied to the approval and consummation of Household's Merger Agreement with HSBC ("a principal portion... is payable upon consummation of the merger," see infra);
(c) the Merger Agreement between Household and HSBC was and is contingent on the Settlement not being expanded in any material way; and
(d) HSBC is now arguing that the finalized Settlement with Household militates for the NYBD to deny all requests for public hearings on, and to approve, HSBC's applications to acquire Household. Each of these is explained in more detail below.
In its simplest form, the question raised is why the Superintendent was not recused from negotiating and finalizing the Settlement with Household. The question is by no means moot: the Household - HSBC applications remain pending at the NYBD, and community and consumer organizations from across New York State have submitted timely comments opposing and hearing requests on HSBC's applications. HSBC has claimed, in filings with the NYBD dated Dec. 23, 2002, and Jan. 14, 2003, that because Household reached the Settlement, including with the NYBD, no hearing should be held and its application should be approved.
That the Superintendent's husband is Goldman Sachs managing director Frank Ingrassia has been publicly reported (see, e.g., the American Banker newspaper of March 16, 2000, at 4) and is confirmed on the NYBD's Web site as of earlier this month. That the Superintendent played a central role in the Settlement with Household has been more widely reported, most recently in the Consumer Financial Services Law Report of January 15, 2003 ("Household Settlement Gains Courts' Approval"), reporting that "North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who serves as chair of the National Association of Attorneys Generals' Consumer Protection Committee, spearheaded the final settlement negotiations in October along with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Washington State Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire, and New York Banking Superintendent Elizabeth McCaul." The NYBD's Web site describes the Superintendent as "the lead financial regulator for the case."
Bloomberg News of Jan. 15, 2003 ("Household 4th-Qtr Net Falls 37% on Sale of Thrift") reported that "Household said in October it expected to lose $250 million to $300 million to dispose of the thrift, without disclosing the buyers. They include Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., according to applications filed to the Office of Thrift Supervision." Emphasis added. On Oct. 22, 2002, Household applied to the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision to sell $1.5 billion of mortgage loans to Goldman Sachs, stating that "ideally, we would like to close this transaction on or before December 6, 2002" -- that is, during the time frame that Household was finalizing its predatory real estate lending Settlement with the Superintendent. See also, Goldman Sachs' Dec. 28, 2002 Prospectus Supplement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission ("SEC") for GSAMP TRUST 2002-HE2, by GS Mortgage Securities Corporation, for $295,099,272 of Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, stating that:
All of the mortgage loans were purchased by an affiliate of the depositor from Household Finance Corporation and certain of its affiliates. The mortgage loans were purchased from a portfolio of Household Mortgage Services, a division of Household Finance Corporation, which purchased the mortgage loans on the secondary market from correspondents.
The injunctive relief in Household's Settlement with the Superintendent covers only Household's branch-originated loans, and not its loans purchased on the secondary market from correspondents. As set forth above, Household sells such loans to Goldman Sachs, which profits from securitizing them.
The Merger Agreement between Household and HSBC, which was annexed to a Preliminary Proxy Statement filed with the SEC on Dec. 20, 2003, discloses in Section 5.11(c) that the merger is contingent on the fact (which was still an open question on Nov. 14, 2002, when the Merger Agreement was signed) that "[t]he impact of the Multi-State Settlement Agreement on the business, assets, liabilities, results of operations or financial condition of the Company and its subsidiaries, taken as a whole, will not be materially more adverse than as described in Section 5.11(c) of the Company Disclosure Schedule."
While the Superintendent has recused herself from decision-making on HSBC's applications to acquire Household, there is a clear nexus between the Settlement, from which the Superintendent did not recuse herself, and HSBC's proposal to acquire Household, and the applications for regulatory approval filed with the NYBD in connection therewith.
After the Superintendent's Oct. 11, 2002, press release regarding the settlement in principle with Household, and after Household's Nov. 14, 2002, announcement of its proposal to be acquired by Household for over $14 billion, the NYBD was asked to reconsider the still-only-proposed Settlement; the NYBD declined. But from at least Nov. 14, 2002, forward it was clear that Goldman Sachs, where the Superintendent's husband is a managing director, stood to directly profit from the consummation of the Merger, which was and is explicitly contingent on the Settlement being finalized without material changes, as it was by the Superintendent on Dec. 17, 2002. See, www.banking.state.ny.us/pr021217.htm, stating in part that "Superintendent McCaul also stressed that the consent judgments filed today will remain unaffected by the acquisition of Household Finance by HSBC, the banking and financial services company headquartered in London." (Note that this remains a PROPOSED acquisition, still subject to regulatory approval by the NYBD and other agencies.)
In terms of timing (and of the need for recusal by the same logic appropriately brought to bear on HSBC's applications to acquire Household), Goldman Sachs' role with Household pre-dated Household's Nov. 14, 2002 proposal to be acquired by HSBC. For example, the Preliminary Proxy Statement Household filed with the SEC on Dec. 20, 2002, discloses at Page 24 that "[i]n late 2001 and early 2002, Household commenced an evaluation of its business strategy and the various strategic alternatives available to it. Over the next several months, Household management discussed [these] with its financial advisor, Goldman Sachs" -- that is, during the time frame in which the Settlement was being negotiated by the Superintendent.
The nexus is in fact even more specific. The Preliminary Proxy goes on to state, still on Page 24, that "during the summer" -- of 2002 -- "it became apparent that Household's potential cost of funds, as evidenced by secondary market bond trading spreads, had increased significantly. During this period, Household and Goldman Sachs continued to analyze Household's strategic alternatives... In early November 2002, Goldman Sachs and Rohatyn Associates LLC, one of HSBC's financial advisors, held discussions regarding the potential terms of a business transaction between Household and HSBC... On November 12, 2002, the Household board of directors met to discuss the terms of the proposed merger. Members of Household's senior management team presented an overview of Household's business and operations and also discussed with the board the strategic rationale of the proposed merger and the operating fit between Household and HSBC. Management of Household and representatives of Goldman Sachs discussed with the board the market environment for consumer finance and sub-prime focused companies as it related to Household. Representatives of Goldman Sachs also discussed with the board the consideration to be received by the holders of Household common stock in the merger."
Finally, in terms of setting forth the timing and facts, Household's Preliminary Proxy Statement filed with the SEC on Dec. 20, 2002, states, at 35-36:
Goldman Sachs is familiar with Household, having provided certain investment banking services to Household from time to time, including having acted as joint lead manager for a public offering of $300 million of preferred stock of Household in September 2001; having acted as sole bookrunner for a public offering of 18.7 million shares of common stock of Household and $542 million of Adjustable Conversion-Rate Equity Security Units of Household in October 2002; having acted as commercial paper dealer for Household, commencing in October 2002; and having acted as its financial advisor
in connection with, and having participated in certain of the negotiations leading to, the merger agreement.
Goldman Sachs also has provided investment banking services to HSBC from time to time, including... having acted as HSBC's financial advisor in connection with its acquisition of CCF S.A., formerly known as Credit Commercial de France S.A., in July 2000... Goldman Sachs provides a full range of financial advisory and securities services and, in the course of its normal trading activities, may from time to time effect transactions and hold securities, including derivative instruments, of Household or HSBC for its own account and for the accounts of customers. Goldman Sachs may provide investment banking services to Household, HSBC and their respective subsidiaries in the future.
Pursuant to the terms of an engagement letter between Household and Goldman Sachs, Household has agreed to pay Goldman Sachs a transaction fee of $27,000,000, a principal portion of which is payable upon consummation of the merger. In addition, Household has agreed to reimburse Goldman Sachs for its reasonable expenses, including attorneys' fees and disbursements, and to
indemnify Goldman Sachs and related persons against various liabilities, including certain liabilities under the federal securities laws. (Emphasis added).
The Applicable Law
N.Y. Public Officers Law Section 74(3)(h) provides that "[a]n officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust." Section 74(3)(f) explicitly refers to "kinship;" the case notes under Section 74 include State Ethics Comm Adv Op No. 95-39 ("in order avoid appearance of conflict of interest under CLS Pub O § 74, state employee would be required to recuse herself from serving as management's representative as reviewer on contract or disciplinary grievance arising at state facility at which her spouse was senior level employee"). As case notes under Section 73, see also, e.g., State Ethics Comm Adv Op No. 91-15 and State Ethics Comm Adv Op No. 94-16 (explicit references to "spouse").
N.Y. Banking Law Section 345, under which HSBC has applied to the NYBD, requires the Superintendent to consider among other things the "experience, character, and general fitness... the confidence of the community" and whether "the business will be operated honestly, fairly, and efficiently." Section 10 of the Banking Law declares that it shall be the policy of the State of New York and of the N.Y. Banking Department and Board, "to maintain public confidence in such business and protect the public interest and the interests of depositors, creditors, shareholders, and stockholders." Section 12 of the Banking Law provides that, "in approving or disapproving any application made by a banking organization, the superintendent shall give due consideration to the policy of the state of New York as declared in section ten of this chapter."
These matters, including the question of recusal and the limitations of the Superintendent's settlement with Household, have been raised to the members of the New York Banking Board, prior to troubling your Commission with them. However, there has been no response from the members of the N.Y. Banking Board, nor from the staff of the NYBD.
Public Officers Law § 73(14) and § 74(4) relate to penalties; the focus here, however, should in the first instance be on how to remove the taint cast over this predatory lending Settlement and merger proposal, which stand to significantly impact consumers throughout New York State and beyond. As simply one example, the Merger Agreement includes a proposal to place Household's chairman in charge of HSBC Bank USA, the largest network of bank branches in New York State.
In light of the above, serious questions are raised about the predatory real estate lending settlement which the Superintendent finalized with Household on Dec. 17, 2002. Whether a public hearing could lift the taint created by the matters set forth above is unknown. However, to neglect to reconsider the Settlement and to neglect to hold a public hearing (at least of the type the NYBD has held on other, less troubling proposals) would be contrary not only to N.Y. Banking Law §§ 10 and 345, but also to Public Officers Law § 73 and its Code of Ethics, §74.
To the Board of Elections, this a formal request for action on the presumptive violations of Elections Law §14-116 by Household International and several of its subsidiaries. In light of the above, we ask that action be taken expeditiously, perhaps in coordination with the NYS Ethics Commission, to avoid, mitigate or enjoin Household from reaping the rewards of its impermissible campaign contributions (1) by profiting from a too-narrow predatory lending settlement, limited only to real estate loans made through its branches (and not through brokers), and apparently not effective until Dec. 31, 2003, and (2) by obtaining regulatory approvals for its acquisition at a premium by HSBC, with Household's CEO granted $36 million dollars and control over the largest bank branch network in New York State. For the public good, we ask the Board of Elections to take action immediately.
The undersigned can be reached at 718-716-3540. Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.
Inner City Press/Community on the Move
& Fair Finance Watch
cc: Temporary State Commission on Regulation of Lobbying
Attn: Chairman Patrick J. Bulgaro
Note: ICP's HSBC (& Household) Watch will continue to be updated weekly or more frequently. Who knew it would come full-circle to this Bronx Report?
January 21, 2003
Many residents of the South Bronx remember the haughty promises with which a paper mill was proposed for the Harlem River Yards in the early 1990s. When the developers tried to hide behind their community sponsor, Banana Kelly -- which many here knew, even then, was corrupt -- it did not bode well. When grassroots environmental groups questioned truck traffic and other nitty-gritty issues, NRDC responded with a trump card. It had all been planned by one Allen Hershkowitz: that was supposed to resolve the matter. He'd been in the New York Times, for God's sake. He must be an expert.
Well, the paper mill was never built. A state investigation of Banana Kelly has resulted in the ouster of its management. And now -- the book! Allen Hershkowitz, not letting the mundane matter of actual results get in his way, has published a "Blueprint for a New Environmentalism," entitled Bronx Ecology. Holding our noses we sought it out, and here is our review.
We generally eschew ad hominem arguments -- but what would a book review be without them? The same arrogance noted in Mr. Hershkowitz during his days in The Bronx (his nights, unsurprisingly, were spent far far away) can be found in the acid-free recycled pages of this book. One might wonder how 268 such pages could be devoted to a project that was never built. The answer, you'd think, would be to analyze why the plan failed. But as to Bronx issues -- and that word is half of the title -- the book is not only inaccurate, it's positively insulting. Mr. Hershokowitz ignores the recent history of the Harlem River Yards, which just prior to Hershkowitz's discovery of The Bronx had been leased to the politically-connected Galesi Group for 99 years. Many in the South Bronx saw the paper mill plan as simply a green-wash for the Galesi lease. Yet in Mr. Hershkowitz' book, Galesi and his Group are mentioned only once.
Rather, Hershkowitz' focus is on accusing all local detractors of extortion. He uses a fancy word for it -- baksheesh, see page 171, in a chapter grandly titled "Clearing the Social Market." In a plea for street cred, Hershkowitz allows that "I myself have experienced physical intimidation, ethnic slurs, requests for payment, and abusive language." Sounds like a Tijuana day-trip Tijuana gone wrong. Hershkowitz writes -- and footnotes! -- that:
"One person who claimed to head a local group, and whose request for seventy thousand dollars from me -- to 'take care of the problems' her group was planning to cause our project -- was rejected, wound up turning from a project supporter to claiming at a public hearing that building the BCPC would 'violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Genocide [sic]."
Thereupon, Hershkowitz cuts to a footnote, correcting the name of the Convention, mentioning his ancestors' Holocaust pedigree, and concluding: "I refrain from providing the date, place, and nature of the hearing where this remark was made to assure that this person cannot be identified." We'll refrain from insert a "sic" after the word "assure" -- even in The Bronx, it's "ensure" -- but note that these hearings get transcribed, even in Tijuana / The Bronx. The group referred to -- Those Who Stay, let's call them -- will surely be differently described in some forthcoming book about another near-failed project, Melrose Commons.
A similarly inept veiling occurs on page 237, where Hershkowitz says he "simply asked an official at a philanthropic foundation that had supported the CDC for a few years what she thought. But the management of Banana Kelly had recently changed, and the foundation official didn't understand how unreliable a manager the CDC's new executive director would turn out to be. None of us did. And, of course, at the time I had no idea that the project I was launching would become as large as it did."
But how large did it become? (The anonymous "foundation executive," by the way, is Anita Miller; she also funded Promesa, which subsequently shot its bookkeeper in the head, but that's another story.) How large did it become? Well, large enough, despite the fact that nothing was ever built, to justify this acid-free book. And that's plenty large enough for Mr. Hershkowitz.
More broadly, Hershkowitz largely praises the good will of the investment banking "community," while portraying the people who live in the area he deigned to try to help as malaproping extortionists. There is a need for partnership -- but when only the suit-and-tie side the equation can turn from the failed relationship and write a self-serving book about it, that ain't no partnership at all.
January 13, 2003
On Jan. 7, longtime Bronx assemblywoman Gloria Davis pleaded guilty to soliciting and accepting $24,000 in bribes. Her plea agreement has her serving a mere three months in jail, and keeping her state pension. We will not here rehash the crimes Ms. Davis has admitted to; we've reported on those before. In fact, from the early 1990s onward, Inner City Press was on record that Ms. Davis was corrupt. She lobbied to get low-income constituents evicted so that the Morrisania Revitalization Corporation and others could get the emptied buildings.
But the irony was... well, sabroso, when on Jan. 8, the day after Ms. Davis' guilty plea, her newsletter, "Gloria Davis Reports to the People" arrived in mailboxes in her district. The head-shot was wildly out of date; the "Dear Friends and Neighbors" letter on Page 1 states, "Please be assured that I will continue to dedicate my time and efforts to building our neighborhoods." The back page, under the rubric of housing programs Ms. Davis has assisted, lists only two: The Parodneck Foundation and Bronx Shepherds Restoration Corporation. In the final line of this her last newsletter, Ms. Davis claims credit (well, expresses "delight" for) the construction of a "female facility." Would that be a correctional facility? It's nice to be nice, but in candor: good riddance.
January 6, 2003
[Editor's note: our Bronx Report this week is devoted to a pressing issue here: predatory lending, specifically Household International and HSBC Bank USA's evasive proposal to acquire it.]
Fair lending in New York State, and in The Bronx, is supervised by the New York Banking Board. On Jan. 4-5, ICP faxed a letter to the NYBB's 14 members about HSBC's proposal to acquire the scandal-plagued subprime lender Household International, which operates in The Bronx from offices at 68 Westchester Square (HFC) and 2027 Williamsbridge Road (Beneficial), and, as set forth below, through brokers. Among other things, we note that while half of the the NYBB is supposed to represent the public, even on paper, the current balance is 8-to-6 in favor of the industry. Nonetheless, we've faxed the industry-representing members as well, just as on Jan. 3 we petitioned the "independent" directors of HSBC. Updates will follow; here's the NYBB summary:
January 5, 2003
Dear Member of the New York Banking Board:
On behalf of Inner City Press/Community on the Move and its members, and the Fair Finance Watch (collectively, "ICP"), I am writing to you directly as one of the members of the New York Banking Board regarding a pending proposal that stands to adversely impact consumers in New York State and beyond. On November 14, 2002, HSBC Holdings plc announced a plan to acquire the subprime lender Household International and to put Household's chairman in charge of HSBC Bank USA.
On October 11, 2002, the New York Banking Department had announced an agreement in principle with Household to settle charges of predatory real estate lending. This settlement was finalized on December 17, 2002. However, the injunctive relief in this settlement is only applicable to Household's real estate loans, and even then, only to loans originated through Household HFC and Beneficial branches. The injunctive relief does not cover Household's real estate loans through brokers, through its correspondent or wholesale channels; it does not reform in any way Household's high-rate, credit insurance-laden non-real estate loans, its tax Refund Anticipation Loans (at rates up to 400%), nor its imposition of mandatory arbitration clauses that many, including courts and ICP, have concluded are abusive and predatory... We are asking you to, at a minimum, direct the Superintendent to hold a public hearing on HSBC's proposal to acquire Household and turn management of HSBC Bank USA over to Household's chairman, who has overseen the practices that the Department and regulators and attorneys general throughout the country have characterized as predatory. Perhaps more importantly, we urge you to direct the Superintendent to require Household to seek approval from the Banking Board, including under the NYS CRA, and to require Household and/or HSBC to address the troubling issues, not solved by the settlement, which have been timely documented to the NYBD. Below, this letter describes certain additional irregularities in the NYBD's processing of HSBC's Household applications to date, and also requests the NYBD henceforth coordinate and confer with the New York Insurance Department, from which HSBC also requires approval, to acquire control of a Household N.Y.-domiciled insurer.
First however, we'll try to humanize these Household issues for you by describing two sample Household loans which ICP has timely documented to the Department. [Click here for descriptions of these loans, and for other analysis.]
On December 17, 2002, the NYBD issued a press release announcing the finalization of the settlement, and placed it online at <www.banking.state.ny.us/pr021217.htm>. This press release "stressed that the consent judgments filed today will remain unaffected by the acquisition of Household Finance by HSBC." ICP was and is troubled by this last-quoted statement, which might create the impression that the NYBD staff and/or Superintendent may have prejudged (and pre-approved) HSBC's pending applications to the NYBD to acquire Household.
For your information, we have requested from the Department, including under the Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL"), information regarding the Department's settlement with Household. Our FOIL request has been denied, both constructively and explicitly, and we have appealed, cc-ing the NYS Committee on Open Government. We have noticed a pattern of the NYBD purportedly extending its time to respond to FOIL requests to 30 or 60 days; in fact, a FOIL request we submitted on August 12, 2002, is still pending. Over the holidays, I endeavored to fax ICP's FOIL appeal to the contact number listed on the NYBD Web site; there was no response. We subsequently learned of the Department's move to One State Street; the reality is that this move has unintentionally created difficulties for community groups to submit timely comments to the Department on HSBC's Household proposal. We ask you to direct the Superintendent to extend the comment period, at least until the next Banking Board meeting on February 6, 2003. We ask that HSBC's Household proposal be discussed by the full Board at that time [or before].
ICP has had some experience with HSBC Bank USA. In 1994, we found that HSBC was hardly lending in the South Bronx in New York City, which is the lowest-income, most predominantly minority community in New York State. We challenged an application by HSBC, then HSBC agreed to lend $15 million in the South Bronx and to open a new loan production office here.
Pursuant to the agreement, HSBC opened a South Bronx office, on 148th Street, in 1995. In 1997, HSBC was quoted in the New York Times that its South Bronx office was profitable. But in 1999, after the three-year agreement expired, HSBC closed its South Bronx office. HSBC stated that the closure was justified because it had recently acquired a "nearby" branch, along with First Federal Savings & Loan. But this purported "nearby" branch is on Fordham Road, the equivalent of 190th Street: more than forty blocks away. In more affluent, less predominantly minority communities, HSBC does not deem a forty block distance between branches to be "nearby." As you are aware, in 1999 the NYBD required HSBC to commit to improve its CRA-relevant lending, a commitment that publicly-available Home Mortgage Disclosure Act ("HMDA") data suggests HSBC has not complied with.
Additionally, our review of the 2001 HMDA finds that HSBC's record of lending to people of color is worse than the industry average. HSBC's denial rates for African Americans and Latinos are higher than other banks', and its percentage of loans to these groups is lower than the industry aggregate. Since Household hardly reports home purchase loans, ICP has focused on Household's mortgage refinance loans. In the New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2001, 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.
This proposed combination, with HSBC making referrals down to the higher-rate Household (HSBC has proposed to do just this), 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 (that is, through its unreformed correspondent channel) and otherwise, targets people of color with its problematic loans. To combine these two companies, as proposed, would create a conglomerate violating the federal and NYS fair lending laws.
...We are asking you to, at a minimum, direct the Superintendent to hold a public hearing on HSBC's proposal to acquire Household and turn management of HSBC Bank USA over to Household's above-described chairman. We urge you to direct the Superintendent to require Household to seek approval from the Banking Board, including under the NYS CRA, and to require Household and/or HSBC to address the troubling issues, not solved by the settlement, which have been timely documented to the NYBD. We ask you to inquire into and act on the above-described irregularities in the NYBD's processing of HSBC's Household applications to date, including the NYBD's refusal to timely provide requested information about its settlement with Household, and the difficulties caused by the NYBD's move without changing the contact information on its Web site (the comment period should be extended). Bigger picture, we ask you to ensure that the NYBD henceforth coordinate and confer with the New York Insurance Department, from which HSBC also requires approval, to acquire control of a Household N.Y.-domiciled insurer. Structurally, we ask that a committee of the Banking Board be convened, including a subcommittee composed only of Public Members, to inquire into and act on the matters raised above (timely: the NYBD's comment period currently expires on Jan. 6, which is why we are faxing you this letter at this time). We will appreciate your response.
Matthew Lee, Esq.
Inner City Press/Community on the Move
& Fair Finance Watch
As of Jan. 9, while numerous HSBC directors have acknowledged receipt of ICP's letter, from the N.Y. Banking Board -- government appointees -- there's... nothing. This will be updated.
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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...
Until next time, this is the Bronx Reporter, wishing you well. Here's how to contact us.
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