Inner City Press Bronx Reporter
Archive #2 2000:  April- July 17, 2000

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July 17, 2000

      We’re been experimenting, in recent months, with this Bronx Report: weekly poems, annotated police blotters, analysis of the New York Times’ coverage of The Bronx. In this spirit, here’s another step: a restaurant review.

      First, a review of the most recent “street fair” on 187th Street, sponsored by the Mount Carmel Catholic Church. On July 13, the blocks between Hughes and Crescent Avenues were closed with police barricades, and red and green lights were strung from lamp poles on either side of the street. Only four booths, however, were set up: Italian sausage, zepoles, and a single game booth: shoot at animals with a small air gun. It was a failed street fair, perhaps because they only got a permit for four days. The companies with ferris wheels and kiddy rides are not going to come and set up their equipment for four days (two of which were forecast for rain). The four booths all closed before 11 p.m., leaving a small cluster of senior citizens sitting in front of the church, listening to loud Euro-pop. More than a dozen police officers were on duty, looking somewhat ridiculous in the empty streets. Better planning is needed.

     Similarly, the Borough President’s “community forum” on the West Nile virus, held last Monday at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital on 233rd Street, drew virtually no community residents. It started an hour late, after all hope of greater attendance had been exhausted. The politicians in the Bronx are engaged in dramatic maneuvers, which have little connection with the people who live here...

    OK, then, the restaurant review: two years ago, a storefront at the corner of 180th Street and Third Avenue, previously a check cashiers, was rented and re-opened as “The Mexican Palace,” with tacos, tortas and (for those waiting on that corner for the BX55 bus), pizza. While most small businesses, particularly new restaurants, have short life-spans, The Mexican Palace is going stronger than ever. They’ve rented the adjacent storefront (which, incongruously, used to sell fishing bait). Last week, ICP decided to review the place.

     While it has an extensive menu, most visitors to The Mexican Palace (on a Saturday night, at least) do not order food. The back room is dimly lit. A crowd of a dozen, mostly Mexican nationals, sit at small, glass-covered tables, sipping Modelo or Corona beers, in front of a wall of amplifiers, with ear-splitting Mexican music, broken into from time to time by a DJ, welcoming everyone to The Bronx. The food, however, is quite good: tacos (two dollars apiece) with cilantro, quesadillas, fish, and Mexican soups. The strange thing is that non-Mexican area residents, including from a high-rise housing project a block away on 180th Street, do not appear to patronize the restaurant. People will travel ten blocks south, to Webster and the Cross-Bronx Expressway, to buy American-corporate chalupas, at Taco Bell, walking right by the more authentic, and hardly more expensive, Mexican Palace. In the late 90s, a restaurant opened on 182nd Street selling falafel and other Arab specialties. It closed in two months: no customers. The Indian restaurant near Montefiori Hospital closed down. We are like little villages, turned inward. Which both an upside -- and a downside.

     The Mexican Palace, 180th and Third Avenue, is open late. Give them a try (but bring ear-plugs)...

July 10, 2000

    We’ll begin with a first-hand account of police accountability in the Bronx, followed by some tid-bits with an environmental focus.

   On the night of July 8, at midnight, chaos erupted on the corner of Tremont and Third Avenues in The Bronx. A double-length BX 55 bus came to a stop. Inside, four teenagers were attacking a thirty-something year-old man, punching his in the head. One threw a bottle at him, just as the bus came to a stop. The other passengers ran off the bus, and milled around on the sidewalk, watching the fight inside the bus through the windows.

   “Does anyone have a cell phone to call the police?” one of the passengers asked. No one responded. The bus driver, a Hispanic man in his fifties, stood by the open front door of the bus.

   After five minutes, a Metropolitan Transit Authority four-wheel drive vehicle pulled up, with its siren lights flashing. It pulled to a stop in front of the bus. A man got out, in an MTA uniform, holding a walkie-talkie. He went into the bus, and then stopped. He wasn’t a policeman; he didn’t have a gun.

   Out on the sidewalk, an old woman shouted, “Come on now! We want to get home! Take it off the bus!” But the teenagers ignored her.

   A police car came down Third Avenue. On the sidewalk, the passengers thought this would be the end of the chaos, that the teenagers would run away, or get arrested. The police car made a U-turn, and cruised slowly alongside the bus. Then it sped up again, and disappeared up Third Avenue, apparently in pursuit of a livery cab.

    Ten minutes had passed, since the bus arrived on this corner. Still, the fight raged inside. Two of the teenagers came outside, shouting insults back inside the bus. The MTA man, still clutching his walkie-talkie, stepped forward and pushed one of the teenagers. And now the action moved outside of the bus. All four teenagers closed in on the MTA man, who retreated behind his vehicle. Suddenly he had a knife in his hand. “Come on! Come get some of this!” he shouted crazily at the teens. They inched toward him, staring at the knife.

   “When you’re off work, will kill you,” one of them hissed.

   “Yeah, well I’ll cut you, I swear I well,” the uniformed man said.

    One of the teens started pounding on the MTA jeep’s windows.

   “See what I care,” the MTA man said. “It ain’t mine. Go ahead.”

    The window didn’t break; the teen started pulling on the siren lights, and broke one of them off. An ambulance approached, coming north on Third Avenue.

    “Come on-- the cops!” one of the teens shouted, and all four of them headed out to Tremont, not running, but at least moving away from the bus.

    The ambulance drove by. The passengers got back on the bus, and the driver, his hand shaking, closed the pneumatic doors, and continued up Third Avenue.

    The bus was number 5401; the license plate on the police car could not be ascertained with certainty. This took place between midnight and 12:25 a.m., on July 8-9, 2000. One police car cruised by; the occupants looked at the scene, and drove away. And no other police cars came. While, up on 187th Street, three police cars were on patrol. Italian food patrol, perhaps (187th Street and Arthur Avenue being the Bronx’s Little Italy). Or seeking to arrest prostitute, on the shadows of Crescent Avenue. All the hype about the police force’s heroic interventions to preserve order in The Bronx seems empty.

     We will ignore Bronx politics this week, in favor of the Bronx Zoo, and the following reflection:

Border of the Bronx Zoo

                                                          by Matthew Lee, c. 2000

They’re gently caged
These water buffalo in the Bronx
Zoo. Two hippos roll in the mud
They’ve dug out, their hides broken
In sections like armor. The tiger on the hill
Is fed meat every Wednesday. Surrounded
By water he sleeps, while deer graze
Behind a gentler fence. It’s a reverie--
Through the swaying trees, tenements
And their windows loom. Out across the avenue
Cops sleep in cars, pounce at night
Into unmopped stairways. The animals
In the zoo are safer, and more relaxed
Than the people on the zoo’s perifery.
No one pays to come here
There are no observers
No solidarity brigades for the working poor:
Gypsy cab drivers with guns to their heads
Mothers evicted ‘cause their sons sold drugs
Or so it was alleged. Cops ask for ID
In a way the animals are never asked
Unless we get football scholarships
(As a teen in the 180th Project did,
Last year, carrying our dreams)
No one pays to see us
Little short of death is reported
No one here knew the ease of life
Over the fence, inside the zoo...

* * *

July 5, 2000

    In this holiday-shortened week, we’ll focus on the New York Times’ June 27 Page A1 “expose” of Bronx-based community group Banana Kelly, and Banana Kelly’s chairwoman’s July 3 response. But first, our congratulations to the valedictorian of Samuel Gompers High School in the Bronx, Omar Duarte. Omar’s parents brought him to the United States from Nicaragua nine years ago. Last month, he completed high school with a 90.2 average, and is currently attending the summer program of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Also, the valedictorian of Morris High School, Nicole McNeil, helped build a schoolhouse in Nepal. This is not the mainstream media’s usual presentation of Bronx teenagers... Now, Banana Kelly:

    For years, local residents have questioned Banana Kelly’s management practices: its failure to maintain the buildings the City has given it; the over-compensation of its executives and their “consultants;” its heavy-handed imposition of “values clarification” (or brain-washing) sessions on people who simply need an apartment. Last year, the New York Post (for whatever its reasons) dug around, and found the BK had agreed to pay Aureo Cardona $1 million dollars if the BK co-sponsored paper recycling mill in the Harlem River Yards (that plan is currently dead). Then, a vast silence. Until....

     The Times’ Amy Waldman, previously based at the Times’ outpost in the over-priced Fordham Plaza complex (where currently half of the storefronts are empty; the sidewalk in front is constantly “under repair”), now based down town, ran a 2,500 word recap of BK’s woes, focusing on buildings at 1074 Home Street, the now-abandoned 866 Beck Street, and 788 Fox Street. Mention is also made of 814 Manida Street in Hunts Point, where BK’s $55,000 a year president was housed, claiming that he “didn’t know the building was for low-income tenants.” Current BK CEO Yolanda Rivera raised her salary from an already-high $76,000 in 1995, to $170,000 in 1997. Ms. Rivera owns two houses in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and is living in a house on a private road in Riverdale, the headquarters, she says, of a for-profit company she’s formed, River Holding Company, to do real estate development.

   The Times of July 3 ran a letter to the editor from Ms. Rivera, which objected to the June 27 expose because it “suggest[ed] that this nonprofit community development corporation in the Bronx does not enjoy the support of our neighbors and community leaders.” Ms. Rivera’s defense: “In fact, our work is supported in the community and is recognized as a model for others.”

    The initial article alleged mismanagement and even corruption. The Times reported that "as part of an investigation into Banana Kelly's finances, the F.B.I. is looking at whether federal program money was used to pay for that trip [to Kenya] and whether Ms. Rivera's relatives went with her, a federal law enforcement official said."   Support for BK from “community leaders,” even if true, is not a rebuttal...

   Banana Kelly began in 1978, with heroic sweat-equity rehabilitations on Kelly Street in Longwood. ICP will provide three anecdotes since, as reflecting BK’s development:

   In 1989, when 34 very low income families were trying to remain in the apartments they’d repaired at 975 Home Street, Banana Kelly sought to become an intermediary between the homesteaders and the City’s housing agency. After repeated questioning, BK’s executive director admitted that his role was to “talk them out” of the building. He would not disclose what the City’s housing agency had offered in compensation for these (sell-out) services.

   In 1991, the City’s housing agency destroyed the work of low income families repairing a long abandoned building on 146th Street and College Avenue, to give the building to.... Banana Kelly.

   In the mid-90s, at a public meeting at Lincoln Hospital on 149th Street about the Harlem River Yards, which the state was leasing to Albany-based development Fransesco Galesi for 99 years, Banana Kelly’s CEO vehemently defended the project and Galesi (who owns a castle in the Hamptons on Long Island), claiming that opponents didn’t understand “empowerment” of “our people.”

    And so it went...

June 26, 2000

    Holding our noses, we begin this week with politics -- and then a media critique.

     The North Bronx chaos begun by county leader Roberto Ramirez’ decision to endorse Larry Seabrook over Eliot Engel continues to unfold. Ramirez got Seabrook to allow him to choose who would run for the State Senate seat Seabrook is vacating. Larry Warden played his part by “standing down;” Ramirez selected Samuel Bea. Usually, county committee endorsement is enough to win the primary, often uncontested. But now Mount Vernon city councilwoman Ruth Thompson has announced that she will run against Mr. Bea. This “just north of The Bronx” connection continued, with Hillary Clinton showing up at Engel’s fundraiser in New Rochelle, and helping him to raise $100,000 for his campaign. Hillary also showed at the Bronx Democrat’s annual dinner June 21 at Marina del Rey ($300 a plate, replete with name-calling that’s been elsewhere reported). There. Enough politics for this week.

     Because on the streets, problems persist. A fire in the housing projects on East 170th Street required 60 fire fighters to be extinguished; several of them were injured. On June 22, one of the remaining buildings on St. Ann’s Avenue between 149th and 161st Street burned. Smoke poured out from all of the fifth floor windows, and the roof caught fire. Poem description is at the bottom of this week’s report, the next in ICP’s series of Bronx poems.

    While the politicians trade one-liners and endorsements, money’s being made portraying The Bronx in a negative light. Last week saw the release of the film Boricua’s Bond, which, respite its apparently pro-Puerto Rican title, is little more than a caricature of ghetto resident’s screaming. Meanwhile, the New York Times of June 20 ran a review of various police officers’ literary outputs. Bronx cop Ed Conlon’s gotten a near $1 million advance for a book about his “experiences,” based off articles he’s written for The New Yorker, under the nom de plume Marcus Laffey. The most recent of these, in the May 15, 2000 issue, characterizes a group of women trying to forestall ACS’ removal of a child as “Mothers United for Narcotics and Neglect.” An apartment containing Caribbean religious items is called “more House Voodooful than House Beautiful.” Another ex-cop quoted in the Times’ article, Richard Rosenthal, explains the salability of these narratives: “‘We see a section of society that very few people get to see,’ and can deliver a ‘vicarious thrill,’” the Times’ quotes him as saying.   Presumably, we’ll take literary exploitation over random shootings -- but only as the lesser of two (related) evils...

      We’ll leave it to our readers to decide if the following account of Thursday’s fire on St. Ann’s Avenue is exploitation, or (sur-) realism...

Fire on St. Ann’s

          by Matthew Lee, c. 6/22/2000

Routine flashback: windows smashed from frames with hooks.
Crime scene tape pens in the crowd: angry voyeurs,
Kids on bikes, some firemen in shorts, others in heavy rain coats
Mustachioed commenters, “The roof’s on fire, call the Red Cross.”

The last original tooth on the jaw, One Fifty Six and Saint Ann’s
Today joins the litany of ruins, like its neighbors on Eagle
Once, just north, was a round-windowed brewery
Now a green hill, already a tree is growing.

So this is a funeral: routine but not routine
For those who lived there -- every corner
Has its mourners, every paper trail
Ends at a building now gone.

More fire trucks arrive, the piraguero, seeing business
Wheels his squeaky truck east from the Hub
Mango and condominiums, which replaced previous tenements
Fire leads to progress, a cynic or slumlord would say.

Kids, their bats in sacks, stand staring
The singing of an electric saw, removing the roof
Once lives were saved, they still destroyed
What shelter remained: another ghost.

Turn back, down Brook, so empty now, woods
Begin on pavement, bare brick backs of discount stores
On Bergen, haberdashers howl, through history and weeds
The mushroom cloud, our funereal balloon

Building lit like a cigarette, smoke-rings scribing
Once last for those who called it home
Order the plywood, stack up the cinder blocks
Stucco the headstone, shatter the stoops

A building died today; a helicopter filmed it all
Omitted from the local news, not near enough a highway
To be “news you can use” for those who hunger for new cars
Window by window, they stubbed it in the ashtray of the afternoon

And down in the subway, no one knew
Corks on the infrastructural sea, it’s assumed
That tragedy continues, in the outskirt zones
Jaws denuded of teeth, families whisked to the welfare hotels

Downtown they speak of plans, of resurrection
Lies at a distance, sites assembled by arson or neglect
Hovels for back office workers will always be needed
Metal if not brick, mental if not real...

Transcribed, for nothing, another death amid the smoke
The number of homeless crosses the ticker tape
Between NASDAQ and weather, confined to the past
Some memories matter, the penned-in reported only

Routine flashback: you’re poor, and so you burn
Another nameless bodega turned tombstone
“Weren’t these buildings always empty?”
No,” you’ll answer, flashing-back and suddenly strange...

* * *

June 19, 2000

     Bronx news of the week was District Attorney Robert Johnson’s announcement that his office will not even present the shooting death of Malcolm Ferguson, 23, in 1045 Boynton Avenue in March 2000 to the grand jury. To defend his decision, D.A. Johnson released a report, including portions of interviews with 32 “witnesses,” none of whom actually saw the incident. The fact remains that an unarmed man was shot, directly in the head, by a police officer. It would seem in this case that a grand jury of Bronx citizens should make the fact-finding, not a D.A.’s office already smarting for its loss in the Amadou Diallo case earlier this year.

     Also in the news this week was Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch’s three throwing errors on June 15. District Attorney Johnson, whose office is four blocks from the Stadium, has some similarity with Knoblauch. A difference is that Chuck admits he’s concerned, has even discussed retiring if he can’t turn it around. Johnson has made no such admission -- the beginning of all Twelve-Step programs, we’ve heard...

    Bronx Assistant District Attorney Dawn Florio, niece of Appellate Division Second Department Justice Anita Florio, has been fired, for providing a false alibi for her ex-boyfriend Peter Soto. Soto’s accused of “dumping” his current girlfriend by the side of the road in Orange County, and then burglarizing her Bronx apartment. Florio initially claimed to be with Soto at the time, but later recanted. She’s been fired, but no charges have yet been filed. The Soto case has been transferred to the Queens District Attorney’s office, to avoid a conflict of interest.

      Meanwhile, we have two golf course stories this week, as television obsesses with the U.S. Open out at Pebble Beach. State Attorney General Spitzer has announced that he will appeal the decision allowing the water filtration plant planned for the Mosholu Golf Course to go forward. And environmental concerns have been raised against the Parks Department’s planned new golf course for Ferry Point Park. The site was a landfill; the pesticide DDT has been detected on the site.

     A first hand account: on Sunday, June 19, on Third Avenue directly across from St. Barnabas Hospital, a police car used its siren to force a passenger car to the side of the road. The officer approached the car, in which a man and wife sat in the front, a three or four year old child in the back seat, with their guns drawn. From a foot behind the driver’s side window, one officer shouted: “Put your hands on the steering wheel!” The child looked through the car window at the gun. Happy Father’s Day....

    A new feature (for now): a weekly Bronx poem. This first one is historical. This will grow....

History of The Bronx

         by Matthew Lee, c. 6/17/2000

Like a dog’s nose, or a mitten, cooled
To the east by a silent Sound, the west a sickly dribble:
They lived on clams, slept shaded under sudden cliffs
Time’s passage was a myth, a growing list of elders’ names.

Then Jonas, Judas, offered beads, a loner forging north
Only his name remains: The Bronx. His farm a tenement
The subways over fields threw seeds, and railroad flats
Sprung up by the stations, then in between, corrupt

Predicting or knowing the railroad’s route
Soon masons laid the sandstone frieze
From Poland and Calabria, up from Ellis Island
The beckoning dream, the banging radiator’s steam

An Irish machine, pledging workers’ votes for F.D.R.
Down the Grand Concourse in an open car
Hero of tailors, bedrooms of the Workman’s Circle
Trotsky on Hoe Avenue, bootleg Bathgate chicken store

Then slaughtered, Kosher, highways’ scars
Underside of the world of cars
Most whites seduced to Freedomland
Landfill towers on the Sound...

The vacuum filled by Southern folk
Chasing deferred dreams on Boston Road
From Rio Piedras to Vyse Avenue
Heating with stoves when boilers broke.

The treeless streets reflected flame
Basement clubs for the Savage Skulls
The empty streets a mere backdrop
For Jimmy Carter’s whistle-stop

Still mothers fashion their own worlds
Ignoring spooky airshaft scenes
“Be home by dark,” they had to say
“No you can’t go out and play.”

Where once, on clams, they lived, at peace
Like war zones, cruised by the police
Kids thrown off rooves, or lost on smack
The woods of plenty scream of lack

The churches tried, amid the rats
To lure even the slumlords back
The trains remained, and with them, hope
Of jobs on rides along the slopes

The silent Sound slaps Hunts Point rocks
Trucks passing through destroy their shocks
You can’t write off this hilly land
From where the workers make demands

The myth of Time, circles around
New strivers on this rocky ground
New curtains in the empty eyes
A new myth grows, under the sky....

* * *

June 12, 2000

      The heat! The heat! The discount stores on Fordham Road have lines of sweating shoppers buying fans, twenty-inch box fans to fit in tenement windows, rotating table fans, dehumidifiers, garden hoses for those lucky enough to own homes and gardens. For the first time this year, kids are splashing in the fire hydrants’ spray; no indication yet if the “New Rudy” will call off last summer’s crackdown on fire hydrant use. Water use, water pressure, we know, we know. But it’s hot, you get it? And the public swimming pools aren’t open yet...

      Meanwhile, the city’s housing agency is seeking to evict and bulldoze fully ten of the 29 community gardens in Morrisania. The Union-Prospect Block Association Garden won a temporarily reprieve last Monday. But the plans march forward, in most cases to build housing that few in the neighborhood will be able to afford. The new president of the New York City Housing Partnership, Charles Brass, testified in a monotone to the Rent Guidelines Board on June 6, saying that the two family homes the Partnership builds in The Bronx (and elsewhere) cost $250,000, but sell for “only” $200,000, to people making “as little” at $35,000 a year. The median income in Morrisania is below $20,000 a year...

    In other irrational planning news, the outcry about the Department of Motor Vehicles new office on Crotona Avenue and Fordham Road continues to mount, last week at a Community Board Three forum at Mount Carmel Church on 187th Street. “Trying to park around here is unbearable,” said Maria Gerbasi, who has lived in Belmont for 15 years. “Whose brilliant idea was it to put this thing here?” If you’ll remember, the “brilliant” planners included Republican State Senator Guy Velella, Bronx real estate deal maker Kathy Zamachansky, and other politicos who’ve wisely remained in the background.

    In this heat wave, it’s hard to take the Bronx political news seriously. Roberto Ramirez tells the Amsterdam News that his selection of Larry Seabrook over Eliot Engel had “nothing to do with race,” rather that Engel hasn’t visited a school in Ramirez’ district. Seabrook’s hardly “over-exposed” in the district, either (nor in Albany, even during State Senate votes -- see last week’s Report). Assemblywoman Gloria Davis is said to have brokered the deal between Ramirez and Seabrook. Meanwhile, Assemblyman Dinowitz, and term-limited Councilwoman June Eisland, have both endorsed Engel. The borough president, on the other hand, has decided to remain neutral, probably because Engel supported him in 1997. The BP met with the newly-accessible mayor on June 7, and sounded self-consciously “statesman-like” afterwards. We’ll see...

    In more serious news, the police officer who shot and injured teenager Dontae Johnson on May 26, 1999 (see our Archives, links at the bottom of this page) has finally been indicted -- but only on a misdemeanor assault charge. Officer Mark Conway had pleaded not guilty; the Johnson family’s civil lawsuit against the City and Conway proceeds. A follow-up to last week’s report on the rooster-fight arrests on Morris Avenue: a pet shop in Bushwick, Brooklyn has now been shut down, and all the roosters have been killed by lethal injection. We hadn’t realized that, last week: that all the roosters “saved” -- were in fact killed. The concept of “rehabilitation” has been abandoned, throughout our society...

    In other crime news, a first-hand account: on the night of June 9-10, a police helicopter repeatedly circled over Bathgate Avenue and East Tremont, shining a search light down. Police cars raced west on East Tremont. The helicopter’s blades through the trees into an uproar. It was like gunships over Vietnam: one expected napalm, or opera music (okay, okay: reference to the movie Apocalypse Now). In an even more dated historical reference, one remembered that Bathgate Avenue was the base of Dutch Schultz, famed bootlegger who had his office on 149th Street and Park Avenue, and his warehouses up in East Tremont.

      All giving rise to a poem, a reverie, one step beyond:

Friday Night On East Tremont

         by Matthew Lee, c. 2000

...And suddenly The Bronx is Vietnam
A gunship swoops, the trees in disarray
First comes the search light, then the strafing
Teens dive for cover, the wind enormous--

Sirens scream on Lafontaine
Stretchers folded out, on wheels
Indian doctors awake on their cots
Well trained for triage, the night begins

Cut to the precinct, the suspects are held
Rap sheets run digital, the wireless web
“We know you did it” Peeling yellow walls
The streets outside a world away

Young D.A. summoned from Pelham
Wife and baby watch the news
Conviction means election, vindicating law degree
Mother called in Scranton, told to turn to Court TV

“Deal now or face the needle” Head of Legal Aid arrives on scene
Cops offering styrofoam coffee, delayed small talk and Sweet n’ Low
The players smell promotion, accomplice hides in basement on Hughes
Hears the choppers, leans against the boiler room wall

Wrong apartments tossed on Monterey
Civil liberty’s for the rest of the week
You shoot a cop, your neighbors pay
Water for coffee, could be My Lai

“The bitch speaks English, Sarge, I know she does”
Jab at the ribs with night sticks, mother, where’s your son
You knew the car was stolen, we’re come to take back the T.V.
Rent-A-Center precinct, foreclosing on Dominican dreams

Trying to head to work in Jersey
Bus service stopped in the free-fire zone
“I pity these people,” one doughboy whispers to another
Out of the buildings with hands held high

I.D. checks, one things it’s immigration
Jumps to the air shaft, the lot a razor wire away
Pit bull’s bark, the flash of a Glock-Nine
Fiancé for Cite Soleil crumpled to the pavement

Serial number filed off, the gun is in his hand
“Itza clean shoot,” the military court decree
Copter’s radius expanded four blocks a minute
“Bastard’s getting away,” open up the gunship doors

Better’n the Republican Guard, better’n Pablo Escobar
Turkey shoot on East Tremont, coordinates called in from the field
Mortars? Check! Lock on? Yes! Lock n’ load!
Be all you can be, like bottle rockets on the Fourth of July

Tenement takes a direct hit, second and third floor exterior walls
Shelled like an egg, the spotlight like salt, the yolk coagulates
“Watch ‘em run like roaches,” artilleryman ejaculates in glee
So much for community policing The war is on Friday on Tremont--

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

May 22, 2000 -- The Bronx in Four Dimensions

    May 14 through 21 has been “Bronx Week;” because we move at Internet speed, let us focus on just one of those days, The Bronx in Four Dimensions.

     Some events are simple to report: at noon on Wednesday, May 17, a pharmacy on Jerome and Kingsbridge Road caught fire. By the time the blaze was extinguished, several other stores (the Daily News put it at seven; the Times at five) were destroyed. This is across the street from the Kingsbridge Armory, which has been sitting empty for years...

    Some events are even (more) painful to report: on May 17, 5-year old Ahsianay Carzan was found dead in her mother’s apartment in the Patterson Houses in Mott Haven. She weighed 17 pounds. The child’s mother, Ebony Carzan, was immediately charged with murder; then the charges were (temporarily) dropped, and she was released, pending the Medical Examiner’s report.

    In the same (sad) vein, and on the same day, 20-year old gypsy cab driver Kim Hong Tim was fatally shot on East 215th Street. Tim’s last pick-up was on 167th Street; police are investigating.

   Same day, the next week, the Check Cashers Association of New York was holding its annual conference at the Crowne-Plaza-LaGuardia hotel; over lunch, the Bronx Borough President handed out awards. Not noted was that check cashers flourish due to banks’ exodus from, and resistance to returning, to The Bronx and areas like it....

    As Bronxites, we like positive news as much as the next person. But a Pollyanna focus on the positive, and turning a blind eye to the continuing trend of “social exclusion” (that’s the British term) here, ill-serves Bronx residents.

     Crain’s New York Business of May 15 contains a send-up of the New York City Housing Partnership, which has demolished dozens of repairable apartment buildings in The Bronx, replacing them to two-story houses that cost over $200,000. Crain’s doesn’t mention the affordability issue. Rather, Crain’s “reports” breathlessly: “With new housing and new residents, retail stores and commercial development returned-with no government assistance, following this with a quote from the Borough President: “We didn't have to put a dime into commercial districts, except for maybe a pretty light or street program... The private sector came back great guns.” Note: if the mainstream “private sector” (for example, banks) had “come back great guns,” the check cashers wouldn’t be such a presence (and political force) in The Bronx...

     The Bronx, however, DOES exert political force, at least in Albany. The week-long attempted coup in the State Assembly appears to have been resolved, without the ouster of Shelly Silver, by the shifting position of Bronx Assemblyman Ramirez (who’s reportedly been offered the Majority Leader post by Silver). The benefits of this to Bronx residents ... remain unclear.

     Seventy five Bronx businesses were honored on May 16, as part of Bronx Week, among them six businesses in Belmont. Usually hard-hitting Daily News reporter Bob Kappstatter focused his report on Teitel Brothers, but included no reference to the mid-90s conflict when Teitel Bros. quietly rented space to McDonalds, leading to the (too-little, too-late) condemnation of other Belmont merchants.

    Speaking of this micro-McDonalds (at 2354 Arthur Avenue), the NYC Health Department’s recent report reflects a violation, from April 14, 1999, for “cold food held over 45 degrees.” Across the street, Carol’s Restaurant was temporarily closed by the Department of Health, on June 14, 1999. Further south, the White Castle at 1831 Webster Avenue (just off the Cross-Bronx Expressway) was cited for vermin, as was the U.S. Fried Chicken outlet at the corner of 163rd Street and Third Avenue...

    At “Bronx Week’s” conclusion, the actor who played Zorro in the 1950s television show, Guy Williams (original name Armand Catalano) will be honored. Saturday’s commencement speaker at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus was Vin Scully, play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Little noted, but of interest: Fordham associate professor of economics Rick Geddes published a piece in the (right-wing) Weekly Standard (May 15), advocating for the complete privatization of the U.S. Postal Service. His advocacy point: “Why should a poor family in the South Bronx subsidize mail delivery to one of Ted Turner's ranches?” While generally suspect of privatization (click here to see ICP’s Global Inner Cities page), we do note a less than “customer-comes-first” atmosphere, for example at the HUB Post Office on St. Ann’s and Westchester Avenues. Patrons are left waiting in line, only to be told that their mail “can’t be found,” “come back later,” etc.. USPS employees arbitrarily lock the mail boxes that people have rented, ignoring a sign on the wall that tampering with the mail is a federal crime. Unless it’s done by the federal government, apparently...

May 15, 2000

      There’s news to report in The Bronx this week, we also want to provide an update on responses to last week’s review of Bronx media. First, some news: we begin with the May 11 arrest of Julius Bonnelli, a school safety officer at Adlai Stevens High School in the Bronx, for selling cocaine. Or, more precisely: after doing an undercover buy at Mr. Bonnelli’s Bryant Avenue apartment last week, police obtained a search warrant for the apartment, during the execution of which they found an ounce of cocaine and “other paraphernalia.” Mr. Bonnelli has been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance. “School safety” indeed...

     Continuing on this theme: a 7-year old student from Public School Annex in the Bronx was burned on May 9, by liquid fuel from a hot dog stand while on a class trip. He was taken to Jacobi Medical Center with burns on his back. We smell a law suit... More positively (see below): Sunday, May 7 (after our deadline for last week’s Report) saw a burst of Bronx heroism: 15-year old Dalarno Riley saved a five-year old boy from a fire in his family’s apartment at 1560 Grand Concourse.

      Republican State Senator Guy Velella confirmed on May 9 to the Daily News’ long-time reporter Bob Kappstatter that he is under investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Morgenthau, for campaign fundraising irregularities. A search warrant was executed on Velella’s law office last week. Velella claims it’s all politics -- while the Bronx Democratic machine supports him (in the spirit of the solidarity of all incumbents), “radical Democrats” from Manhattan and Brooklyn are seeking to unseat him. Velella wants to be a judge, the usual way the Bronx machine coaxes anachronistic pols out of office. Developing... And a related question: why is the machine not offering Eliot Engel a judgeship, or some other post, so that Larry Seabrook can replace him? A Bronx aphorism: “Demographics would be destiny, but for ineptitude...”.

     The week ended with the discovery of twenty barrels of cyanide in the weeds on residential Pugsley Avenue in Clason Point on Saturday. The residents of seventy nearby houses were evacuated; the search is on for those who stole the cyanide (and a truck, which was dumped in Long Island City) last week...

       Now, some interplay in our ongoing review of Bronx media:

      Columbia Journalism School has written, apologizing for allowing its Bronx Beat Web site to get so out of date (April 3 is still the most recent issue up). Student / reporter Brian Lyman writes:

“The web-master who maintains the Bronx Beat's site abruptly quit in early April, leaving all the student publications out to dry... [W]e've been unable to find a new tech guy to post the latest stories. We're aggravated by the problem, too, and I'm very sorry that we haven't been able to keep the newspaper current. I wish I had more than this excuse. By the way, I've enjoyed reading Inner City Press over the past year. Keep up the good work.”

      We appreciate the compliment, but it would seem that in a large university like Columbia (whose journalism school says it focuses on "new media," and claims that the Bronx Beat is a great benefit to Broxn residents), a web producer could have been found in the five weeks since April 3, particularly given the only-sporadic distribution of the Bronx Beat in its supposed target community. Better luck next year.

      The response from the Bronx Times was more interesting. Publishers John Collazzi and John Keisman wrote to ICP on May 10, stating:

In response to your last posting, the Bronx Times has a weekly edition that is targeted for, and distributed in the south Bronx. As you may not be aware, the Bronx Times Reporter was started in 1981 and three years ago, we began publishing the Bronx Times. Thousands of newpapers [sic] with news concerning the south Bronx area are available at convenient locations with easy access. We presently have a boroughwide weekly circulation of 65,000 and our newspapers are targeted toward every sector of the borough. We are proud to state that we even service areas of the Bronx that provide us with little or no advertising revenue. Our aim is to provide positive news to the residents of the Bronx. We are regular readers of your column and we find that quite often your e-publication deals solely with the negative aspects of the Bronx. If you would like to experience positive Journalism, give us a call at 718-597-1116. We would like to hear from you.

P.S.: Our website is nearly ready.

John Collazzi, Publisher
David Keisman, Publisher
Bronx Times/Bronx Times Reporter

         ICP replied, by e-mail and fax:

Dear Mr. Collazzi and Mr. Keisman:

      Thanks for your e-mail about Inner City Press’ most recent Bronx Report. We’d decided to do a sort of Bronx media review -- you’ll notice that the bulk of the analysis was of the New York Times’ (and NY1’s, Cablevision Channel 12’s) coverage of The Bronx. As to the Bronx Times, we stated:

"the Bronx Times, which at least carries the police blotter, on a two-week lag, is also not available in large portions of the borough, and does not appear to have a Web site."

      We're not sure what’s inaccurate in this sentence. We will gladly report (and even provide / exchange links) when the Bronx Times Web site goes up. The comment about availability grows, for your information, from the following: while your mast head says, “Fordham South Edition Serving Fordham, Belmont, University Heights, Mott Haven, Morrisania, Port Morris, Tremont, Burnside, High Bridge and Melrose,” we have been unable to obtain a copy in Belmont (or Tremont). We have been able to usually obtain a copy at the HUB Post Office on St. Ann’s and Westchester Avenues. We would appreciate it if you could tell us where in Belmont and Tremont the Bronx Times is available...

Anyway, trust this explains / provides support for the two factoids in the above-quoted sentence to which you responded.

You also wrote that “we find that quite often your e-publication deals solely with the negative aspects of the Bronx. If you would like to experience positive Journalism, give us a call” / try.

I think that the mission(s) of our two publications are different, as you imply. There is certainly room (and need) for positive Bronx news. I’m unconvinced that reprinting press releases, many of them from elected officials and their affiliates (that, by the way, also advertise in your pages) necessarily constitutes “positive Journalism.” I have before me you April 20, 2000 issue. The second page is a full page ad from Pedro Espada’s Soundview Health Center. The fourth page is an article about “[a] graffiti removal demonstration sponsored by Councilman Pedro Gautier Espada...”. This same page 4 has an article about an HPD program, concluding (without commentary or analysis) that “no income restrictions will be imposed on homebuyers. Homeowners whose buildings contain rental units will be [sic] have no limitations on the amount of rent they can charge....”. Given your reference to “positive Journalism,” I question for whom these lack of restrictions are “positive” news. These will be government- (that is, taxpayer-) subsidized homes, in communities where most residents have low incomes. One might assume that the government-subsidy would carry with it some income (or at least rent) limitations. There are simply examples from the first four pages (we also note that the lead article, at the top of page three, is not necessarily “positive,” involving a 10-year old Bronx resident being killed by a car. We agree that this is news, but question your proposed distinction between “negative” and “positive” publications).

One question, publication-to-publication: where do you obtain the police blotters you run under the heading “Precinct Watch”? (For example, pages 24-26 of your April 20, 2000 edition). We find these useful (as we noted in our Report, to which you are responding). Please tell us where these police blotters can be obtained -- we’d appreciate that.

We felt a need to respond to your e-mail, but want to re-emphasize our belief that there is a need for all sorts of publications in the Bronx, spanning the spectrum from “positive” to “critical.” Most other communities / counties with populations over one million have far more publications than The Bronx does at present, and within that spectrum, there’s clearly a place (and a need) for some more critical / analytic approaches...

    Note: as of the deadline from this Report, ICP had received no response from the Bronx Times, either as to where it is available in particular Bronx neighborhoods, or from where it receives the police blotters (any reader who knows is encouraged to respond. Another outstanding question: where can one find the “La Verdad” Web site, which ran an investigation into the Jehova Shalom Pentecostal Church on Boston Road, and the business interests of its pastor, Rev. Ricardo Guzman? Guzman has subsequently sued Radio WADO (1280 AM), for re-running the report. Here -- we’re just asking where to find the La Verdad Web site, which WADO has cited as its source...).

    On our ongoing Times Watch: the New York Times of Sunday, May 14 contained 19 references to The Bronx. The only substantive reference to the South Bronx was a human interest (?) article about an 18th century sheriff shot at what is now West Farms Road and 167th Street, written by the Times’ apparent stringer, who doubles as the associate editor of the Bronx Press Review. The other reference include, in the transcript of an interview with Woody Allen, a reference to the movie “A Bronx Tale;” a wedding notice; a real estate report on a recently sold co-op on Pelham Parkway, and a townhouse in Riverdale. Also, a tulip tree in Riverdale. The Times’ Bronx (non-) priorities are clear...

     But returning to the Bronx Times Reporter and its response: since May 10, ICP has conducted some further research into the Bronx Times and its publisher(s). The public (electronic) record contains 13 articles about the Bronx Times Reporter, half of them concerning Mr. Collazzi being attacked by “graffiti vandals” in August 1997. We certainly sympathize (and note the subsequent indictment of Vincent Rendino, 16, of Morris Park, and Dominick Bruno, 18, of Throggs Neck). Further back, Mr. Collazzi was quoted in Crains as saying of his paper’s target area and readership, “We're not exactly a David Dinkins area." The paper was also cited in a Federal Elections Commission investigation into advertisements run by Westchester Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a charge that was voted down, 3-2, by the Commission. More recently (and more troubling, in terms of “objective” journalism), Bronx Times publisher John Collazzi is listed as having made a $1,000 campaign contribution to the Borough President’s next (as yet undefined) campaign... All of this in the spirit of... “positive journalism” (see above).

     In that same spirit, ICP noted on Saturday May 13 the street-filling get-together of the Black Falcon’s Motorcycle Club on 180th Street and Third Avenue (across from the street from the second floor church that often blasts gospel music from its windows on Sunday), and, three blocks south (and one east), a Dominican music extravaganza in front of Carrion Furniture / Mr. OK OK Credit, on Bathgate and East Tremont. In Crotona Park, Yomo Toro and other musicians jammed throughout the day, deemed Tarde de Oro (Golden Afternoon). The summer is arriving...

May 8, 2000

     Through a glass, darkly: As 90 degree heat hits the city, and the ice cream trucks re-emerge, with their hypnotic music, on the side streets; as carnivals come and go, in Crotona Park, their ferris wheels running empty in the late-spring down-pours; as the news, still reverberating with recent shootings by police, is now filled with a litany of livery cab drivers killed; as the seasons change, and a century-old working-class community continued to strive to not only survive, but to move forward, for children to have a better chance than their parents -- sweating in this world-historical moment, what do the transcribers of our current times, the manufacturers of the future’s view of our present, what do they hold up?

    Said less dramatically, what is the Bronx news this week? Let’s review sources, from local to regional.

    As of the midnight cusp between May 7th and 8th, the City-focused television station New York 1 tells us the main Bronx story is... Time Warner Cable’s decision to put ABC Channel 7 back on the air. Click here to view.  The irony is that Time Warner does not even serve the Bronx; Cablevision does.

    Cablevision’s purportedly Bronx-focused station, News 12, tells us the among the three main Bronx stories is that thousands of tourists saw The Bronx this weekend, as part of the 23rd annual Five Borough Bike Tour. News 12 also notes the Police Memorial Breakfast, held May 7th in Throggs Neck. Tourists and police: to these results, the Cablevision conglomerate’s focus on the Bronx come to.

     The newspaper of record, in its massive Sunday edition on May 7, mentions The Bronx, one of the five boroughs making up the paper’s headquarters city, a total of 21 times. Most are wedding announcements or obituaries (including an on-going “Paid Death Notice” for John Cardinal O’Connor). The two “substantive” Bronx stories? The planned auction of a strip of land in Highbridge, five feet long by one inch wide; a possible formation of a Business Improvement District at the intersection of the Kingsbridge and Riverdale neighborhoods. Both articles are by the same journalist -- who is also the author of the lead story in the current Riverdale Review. Can the Times not even afford to have one journalist covering full-time this borough of 1.3 million people? This writer’s piece for the Riverdale Review is actually more informative that either of the pieces the Times took, involving local opposition to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s proposal to switch the Number Five train from Dyre Avenue from the express to the local tracks (well, it’s a relative world).

    The Times is not even available, on most newsstands in the South Bronx (an area with 500,000 residents), which is either the cause or an effect of the paper’s lack of distribution here. Another for-profit borough paper, the Bronx Times, which at least carries the police blotter, on a two-week lag, is also not available in large portions of the borough, and does not appear to have a Web site. Columbia School of Journalism’s annual spring term project, the Bronx Beat, has not updated its web site since April 3. Don’t bother now -- the semester is almost over. Perhaps the next crop will be more attentive.

    We at Inner City Press are beginning to believe that the critical need may not be news analysis, but rudimentary news gathering. We turn in that direction, as summer approaches...

May 1, 2000

    An ongoing story in The Bronx right now is the murder of livery cab drivers. On April 24, 37-year old Jose R. Olivares was shot in the back of the head while driving four teenagers west on 150th Street. He crashed the car into 255 Morris Avenue; the airbags deployed, and trapped the four passengers, now suspects, in the car. All four have been charged with murder.

   The “paper of record,” whose coverage of The Bronx is spotty at best, came up to do a sensitively-drawn profile of Mr. Olivares, and one of those charged, John Rivera, whose father was laid off from his job as supervisor of the loading dock at Citigroup’s Salomon Smith Barney unit in February. We note this to highlight the inter-connections (and disparities of power) in New York City. As reported last week, the head of the NYS Federation of Taxi Drivers (who quickly held a press conference in front of the deceased Mr. Olivares’ still-steaming car) has emphasized that “it is not people from Wall Street who are killing the cabbies.” This strangely political observation resulted in much good will from City Hall, and a too-little, too-late (at least for Mr. Olivares) offer of plexiglass dividers. The NYPD declined to send a representative to a forum on police-community relations, held April 25 at Bronx Community College. In turn, the NYPD was not invited to an April 26 “forum” on the taxi cab driver killings. Also on April 26, more than a hundred of Mr. Olivares’ friends and relatives attended a wake at the Ortiz Funeral Home in Washington Heights; his body has since been shipped back to the Dominican Republic. Rest in peace.

    It is difficult to follow that news with other, more mundane Bronx happenings, but we must. A controversy has erupted around the Parks Department’s plan to send 2,000 truck loads of sludge from Van Cortlandt Park Lake over to Soundview, as fertilizer. Concerned about increased truck traffic, community residents have asked that the sludge be delivered to Soundview by barge. How it would travel from Van Cortlandt Park to a navigable body of water in unclear.

   In other Bronx infrastructure news, on April 28 the Canadian company Iroquois Gas Transmission System announced that it has applied to the federal government to deliver 220 million cubic feet of natural gas per day into Con Edison’s Bronx gas grid. The gas would be piped for 27 miles under the Long Island Sound, then two miles into the Bronx. Another result of deregulation and privatization; we will be following this one. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently turned down a proposed New York to Chicago gas pipeline, on environmental grounds....

    Remaining on these elemental themes, last week 20 apartments in the Claremont Consolidated Houses in Morrisania were destroyed by fire. On Hughes Avenue and 186th Street, where a commercial building burned down on April 22, the rubble remains, surrounded by unmanned police barricades. A woman behind the counter at an Albanian grocery store a block away opines that it was arson; a man on the stoop on Hughes Avenue shakes his head. “It was electrical,” he mutters. Both, of course, could be true...

    Less elemental, but definitely related to natural gas, or at least hot air, the political machination in the Bronx are heating up, under the pressure of term limits. Current councilman Jose Rivera is now seen as the front-runner to get the County machine’s support for the borough presidency. The ever-hesitant Larry Seabrook, while still threatening to take on Congressman Eliot Engel, is now seen as running for his protégé Larry Warden’s council seat. Councilman Adolfo Carrion, previously intimating a desire for the borough presidency, now says he’s focused on becoming chairman of the Council’s Land Use committee, whose outgoing (and term-limited) chair, June Eisland, is rumored to be interested in the borough presidency. We think... not.

    Political quote of the week is from the Daily News’ ever-illuminating Bob Kappstatter, explaining County boss Roberto Ramirez’ disinterest in the borough presidency in terms of his “successful law practice.” DN 4/24. And in “two parties, one machine” news, Ramirez is angered by Democratic State Senators Schneiderman’s and Connor’s recruitment of Lorraine Coyle Koppell to run against incumbent Bronx Republican state senator Guy Velella. Ramirez told Crains (4/24): “'A young senator from Manhattan decided that he was going to go into the Bronx and he would select a candidate for the Bronx....That I take personally...”. Schneidermann’s district extends into The Bronx; encouraging a challenge to an incumbent is hardly “select[ing] a candidate.” There are enough essentially uncontested elections in The Bronx. And -- we thought the Democrats’ agenda was to win seats, but in the Bronx, apparently, things are different... The agenda is to retain “order,” otherwise known as control...

    Or to get money -- in questionable use of government funds news, the Giuliani administration is whipping out triple tax free bonds to move the 149th Street office of ever-pragmatic SOBRO half a block east, to two floors of the long-vacant Hearn’s department store. We thought that the purpose of all the “economic development” planning in the HUB was to find a for-profit tenant for this space; however, like with Fordham Plaza, it appears that only government-funded non-profits can be found. One of the storefronts of this building was until recently occupied by high-interest rate lender Island Finance, owned by Wells Fargo. It made loans at 25% interest, the NYS usury cap; SOBRO had welcomed its arrival as good for the neighborhood. As an example of the above-referenced pragmatism, SOBRO’s chief flew up to Boston last year, to testify in favor of Fleet Bank, which funds SOBRO. Now Fleet is funding North Fork’s hostile bid for Dime Savings. Dime, after a Community Reinvestment Act challenge in 1994, opened a branch on 161st Street, blocks away from another branch won by CRA protest, in the 161st Street mall (NatWest at time of protest, Fleet now). It’s hard to imagine Fleet-controlled North Fork using Dime’s 161st Street branch to compete with Fleet itself.... (Click here for more on this ongoing Dime Savings drama). And the surrealism continues...

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    In other Bronx legal news, defense attorney Michael Marinaccio (who defended one of Amadou Diallo’s shooters, Richard Murphy, at his Albany trial earlier this year), recently got a “not guilty” verdict for a non-cop, Joseph Zavala, who was alleged to have conducted a (bike) ride-by shooting in front of 2311 Crotona Avenue, and to have killed Rafael Rodriguez. While there was a crowd in front of the Crotona Avenue building when the shooting happened, the Bronx District Attorney’s office did not call a single eye-witness during the trial. And so the jury acquitted, after less than an hour of deliberations. Re-election, anyone?

    In more positive news (and, yes, we do need it), the “inventor” of the pachanga, famed musician Johnny Pacheco, will appear on May 6, from 3 to 5 p.m., at The Point’s “Bailando en El Bronx” show, at 940 Garrison Avenue. Come one, come all...

     Overall, the New York media gave The Bronx more play than usual last week, primarily (and sadly) on the periodically decried problem of the robbing and killing of livery cab drivers. This IS a serious problem (in the late 1990s, for example, ICP member and homesteader Domingo Amador was killed in his cab; the local precinct conducted only the most cursory of investigations, then closed the case). But the City Administration seems to have latched on the issue to make political points, to demonstrate, after all the shooting by police, after the trashing of the people the police have shot, a suddenly concern for the community. Washington Height impresario Fernando Mateo stepped forward, emphasizing that those who killed gypsy cab drivers “aren’t from Wall Street, but from our own community,” and calling for more police stops in The Bronx. As if on cue, the Mayor came up with $5 million to help drivers buy plexiglass partitions. The message?  If you emphasize minority-on-minority crime, then (and only then) money will be allocated.

    One cannot help but be struck by the Mayor’s denunciation of the Justice Department’s / INS’ retrieval of Elian Gonzalez on April 22 as a “storm trooper” action -- this from a Mayor who has been quick to condemn any analogizing to Nazi Germany or the Holocaust, and whose police force is repeatedly in the national news by shooting unarmed New Yorkers, two of the last three in the Bronx...

April 17, 2000

     For the third week in a row, we remain on the campaign finance (reform?) beat, this time reviewing contributions to NYC (rather than federal) electoral races. But first, a round-up of the week’s Bronx news:

   On April 13, a Bronx jury awarded 33-year old security guard Michael Gabbidon $3.25 million, for injuries suffered when police officers beat him in the head with a walkie-talkie, leaving him deaf. Gabbidon had filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, but the CCRB, as is its practice, found Gabbidon’s complaint “unsubstantiated.” The Bronx District Attorney never moved to indict or prosecute the officers. A jury of Gabbidon’s peers disagreed with the CCRB (and with the DA). Now the City is asking Justice Louis Benza to set the award aside. The police brutality beat goes on...

    The Bronx D.A. is also being criticized by the parents of Malcolm Ferguson, who was killed on the second floor of a building on Boynton Avenue on March 1, a single shot to the left temple. Malcolm Ferguson was unarmed, but the Bronx D.A. has yet to move to indict the officer who killed Ferguson, saying the case is “still under investigation.” It’s been six weeks... The wheels of criminal justice (at least on police brutality) seem to turn more and more slowly, in the Bronx...

    Insulting (or surreal -- take your pick) Bronx-relevant press release of the week is from Long Island-based Graham-Field Health Products, Inc., which announced on BusinessWire on April 11 “The Closing of Its Bronx, New York GF Express Warehouse Facility.” The company’s CEO, David Hilton, said in a canned quote that “This is just one of many strategic initiatives being undertaken to reengineer and restructure the company,” which makes “durable medical equipment.” Durable equipment, transient commitment (to the Bronx, at least).

    Early on April 14, livery cab driver Luis Francisco Perez was found shot in his taxi, on the corner of Whitlock and Aldus Avenues, under the elevated Number Six train. He was pronounced dead fifteen minutes later at Jacobi Hospital. He is the sixth livery cab driver killed on the job this year in New York City, and the third in the Bronx, following Jose Torres (killed Jan. 12 in front of 1705 Anthony Avenue in East Tremont) and Norberto Noguera (killed Feb. 24 on Plimpton Avenue).

   Aldus Avenue, where Mr. Perez was killed, appears somewhat fated this year. On March 7, fireman Mike Foley and his colleagues from Ladder Company 31 went to extinguish a blaze on the fourth floor of 1032 Aldus Avenue. Chemicals from a gasoline-based floor sealant ignited, and Foley suffered second- and third-degree burns. He remains in Cornell Medical Center, though the tube through which he had breathed for the last month has recently been removed, and he’s breathing naturally. Get well soon...

    Finally, for this round-up, the machinations behind American Marine Rail’s planned waste transfer station in Hunts Point continue. Compost America Holding Company, Inc., which currently owns eight percent of AMR, recently sold its “biosolids” unit, Environmental Protection & Improvement Company Inc., to Texas-based Synagro Technologies, Inc., for $37.5 million. Richard Franks, Compost America’s general counsel, said, "It was not a last gasp, desperation thing. It provides an infusion of money, which is needed now." Franks said Compost America will now increase its stake in AMR from 8 to 28 percent. More on Compost America in future editions...

* * *

    Now, NYC campaign finance. ICP, following its review of federal political contributions from Bronx and Manhattan zip codes, has made similar inquiries with the New York City Campaign Financial Board. Currently, the NYC CFB’s Web site does not allow searches by zip code, or even by borough. But in response to requests from ICP, the CFB reveals that, for the upcoming 2001 NYC campaigns, from Bronx zip code 10455 (Mott Haven) 16 contributions have been made, for a total of $8,115. This zip code’s 16 city contributions is a slightly higher level than its 11 federal contributions in the last year, but pales in comparison to zip code 10021, Manhattan’s Upper East Side from 61st to 80th Street: $1,072,485 in city contributions, from 1,154 contributors. The Mott Haven zip code has 31,882 residents, according to the most recent census; the Upper East Side zip code has 106,564 residents. Mott Haven-ites have averaged 25 cents each in city campaign contributions; Upper East Siders averaged $10.6 each, forty times higher than in Mott Haven. The difference median household income is eight-to-one ($101,959 on the Upper East Side, versus $12,243 in Mott Haven). There’s probably some sort of mathematical index comparing campaign contributions to income emerging here -- but we’ll leave that for a future Report. For now, just the facts:

   Bronx zip code 10456, Morrisania, has given $1,357 to the upcoming city races, in the form of 34 separately reported contributions (approximately $40 each). In the Upper East Side zip code, 10021, average contribution size was $929.

   Bronx zip code 10457, East Tremont, has given $11,400 in city contributions, from 16 donors.

   Above 183rd Street, Bronx zip code 10458 has given $27,566 in city campaign contributions, in the form of 53 separately reported contributions. Given 10458’s population, of 70,612, that’s still less than 40 cents per person, versus the ten dollars per person volume from the Upper East Side...

* * *

April 10, 2000

    This week, ICP’s Bronx Report crosses the river, to check out some South Bronx-like sections of Brooklyn (see below). But first, a brief review of the week’s Bronx news:

Dog Bites Man: Tenants at 3390 Bronx Boulevard went public on April 5 with the conditions in their building: collapsing ceilings, rotting walls. They accuse the landlord, Martin Zellman, of simply collecting rents and making no repairs. This remains far too common in The Bronx, North and South (hence, the “dog bites man” lead). But:

Man Bites Dog: While many homeowners across the country enter civic life on “Not In My Back Yard” issues like opposing group homes in their communities, neighbors of the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities new group home on Glebe Avenue have welcomed the project, which will house seven mildly retarded people. Congratulations to all those involved -- they are a credit to The Bronx.

    The independent autopsy recently performed on Malcolm Ferguson, shot and killed by police on the second floor landing of 1045 Boynton Avenue on March 1, has revealed that the police officer’s gun was fired while pressed against Mr. Ferguson’s left temple. A tenant on the building’s second floor has told investigators she heard the police officer say, “Don’t move,” followed by, “Why did you move” -- then the gunshot. Like they say in the movies (and on the “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” television news broadcasts), execution-style. Mr. Ferguson was unarmed. Bronx District Attorney Johnson, fresh off his loss of the Amadou Diallo case, has yet to seek an indictment in Mr. Ferguson’s killing. Questions continue to mount...

* * *

    Now-- while this Report focuses on The Bronx (which, with 1.3 million residents, is larger than Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Wyoming, for example), we’ve expanded our study of federal campaign contributions this week to -- Brooklyn.

    Last week’s study of the South Bronx and Manhattan’s Upper East Side (subsequently excerpted in the Gotham Gazette, and in City Limits Weekly of April 10) found that the few federal campaign contributions from the South Bronx are mostly from businesses, and disproportionately to Republicans. We decided to explore the question in some South Bronx-like sections of Brooklyn:

     In zip code 11237 (Bushwick), Federal Elections Commission records as of April 6 reflect eight campaign contributions: two to Nydia M. Velazquez, three to Ed Towns, one to Gary Ackerman, and one (from Vijax Fuel Corp.) to the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. 11237 has, according to the last Census, 48,339 residents, and a median family income of $16,502.

   Zip code 11201, Brooklyn Heights, has a similar population: 46,980. But fifty times more federal campaign contributions (401) have been given from this zip code, which has a median family income of $48,458.

   Zip code 11207, East New York, has made 15 federal campaign contributions. “Friends of Weiner” racked up three; Ed Towns pulled in two (while Clarke 2000 got one); the lone Republican contribution was Frank Onorato’s $500 to Forbes 2000.

   Zip code 11212, also in East New York, made eight contributions. Four of these were from employees of Brookdale Hospital, to Schumer ‘98. Carl Corley contributed $250 to the unlikely “Willie Logan for U.S. Senate.” Robert Rivera of Mundo Brokerage gave $300 to an insurance agents’ political action committee.

   Over in Park Slope, in zip code 11215 (with a median income of $40,920), residents made 192 federal campaign contributions in the same time frame.

    Finally (for this Report), in zip code 11221 (including parts of Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant), the 70,583 residents (more than the Park Slope zip code, 11215) made only four federal campaign contributions, a level comparable to several South Bronx zip code (10456, Morrisania, made only two). Like in the South Bronx, all four from 11221 were to Republicans: three to Friends of Giuliani Exploratory Committee (all from the Wren family); one (from Robert Wilkens) to the National Republican Congressional Committee. View in this (surreal) way, it’s a uniformly Republican zip code, and our nominee as the Brooklyn zip code most similar to the South Bronx. We’ll see you there, under the elevated train on Broadway, on Gates Avenue...

* * *

April 3, 2000

   With all the talk about (but so little action on) campaign finance reform, Inner City Press has just conducted a study of federal campaign contributions from The Bronx, and selected zip codes in neighboring Manhattan. The results are striking (and may, not surprisingly, explain why Bronx residents get so little accountability from federal agencies):

   As of the end of March, the Federal Elections Commission data base reflects, from zip code 10454 (Port Morris and Mott Haven, up to 146th Street) a total of 10 federal campaign contributions, in the previous year. All of the contributions from this zip code, which, according to the last Census, has 35,994 residents, and a median family income of $10,865 -- were from businesses. Businessman Murray Feiss, who has received extensive City subsidies in the past decade, contributed $300 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in September, 1999. Andy Wist of Standard Construction gave $1,000 to the Congressional campaign of Brooklyn’s Noach Dear. And Howard Stein of Rite Check Cashing gave $1,000 to the National Check Cashers Association Political Action Committee.

    10454’s ten federal contributions, as of March 31, can be compared to zip code 10021, Manhattan’s Upper East Side from 61st to 80th Street. The FEC data base reflects 5,874 contributions from this zip code (population 106,564; median family income $101,959) in the same time frame. 10454 has a huge waste transfer station, and bank (HSBC) offices that the federal regulators allow to be closed down without repercussion....

    Continuing in the South Bronx: zip code 10455, Mott Haven, made 11 federal campaign contributions in the past year, five of them from one John Villanueva, all to “Friends of Giuliani Exploratory Committee.” A Raul Rodriguez gave $500 to the National Republic Senatorial Committee; Carmen Arroyo gave $250 to Gore 2000, Inc.

   Zip code 10453, Highbridge, listed only one federal contribution: from Clarence Plummer, to Bush for President, Inc.. By these numbers, it’s a uniformly Republican zip code...

   Zip code 10457, East Tremont, listed 6 contributions -- all to Republicans, except for Solomon Berger’s $1,000 to “Lautenberg 2000 Committee,” in April 1999. Lautenberg has been a New Jersey Senator. He’s no longer running; the contribution has been refunded. So, make it FIVE contributions, from this zip code -- ALL to Republicans.

   Zip code 10452, the West Bronx from 161st Street to Featherbed Lane, listed only two federal campaign contributions: one to North Bronx Congressman Elliot Engel, the other to the Textile Rental Services Association PAC.

   Zip code 10451, the West Bronx up to 161st Street, made 13 contributions, mostly from businesses. Robert Cummins of Guardsman Elevator played both sides: in March 1999, $1,000 to Gore 2000, Inc.; in December 1999, $1,000 to Bush for President, Inc.. Is that a hedge bet, or a change of heart in the course of nine months? Steve Bacher of the Children’s Aid Society gave $250 to Bill Bradley for President, Inc., as did Karen Courtney of the Citizens Advice Bureau. Murray Lewinter gave $1,000 to Bush for President, in November 1999.

   Zip code 10456, Morrisania, listed only two contributions, one from Assemblywoman Gloria Davis in October 1999, to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.

   Zip code 10459, Longwood, made only one federal campaign contribution, in March 1999, to a painters union PAC.

   Zip code 10460, West Farms, made 8 contributions - seven of them from Peter Duffy, each of them to Pat Buchanon. Hannie Santana gave $250 to Bush for President, Inc. -- making it a Republican sweep of West Farms.

   Above 183rd Street, zip code 10458 gave 17 contributions (posted through March 31, 1999) -- 12 of them from Albanian activist Harry Bajraktari, who met with President Clinton in April 1999. Gjon Chota of this zip code gave $1,000 to Trent Lott for Mississippi.

  Zip code 10468, Kingsbridge, gave six contributions. Stephen Jerome of Monroe College that $1,000 each to Congressmen Engel and Serrano.

   Zip code 10474, Hunts Point, was more active, with 14 contributions, all from businesses. Robert Schratzmeier of Hudson Sheetmetal went Republican (National Committee); Leon Eastmond went Democratic (Congressional Campaign Committee). The Cattlemen’s and the Sheetmetal Contractors’ PACs also got contributions from Hunts Point.

   In perhaps the hypest comparison, zip code 10472 (Soundview, location of the killings of Messrs. Diallo and Ferguson) gave five federal campaign contributions: one to Bradley, one to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and two to Republican Congressional race funds.

  Across the river in Manhattan, in zip code 10023 (Upper West Side from 60th to 76th Streets), residents gave 1,616 contributions in the same time frame, off a smaller population base...

  We will update and analyze these numbers further in coming weeks...

   In other Bronx news: Community Board 1 chairman George Rodriguez is promoting a plan by Long Island-based developer William Frame for a new mall on 149th Street and Bergen Avenue. Frame says he’s negotiating with Kmart and Wal-Mart as lead tenants. Wal-Mart faces opposition for local communities all over the country (click here to view ICP’s report on Wal-Mart). Perhaps the Bronx can’t be a “chooser” -- but still we must question the account in the Daily News (3/26/00): “Rodriguez has pledged the local community board’s support for the Galleria” project. A single member of an NYC Community Planning Board, even its chairman, cannot “pledge” the board’s support, prior to a vote. This is what happened with the Harlem River Yards, and more recently with SOBRO’s now-moved AIDS housing project on 148th Street and Brook Avenue...

  In another strange “pledge” of support, six Bronx-based non-profits signed on to an open-ended “Open Letter of Support for Dime Bancorp” that Dime paid to publish in Newsday, the Post and the Daily News on March 28. Dime Savings is caught between two take-over bids: the first by Hudson United (which Dime’s management favors), the second, unsolicited, by North Fork Bank. The Bronx groups’ letter of support for Dime doesn’t mention Hudson Union or North Fork -- but clearly, Dime is using the groups’ signatures to promote its proposed merger with Hudson. The problem? Hudson’s Community Reinvestment Act record is horrendous, including in New York State (click here for ICP’s analysis). What questions did the groups (which include SOBRO, Banana Kelly, SEBCO, etc.) ask before simply signing on to support a bank?

   Gardens targeted: The city’s housing agency, HPD, is gearing up to sell at least three Bronx community gardens, at 2001 Daly Avenue, 851 Hornaday Place, and 750 East 152th Street, to build houses with no income restrictions.

   The EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which includes garbage industry representatives, including from Waste Management, Inc., has finally released its report on the clustering of waste transfer facilities in communities of color. NEJAC came to New York City in November 1998, and studied Washington, D.C. in February 1999. More than a year later, NEJAC’s report calls on the EPA to issue non-binding “best management guidelines.” Waste Management’s NEJAC representative, Sue Briggum, said she likes “guidelines,” because they are “not literally binding. You have the flexibility to say that is the best we can do given our situation.” Briggum added that the EPA “in no way should attempt to override local zoning.” What a convenient position for a company that has flooded the South Bronx and other communities of color with waste transfer stations. The EPA’s Assistant Administrator of the Office of Solid Waste Emergency Response, Tim Fields, has written in an internal agency statement that “If action is not taken by state and local authorities or the companies that build and operate waste transfer stations, EPA will consider whether to take further regulatory action or seek new legislative authorities.” To be waiting for the companies themselves to stop, and to still be only “considering” taking action -- is a sad state of affairs, at the EPA. Both Clinton and Gore need to be questioned on their commitment on this issue. The South Bronx, for example, doesn’t need another “study” of the issue (particularly one including the supposedly objective participation of Waste Management itself) -- we need action....

  In positive news, Lehman College professor John Corigliani was awarded the Oscar for best music score to a movie, for “Red Violin.”

   In bittersweet news, two blocks of Cameron Place in University Heights are being renamed for Anthony Baez, who was killed by police while playing football on his block in 1994. The football bounced and hit a police car; Officer Francis Livoti then strangled the 29-year old Mr. Baez to death, and is now serving a 7 1/2 year sentence in federal prison....

  Click here for ICP's current Bronx Reporter

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