Inner City Press Bronx Reporter
Archive #3:  Nov.-Dec., 1999

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December 27, 1999

    In this holiday week edition of Bronx Reporter, we’re going dreamy: Christmas in Belmont, silence on East Tremont Avenue.  First, a review of 1999 crime statistics.

     The much ballyhooed drop in crime has been uneven, and comparing the raw numbers between various precincts is illuminating. We’ll focus on murder.

    In the 40th Police Precinct in the South Bronx (Mott Haven and Port Morris), murders rose from 14 in 1998 to 15 in 1999. The raw numbers are higher in the 44th (Morris Heights): 24 murders in 1999, up from 18 in 1998. Soundview’s (the 43rd Precinct’s) murders rose from 13 in 1998 to 21 in 1999. The 16th Precinct in Manhattan, Greenwich Village, had four murders in 1998, and no murders in 1999. The First Precinct, covering Tribeca and Wall Street, went from one murder in 1998, to no murders in 1999. As reported throughout 1999 on Inner City Press’ Global Inner Cities Page, the financial machinations on Wall Street have their murderous effects - they just don’t show up in the statistics. In 2000, an even closer analysis. Happy holidays.

Christmas in The Bronx (Focus on Belmont)

    On 149th Street and Third Avenue, on Fordham Road and at Bay Plaza, in the days before Christmas, the shopping frenzy was on. On 187th Street in Belmont, the Mount Carmel Pharmacy continued its annual tradition, of offering rides in a horse-drawn carriage for a dollar, and a community sing-along (this time, on Dec. 23). Arthur Avenue was thronged, with people buying legs of lamb, roast beef, and fresh mozzarella. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve, in Mount Carmel Church, was nearly standing-room-only, the service in English, Italian and Spanish. The crowd was a mix of suburbanites in expensive overcoats and more local residents, including kids itching to get home and open a gift or two.

   But there is a quiet, more ethereal Bronx, ten block south on East Tremont Avenue. Frank’s Sporting Goods on Park Avenue did a brisk business, of Yankees jackets and even hunting rifles. But the shopping strip has never regained the vitality it lost due to arson during the 1977 blackout. Here’s an account from two days before Christmas, from Fordham Road to Tremont, feeling The Bronx:

An Hour In The Bronx / The Waking Dream

   On the busy corner of Webster and Fordham Road in The Bronx, there’s a three story commercial building. The ground floor has a jewelry store, a restaurant selling tacos, and an electronics store with washing machines and radios out on the sidewalk. From outside, you see the neon sign of a Nail Salon on the second floor, and a COMICS store on the third and top floor.

   Where’s the entrance? Not on Webster. There, on the Fordham Road side. A sandwich board for the nail salon. You walk in. The hallway is painted yellow; the walls are covered with graffiti. Passing through the second floor landing, there’s clumps of hair on the steps. There are two different entrances into the beauty parlor. The steps are tilted, on the riser up to the third floor. Where one of the two doors is covered with a steel rolling gate. The other is open, leading into the comics store. It’s a single open space. Against the back wall are six video game consoles, each with a teenager standing at it, eyes glued to the screen. The comics are unsorted, in boxes, some of which are labeled. “X-Men.” “Dark Horse Issues.” “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.” Most are unlabeled.

   Looking back at the video games, you see there’s a boxing punching bag hanging from the ceiling by a metal chain. No one is punching it. You walk back out into the hallway, the graffitied walls, the crowds of Fordham Road, the washing machines on the sidewalk.

    At the fish market on Webster Avenue, they’re not frying fish anymore, not making sandwiches. At the deli on 189th Street, which says “Salad Bar” on its awning, there’s nothing in the salad bar, and few things on the shelves. Nonetheless there are six people waiting in line to pay. Teenagers buying potato chips. They don’t have a big selection of these, either.

    You walk over to Third Avenue to catch the bus. While waiting for it to arrive, you sit at a little chess table, and watch clusters of people walk across the cement Fordham Plaza. They’ve put down a new sidewalk, with lines on it for the green market. You could play football here, or baseball or soccer -- the lines are perfect sidelines. But there are too many pedestrians. You’d have to come play at dawn, before anyone came here to take the bus.

    The raw brick side of the Sears Department Store looms over the plaza. It used to be Rogers Department Store, two decades ago. It stands, the same except the sign. The people have changed; generations have come and gone. Only the buildings remain the same. The bus comes, and you prepare to pour six quarters into the box. There’s a hand there, the bus driver’s. Taped over the box is a piece of white cardboard. He gestures you into the bus. No need to pay. The box is broken.

    Just before Tremont Avenue, there’s a vacant lot where they’ve just demolished a building, on the corner of 178th Street and Third Avenue. Today, there are two work men putting the frame of a fence around the lot. Maybe they’ll build something there. The built environment can be transformed, ad infinitum. The generations come and go, in The Bronx as elsewhere...

* * *

December 20, 1999

Prejudice In and Against The Bronx --
And A Modest Proposal

     Amadou Diallo was killed on Feb. 4, 1999, by four police officers who fired 41 bullets at him while he stood in front of 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of The Bronx. Diallo was unarmed.

    The trial was set to begin in The Bronx on Jan. 3, but on December 16, a five judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled that the trial should be moved to Albany County. The defense lawyers’ motion papers argued that “[i]t has long been conventional wisdom among the legal community in the Bronx that jurors harbor an existing prejudice against police officers.” No statistics were offered in support of this assertion of “prejudice” by Bronx residents. What can be shown quantitatively is that 68.7% of Bronx residents are Latinos (48.3%) or African American (29.4%), while 85.8% of Albany residents are whites, as are all four of the police officers charged with Mr. Diallo’s murder. The change in venue, to Albany, harkens back to the move of the Rodney King trial to Simi Valley in California.

    The New York Post of Dec. 19 ran an extended interview with one of the defendants, Police Officer Sean Carroll, who among other things said, “We were patrolling that night to help people in The Bronx fell safe in their neighborhood -- a neighborhood where the overwhelming population is law-abiding.” While the last part of the statement is correct, it seems inconsistent with the defendants’ claim that Bronx “jurors harbor an existing prejudice against police officers.”

     It would seem that if you are paid, by the taxpayers, to police a particular county, you should be willing to stand trial in that county if you shoot an unarmed citizen. Without (yet) considering the Constitutionality of the idea, it makes Inner City Press wonder if police officers and other (armed) government workers shouldn’t be asked to sign a statement to the effect (that they will not request changes of venue) before beginning their armed patrols of communities like the Bronx....

* * *

    In other Bronx news, the Murray Feiss Import Corp., a lighting manufacturer in the Port Morris section of the South Bronx, has threatened to leave the borough unless it is given $1.5 million by the Empowerment Zone Corp., to “create” 17 more jobs. Feiss’ president of operations, Robert Greene, claims that the company has been “begged to move South by other cities, like Charleston, S.C.,” and accuses the EZC of “jeopardiz[ing] 270 workers.”

    Question: would Murray Feiss Import Corp. be making this threat if its location hadn’t been included in a federal Empowerment Zone? It’s worth noting that NYC’s Industrial Development Agency already in November 1998 awarded $6.3 million in tax breaks and exemptions to the company. According to Ron Hersh, co-president of the company in the 1980s, the IDA in 1982 awarded $1.5 million in low interest financing, which Hersh described as “extremely favorable... a well-calculated move.”

    Feiss’ Mr. Greene’s recent statements and threats seem at odds with the award the company was (mis-) awarded in March 1999, sponsored by Chase Manhattan, KPMG and the New York Times: the Bridges to Success Award for commitment to New York job creation.

    This company has already been awarded two rounds of government largesse. It appears that, simply because the EZ designation makes more funding possible, the company is now threatening to leave if it doesn’t get this funding (which is only even available to it due to the vagaries of the EZ designation and mapping process).

     In Melrose, the recently announced $10.2 million grant to Nos Quedamos and Phipps Houses to build an 85-unit, Section 202 elderly housing project around 157th Street and Third Avenue sounds the death knell for long-standing Rincon Criollo community garden and cultural center on 158th Street. While housing is needed (and the elderly housing will be infinitely more affordable than most of the Melrose Commons units), the garden’s president states that “we have not been consulted,” and promises of other green space, post-demolition, only go so far. There has to be a better way...

    Bronx political scuttle-butt has Councilman Jose Rivera trying to line up early support to get the Democratic party line in the next borough president’s race, while preparing his son to get the line for his current City Council seat. Party leaders are said to be considering Councilman Carrion, or a “compromise candidate,” such as the head of the BOEDC. Ah, politics...

    St. Barnabas Hospital, one of the largest political contributors in the borough, has declined to continue with its contract to manage Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, which is won amid controversy in 1997. More controversial is the $500 million contact it still holds to provide medical care to inmates on Rikers Island. Wrongful death litigation is proceedings against the hospital, whose contract allows it to keep any money it doesn’t spend. And still the campaign contributions flow...

* * *

December 13, 1999

     What’s to be done with The Bronx’ large vacant buildings? The Borough President’s Overall Economic Development Corporation is conducting a feasibility study for the future use of the old Farberware factory on Bruckner Boulevard. One developer, the Vendome Group, has expressed interest in retooling the factory for the printing businesses that are being displaced from lower Manhattan. BOEDC tells Crain’s (12/6) that it’s skeptical of the project, and has withdrawn a proposal from the Empowerment Zone to put a deposit on the Farberware site.

    In the North Bronx, the Kingsbridge Armory, abandoned by the National Guard in 1994, sits empty and decaying. City Planning Commissioner Joe Rose is chairing a task force that trying to sell the site; the most recent prospect is retailer Home Depot, whose spokesman John Simley says, “We’re looking at the armory and other sites in the area for a store that would serve the Bronx market.” Rose’s task force says it will make its findings public in a month, and will solicit community input (strangely, after the findings are already complete).

    The old Bronx Night Court on 161st Street and Third Avenue was auctioned off by the City in March 1998, and sold to Brooklyn-based developer Henry Weinstein. At the time of the auction, Weinstein said he planned medical offices and possibly retail stores. Now, twenty months later, nothing has taken place with the building.

     Meanwhile, one empty building is about to reopen: as a juvenile jail. The old Spofford Juvenile Detention Center in Hunts Point has been fixed as a smaller youth jail, and will open by the end of December, to imprison 144 youths.

Update on a smaller, now-disappearing building: the apartment building at 178th Street and Third Avenue, which as of Dec. 6 has been surrounded by a fence on wooden beams, has been as of Dec. 12, more than half demolished: large bites taken out of the outside walls, all the way down to the second floor.

     The New York Times’ Real Estate section of Dec. 12 (Sec. 11, Pg. 6) ran a feature-style send-up of the City’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Program’s repair of an apartment building on Lafayette Avenue in Hunts Point. While the rehabilitation was needed, the Times doesn’t mention the increased cost of the apartments. Rather, it reports that the City “turned the building over to the New York City Housing Partnership, a nonprofit group. It enlisted a local resident, Kristina Hosch-Torres, to take over the building as well as three other nearby and agree to renovate and manage them...”. ICP found the “local resident” reference interesting -- a data base search reveals that Ms. Kristina Hosch-Torres bought a home at 74 Fini Drive in suburban Carmel, New York, for over $250,000. It just sounded a little too neat: “enlisting a local resident” and giving them four tenements. The larger problem is failing to analyze the affordability of the housing to current South Bronx residents.

    In more serious reporting, the New York Times of December 7, 1999 (Sec. B, Pg. 8) reports that a state investigation into questionably lobbying by tobacconist Philip Morris has revealed gifts to NYC and Bronx officials. Philip Morris’ chief New York lobbyist, Sharon Portnoy, took Bronx Borough President Ferrer and an aide to a $195 dinner when Ferrer was running unsuccessfully for Mayor in 1997. Bronx Councilwoman Eisland was twice given ticket to the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Ferrer’s spokesman explains that Ferrer did not consider the meals gifts, because he considered Mr. Portnoy a friend, not a lobbyist. And where’s the follow up?

    Finally, for this week: the Federal Register of December 9 disclosed the award of “Worker Adjustment Assistance” under the Trade Act of 1974 to the (ex-) employees of Keepshapes, Inc. and Majestic Shapes, Inc., some of the first tenants of the Bathgate Industrial Park in the Bronx. The FR reports: “The workers were engaged in the production of shoulder pads for the apparel industry” and that the businesses “closed in early 1999.” This is called: the under belly of globalization; the light manufacturing jobs that were supposed to save the Bronx (when the Bathgate Industrial Park opened) are now fleeing overseas, and other buildings become empty, to again be replanned...

* * *

December 6, 1999

    The South Bronx has again become a pawn, or poster child, in policy debates in Washington. The chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA), has sent Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner a series of questions about EPA’s public statements on environmental justice cases. The questions include: “What is your view as to the propriet[y] of the EPA and the White House actions involving the public announcement of the Title VI investigation into the South Bronx matter? Do you believe it was proper for this announcement to be made without consultation with OCR [EPA’s Office of Civil Rights] and prior to OCR’s formal review of the complaint?”

    Earlier this year, after Browner and the Administration announced an inquiry into the concentration of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, Republican Rep. Vito Fossella expressed outrage that the EPA wouldn’t consider the Fresh Kills dumps in his Staten Island district under the same civil rights laws. See, for example, Fossella’s op-ed in the Detroit News of August 6, 1999. Fossella has apparently now gotten Bliley’s ear -- local residents can only hope that the politics don’t delay the inquiry (and enforcement action).

     Bliley claims to have found a similar pattern of politicization in a recent EJ complaint from Indianapolis, and House Commerce Committee sources note the upcoming Senate race in New York, and that Indianapolis’ Republic mayor is a policy advisor to George W. Bush. EJ advocates respond that the solution is investigation and action on more EJ cases, which is both needed and would rebut any connection between the political party of the defendant city’s mayor and the EJ action... Developing...

More grassroots news: a crude wooden fence has been built around the long-abandoned building at East 178th Street and Third Avenue, in preparation of demolition. (The building is known alternatively as 517 E. 178th Street, or 4259 Third Avenue). The rationale for demolition at this stage is unclear: the building is no more deteriorated than it has ever been. It is objectively more easily repairable than any number of buildings that the City has gut rehabilitated in the Bronx -- for example, the City replaced the entire facade of a building on Franklin Avenue just off Third, at a cost of well over $100,000 a unit. The destruction of repairable multifamily housing seems strange, at the same time that the City is decrying the illegal subdivision of one and two family homes throughout the City (though primarily in Queens).

    Bronx by the numbers: two figures released this week seem significant, particularly when compared with one another.

     The car rental company Hertz confirmed that it charges Brooklyn residents $34 more per day than residents of Manhattan and Staten Island. Queens residents pay an extra $15; Bronx residents are the most surcharged: $56 dollars a day more than Manhattan residents. Hertz spokeswoman Lauren Garvey said the rates are based on the “extraordinary high liability costs associated with those rentals.” Daily News, Nov. 29, 1999.

    A needed comparison is to actual liability (accident and theft) figures in The Bronx versus Manhattan. But a more surreal comparison is to the figures released in NY Attorney General Spitzer’s detailed study of the NYPD’s stop and frisks. According to the report, the two precincts in which New Yorkers are mostly likely to be stopped and frisked by police are both in the South Bronx: the 40th Precinct in Mott Haven, and the 41st Precinct in Hunts Point (the 42nd in Morrisania is number 6 on this “Top Ten”). Two points: the NYPD’s defense of the disparities is that it is controlling crime in these areas. But Bronx residents are being charged much more than residents of other counties to rent a car. And the precincts with the third, fourth and fifth highest rates and stop n’ frisk are all in Manhattan....

* * *

November 29, 1999

    The Bronx news this week is painful: a shooting death on Thanksgiving morning, a woman lit on fire that night; politicians not even living in their districts; law enforcement officials themselves committing perjury. Before this litany, here’s a still-life in motion, East Tremont Avenue 1999:

     At dusk the streets are transfixed by peace, even the rows of boarded-up stores...

   A slow bus ride east through The Bronx, along Tremont Avenue. There are storefronts out of the 1950s: coffee shops with turkey sandwiches covered with gravy, law offices with rusty signs, fish and fruit markets with their produce out on the sidewalk.

     The Associated supermarket across from the liquor store has closed. They’ve put cinder blocks over the windows, and nailed on a sign: “Rite Aid Pharmacy Coming Soon.” But there’s already a Rite Aid, a few blocks east near Marmion Avenue. And another closed-down Associated supermarket, further along at Vyse Avenue. You never step in the same river twice...

     Coming into West Farms, there’s a typewriter repair shop, and the grocery that promotes itself as the purveyor of the “Murder Burger.” Under the elevated train there’s still the Alps Hotel. The old post office on Devoe, a new 24 hour laundromat just past it. A burned out house with a storefront for sale -- “Handyman special,” they call it in the Daily News’ classified advertisement section.

    Here’s B&B auto parts, where 180th Street joins Tremont. A few stores, and a closed-down movie theater, at Unionport Road. The bleak expanse to the north, facing the railroad tracks. “Will build to suit,” the sign says. The rental office for Parkchester, surrounded by car repair shops. The closed-down Department of Motor Vehicles office, with the Sizzler restaurant just past it. St. Raymond Church, “established 1842, All Are Welcome.” A cemetery out front. We are reduced to headstones. Some run-down law offices on the corner of Bronxdale, next to the Castle Hill diner. The salsa club, Mon Ami.

    On the corner of Overing, there’s a Primerica insurance storefront, with a new sign added: “Part of Citigroup.” There’s stores to buy Fire Department and Police Department uniforms and paraphernalia. At Westchester Square there’s a Wendy’s, and the city office where you pay parking tickets. Here the sidestreets are full of two-family homes. “Ireland Forever,” a sign in front of one of them says. There’s a health clinic, then an early 60s public library. People are using it, although the book selection’s not so great. Harlequin romance books, and “How To Write Your Life Story.” How, indeed. And for whom?

      At dusk the streets are transfixed by peace, even the rows of boarded-up stores...

* * *

Thanksgiving in The Bronx, 1999: Long day’s journey into night.

    At 5:30 a.m. on November 25, Darnel Brown was shot in the chest in front of 1454 Walton Avenue, the Bronx. He died in an ambulance en route to Lincoln Hospital. His pregnant girlfriend heard the shots but “thought nothing of it... You hear gunshots like that every other day here, so we went back to sleep... He wanted to move to New Jersey with me and get away from all this...”.

    Question: despite all the talk about improved quality of life, why do Bronxites have to become so accustomed to gunfire as to go back to sleep?

    At 1 p.m. on November 26, on a southbound No. 2 train between the 174th Street and Freeman Street stations, passengers noticed that Ms. Corona Thomas was on fire, police officials said... The police have not classified the fire as a crime.

    Note: perhaps that’s why crime statistics are reported down -- incidents like this are not even reported as crimes...

     What is being done, not only about crime, but about such continuing problems as the lack of affordable housing for families, the difficulty in obtaining fair access to credit, etc.? The week’s round-up does not paint a pretty picture. On November 23, former Bronx prosecutor Sean McSherry was sentenced to two years in jail for lying to a federal grand jury. The New York Post of November 24 credits Bronx Talk A.M. with reporting that “at a large gathering of Democratic Party officials, [Bronx Assemblywoman Gloria] Davis invited an Al Gore handler to bring the veep to her neighborhoods. ‘Where do you live?” the Gore guy asked.... [T]he lawmaker spat out one address, paused, reconsidered, then changed to a different locations. The party faithful tittered. Under state law, legislators must live in their districts... Claudi Nesbitt, Davis’ office manager, [said]: ‘It was just a misunderstanding. She was trying to be inclusive...’”.... NYS Labor Department figures show that in October, the unemployment rate in Bronx County stood at 8.5%, higher than NYC’s overall rate of 6.8%.... On affordable housing, the New York Times of November 26 ran a puff-piece about developers’ construction of 252 units of subsidized housing at 165th Street and Gerard Avenue, “apartments from studios to two bedrooms,” financed by the City’s Housing Development Corporation. As previously noted, the City (including its Administration for Children’s Services) demands that families with boy and girl children have three bedroom apartments. But the City’s own Housing Development Corporation funds projects none of whose 252 units has three bedrooms...

    These are not new problems. Below, we continue our series, “The On-Going History of The Bronx.”

History of the Exodus from The Bronx:
From NYU to Bronx Community College, 1973
“The Walk of Fame”

     Near where West 181st Street would hit the Harlem River in the Bronx is the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Along a curved walkway are 98 bronze statutes. It began in 1901, on what was then the uptown campus of New York University. Among the first inductees were Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The last statute, of Franklin D. Roosevelt went up in 1992. The statues are privately funded, and cost $25,000 apiece (in 1999). The director of this Hall of Fame says when he sought funding to erect the statue of Andrew Carnegie, elected in 1976, “the Carnegie Foundation said, ‘We just don’t want Mr. Carnegie in The Bronx.’”

    New York University sold its 181st Street campus to the government in 1973, at a profit of $30 million. It was then put into use for Bronx Community College. There’s a need to tell this story:

   NYU built its uptown campus in 1901 in The Bronx, which soon became known as “The Borough of Universities and Progress.”

   As the demographics of The Bronx changed, Bronx Community College began in 1959, at the former site of the Bronx High School of Science at Creston Avenue and 184th Street.

    On February 17, 1970, the Young Lords and over 200 student occupied BCC’s administration building for eight hours, demanding an end to discriminatory treatment of Puerto Rican students.

    By that time, BCC had grown to be using seven different buildings. Bids were taken for the construction of a new campus, tentatively planned over the subway storage yards at Bedford Park Boulevard and Paul Avenue. The Higher Education Board rejected the low bid, of $103 million dollars, more than double the $45 million the Board of Estimate had appropriated for the project. Once the project was re-bid, a groundbreaking ceremony was held, and cement pillars began to be cast.

    In 1972, BCC professor M. Krieger began a consumer information center, to be staffed by students and to serve as a liaison between Bronx residents and city, state and Federal consumer protection agencies. (New York Times, Sunday, October 4, 1972, Page 45, Column 4).

    New York University, eager to leave The Bronx, and facing its own budget deficit, proposed to sell its Bronx campus to the City University of New York system, as a new campus for Bronx Community College. Governor Nelson Rockefeller endorsed the plan on May 5, 1972. By May 17, NYU students at the Bronx campus were protesting, stating that their degrees would be less valuable because the school would be defunct. Liberal arts students from the campus would be transferred to NYU’s main campus in Greenwich Village; science and engineering students would be transferred to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, whose dropping enrollment had resulted in state emergency funds for the past three years. Allegations were made against Assemblyman Steingut, whose district included Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

    On March 19, 1973, NYU and the City University Construction Fund set a price for NYU’s Bronx campus: $62 million, allowing NYU to realize a net profit of $30 million from the sale, which helped eliminate NYU’s $12 million deficit and added to NYU’s cash reserves. In a speech on September 18, 1972, NYU President Doctor J. Hester acknowledged that the principal ingredient in NYU’s brighter financial outlook was the sale of the Bronx campus.

   NYU vacated the campus in July 1973. Bronx Community College classed began on the site in September 1973.

    On April 26, 1974, sticks of dynamite were found in a duffel bag in a manhole on the campus.

    In June 1974, the Board of Higher Education’s attempt to sell $840,000 worth of concrete support columns bought when the Board planned the BCC campus on Bedford Park Boulevard resulted in only one bid, for $1,000. The Board said it planned to sue the architectural firm of DeYoung & Moscowitz and engineering firm Distasio & Van Buren, claiming that errors in platform design forced the abandonment of the campus plan.

A question: What was the proximate cause -- errors in platform design? NYU’s desire to leave the Bronx, at a profit to close its deficit? Assemblyman Steingut’s desire to an income stream to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in his district?

Another question: What has become of Professor M. Krieger’s defunct consumer information center, after the move from Creston Avenue to the NYU campus?

     To be continued...

* * *

November 22, 1999

    The Daily News of November 16 ran an editorial, “Bronx Renaissance,” essentially reprinting and praising a handful of Bronx development projects reported in the previous day’s News’ Your Neighborhood section: for example, K-Mart opening in a closed-down Caldors location, part of the vacant Farberware factory being taken over, with tax exempt city bonds, by (currently) Brooklyn-based Lucky Polyethylene Manufacturing. Regarding the latter, the News gushed: “Who said Bronx industry is dead?”

   One has to distinguish between moving jobs from one part of the city to another, by loaning out the city’s ability to issue tax exempt bonds, from an environment in which indigenous Bronx small businesses are treated fairly.

   An example: North Fork Bank, an acquisitive Long Island-based institution, entered the Bronx three years ago by snapping up Northside Savings Bank. North Fork now controls 5.8% of Bronx County deposits ($491 million of the $8.478 billion on deposit in the Bronx, using the most recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation data).

   Of its $491 million of Bronx deposits, North Fork lent less than $4 million in 1998 to Bronx small businesses -- generously defined as those with annual sales of or below $1 million. North Fork has a higher market share of deposits from the Bronx than it has of loans to small businesses in the Bronx.

   Compare this to North Fork’s performance in more affluent, less predominantly minority Nassau County. While North Fork’s Bronx deposits are nearly one-half of its Nassau deposits ($954 million in North Fork deposits in Nassau, versus $491 million in the Bronx), North Fork lends nearly ten times as much to small businesses in Nassau County: $33,562,000 in Nassau in 1998, versus only $3,748,000 in the Bronx. A possible defense -- that Nassau has more small businesses than the Bronx -- can be dispensed with by market-share comparison. North Fork has only 2.9% of Nassau deposits, but made 11% of loans (by dollar volume) to small businesses in Nassau County in 1998. In Suffolk County, North Fork has 10.4% of deposits, but made 18.4% of loans (by dollar volume) to small businesses in 1998. In the lower income, more predominantly minority Bronx County, North Fork has a lower market share of loans to small businesses than it does of deposits.

   North Fork is hardly fairer with home mortgage lending. North Fork’s 1998 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”) data reveals that in that year, for conventional home purchase loans, in North Fork’s headquarters MSA, Nassau-Suffolk, North Fork denied the applications of African Americans 3.47 times more frequently than the applications of whites, and denied the applications of Latinos 3.17 times more frequently than the applications of whites -- both significantly higher than the industry aggregates denial rate disparities of 2.04 and 1.64, respectively. North Fork’s continuing disparities are not explainable in terms of any increased (or even sufficient) outreach to minorities by North Fork. In 1998 on Long Island, for conventional home purchase loans, North Fork made 479 loans to whites, only 15 loans to Latinos, and only eight loans to African Americans. For these race-specified groups, only 1.6% of North Fork’s lending was to African Americans, compared to the industry aggregate’s figure of 4.7%. Only three percent of North Fork’s lending was to Latinos, compared to the industry aggregate’s figure of 4.4%.

   Similarly, in the New York City MSA in 1998, for conventional home purchase loans, North Fork made 205 loans to whites, only 18 loans to Latinos, and only 21 loans to African Americans. For these race-specified groups, only 8.6% of North Fork’s lending was to African Americans, compared to the industry aggregate’s figure of 12.2%. Only 7.4 of North Fork’s lending was to Latinos, compared to the industry aggregate’s figure of 9.0%.

   The Inner City Public Interest Law Center has raised this issue to the bank regulators, in opposition to North Fork’s applications to buy two more savings banks, JSB Bancorp and Jamaica Savings Bank FSB and Reliance Bancorp and Reliance Federal Savings Bank. Newsday of November 17 covered the challenge, and quoted North Fork’s CEO that “‘our CRA record is impeccable and it speaks for itself’... North Fork officials don’t expect the challenge to affect plans to close both mergers early next year.”

   The FDIC has extended the comment period until at least November 29. The New York State Banking Department says it has extended the comment period to November 24.

   There are other Bronx fight backs. In other seemingly “renaissance” story, the City’s housing agency is transferring dozens of apartment buildings to “third parties,” including the for-profit joint venture of Larchmont’s L&M Equity Participants and property manager Lemle & Wolff. The residents of 839 East 156th Street have refused to these new managers into their building. These new landlords have started legal action to get into the buildings -- to forward their own “Bronx renaissance,” no doubt...

* * *

    Last week we reviewed a flier being distributed in the Bronx, promising to double your money and more. This week, thousands of yellow fliers directed to residents of eleven South Bronx zip codes blanketed the area, promising, in bold typo replete with misspellings, lower car and homeowner’s insurance rates. The flier did not list the name of the company making these offers, only a phone number. Which, once called, welcomes you to Allstate Insurance. Why so mysterious?

November 15, 1999

    Our focus this week: collapsing infrastructure, and financial scams aimed at Bronx consumers.

    On the night of November 7 (too late for last week’s edition), the Third Avenue bridge caught fire. A 120-foot long wooden bumper, meant to protect the aging bridge from too-tall ships, burned for two hours, sending flames 50 feet in the air. Traffic cops directed cars and trucks either to the also-aging Madison Avenue bridge, or to the (for-pay) Triborough Bridge.

    On Tuesday, November 9, P.S. 37 in Kingsbridge reopened, after being closed for two days to inspect for lead dust. Turns out the Triborough Bride and Tunnel Construction Authority has been using a vacant lot behind the school to smash old road pieces (according to School Board 10 spokesman Bruce Irushalmi, quoted in the NYT of Nov. 10).

    Meanwhile, the City has erected a metal fence around the abandoned Kingsbridge Armory, after the wooden construction shed collapsed there last week. The Borough President’s spokesman, Clint Roswell, took to the offensive in the Daily News (Nov. 8): “‘This is a problem the city want to go away, but it simply not’ going to.”

    Mr. Roswell, however, IS going away -- he’s taking a gig in Westchester, as a “public relations strategist” from IBM’s Technology Division. Possible connection: impending term limits-driven run for unnamed higher office...

    The drive for historical preservation has not extended to the Metro North train station at East Tremont and Park Avenues. It’s been confirmed that Metro North is demolishing it (ICP reported, weeks ago, the erection of a wooden fence around the station). There are been train stations at that location for more than 150 years. Metro North spokesman Dan Brucker says a fenced concrete slab will remain when the demolition is finished in two weeks. So much for the expressed commitment to expand Bronx residents’ ability to reverse commute to Westchester -- to IBM in Somers, for a pertinent example...

    At the cusp of (natural) infrastructure and paid punditry, on Thursday, November 11, Parks Department patrolmen found two large cow tongues nailed to an oak tree in Bronx Park near Kazimiroff Boulevard, each with a padlock clipped through a hole at the end of the tongue. (Daily New, Nov. 12). “‘It appears that they are encouraging someone to be silent,’ said city Parks Commissioner Henry Stern,” who also noted that “they don’t look like the calf’s tongues my mother used to buy.” A real “wag,” that Henry Stern...

     Now, some scams we’re noticed this week. The first is simpler, and very much Bronx-directed. A flier posted throughout East Tremont (not far from the Metro North train station that’s being demolished) asks: “Do You Want to Make Fast Money?” Then comes the promise: “Invest $100 and after 4 weeks earn $800. Investment profit goes follows [sic]: $500 = $4,000 or $2,000 = $16,000.” While this may be under the radar of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the flier invites one and all to meeting to learn more: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., or Saturdays at 10:00 a.m., at 1319 Boston Road at 169th Street. Same block as Community Board Three, in fact...

    The second scam was brought to our attention by a resident of Cauldwell Avenue in the Bronx, who has signed up for “distance learning” from the International Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He works all day in a factory in Morris Park, so distance learning struck him as the way to go. Without commenting on the school, it’s the financing plan that problematic. After giving his name and address to the school, he gets a mailing from United Credit National Bank, in Sioux City, South Dakota (a haven for credit card companies: no usury caps, few consumer protections). The bank’s “ACE VISA” program requires applicants to charge a $300 personal finance education loan, a $19 processing fee and a $49 annual fee in return for a “guaranteed” $400 minimum credit line. In another iteration, the bank offers a minimum credit line of $350 to consumers who agree to pay $250.95 for credit education coursework, plus a $49 accounting fee. When t he dust settles, the available line of credit is $50.05, at a cost of $333.

    It may be easier to go to Boston Road and 169th Street to check out the “multiply your money by a power of eight in a month” promise than to go check out United Credit National Bank in South Dakota. But there’s one difference: United Credit National Bank is (supposed) regulated by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency...

November 8, 1999

    It’s been a week (or weak) of infrastructure in the Bronx. On Thursday, November 4, a 36-inch water main broke at Bruckner Boulevard and East 141st Street, flooding the Number 6 (Pelham) subway underneath, and shutting it down for four hours. On Friday, November 5, Public School 37 in Kingsbridge was closed, due to concerns raised about high levels of lead in the building. While officials now say the lead is only inside of vents in the school, P.S. 37 will remain closed on November 8, and perhaps thereafter. The 550 student will assemble outside the school, to be bussed elsewhere.

    In micro-news, a HUD foreclosure sign went up this week at 2274 Hughes Avenue in the Bronx, FHA Case Number 180102. The vacant building is now being managed by a real estate company based in Binghamton, New York, and listed by the Dallas-based <>.

  Meanwhile, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has moved forward and approved USA Waste’s application to open a 3,000 tons-a-day waste transfer station in the Harlem River Yards. DEC Regional Permit Administration Charles de Quillfeldt wrote to commenters on October 29, saying among other things that “a writer questioned the proposed host community benefit plan,” and noting that the Borough President’s letter “resolving” this issue was attached. This letter, to DEC Regional Director Mary Ellen Kris and dated October 19, concludes: “I wish to encourage you to expeditiously issue the permit amendment to Waste Management so that operations can commence.” The bulk of the letter is a recommendation that that the contract to build an asthma center be reopened, and that “Waste Management... enter into good faith efforts to negotiate an increase in the monetary contribution... While the principles outlined above establish a connection between the permit and the community benefit plan, I wish to clarify that the latter should not be construed as a condition precedent to the issuance of the permit.” Question: what’s the rush?

November 1, 1999

   While most references in the press this past week to the Bronx involved the Yankees World Series sweep of the Atlanta Braves, out in the surrounding streets, the beat went on.

   In obscure but significant news, the high-interest lender on Third Avenue between 149th Street and Westchester Avenue, Island Finance, closed down, leaving only a hand-written sign on the door: “Relocated and Renamed.” The relocation is to quite a distance: 91-31 Queens Boulevard, #412, Elmhurst, Queens. The renaming is interesting: Island Finance is taking on the name of its parent and owner, Norwest Financial. Which is turn is owned by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank.

   When Norwest quietly came into the South Bronx several years ago, opening an outlet of its Puerto Rico-based financial company, Island Finance, in the HUB, Inner City Press raised these issues: why would Norwest choose to only serve the Bronx with a high-rate lender (Island charged, and still charges, up to 25 percent interest), and not with a bank? The New York State Banking Department, which supervises all lenders in the state, gave Norwest a license to open this facility. A spot check by ICP found that virtually all borrowers were being charged high rates, even if they had good credit histories. Seemed like little more than gouging (though Norwest calls it “niche marketing”).

   Now, after having gotten hundreds of South Bronx residents on the hook for these high interest rate loans, Wells Fargo is closing the office, and leaves a handwritten sign telling people to take the G Train to Elmhurst, Queens. The G train doesn’t even run into the Bronx, or Manhattan... And the beat goes on.

   On Boston Road and 164th Street, the fingerprints of hype are clear. There’s a run-down tenement building on the corner, that’s become “two tone,” is closely examined. The side of the building facing Boston Road was steam cleaned, by the owner of the adjacent 988 Boston Road, Kay Management. But the side of the building facing 164th Street and the housing projects was never cleaned -- the once tan bricks are filthy, and several windows are covered with plywood. “All depends on where you look at it from...”.

   On October 27, FBI agents raided the Hunts Point Market, and arrested eight U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, and thirteen fruit and vegetable wholesalers. Turns out the wholesalers were paying the government inspectors bribes, to get them to lowers the “grading” on produce that farmers came to sell to them, so the wholesalers could pay the farmers less money. USDA claims that the scam had no effect on the quality of the food transferred at the Hunts Point Market. Seems hard to believe that having eight inspectors taking bribes would not undermine qualify and safeguards...

    Meanwhile, New Jersey-based hot dog manufacturer Marathon Enterprises (which sells under the better-known Sabrett brand) closed its Bronx factory this week, after recalling the hot dogs made in the plant. Marathon Enterprises owns two clusters of property in the Bronx: 777-797 East 138th Street, and various properties on Barretto and Casanova Streets in Hunts Point. Volume Services of America, which runs the concession stands at Yankee Stadium, said “the bad hot dogs were from the factory in Mott Haven” -- by implication, 777-797 East 138th Street. Marathon employs 150 people...

   The New York Empowerment Zone Corp. last week announced a $2 million loan to a Hunts Point meat processor, Nebraskaland, Inc, “with 50 new full-time jobs created.” Like Heraclitus said, you never step into the same river twice...

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