Assemblywoman Aims to ‘Fight the Bulge’

October 21, 2011

By Emily Piccone

Teaming up with professional mixed martial artists, a celebrity fitness trainer and a dietician from Jacobi Medical Center, Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera has set out to tackle childhood obesity in her new “Fight the Bulge” campaign.

The obesity epidemic has replaced smoking as the leading killer of Americans, Rivera said in a press release, and Hispanic children are particularly at risk: nearly half of Latinos born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes, a recent study estimates.

On Oct. 10, Rivera hosted an educational forum at Bronx House, on Pelham Parkway, to discuss the risks associated with an unhealthy lifestyle and the best tactics for combating obesity.  In attendance were personal trainer Donovan Green, nutritionist Dr. Gloria Brent of Jacobi Medical Center, and UFC professional fighters Nick Pace and Louis “Good Night” Gaudinot.   Read more

Sen. Rivera Teaching Free Civics Classes

October 21, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Bronx State Sen. Gustavo Rivera is getting back to his roots as educator, teaching a series of free civics classes this month at the Bronx Library Center that cover topics like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, elections and how different levels of government work.

Rivera, who has taught at Pace University and CUNY Hunter, said he wanted to do something productive during his time off from Albany (the legislative session starts back up in January) and thought the classes would help stress the importance of civic participation to his constituents.

“I’ve always believed that people need to participate in local government,” Rivera said. “People should understand how government works so they can demand more of their government.”

The classes started last week and will be held every Thursday evening, from 6 to 7 p.m. until Nov. 3 at the Bronx Library Center, 310 E. Kingsbridge Rd. Future series are being planned for other areas of the district.

Classes are free and open to the public, and you can attend one or attend all, Rivera said. To RSVP or for more information, call (718) 933-2034.

Training Wheels Off: Tour De Bronx Returns

October 21, 2011

Bronx bicycling enthusiasts can get in gear for the 17th annual Tour de Bronx, as registration for the Oct. 23 event is now open. The tour is a joint project by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, and local hospitals to promote health and exercise.

“Riding a bike around our borough is the healthiest way to see the best of the Bronx, and I invite everyone to join me again this year to tour our wonderful borough,” Diaz said in a press release.

The borough president kicked off the event at a press conference at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore last Wednesday.

For Roxanne Watson, the event could be another marker in her recovery. Watson received a heart transplant at Montefiore Hospital last year and has recovered well enough to try and bike the borough.

“For a long time I couldn’t even walk.  Now I’m exercising three times a week and willing to try new things like Tour de Bronx,” Watson said.

It’s the largest free cycling event in the state, according to a press release. Bicyclists can choose between a 25-mile course designed for all skill levels or a more rigorous 40-mile course, for more experienced bikers.

The tour starts at the Bronx County Building on 161st Street and the Grand Concourse, heads into Mott Haven, then snakes around the southeastern edges of the borough. It pulls northward and to the west after Throgs Neck and ends near Bedford Park.

To register for this year’s Tour de Bronx, head to http://tourdebronx.org/register or call (718) 590-3518.

Clinton-JFK Square Off Under Friday Night Lights

October 21, 2011

Clinton beat JFK in last year's matchup. (Photo by Adi Talwar)

By Ronald Chavez

An ancient rivalry is back in the Bronx for an emotional showdown under Friday night lights. Dewitt Clinton’s Governors are headed to John F. Kennedy’s Riverdale campus in what should be a hard-fought contest that starts at 7 p.m.

The Governors have beaten JFK the past two years after suffering 11 straight losses to the Knights.

In an interview yesterday, Clinton head coach Howard Langley said he’s expecting an emotional game. “Kids are going to experience emotion and adrenaline that they’re never going to feel again,” he said.

Former Knights coach Alex Vega will find himself in an unusual position –- trying to keep his old team off the scoreboard. Now the defensive coordinator for Clinton, Vega declined to talk to the press, but Langley said it would be like playing against family for him.

The teams are both 3-3 after losses last week, and have each dropped off the NY Post’s power rankings.

Filipino Parish of St. Brendan’s Celebrates 17 Years

October 19, 2011

Slide show and Story By Lindsay Armstrong

More than 250 people crowded into St. Brendan’s auditorium on a recent Sunday evening to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the church’s Filipino parish.

Lumen Castaneda, a former resident of Norwood, founded the parish in conjunction with St. Brendan’s in 1994. The church offers a monthly mass in Tagalog, the Philippine native tongue.

Head pastor, Father George Stewart says the group is a vibrant part of the larger church community. “This is a very ethnically diverse parish. We have 48 nations represented and they all add to the experience,” Stewart said. “We’re very excited for them.”

Read more

Living Wage Backers Seek Compromise; Second Hearing Planned for November

October 19, 2011

Supporters of a living wage bill that’s been lingering in the City Council for over a year now are making another effort to revive the lagging legislation, in a drawn-out battle with the Bloomberg administration and business leaders who say it would ultimately kill jobs.

Sponsors of the proposed Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which would require developers receiving substantial taxpayer-funded subsidies to pay workers $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 without, unveiled revisions to the bill earlier this month in an attempt to compromise with critics. Whether the newly watered-down version of the legislation is enough to sway its opponents will likely be debated on Nov. 22, when a public hearing for the bill—its second to date—has been scheduled by the City Council.
Read more

‘Occupy’ Movement Takes Up Residence in the Bronx

October 19, 2011

After gathering in Fordham Plaza, Occupy the Bronx protesters marched up Fordham Road to collectively jump on a train that would take them to join the Occupy Wall Street community in downtown Manhattan. (Photo by Michael Premo)

Gabriel De Los Santos, a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement now stretching into its second month, showed up at the first Occupy the Bronx rally at Fordham Plaza last Saturday. He held a hand-written cardboard sign, a replica of dozens he had created and distributed during the past month. It read: “Land of the Free? Hypocrisy.”

Sporting a backwards Suicidal Tendencies baseball cap, sleeveless black Cannibal Corpse T-shirt and a faint wisp of a mustache, De Los Santos is 15-year-old student at Lehman High School who lives just blocks from Fordham Plaza. He was one of close to 100 people who attended the rally — evidence that the Occupy movement is spreading, not only to the outer boroughs, but to locations around the world. Similar Occupy-type rallies took place last Saturday in Chicago, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong, according to the New York Times. Read more

Bronx Students, Parents Protest Education Dept. Layoffs

October 10, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Students, parents and school workers rallied outside of the Bronx’s PS 66 in West Farms last week to protest the planned layoff of some 700 city school workers, among them aides, parent coordinators and other school support staff.

The layoffs are the result of state and city budget cuts, and if a compromise isn’t reached, the employees on the chopping block could be out of work within the next few weeks.

“Most of those job losses would be felt in East New York, Brownsville, Williamsburg, Washington Heights, and the south Bronx. These communities are already in need of enhanced social services and are suffering with higher unemployment rates,” said Santos Crespo, president of local Union 372, which represents the workers. “The economic sense in laying off city workers does not add up.” Read more

Williamsbridge Oval Park Muggings Inspire Solidarity March

October 7, 2011

By Lindsay Armstrong and David Greene

A group of concerned Norwood residents marched through Williamsbridge Reservoir Oval in late September in a show of solidarity amid a recent spate of muggings in the park.

Friends of the Williamsbridge Oval, a local advocacy group, organized the event following news of the fifth mugging in the past month.

“I heard people saying things like ‘Don’t go into the park.’ To me that seems like the wrong reaction,” said Eileen Markey, one of the organizers. “We want to say: ‘We don’t accept that behavior here.’”

About 25 other residents joined Markey in sending that message. They marched around the track and along the park’s pathways, holding up hand-lettered signs and chanting, “What do we want? A safe park. When do we want it? Now.”

James McGeown, executive officer of the 52nd Precinct said police regularly patrol this area, but have stepped up their presence in response to the muggings, which all follow a similar pattern. The muggers approach the victim from behind, knock the person down, and grab his or her belongings before fleeing.

A day earlier, the NYPD announced the arrest of Jose Velazquez, 21. Police said Velazquez stole a cell phone from a victim on Reservoir Oval East on Sept. 19. He is being charged with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and unlawful possession of marijuana. Police believe Velazquez had an accomplice who is still at large. Read more

Police Investigating A Burned Quran as a Hate Crime

October 7, 2011

By Jasmeet Sidhu

On the morning before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Imam Ifa Yahha made a jarring discovery outside the Masjid Hefaz mosque.

An unmarked package stuffed with roast meat, a photo of Osama bin Laden, mysterious white powder, and the burned remains of a Quran was placed in front of the door on East 198th Street off the Grand Concourse, said a mosque member.

“As far as I know, nothing of this magnitude has happened before,” said Fahaam Razack, 27, a nursing student at Lehman College who has attended the mosque since he was 14. Read more

The Making of a Liberal Politician, Part III: Senator Makes Health a Priority

October 7, 2011

By Alex Kratz

Ed. Note: This is the third and final in a series of articles about 33rd District State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who was thrust into the spotlight after defeating the controversial Pedro Espada, Jr. last fall. Rivera represents the entire Norwood News coverage area.

Gustavo Rivera, a state senator for all of nine months, is comfortably in his element. Sitting at the head of a table in a cramped, windowless room deep inside the belly of The Family Health Center on East 193rd Street and Decatur Avenue, Rivera is asking questions and cracking jokes.

“Five different flavors of pork rinds,” Rivera offers as the conversation turns to nutritional options at local bodegas.

Later, he asks about the Center’s Friday food demonstrations and asks if they can help him be a better cook. “I burn water,” he says, and everyone in the room — a conglomeration of public relations specialists, reporters, photographers and Center staffers — laughs. He’s a hit. If politics doesn’t work out for the 33rd district representative, he could make a run at “Last Comic Standing.” (Plus, the multi-talented, 34-year-old Puerto Rican native can sing. Check him out on youtube.)

The Bronx CAN
But for now, Rivera’s more interested in becoming “The Biggest Loser.” The health initiative he launched with the help of the borough president’s office, Montefiore Medical Center and St. Barnabas Hospital — called the Bronx CAN (Changing Attitudes Now) Health Initiative — is based partly on the model of the popular reality television series where obese people compete to see who can lose the most weight. Rivera wants Bronxites to live healthier lives and set healthy goals, like losing weight. Read more

Crowds Turn Out for Jerome-Gun Hill BID Festival

October 7, 2011

By Jasmeet Sidhu

Local residents crowded underneath the 4-train on Jerome Avenue on Saturday, Sept. 24, for the 10th annual Jerome-Gun Hill BID Street Festival. (Photo by Adi Talwar)

Bronx residents descended upon Jerome Avenue on droves between Mosholu Parkway and Gun Hill Road for the annual Jerome-Gun Hill Business Improvement District Festival on the last Saturday afternoon in September.

Now in its 10th year, the event drew large crowds as people of all ages enjoyed musical entertainment, games, shopping and food.
Organizers said the annual festival is a chance for people of the Bronx to come out and connect with local businesses in the area, while having a little fun. Read more

Expanded HIV Testing Helps Curb Spread of Virus

October 7, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Recent changes in New York State law combined with new developments in the technology of HIV testing are expanding the number of New Yorkers who are getting tested for AIDS and HIV, experts say.

Last summer, then-Gov. David Paterson signed a law mandating that health care providers offer HIV testing to patients between the ages of 13 and 64 who seek hospital or primary care services — an attempt to make testing a routine component of medical care.

“If you have a hangnail and you go to the emergency room, you need to be asked if you want to have an AIDS test,” said Dr. Daniel Amsterdam, clinical director of laboratory medicine at the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York. Read more

Lehman Center Opens Doors on Season 31

October 7, 2011

Executive Director Eva Bornstein talks to the Norwood News about the Bedford Park performing arts center’s 31st season.

Q: Approaching the 31st season at the Lehman Center, how does the schedule of artists compare to past seasons, particularly to last year’s anniversary season?
A: I always feel every season is the greatest. The 31st is as important as the 30th because we want to continue indefinitely, and I tried to put as much variety as possible into this year’s schedule. Smokey Robinson has been here before — he’s a legend and we are proud to have him back. Mary Mary is opening the season on Oct. 9, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. They cross over from gospel to R&B and they’re very hot and coming up.

Q: The schedule pulls from all different genres and parts of the globe. What would you say is the most unusual act of this season?
A: The theater of Vox Lumiere is going to be presenting a multimedia show based on the film Metropolis. It was a 1920’s silent film piece, and they will have musicians, dancers and singers performing (based on the movie), with it playing in the background. It’ll be an unusual presentation. Read more

Father of Twins Found Shot on Decatur Ave.

October 7, 2011

By Jasmeet Sidhu

A mourner writes on the makeshift memorial for Kennedy Brown who was shot and killed on Sept. 24 in front of a Decatur Avenue apartment building near East 197th Street. (Photo by Jasmeet Sidhu)

A 25-year-old college student and father of twins was fatally shot on a recent early Saturday morning in the area just south of Bedford Park.
Police said Bronx resident Kennedy Brown was found with a gunshot wound to the head in front of an apartment building on Decatur Avenue, off East 197th Street, just before 2 a.m. on Sept 24. Brown was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Detectives on the scene of the shooting said that no arrests have been made, and that the investigation is ongoing.

Shocked friends and family said they could find no explanation for Brown’s shooting. Neighborhood residents said Brown was at a party Friday night that got “out of control.” Read more

Comptroller Report Finds Millions for Bronx Project Sat Idle

October 7, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

The Economic Development Corporation left millions of dollars intended for public projects — including $8.9 million for the restoration of a waterfront site in the South Bronx — sitting unused for decades, an audit from the Comptroller’s office found last week.

The so-called “Public Purpose Funds,” were obtained by the city from private corporations in exchange for tax breaks. The money, $9.3 million, has been managed by the EDC in accounts that have seen no activity for years, according to a report released by Comptroller John C. Liu.

“It makes little sense that millions intended for economic development remain unused for so long, especially in the Bronx where jobs are greatly needed,” Liu said in a statement.

“If the EDC can’t figure out how to put the capital to work, then at least return the money to the city treasury.” Read more

BP Appoints New Education Director

October 7, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., has hired Monica Major, formerly the Bronx representative on the Dept. of Education’s Panel for Educational Policy, as his new education director.

Major, a lifelong Bronx resident who lives in Morris Park, served on the DOE panel—charged with voting on important educational issues like school closures and interventions—since October 2010. Before that, she was a member of the Community Education Council for Bronx School District 11, and a member of the Parent Commission on Mayoral Control, a grassroots, parent-led organization that advocated on the issue of school control. Read more

Council Pushes 9/11 Health Bill to Cover Cancer

October 7, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

The New York City Council passed a resolution last week urging a closer examination of cancer cases in Ground Zero first responders and asking that those who suffer from the disease be considered for health care coverage under the Zadroga Act — the bill that provides medical funds for people suffering from 9/11-related health problems.

Cancer is not currently on the list of conditions covered by the act, despite several recent studies suggesting a link between cancer cases and exposure to Ground Zero toxins, the Council resolution said.

“It is now clear from numerous studies and reports that those individuals who worked and volunteered at Ground Zero in rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts were exposed to a higher risk of cancer,” said Bronx City Councilman Oliver Koppell, who called on Dr. John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program, to investigate the connection.

PS 51 Parents Call Out DOE, Chancellor

October 7, 2011

By Alex Kratz

The parents of current and former students at PS 51, the Bronx New School, say they are not satisfied with the Department of Education’s response after discovering high levels of toxins at school’s former building in Bedford Park. Next week, in response to the DOE’s lack of response, they will take their list of complaints to the Panel for Education Policy meeting at the Bronx High School of Business next Wednesday evening.

In early August, the DOE announced the discovery of toxins at 3200 Jerome Ave. in Bedford Park, PS 51’s home since the early 1990s. Later that month, DOE officials, including Chancellor Dennis Walcott, told parents that their kids’ school would be transplanted to a former Catholic school building in Crotona. Parents say Walcott agreed to meet with them to discuss any issues they might have.

Now, parents say they have yet to meet with Walcott to address several issues and concerns stemming from the discovery of contamination at their former building as well as the move to Crotona. Read more

Rebuilt After Fire, Tolentine’s Doors Swing Wide Open

September 23, 2011

By Alex Kratz

The interior doors to Tolentine’s sanctuary were completely reconstructed after a March 2010 fire. Parishioners say the church’s revamped vestibule is a marked improvement. (Photo by Alex Kratz)

On the corner of Fordham Road and University Avenue this past Sunday, colorful balloons danced in the wind and sunshine. Tethered to railings, the balloons dotted the path up to one of the Bronx’s oldest churches, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, where the doors were wide open for a celebration.

A year and a half earlier, on a similarly lovely day in March, someone set fire to Tolentine’s vestibule, including its doors, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and an unquantifiable amount of heartache for the church’s parishioners.

Despite the act of arson committed that day, Father Joseph Girone, the head priest at Tolentine, said the church never wavered in its commitment to keeping its doors open to the public, as it always had.

“After what happened, we could have said we’re closing our doors, but we didn’t,” Girone said. “That was important for us.”

Tolentine usually holds three Masses on Sundays — one in English, one in Spanish and one in Vietnamese. But on this day celebrating the re-opening of the church’s brand new (and many say, improved) vestibule, all of Tolentine’s congregants came together for one giant service.

Much of the multi-lingual talk from the pulpit was about the symbolism of doors.

Hundreds of Tolentine parishioners gathered outside of the church following a multi-lingual service celebrating the grand re-opening of their rebuilt vestibule. (Photo by Alex Kratz)

“The theme of the doors is that they represent us,” Girone said. “People come in through those doors searching for God. They carry only their burdens, their joys and their sadness.” When they emerge, Girone said, “they leave transformed through the celebration of the sacraments.” Read more

On State Test Scores, Northwest Bronx Schools Lag Behind

September 23, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Elementary and middle school students in the Bronx’s District 10, which contains all of the schools in the Norwood News coverage area, scored worse than students across both the city and state on last year’s standardized math and English exams, according to data released last month.

Students in grades 3 through 8 are required to take the high-stakes tests every spring, and the scores are used, in part, to determine whether they can be promoted to the next grade level or held back. Students are given a grade number from 1 to 4, with scores 3 and over deemed “proficient” by the state.

On average, only 33 percent of District 10 students passed the English exam, compared to 44 percent of students citywide and 53 percent across the state. Math results were similarly staggered: an average of 48 percent of District 10 students passed, compared to 57 and 63 percent of city and state students, respectively.

Community Education Council President Marvin Shelton says that District 10, among the city’s largest and most crowded, has remained stagnant over the years when it comes to test scores, despite Department of Education claims that student performance is improving across the city since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the school system in 2002.

“We still seem to be struggling with the high number of level one’s and two’s,” Shelton said. “Nine years of mayoral control, and we don’t have much to show for it. Progress is at a glacial pace. They’re not strides, they’re baby steps.” Read more

The Making of a Liberal Politician: Part II

September 23, 2011

State Senator Gustavo Rivera chats with a young constituent at St. James Park last month during one of his weekly community walks. It is part of a government-sponsored initiative Rivera designed to promote healthy living. (Photo by Adi Talwar)

Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of articles about 33rd District State Senator Gustavo Rivera who was thrust into the spotlight after defeating the controversial Pedro Espada, Jr. last fall. Rivera represents the entire Norwood News coverage area. Click here for Part I

First-Time Candidate Gustavo Rivera Takes on Pedro Espada

It was early spring, 2010, when Gustavo Rivera became a political candidate by default and a dash of desperation. At the time, two other Democrats had declared their intention to run against the incumbent in the 33rd Senate District, Pedro Espada, Jr., who, less than a year earlier, had brought the New York state senate to its knees by offering his party allegiance to the highest bidder.

Liz Krueger, a Democratic state senator from Manhattan whose unabashed hatred for Espada and his politics runs deep, sat in a diner on the Upper East Side with Rivera and Rivera’s longtime friend, Chris Malone, a political science professor. They were discussing possible strategies for ousting Espada, whose political gamesmanship had all but squandered the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the senate — the first time in decades Democrats enjoyed control of both legislative houses. “We needed a non-criminal person to hold that seat,” Krueger says now, referring to Espada’s legal woes. (Espada has never been convicted of a felony, but is scheduled to stand trial for embezzlement sometime early next year.)

Krueger liked the two candidates already in the race, but didn’t think either could take out the well-financed Espada. At one point, Rivera offered up himself in the form of a question. “Do you think I could win?” Krueger remembers Rivera asking. Hmm, Krueger remembers thinking, that just might work.

That afternoon, the trio spent “like forever,” Krueger says, “talking about how this was perhaps totally the wrong thing to do, but we’re going to do it anyway. From there we went out and we ran and ran hard.”

Malone says Rivera, a Kingsbridge resident who couldn’t stand the thought of being represented by Espada for another two years, ran not so much out of “opportunity, but out of necessity.”

Rivera went from completely unknown to front-runner in a matter of months, garnering support from elected officials, unions and, especially, Bill Samuels, whose New Roosevelt Initiative pledged $250,000 to defeat Espada. Read more

Bakery Returns to Its Roots on Bainbridge Avenue

September 23, 2011

The smell of fresh bread is wafting back to Bainbridge Avenue.

The Bainbridge Bakery is moving back to the neighborhood after a two-year absence. (Photo by Alex Kratz)

In 2009, the Bainbridge Bakery in Norwood was gutted, and then completely demolished by a pair of fires in the span of seven months. Nearly two years after the second blaze — which struck just a few days before the business was set to reopen — Ana and Tony Mirdita, the couple that owns the bakery, are preparing to move into a new space on the same block. And neighborhood residents are hungrily waiting.

“My wife is more excited, because she likes their bread,” said Mark Goldberg, 71, who lives nearby. ”It’s nice that the bakery is open. Let’s hope this is the last time.”

In fact, the bakery’s new space, a former hair salon on Bainbridge between 205th and 206th streets, is still shuttered. A pair of homemade signs posted in the window declared that it is “coming back soon.”

In an interview on Friday, Tony Mirdita said that he had originally hoped to move the bakery back into its old spot on the block, which remains vacant following the second fire.

But Mirdita and his wife kept fielding questions about when they’d reopen, and when the old space was “not ready,” they opted for the new one, just up the block. Tony Mirdita said he hopes to start serving customers in about four weeks.

In 2009, the family suffered through an ordeal that Jimmy Cronin, a butcher at Hillside Meat Market on the same block as the new bakery, described as “a kick to the gut.” Read more

Bronx Adds a Name to 9/11 Memorial List

September 23, 2011

By Emily Piccone

Around 100 people gather to honor the 144 Bronxites who died because of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. (Photo by Emily Piccone)

The Bronx continued its annual tradition of remembering the 144 Bronx lives that were taken on Sept. 11, in a ceremony organized by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and his staff.

The feelings of renewing the brotherhood of patriotism were widespread on Thursday, Sept. 15 at Lou Gehrig Plaza, where more than 100 people were gathered.

“Today is a day that we should recall that sense of patriotism, that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that locked the immediate aftermath of that horrible day 10 years ago,” said Administrative Judge Douglas McKeon in his address to the crowd.

With a special ceremony in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and his staff brought together a chorus of students that sang a selection of American melodies, a vocalist accompanied by Artistic Director Denise Perry of the Millennium Dance Company, and a final releasing of white doves after a reading of the 144 names of Bronx victims.

At the ceremony held last year, that list included one less name, Diaz explained to the audience.

A man by the name of Leon Heyward, a Bronxite who was coming up from the subway right as the second plane hit, chose to stay amidst the debris and smoke to help citizens escape. He was swept up in a cloud of toxic smoke, and passed away this past year. Read more

Multi-Service POTS Expands to Fill Growing Needs

September 23, 2011

By Ronald Chavez

Volunteer John Callendar takes stock of supplies in Part of the Solution’s brand new expanded kitchen, which will serve up to 60 people at a time. (Photo by Ronald Chavez)

With local hunger and unemployment numbers on the rise, nonprofit multi-service group Part of the Solution is expanding with the opening of a brand new $8 million facility next door to its current Webster Avenue location.

Part of the Solution, or POTS, known for its widely-used soup kitchen, case management and legal services, haircuts and showers, is bolstering each of its programs and adding others.

This comes amid reports of rising poverty in the country, according to the latest Census figures. POTS officials say they saw an 88 percent spike in the use of its emergency food programs from 2005 to 2010. According to the Food Resource Action Center, POTS serves the congressional district (the 16th) with the highest rate of hunger in the country.

Much of the new center is already in use. But the new facility is tentatively scheduled to open at full strength on Oct. 1, or whenever the new kitchen, the centerpiece of POTS’ programming, is completed.

The old kitchen served a maximum of 22 people at a time, whereas the new kitchen will have the capacity to serve 60 at a time. Staffers said the line to enter the old kitchen often extended outside the building and ran down the sidewalk. Read more

Healthy Recipes: Make Your Own Salad Dressing

September 23, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Salads are great. Salads can — and should — be a part of your diet. They’re a tasty way to up your daily vegetable and fruit intake and a quick, easy meal to take with you to work.

But salads can also be deceiving, when done wrong: a well-intentioned plate of greens can very easily go from healthy to high-calorie once you factor in toppings, and especially when doused in a fattening dressing (many restaurant salads are guilty of both).

So why not make your own dressing at home? DIY salad dressings are easy, generally healthier, and they’ll save you money. One bottle of Newman’s Own, according to the company’s website, costs $7.98, but most simple dressings can be thrown together with ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen, if you’re someone who cooks fairly often: oils, vinegars, and standard herbs and spices. Read more

City Can End Rental Program for Ex-Homeless, Judge Rules

September 23, 2011

A Manhattan State Supreme Court judge ruled last week that the city was no longer required to provide rental subsidies in a widely-used but controversial affordable housing program, putting thousands at risk of homelessness as soon as next month, some advocates say.

The court decision was the result of a class-action lawsuit by the nonprofit Legal Aid Society, challenging the city’s decision to end the Advantage program, which provides housing subsidies to the formerly homeless for up to two years. The city contends that it can no longer afford to keep the program running after the State withdrew funding for it last year (it was originally scheduled to end in April). Advantage participants were given a temporary reprieve over the last few months after the Legal Aid Society filed its suit.

Last week’s decision means the city can now legally cut the program; starting next month, some 12,000 Advantage participants will no longer receive their housing vouchers.

“It’s going to wreak havoc on this part of the Bronx,” said Sally Dunford, of the West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Resource Center. “It’s going to be like pulling the rug out from under a lot of people.” Read more

Another Push for Yankee Stadium Hotel

September 23, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

The Bronx is now one step closer to getting its own major hotel — not the seedy, hot-sheet kind that has so often plagued the borough, but what Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. predicts will be a “world-class” place to stay near Yankee Stadium.

The Bronx Overall Economic Development Center (BOEDC) released a “request for expressions of interest” on Monday, calling for interested developers to submit proposals to build a hotel on what is now a parking garage at River Avenue and East 153rd Street.

Bringing a high-end hotel to the Bronx has been a much-stated goal of Diaz since he took office.

“A major hotel and conference center has been a priority for the people of the Bronx for decades, and we are getting closer and closer to seeing that dream become a reality,” he said in a press release this week.

The site of the proposed future hotel is leased from the city by Bronx Parking Development Company. The group, which used acres of city-owned land to build a number of parking garages around the new Yankee Stadium two years ago, has been in dire financial straits since, struggling to get game-goers to pay to park there.

BOEDC President Marlene Cintron said building a hotel on the site will “maximize a valuable underutilized tract of land,” and could bring as many as 125 new jobs to the neighborhood.

The request is asking that projects meet certain requirements, among them a conference center, at least one high-end, penthouse-level restaurant, a concierge or condo level for long-term stays and some form of retail store.

Engel Backs Obama’s Call For ‘Millionaire’s Tax’

September 23, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel, who represents portions of the north Bronx, is praising President Barack Obama’s plan to raise the base tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to raise revenue and reduce the country’s budget deficit.

Obama’s proposal, announced Monday as part of a larger plan for economic growth, would increase taxes for people making over $1 million a year. The president is calling it the “Buffet Rule,” after the billionaire investor who famously lamented in a New York Times Op-Ed last month that he pays a smaller portion of his income in taxes than the poor or middle class.

In a statement Tuesday, Engel said he agreed with Obama’s decision to raise the income threshold for the tax hike from $250,000, the previously proposed bracket.

“Having the threshold at $1 million will not penalize high cost-of-living states, and will still generate the kind of revenues we need to address our long-term debt,” he said.

Even with that change, the president’s plan is already getting resistance from the Republicans of Congress, who claim that forcing the extremely wealthy to pay more will deter them from creating jobs and ultimately stall the economy—an idea that Engel dismissed.

“My Republican friends deride this as ‘class warfare’ because it asks the wealthy to pay more,” he said. “Class warfare to me is refusing to tighten tax loopholes and continuing the Bush Tax Cut levels, while the middle and working class continue to struggle.  It is class warfare to have the highest rate of poverty in our history while one percent of the country controls half the wealth.”

PS 51’s Move to Crotona Not Seamless

September 23, 2011

By Ronald Chavez

For the parents of kids at PS 51, the move from a contaminated building in Bedford Park to the St. Martin of Tours building in Crotona has been mostly smooth, with some minor hiccups.

Parent Stephanie Gonzalez said school buses were an hour late on the morning of the first day of school, but that the buses have been on time in the mornings since. Anthony Rivera said his brother had gotten a school bus at 2:50 p.m. and got home at 4:10, despite the new location being just two miles from the old one.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the DOE has not received any formal complaints about the school. PS 51 Parent Coordinator Helena Ortiz said the issues with bus scheduling had been worked out after the first week. She added that matters like air conditioning or when kids got back home once they were on the bus were handled by the bus company, and not by the school. Read more

Parks Dept. Brings Oval Skaters to a Halt

September 16, 2011

By Ronald Chavez

A group of skateboarding teens at Williamsbridge Oval Park say they feel shafted by the Parks Department’s placement of metal “stoppers” on the park’s concrete ledges, to keep them from skating there. (Photo by Ronald Chavez)

Giovanni Martinez, 14, has been skateboarding at Williamsbridge Oval Park for about a year. He and his friends, a pack of teens who’ve become regulars at the Oval, use the concrete, foot-high ledges that surround the park’s trees and walkways to grind and perform tricks.

But late this summer, the Parks Department halted the tricks by installing small metal wedges that protrude from the ledges, intended to stop the wheels on a skateboard.

“We have nowhere to skate now,” said Giovanni. He said he and about 10 other skaters, his friends, were shocked when they found the wedges, which they call “stoppers.” On a recent afternoon, the group had already succeeded in removing four of them, and hammered away on a fifth.

A skate park had originally been included in the renovation plans for Oval Park in 2008, but one never materialized. The Parks Department said Community Board 7 had voted for using the funds towards other improvements (the park boasts two brand new playgrounds, which opened this summer).

Even without an official, sanctioned skate space, some of Giovanni’s friends have been riding at Oval Park for years. Now, they say their options are limited. There is a relatively new skate park by Yankee Stadium, but skaters are constantly being robbed in that area, they said. Read more

The Making of a Liberal Politician: Part I

September 16, 2011

By Alex Kratz

State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s Journey From Puerto Rico to the Bronx

Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of articles about State Senator Gustavo Rivera who was thrust into the spotlight after defeating the controversial Pedro Espada, Jr. last fall. Rivera represents the entire Norwood News coverage area.

Just 10 months into his new job as a state senator representing the northwest Bronx, Gustavo Rivera is a relative newcomer to elected office. But Rivera, a Puerto Rican native who moved to the Bronx 13 years ago, is not new to his party’s liberal ideology. He grew into it through years of study and an unexpected discovery during his early years in New York City.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera (right), alongside Assemblyman Nelson Castro, gets his groove on during the Fordham Road Renaissance Festival last month. (Photo by Adi Talwar)

Much like the vast majority of Puerto Ricans, Jose Gustavo Rivera’s parents, Lydia and Jose Manuel Rivera, exercised their right to vote on election days. (Rivera and his brothers, Jose Manuel, Jr. and Jose Javier, all go by their middle names.) But they were not in any other way political.

Both parents grew up in the center of the Caribbean island country without their fathers. Each became the first in their families to attain high school and college degrees and preached the value of education to their three sons.

“Both his mother and myself, we stressed the importance of education on them,” says Rivera’s father. “It doesn’t matter what they want to do. But you need to have an education. It will always be there.”

After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in biochemistry in Puerto Rico, Jose Rivera went to Wisconsin to pursue a PhD. But the pursuit was cut short when his first son, Gustavo Rivera’s older brother, Jose Manuel, Jr., began showing signs of what is now known as autism. Determined to help his son succeed, the elder Rivera turned his attention to studying up on this mysterious developmental disability. Now a high-functioning autistic who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, Gustavo’s older brother makes a living translating books into Braille.

Jose Rivera, of course, wanted badly for his middle son, Gustavo, to go all the way with his education and earn his doctorate.
“Gustavo was always an extremely curious guy,” his father says. “He wanted an answer for everything. Always wanted to know the why, what and  whom. It got him in trouble with some of his teachers.”

As a child, Gustavo’s mother called him “Papa con ojos” or “Potato with eyes” because of his oval-shaped head and enormous eyes. He was a mature conversationalist at a young age and felt as comfortable speaking with adults as he did with his peers, his father says. In secondary school, his father says young Gustavo was “very peculiar; he chose his friends very carefully.” Read more

Huge Turnout for Muslim Holiday Event

September 16, 2011

By Jasmeet Sidhu

Several hundred Norwood-area Muslims gathered in Williamsbridge Oval Park on Tuesday Aug. 30, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

The outdoor ceremony, which was organized by the North Bronx Islamic Center, was the first of its kind in the Norwood area.

“In this neighborhood, it’s the first time we’re doing it in a park,” said longtime mosque attendee Nurul Haque. “After 30 days of the fast, sacrifice, mercy, discipline…you get to celebrate yourself along with others.”

Moinul Hussein, a 24-year-old college student, said he was hoping the outdoor prayer would help dispel myths about the Muslim community.

“I want people to see us, what we do. There’s nothing crazy going on. Just like how people go to the church and pray, we go to the mosque and pray. We follow an Imam, they follow a priest.”

Ramadan is considered the holiest month for the religion of Islam. It is marked by followers fasting from sunrise to sunset.

Cabrera Crusades for Prayer in 9/11 Memorial Service

September 16, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Bronx City Councilman Fernando Cabrera is petitioning Mayor Bloomberg to include prayer in next week’s ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — joining a chorus of the city’s religious leaders criticizing the mayor for excluding them from the memorial service.

During a radio broadcast last month, Bloomberg said the ceremony will feature a small group of current and former elected officials who will read pre-selected, nonreligious poems or texts.

Those scheduled to participate include: President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christi, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former mayor Rudy Guliani and Bloomberg himself.

“There’s an awful lot of people who would like to participate, and you just can’t do that,” Bloomberg said.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office told the Wall Street Journal and several other news outlets that there are no plans to amend the ceremony, and that religious rituals have never been included in any of the yearly memorials.

“It has been widely supported for the past 10 years and rather than have disagreements over which religious leaders participate, we would like to keep the focus of our commemoration ceremony on the family members of those who died,” said spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine.

But Cabrera, himself a pastor at the New Life Outreach International Church on Morris Avenue, is personally crusading against Bloomberg’s stance. He’s gone on a number of television news shows over the last few weeks to discuss the issue and started an online petition (at press time, it had some 700 signatures).

“During 9/11, the faith community served as pillars for many New Yorkers coping with the tragedy. As a pastor during the tumultuous aftermath, I know firsthand that it was a time where people were searching for meaning and things bigger than themselves,” Cabrera said in a statement. “People’s faith helped fill this void and continues to serve as spiritual and emotional support.”

DOE Announces 9/11 Curriculum

September 16, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

With the start of a new school year arriving just days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Department of Education unveiled a new classroom curriculum last week to help students understand the history and emotional weight of the event.

The curriculum, developed by the DOE and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, includes lesson plans for each age group and classroom materials that teachers can download off the DOE’s website.

“The 10th anniversary will be an emotional, difficult time for many New Yorkers, so it’s important that our students understand what happened that day,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “With the help of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, we’ve created a guide to discussing these events with students in a meaningful way that is also academically rigorous.”

Lessons focus on subjects like the history of the towers, the efforts of the first responders and how the city has since memorialized the tragedy. Kindergarteners, for example, can learn about the Search and Rescue Dogs that helped sort through the Ground Zero rubble in a lesson called “Furry Heroes.”

Schools will also have access to special counseling resources should students or staff members need it, the DOE said.

Investment in Infrastructure Will Bring Jobs, Engel Says

September 16, 2011

As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his much-hyped “jobs” speech this Thursday night, Bronx Congressman Eliot Engel says that investing in transportation construction is the key to creating more jobs.

In a statement released last week, Engel urged his colleagues in Congress to cooperate with President Obama to pass a federal transportation bill that funds roads, railways and transportation construction, something the president has been pressing as one solution to the nation’s high unemployment rate.

‘The best way for us to create immediate jobs is to rebuild our infrastructure,” Engel said in a press release.

“It is a win-win for America,” he added. “For example, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says that a $50 billion investment in school renovation could create half a million jobs in one to two years.  If we fail to reauthorize the transportation bill, we would lose 4,000 jobs instantly, $1 billion in revenue in the first 10 days, and approximately one million jobs in the first year.”

Engel said he recently toured his district — which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester — to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Irene.

“Bridges were knocked down and entire chunks of pavement were washed away, leaving municipalities with hazardous conditions, massive cleanup and logistical nightmares,” Engel said. “This just proves that we need to pay much more attention to our national infrastructure than we have in recent decades.”

Obama has said he is committed to rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure as a means of reigniting the nation’s stalled economy, and is expected to address this in his speech to Congress Thursday night.

The unemployment rate in the Bronx is the highest of any county in New York, according to the Department of Labor, at 12.3 percent in July.

Pedestrian Countdown Signals Installed On Concourse; Response to Injuries, Fatalities

August 25, 2011

By Justin Bodden

New countdown signals have been installed along the Grand Concourse, this one at Kingsbridge Road, in hopes of making crossing safer. (Photo by Justin Bodden)

A Concourse that is grand shouldn’t rack up nine fatalities and 411 pedestrian injuries in five years. But that’s the record of the borough’s most famous thoroughfare, which has prompted the city to identify a way to make Bronxites safer when crossing it.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and James Vacca, the east Bronx lawmaker who chairs the City Council Transportation Committee, recently announced the installations of pedestrian countdown signals along the four-and-a-half-mile long, 180-foot-wide Grand Concourse in hopes of preventing future accidents.

The countdown signals are being installed at 49 intersections along the Concourse beginning at East 140th Street continuing up to Mosholu Parkway. The signals display how much time pedestrians have to cross before the light turns.

In February, 11-year-old Russell Smith was struck and killed by a Honda, as he crossed the Concourse at East 183rd Street after buying milk for his infant brother. In 2005, Virginia Verdee was walking home from church on a Friday night when she, too, was struck and killed at the same intersection.

“Speeding and reckless driving kills, and these pedestrian countdown signals will save life and limb up and down the Grand Concourse, which is one of the most deadly thoroughfares in our borough,”  Vacca said. “Pedestrian countdown signals give New Yorkers the information they need to make the safe choice, which often means waiting for the next light on streets like the Grand Concourse.”

According to DOT studies, the countdown signals have been effective elsewhere in the city.

“I can see how there can be a lot of accidents on the Concourse — it’s very populous, cars going up and down the street,” said Daneda Gillespie, a drug abuse counselor who works near the Concourse and 183rd Street. “I think that’s a very good idea to help prevent accidents. It might not prevent every crash, but it does help.” Read more

Toxins Send PS 51 to Crotona

August 25, 2011

By Ronald Chavez

The Bronx New School, housed on Van Cortlandt Avenue East in an old lighting factory, will have a new home in a former Catholic School two miles away in Crotona. (Photo by Adi Talwar)

At a tense public hearing last week, the Department of Education announced it will be moving Bedford Park elementary school PS 51, known as the Bronx New School, to a new building two miles south—the result of a discovery earlier this summer that its current site contains hazardous levels of a chemical toxin linked to cancer.

“I apologize to you. It will not happen again,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told a crowd of seething parents at the Aug. 18 meeting at the Bronx High School of Science.

The school will re-open in less than two weeks, the first day of the new school year, in a building on East 182nd Street in Crotona, formerly the Catholic school at St. Martin of Tours. The new location is larger, with more classroom space and a gym next door.

But that’s doing little to calm parents, worried over the news that PS 51’s current building on Jerome Avenue tested positive for high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical which can cause kidney and liver problems and damage to the central nervous system over long periods of time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. TCE also causes dizziness, headaches, nausea and blurred vision.

“There were children in the school who were sick, and I mean seriously sick,” said Annette Melendez, a former PTA president who said a number of students during her time at the school had complained of headaches and that one had died from cancer. “Gee, this is such a small school,” she said. “Why are so many children sick in such a small school?” Read more

Corner Named for Fallen Traffic Agent

August 25, 2011

By Ronald Chavez

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (second from right) joined Council Member Joel Rivera (far right) at the street naming ceremony honoring Donnette and Sean Sanz who were killed by a van in 2008. Rafael Sanz, Donnette’s husband, is pictured at center. (Photo by Ronald Chavez)

The northeast corner of East 188th Street and Webster Avenue will permanently be marked by tragedy.

Earlier this month, the corner was conamed Donnette and Sean Sanz Place, in honor of a city traffic enforcement agent who was struck by a speeding van while seven months pregnant.

In 2008, at the corner now bearing her name, Donnette Sanz was on her lunch break when a van with faulty breaks rammed into her, leaving her pinned under a school bus. Some 30 neighborhood residents managed to lift the school bus off of her.

Sanz was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed an emergency C-section to save her baby.  Sanz died about an hour after the operation. Her son, Sean Sanz initially survived, but ultimately died about a week later. Read more

Tracey Tenants Rage at Rent Hike Proposal

August 25, 2011

By Ronald Chavez

Citing poor management that has led to deteriorating conditions, tenants at Tracey Towers argued against a proposal at a public hearing last month that would hike their rent by over 60 percent over the next three years.

RY Management, which operates the connected buildings, says its proposal to raise rent by 23.53 percent for this past July, again by 20.34 percent in July of 2012, and 16.9 percent for July of 2013 is necessary to cover the increased cost of fuel, insurance, and labor contracts.

At the same time, tenants allege management has ignored the twin 41-story buildings.

Some apartments near the top floors have been wrecked by water damage.

“When it rains, we pray hard,” said Margaret Mack, who lives on the 41st floor. She’s a member of the Committee for Survival and a resident since 1980. She said the windows in her apartment are “defective” and do little to keep rain out. Some of her walls are cracked and exposed. Read more

Espada’s Health Clinics, Banned from Medicaid Program, Likely to Close

August 25, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

On Aug. 10, the State Department of Health terminated the network of health care clinics run by former Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr. and his son from the state’s Medicaid program–a move that will essentially mean closure for the five medical centers of the Soundview Network, which operate almost entirely on reimbursement funds from Medicaid patients.

The reason for the exclusion, the Health Department said, is Soundview’s failure to comply with state laws that “are designed to ensure that Medicaid dollars are properly accounted for and that systems are in place to ensure that all claims for funding are valid.”

Just hours before the announcement, the State’s Office of the Medicaid Inspector General released a letter recommending Soundview be cut, also citing the organization’s failure to comply as well as a “lack of oversight” of the business operations there, and the fact that both Espada and his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, are still leading the company, despite being barred from participating in the Medicaid program themselves back in January.

Both Espadas are facing trial on federal charges that they embezzled more than $500,000 from Soundview, spending the money on luxury car payments and exorbitant sushi restaurant tabs.

Espada held a press conference in response to the state’s decision, defiantly declaring “this clinic will not close,” to a group of reporters and blaming the attacks against him on political targeting by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In his previous role as attorney general, Cuomo first raised the embezzlement charges against Espada in a civil suit in the spring of 2010.

According to the Department of Health, Soundview’s Medicaid ban will go into effect Sept. 12. In the meantime, the state will be working to make sure the clinic’s Medicaid patients will be effectively transferred somewhere else for care, according to a statement.

Schools Must Teach Sex Ed, City Says

August 25, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

New York City high school and middle school students will be required to take sex education classes starting this fall, the schools chancellor announced last week, the first time the city has broached such a mandate in over two decades.

Until now, schools were required by the state to educate students about HIV/AIDS. Whether or not to include lessons on broader sexual health topics in the curriculum — like sexually transmitted infections, birth control, how to properly use a condom — was left to the discretion of each individual school. The current requirements, Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in a letter to principals, is “leaving us with an uneven system that I believe does not serve our students well.”

The new school curriculum requires one semester of sex education in middle schools, and another in high school. Principals can decide in which grade the semesters will be taught.

“We have students who are having sex before the age of 13; students who have had multiple sexual partners; and students who aren’t protecting themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS,” Walcott wrote.  “As a parent and a grandparent—and as the person responsible for ensuring that all of our public school students receive a high-quality education—that is very concerning.”

The change is stemming, he said, from a larger, multimillion dollar program launched by the mayor earlier this month called the Young Men’s Initiative, which aims to eliminate the social and economic disparities faced by black and Latino youth.

According to Health Department data, just over 25 percent of teenage girls, and 10 percent of boys, who were surveyed by the South Bronx District Public Health Office, said they did not use a condom the last time they had sex. The Bronx had a higher teen pregnancy rate in 2009 than any other borough, another report found—105 of every 1,000 girls.

Sex education in schools can mean the difference between a young woman graduating or not, said Nancy Biberman, president of Bronx nonprofit WHEDco, which runs an afterschool program for teenage girls called Just Ask Me, or JAM, based around advocacy for sexual health education in schools.

“It’s just another tool in the tool kit of helping kids succeed,” Biberman said, adding that the city’s lack of a sex education mandate for the last 20 years has “significantly hurt a couple of generations.”

JAM started in 2007, when a group of middle school girls at one of the WHEDco’s afterschool program started discussing just how little they knew about sex.

“We came to realize that there was a huge problem in the schools,” Biberman said. “The young people were saying, ‘There’s a lot we don’t know. The information we’re gettting about sex is coming from music videos and things we’re hearing on the street.’”

That same group of girls started a petition and lobbied their principal, at Bronx’s IS 218, to include sexual education in their health lessons. They were later asked to testify before the City Council when the idea of a mandate was being considered by the DOE.

Not everyone, of course, approves of the change. Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr. accused Mayor Bloomberg of intending to “completely usurp the role of parents,” in teaching their children about sex.

Parents have the right to opt their children out of classes on pregnancy prevention and birth control, Walcott said.

Gillibrand Bill Targets Unemployed City Youth

August 25, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand met with a number of Bronx clergy leaders and local lawmakers last week to promote legislation she’s sponsoring to reduce the number of unemployed young people in urban areas.

The Urban Job Acts of 2011 would funnel money to both national and local nonprofit organizations that work with young minorities, according to a press release. The funding would be used for educational, job readiness and social service programs that specifically target at-risk city populations, like high school dropouts or those involved with the criminal justice system.

“This program would give city organizations the tools and resources they need to help our youth prepare for future jobs, find employment opportunities, and reach their full potential,” Gillibrand said. “The skills they would acquire through this program are invaluable. Helping our youth compete in this difficult economy will have a lasting, positive impact on our community.” Read more

Fire on Gun Hill Affects Families, Businesses

August 25, 2011

By Alex Kratz

On the first Friday morning of August, Ashley Santiago looked out the window of her apartment on the corner of Gun Hill Road and Rochambeau Avenue and saw fire raining down from the sky.

“My mom told me, ‘Look, there’s fire coming down from the sky,'” she said, two hours later.

Dressed in shorts and a tank top, the 18-year-old grabbed her wallet, cell phone and keys and ran out of the building, 3504 Rochambeau Ave., along with her mother, aunt and two dogs.

Santiago’s family and every other resident, including two teenagers who were in the apartment where the fire erupted, made it out of the building in plenty of time, but damage from the fire left a handful of families homeless, at least temporarily. Read more

Bronx Lawmakers Ask Obama to Halt Deportation Program

August 25, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

The federal government continues to implement a controversial deportation program despite intense criticism and the fact that three states, New York included, have already attempted to withdraw from participating in it.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will continue to roll out its “Secure Communities” initiative, which requires local law enforcement agencies to share digital fingerprint records of people who are arrested with federal immigration officials, who then check the prints for a person’s green card status—and deport anyone found to be residing here illegally.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in June that New York would not comply with the program, and the DHS had originally conveyed that participation by states was optional. In this month’s announcement, however, DHS changed gears, saying it did not need state or local authorization to continue its practice of deporting based on arrest records.

New York legislators, including many here in the Bronx, continue the denounce to program, saying it would only harm communities with large immigrant populations and that the federal government is ignoring criticism of Secure Communities. Read more

City Plans Overhauls for MS 80 and MS 391

August 25, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

As part of an ongoing effort to turn around poor performing schools, the Department of Education is making changes this fall at 33 middle and high schools across the city, including two nearby: MS 80 on Mosholu Parkway, and MS 391, or the Angelo Patri School, further south on Webster Avenue.

The effort will qualify the city to receive millions of dollars in federal School Improvement Grants, doled out by the U.S. Department of Education, which require the DOE to institute one of four federally approved “intervention” methods to turn things around at each struggling school.

To the relief of teachers and parents, the city announced last month that none of the schools on its low-achieving list would be closed—one of the federal models on the table, and a favorite of the Bloomberg administration, which has shut down dozens of schools for poor performance over the last decade.

Instead, the DOE will institute two other federally approved tactics, “restart” and “transformation.” Read more

Community Policing

August 25, 2011

Police and community came together on the evening of Aug. 2 in Williamsbridge Oval Park, which is just the point of National Night Out. There was music, games for kids, and the Office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gave Deputy Inspector Joseph Dowling a proclamation honoring the 52nd Precinct for its work in the community. (Photos by Adi Talwar)

Gay Bronx Couples Waste No Time in Making History

July 27, 2011

Karen Cofield and Gwendolyn Williams, who met five years ago, were married at the Bronx County Courthouse on Sunday. (Photo by Jordan Moss)

By Jordan Moss

The signs of a highly unusual Sunday at the Bronx County Courthouse, where profound new rights were being conferred on a large group of New Yorkers, were hard to miss.

Staff of the mayor’s office, sporting orange baseball caps, warmly greeted anyone who came within 50 yards of the courthouse’s Concourse entrance. There was no crammed lineup leading to the metal detectors. Cameras, forbidden from courtrooms and confiscated for the duration of one’s visit if found, were waved on through.

History, after all, was waiting for its close-up.

Another gantlet of helpers led people to the correct elevator to head down to the marriage bureau in the basement. About a couple of dozen gay couples calmly waited in a courtroom on the ground floor on the west side of the courthouse to be married on the first day it was possible, as allowed by a law passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo a month ago. Many were with family and friends, and some were ust happy to be with each other on a day no one in the room would likely ever forget. There were delays in getting couples to the “altar” (a small office near the courtroom), but impatience was scarce.

Rhea Greenberg, a disability analyst for the state, and Janice Glock, a retired postal worker, met on a blind date and have been together for almost 12 years, living in Spuyten Duyvil. The couple, who jokingly referred to each other as “Spouse A” and “Spouse B,” which is how they had to classify themselves on the marriage license forms, chose not to get married in nearby states like Connecticut or Massachusetts which preceded New York in allowing gay marriage. They held out hope for the Empire State to fall in line.

“This is where we’ve lived our lives,” said Greenberg, who expressed relief that there were no protesters outside the building. “This is where we have roots, family, friends, and this is where we want to get married.”

Though they know they’re going to be together forever, there are practical considerations, Greenberg said. “I want to know if anything happens to me, that she is as protected as possible.”

“We plan to stay together,” Glock said. “We’ve worked out all the kinks. This is one more way of uniting ourselves.”
On their anniversary on Aug. 12, they will gather with family and friends to celebrate their marriage at Silvio’s, an Italian restaurant in Yonkers, where they also marked their domestic partnership about five years ago.

“Give them a plug,” Greenberg told a reporter regarding Silvio’s. “We told them we’d try to get them gay wedding business!”

A few rows back, Mott Haven residents Karen Cofield and Gwendolyn Williams also waited patiently, willing to endure some bureaucratic delays after five years together.

They met in a rehab center upstate and have been a support to each other ever since.

A reporter asked Cofield, a maintenance worker at Memorial Sloane Kettering, what being married meant to her. She hardly skipped a beat.

“Everything,” said Cofield.

She added: “There’s no question in our mind that we’re going to be together. It’s just another level for us.”

Twenty seven couples tied the knot that day in the Bronx, 823 in the city as a whole.

Earlier in the morning, Criminal Court Judge Efrain Alvarado, assisting the other judges in managing a very unusual Sunday of legal proceedings, told the packed courtroom:

“We have a historic day today. Not just because it’s the first time in New York State, but because we have come full circle in recognizing the equality and equal justice deserved by all.”
David Greene contributed to this story.

New Webster Ave. Plans Bring Cheers and Jeers

July 27, 2011

By Jeanmarie Evelly

Change is coming to Webster Avenue.

The gritty, industrial stretch that runs through the neighborhoods of Norwood and Bedford Park was rezoned by the City Council this past March, with a plan designed to encourage more retail stores and residential housing in an area now largely composed of parking lots and auto body shops.

Though not necessarily a direct result of the city’s change—zoning plans are more like gentle hands that shape a neighborhood, and depending on market conditions, it can take years before any real changes are seen—new projects already under way or in the pipeline along Webster are a portent for what the street could look like down the road.

Two developers are eyeing the avenue as the site of separate affordable housing complexes. One is already under way, in a lot technically located in Community Board 12, along the south end of Woodlawn Cemetery and just north of Gun Hill Road. Jackson Development Group is constructing over 400 new apartments in four buildings, calling the massive development “Webster Commons,” and advertising the rentals for low and moderate-income tenants.

The project, subsidized by a number of city and state affordable housing programs as well as $839,000 in capital funding from Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., has drawn criticism from some community members.

“As the first projects on [a rezoned] Webster Avenue, I believe it’s a poor decision to put in so-called affordable, low-income housing,” said Andrew Laiosa, a member of Community Board 7 who openly describes himself as “anti-development.”

He voted against both Webster Commons and another affordable housing complex planned for Webster Avenue, just north of 204th Street. That project, pitched to the community board several months ago by housing development groups Azimuth and Sebco, would be on a much smaller scale — 60 apartment units, a portion of which would be set aside for formerly homeless families and a first floor that would be leased to a for-profit daycare company.

Laiosa said he would rather see a developer with private money come to Webster Avenue, rather than government-subsidized projects aimed to house low-income tenants, which he said “sets a bad precedent.” “What we need to do is have a diversity of incomes in the Bronx,” he said. “We can’t just become a dumping ground for all poor people in New York City.”

The rezoning adopted for Webster Avenue this spring intentionally creates incentives for affordable housing, and a City Planning spokesperson compared it to a similar plan approved years ago in Morrisania—a south Bronx neighborhood that’s subsequently been transformed by a building boom over the last decade, where brand new, low-income housing complexes have sprung up like dandelions.

The city and the Bloomberg administration heralds this growth as “revitalizing” to communities; the mayor has even set a goal of creating or preserving at least 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014, part of his New Housing Marketplace Plan.

But some critics say policies like this don’t address fundamental housing problems, like skyrocketing city rents, and instead create an incentive for building and overdevelopment that doesn’t consider the bigger picture.

“It just doesn’t make sense to build that big in the Bronx,” said Kristin Hart, a Kingsbridge Heights resident who heads a local neighborhood association and is adamantly opposed to Jackson Development Group’s plan. “In my opinion, they’re building a giant city.”

She fears the massive complex might remain largely vacant, or eventually fall into foreclosure.

“Most people in the Bronx are not going to be able to afford or qualify for these apartments, so what are they trying to accomplish?” she said. “The developers honestly don’t care if it succeeds or if it fails. They just want to build.”

But Eli Weiss, Jackson’s finance director, said other projects in the Bronx that are similar to Webster Commons, like one on Decatur Avenue and another on St. Ann’s Terrace, have gotten “fantastic” responses from renters and have near-zero vacancy rates.

“The demand is really there,” he said. Rents at Webster Commons would start at around $859 a month for a studio apartment, he said.

Richard Gorman, who chairs Community Board 12 where the project is located, said he supports the plan and doesn’t understand where the opposition is coming from.

“It was something we welcomed. That’s an area of the district that’s empty, vacant land,” he said, adding that the location was plagued for years by people illegally dumping their garbage.

“They’re doing a complete redevelopment of Webster Avenue,” Gorman said, referring to the goals of the recent rezoning. “The best way to get shoppers [there] is to have people living nearby.”

Creston Ave. Crew Busted in Drug Raid

July 27, 2011

By Alex Kratz

Over the past several years, the area around Creston Avenue, just north of St. James Park, has built a reputation as a hot spot for the drug trade. Periodic violence highlighted the turf wars that accompanied it. Earlier this month, however, local and federal authorities made a big dent in curbing Creston’s infamous image.

Culminating a year-long investigation by the FBI and NYPD with an early morning raid on the so-called “Creston Avenue Crew,” police arrested eight people in the Bronx and three in Puerto Rico. A handful of others were already in custody, while two other Bronxites and a mysterious man named Fnu Lnu (no address was given), also known as “Jesse,” remain at large. In total, according to a 17-page federal indictment, charges were filed against 20 people for drug trafficking, firearms and money laundering.

In the course of the raid, authorities discovered three guns, pounds of marijuana, marijuana growing equipment, scales, a police scanner, cocaine and thousands of dollars in cash. It amounted to a fraction of what the organization brought in and distributed over the past five years, law enforcement officials said.

“These defendants allegedly built a drug empire in the Bronx, using guns and violence to protect their operation and terrorize a neighborhood,” said United States Attorney Preet Bharra.

The Creston Avenue Crew had a hand in two recent murders near St. James Park, according to the federal indictment. Standing in a crowd of bystanders, three of whom were also shot, 27-year-old Christopher “Gremlin” Santiago was murdered in June 2006. In 2009, Carlos Lorenzo was shot and killed on Creston Avenue.

Last year, a young father was shot and killed in the late afternoon while walking out of St. James Park near Creston Avenue. No one has been charged in his murder and it was not mentioned in the indictment.

This bust comes roughly one year after authorities took down the infamous La Perla Organization, which controlled a stretch of Valentine Avenue, just blocks away from Creston Avenue and St. James Park.

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