An Old Warrior Battles Yankee Fever

by Jose Leyva

Ramon Jimenez has built his career on building community movements and fighting legal battles on behalf of regular people in the Bronx, from injured construction workers to low-income tenants. But in his 20 years as a lawyer and activist, Jimenez has never faced such a formidable opponent as the New York Yankees.

“The Yankee issue is like David against Goliath,” said Jimenez, a 60-year-old Legal Aid attorney, speaking from his law office in the Hub at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse. Decorating its walls were various Puerto Rican flags, baseball posters, his Harvard degree and a painting of Campos, the great Puerto Rican independence leader.

Four months ago, Jimenez organized a group of local leaders and residents calling themselves the South Bronx Coalition to pressure the Yankees organization to fulfill its pledge to the city spelled out in the Community Benefits Agreement it signed along with the city in 2006. Among its promises are a donation of $800,000 per year to non-profit Bronx organizations, and the employment of South Bronx construction workers to demolish the old stadium and build the new one.

His newly formed coalition has so far staged a fundraiser, a demonstration outside Yankee Stadium and a silent vigil outside the home of Randy Levine, the Bronx Bombers´ president. Each event drew 50 to 60 protesters. The Yankees, so far, have not responded.

“My goal is beyond Yankee Stadium,” said Jimenez. “The problems are beyond Yankee Stadium. I would like to see a coalition of different groups and activists in the South Bronx fighting for community.”

His followers feel he is their best shot at getting the storied ball club to pay attention. “He is one of the people in the Bronx that have more knowledge about the challenges of the community,” said Nilsa Amalia Saniel, one of the members of the coalition. “Besides that, people on the street believe in him.”

Since 1974, Ramon Jimenez, who wrote for the Village Voice about Latino politics in New York, has focused his activism on the South Bronx. After earning a law degree from Harvard University, he accepted a professor position at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx. Months later, one of his many battles began.

In 1976, the city tried to close the college, which promoted Puerto Rican heritage and the Spanish language. “We had an incredible movement-10,000 people marching down Lexington Avenue, Jimenez remembered, pausing to advise a client about his rights on a construction site.

Jimenez led the protesters in a takeover of the Hostos College administration for 20 days. He was arrested, but “we built a movement that eventually stopped them from closing the school,” he said, proudly.

In the 1980´s, Jimenez faced another challenge when he tried to bring more Hispanic representation to the city by running for a State Senate seat.

“I ran against the machine,” said Jimenez. “They used to call my mother and father at midnight and they used to say, `We just blew up your son´s car. He is dead.´ And after I lost, they made it very hard for me to get a job.”

That experience helped prepare him for combat with the Yankees. Not only is he pursuing his long-term goals through the coalition, but he is challenging an organization with an estimated annual budget of $ 277 million.

“I can’t stand powerful forces that treat people so bad,” said Jimenez, whose voice rose in anger when he talked about the Yankees´ poor relationship with the South Bronx. “It is like putting a red cape in front of a bull.”

The Yankees promised the community that it would replace the park used to build the new stadium, to employ people from the South Bronx, and to provide health, environmental and financial reports about the new sports venue. In Jimenez´s opinion, none of those commitments have been met.

Jimenez hopes to nurture the next generation of activists with this coalition, beginning with his 26-year-old daughter, Laila, who coordinated the anti-Yankee fundraiser. This is Laila´s first time organizing with her father.

“We have a lot of community organizations supporting us, said Laila, a student at Manhattan College, who belongs to various Puerto Rican groups in the city. “We expect to deliver results to the community soon.”

Edwin Santos, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society and longtime colleague of Jimenez´s, said the role he is playing in this social movement is more like a mentor.

“I have to pass on I know to these young people before the end of my life,” said Jimenez.

  • All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.