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Who Won the Mayoral Debate?

by Mamta Badkar

In the first of two televised debates between the mayoral contenders, Democratic candidate William Thompson hammered away at Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg´s violation of term limits. Thompson, who has served as the city´s comptroller for the last eight years, and has been the primary target of Bloomberg´s outsized $65 million campaign, accused the mayor of trying to "rewrite history." Bloomberg in turn, insisted that he was giving New Yorkers more of a choice, but sheepishly answered "yes," when panelist Brian Lehrer asked if he promised not to run for a fourth term. The candidates were given the opportunity to face-off during an aggressive cross-examination by each other and by local journalists from the New York Daily News, WNYC-radio, Noticias del  Mundo, and NY1 television. Thompson questioned what he suggested was the mayor´s ideological promiscuity by reminding him that he had switched parties to suit his convenience. Bloomberg questioned Thompson´s rationale for firing Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner since 2002. Bloomberg who has spent his last two terms championing public education, reiterated the importance of setting a fair wage for teachers, while accusing Thompson, the former Director of the Board of Education of ineptitude. "You don´t get a medal for rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said Bloomberg, referring to Thompson´s 5 years as president of the former Board of Education from 1996 to 2001. Thompson took credit for bringing schools under mayoral control and criticized Bloomberg´s failure to involve parents, to provide clear financial information to parents or to draft a curriculum for kids that allows for critical thinking. Often considered insulated by his philanthropy and accused of "pay-to- endorse" politics, Bloomberg said he was proud of the money he had donated to charity. He deflected attention onto Thompson accusing him of allowing bad investments in city pension funds in exchange for support. Thompson riled by constant attacks on his reputation and integrity lashed out, "Mike you know better than that. You should be ashamed. And stop it!" Thompson reminded voters of Manhattan´s vacant luxury buildings and rising taxes, cost of utilities and rent, which had pushed middle-income families out of the city and promised to take-up rezoning if he were to be elected mayor. "People who make the city great can´t live here," said Thompson. While Bloomberg reasoned that land-use changes had evolved to sustain livability while creating new economies and industry. The hour-long verbal joust also touched on the rise in stop-and-frisks by the police under Bloomberg´s administration. Bloomberg believed that it kept crime down during the recession but was countered by Thompson who thought it had racial overtones and was overused. The debate extended to the merits of state control in matters of public health. Bloomberg´s "nanny state" has received both flak and credit for its ban on trans fats and smoking in public places. "Nobody makes you not buy the Big Mac," said Bloomberg and added "But at least people have that information." Thompson didn´t argue with the ban but said his focus would be on bridging health disparities among communities. The lightning round moderated by the evening´s host and NY1 reporter Dominic Carter, required monosyllabic responses to serious and playful questions, which ranged from American troops in Afghanistan to manicures and pedicures, and temporarily offset the seriousness of the evening while familiarizing voters with their candidates. Ultimately, the debate boiled down to Bloomberg´s undemocratic decision to push term limits which only yesterday lost him the endorsement of 9000 members of the law enforcement union. His arguments however well reasoned, seemed undercut by his intransigence. "The people of New York City aren´t for sale," said Thompson, "November 3rd will be our referendum for term limits."

Posted in Politics0 Comments

An Unwitting Pet Sanctuary

by Mamta Badkar

You know times are tough when people don´t have enough money to feed their hamsters. Last winter, 11 of the cute, furry rodents were left in a box outside the Petland Discount store on Broadway, the main thoroughfare in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Some froze to death before the employees showed up to work. The live ones didn´t have much time left. Since then, a rabbit and a cat were abandoned outside the store. Petland employees believed the recession had something to do with the onslaught of dumped animals. And they  hope with winter coming on, that Bronx residents don´t panic again. "People are desperate, the last alternative is taking their animal to a pet store," said Rafael Gonzalez, the assistant store manager, whose store has become an unwitting pet sanctuary. "If we carry cats or dogs, they think it´s a suitable place for them, and unfortunately that isn´t the case," he said. Gonzalez and store manager Roxann Rodriguez took home some of the abandoned pets. They called other good Samaritans to rescue the others. The squeeze is on, when one visit to the veterinarian can range anywhere from $45 to $100, and dog or cat food can cost from $40 to $60 per month. "Owners will no longer buy the extra bone," said Rodriguez, who had to put fish on sale to attract customers. "We´ve on occasion, had customers try to steal food, put it in their hoodie pockets, or open up a can of food inside the store and feed it to their pet before one of us goes down the aisle," said Gonzalez who confronted one customer who had two cans of Eukanuba, a brand of dog food, in his pockets. Animal shelters like The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) require owners to pay $35 for every pet they drop off. "This discourages people but the shelters also need money to care for and reinstitute them. It´s like a catch-22," said Gonzalez. According to The Toby Project, which is in partnership with the Animal Care and Control of New York City, 70 animals are euthanized in the city everyday. At Riverdale Animal Hospital in Kingsbridge, Dr. Lino Cedeno has often refused customers´ requests to put down healthy pets. While the economic downturn hasn´t affected the pet industry as dramatically as it has others, it has had a profound influence on the spending habits of the average American. When people are struggling to take care of each other, pets sometimes don´t make good fiscal sense, especially in low-income neighborhoods. But Gonzalez tries to stay upbeat. "It is the season to shop, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said.  Pets make the best gifts, as long as their owners can afford to care for them.

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx Neighborhoods, Money0 Comments

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