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U.S. Congressional candidate Ocasio-Cortez may have what it takes to reverse low black voter turnout in November

Loud cheering erupted as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked through the doors of Lorraine’s Restaurant in Parkchester for her congressional campaign kick-off rally last September. The come-from-behind candidate went out of her way to stop and thank each of her supporters throughout the room, in the neighborhood where she has deep roots.

Her campaign had already become as much a national resistance movement to the dominant two-party rule as it is a full-throated embrace of issues that matter deeply to communities of color. “This is not just about winning elections it is about advancing a movement,” Ocasio shouted to supporters

“There are a lot of folks that are in other districts who are a little scared to say things like, ‘Black Lives Matter,” she told the crowd of more than a hundred supporters. “That’s fine, but we have the opportunity to say those things. And when we have it, we must.”

Faces of all different colors filled the restaurant. Males and females, young and old.

She was as stunned as the rest of mid-term primary election watchers last June when she wrested the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Congress from ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley. At 28-years-old, Ocasio is everything her primary opponent was not: a community organizer, brand new to campaigning, she is a proud, socialist Latina. Her platform reflects her roots.

Ocasio came into the 14th Congressional District primary race with no established network in politics, yet she draws fired-up crowds. Nearly 200 enthusiasts packed into Lorraine’s restaurant that September night.

Nearly 65 percent of Ocasio’s campaign contributions came from individuals who gave less than $200 each. In contrast, her opponent, Republican Anthony Pappas, received the majority of his contribution from large corporations.

Her campaign was built from coalition of groups that politicians rarely reach out to, such as Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and the Kalief Browder Foundation for criminal justice reforms. This clear focus on issues Latino and black communities care about lead many in the black community to predict Ocasio has what it takes to appeal to the black vote in November.

“We need a vocal and active resister to the Trump agenda,” said Kirsten John Foy, political strategist for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Foy said Ocasio’s opposition to the real estate interests is critical to the black community. “Black people are suffering at the hands of forces of gentrification as well as being victims,” he said.


Rolling out her revolutionary platform, Ocasio has not missed a beat. In three separate events in the Bronx in September, Ocasio emphasized three key issues: criminal justice reform, Medicare for all, and eliminating the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Each of these issues directly relate to communities of color. Black community members hope her focus on this issues are enough to gain trust and the full support of the black voters, who have become increasingly disengaged from the voting booth.

“Her relatable story to people of color will bring us out on election day,” said Joyce Hounkanran, an African-American supporter.

Ocasio connecting with potential constituents at a fall campaign rally in Lorraine’s Restaurant, Parkchester. Photo credit: Olivia Eubanks


Her appeal to Latino voters is nearly automatic as Latinos are excited to have a Puerto Rican running and she is working hard to energize black voters as well, a group that has grown less likely to vote in recent trends.

The Democratic black vote declined by 2 percent between the 2012 presidential election when Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee, to 2016 when Hillary Clinton ran. Civil Rights activist and leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, DeRay Mckesson, said black people are skeptical about voting for politicians who say they will change black communities, and then never do it.

He believes Ocasio may be able to bring the black vote out because of her authenticity and relatable life.  “Unlike most politicians, with Ocasio it’s ‘this is who she is, this is what got her here, take it or leave it,’” Mckesson said. “Her truth will bring the voters out.”

Building and sharing power with the community, he added, are the keys to this movement of change in communities of color.

Ocasio’s campaign rallies draw a few young black men, a sign that Mckesson may be right. One of the first to attend Ocasio’s kick-off rally in September at Lorraine’s restaurant in the Bronx was Hussein Abdul, a 21-year-old Bronx Community College student. “I see her as change and hope for us,” said Abdul, who is African American. “We are often silenced; I hope our voices are heard.” Abdul believes Ocasio’s Democratic Party nomination is a pivotal moment in history for all people of color, fully invested in her campaign, he presumes the black community will come out in November and vote for her.

Another key issue for Ocasio is police violence, an issue that touches the black community.

A quarter of all people killed by police in 2017 were African American, even though blacks represent only 13 percent of the total population according to mapping police violence.

Ocasio is actively working on getting independent investigations when a person dies in an altercation with a police or public official. At her listening tour early September at a church in Throggs Neck she said she was in conversations with correctional officers as well as the community in an attempt to stop police violence. “We can’t have police agencies investigate themselves,” Ocasio said, “because what we see from time to time again is that it doesn’t seem impartial or build trust with the community.”

One of the first organizations to endorse her campaign was Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. Its New York president, Hawk Newsome, said he instantly knew he was going to endorse her last year when the two of them had a three-hour conversation in front of Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan.

“She’s the real deal,” said Newsome. “Black Lives Matter of Greater New York stands behind her because she stands behind the issues that are important to us.”

Hawk said he hopes she remains tough and doesn’t get tangent by the establishment. “I just want her to stay pure,” he said. “I want her to stay real.”

As Ocasio prepares for Election Day on November 6, she has a full schedule of tapings and interviews with different television stations. She is predicted to win the Bronx by a landslide, the borough with the largest concentration of registered Democratic voters in the city.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Featured, Politics0 Comments

Why would a Black Republican run for State Assembly in the Bronx?

Alpheaus Marcus strode through the doors of a regularly scheduled city parks committee meeting on Turnbull Avenue in the Bronx one Tuesday night in September, his 6-foot-1-inch frame drawing attention from the local audience.

The 47-year-old Bronx resident took the opportunity to announce his candidacy for New York State Assembly.

“Really? I didn’t see you on the ballot,” said Nicholas Himidian, the community district chairperson, referring to the Democratic ticket of candidates. Confused stares followed.

Another audience member broke the awkward silence: “He’s running Republican,” the resident said. “I don’t know why people in the Bronx assume everyone has to be running Democrat.”

It was a jarring point. Community activist, father of two sons, Alpheaus Marcus is a rarity, particularly in the Bronx, the borough with the highest percentage of Democrats in the city at 77 percent.

What drove Marcus to run as a Republican, in a race he has little chance of winning? Turns out he wasn’t always a Republican. And, he said, he expects to win, against all odds.

Like 67 percent of all black registered voters in New York City, Marcus has until now been a registered Democrat. Always interested in politics, he became active in Letitia James’s campaign for Public Advocate in 2014, a race that she won, and recently parlayed into the Democratic nomination for State Attorney General in September. Marcus’s aim was to support a woman of color for this influential citywide elected position, a dedication that quickly turned sour for him.

With his bird’s-eye view from inside her campaign, Marcus slowly came to the conclusion that James was not going to tackle the challenging issues he cared most about — ending discrimination against colored children in public schools by giving public schools the same quality of teachers as charters and private schools.

“She, like many other politicians, has forgotten about the communities who elected them,” said Marcus, adding that he believes her allegiance has turned more to those who financed her campaign. “No return to the community has taken place.” Calls to James’s campaign for comment were not returned.

His disillusion from the Democrats was complete when he decided to run unopposed as a Republican for State Assembly in the 87th District.

One door closed, another one opened. He feels he has a chance to win the assembly seat because his campaign is focused on the community, while he said his opponent, Democratic nominee Karina Reyes, is all about receiving the popularity vote.

Reyes does not understand how Marcus can call himself a Republican, yet run on a Democratic platform. “He is an opportunist,” Reyes concluded. “It’s simple as that.”

Marcus considers his move to the Republican ticket as another way to reach a broader audience. “When I die I want to touch so many people that I have four funerals,” Marcus said.

With zero contributions from any outside organizations, Marcus is independently funding his campaign with the help of family and some community members who make posters and flyers.

On October 16, Marcus sat for a video interview with the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a free public access cable station where he discussed his ideas about public education system and criminal justice.

Interview at Manhattan Neighborhood Network Photo Credit: Olivia Eubanks

The interviewer, Greg Lassiter, a black conservative, confronted Marcus about the futility of running as a Republican with a Democratic platform.

“How are you going to propose your ideas to a party that doesn’t support them?” Lassiter said.

“I’m going to change the game,” Marcus fired back. “Bring in a new voice to the party.”

Family and friends questioned why Marcus was abandoning the party in which he was raised. “As a kid who grew up in the inner-city, I don’t understand how he can be a Republican,” said Lamond Moultrie, a friend of 30 years. “How can he help the black community when he’s joined the party that doesn’t stand by any of our views?”

Marcus stands by his opinion that the Democratic party is overpopulated with African-Americans and nothing is getting done.

“Whether we go Republican or Democrat, we have to look at the bigger picture,” Marcus said. “If we are not getting justice in one party we have to get it in another.”

At least one family in the Bronx is in his corner and disregards his political affiliation. The Roberts family is deeply grateful for Marcus’s dedication to finding justice for their 17-year-old relative, Vlana, who was gunned down in the Bronx in June.  Marcus spent three months working with Kirk Stinson, Vlana’s brother, to bring the killer to justice.

A teen was finally arrested for her murder. “Marcus is a good man,” said Stinson. “He helped me by not giving up the fight in bringing my sister justice. Just as he won’t give up the good fight to make the community better.”

Born in Harlem, Alpheaus was the oldest child of six on his mother’s side. His father had 19 more children.  Marcus was raised by his grandmother on 7th Avenue and 14th Streets. He attended Westside High School now known as Ed Reynolds High School.

In 2004, he became of member of the Free Masons. From high school he went on to Hostos Community College, transferring to John Jay College in 2017 to complete his criminal justice degree. Currently, he is taking a break from school for the campaign but plans to finish this degree by 2020, and then attend law school.

Through his teen years, Marcus said he was heavily involved with the drug and crime scene on the streets of Harlem. At age 20, he noticed that his friends were getting older, yet their lives were not amounting to much. He didn’t want the street life to be the end of his story, so he decided to turn his life around.

In 2003, he left the dead-end drug life, and the influences of his friends, and moved to the Bronx. The catalyst for change was the birth of his oldest son, JaiQuan Johnson in 1991 into a life he realized he needed to change.

As he came into fatherhood, he thought to himself, “I imagine if I had all the influence on the streets to do the wrong things, imagine how much influence I could have doing the right things.”

One of these “right things” was starting Retrospection in December 2015, a non-profit educational program for inner city youth who are at risk of becoming part of the criminal justice system. Located in Harlem, this program he said has helped over 400 at-risk youth with academics and advice on how to succeed.

Helping youth is his passion, but he felt he could do more to help his community. Following the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, Marcus decided to get into community advocacy.  He called current community leaders “provocateurs,” who encouraged followers to chant “No Justice, No Peace,” which was followed by the same outcome: injustice. “Coming from a community that’s conditioned to oppression. I wanted to see some form of change,” he said.

Marcus sees the first step for change in pushing the state assembly to tackle equal education for children of color. If elected, he said he wants to push forward a Cowards Bill, which would treat crimes against children, women, and the elderly as hate crimes.

Long-time friend, Tyquan Evans feels the community needs someone like Marcus in office who can relate to the community, “He’s been where those people have been, he’s came a long way.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Politics0 Comments

In the Cradle of Hip-Hop, a South Bronx Gallery Bridges a Gap

Rapper and activist formerly known as Mos Def partnered with Free Richardson to open an art museum that displays an equal balance of fine art and street art. This South Bronx gem opened this September with an estimated 600 people in attendance at the grand opening.

The New York Times has more here.

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Are South Bronx residents adjusting to new ferry ?

Last few people boarding the 7:30 am ferry into the city.

BRONX – As Soundview residents are adapting to the new ferry, some fear it will become overcrowded because of the lack of public transportation in the South Bronx. Early one Wednesday morning,  just three weeks after the ferry launched, 30 Soundview residents were lined up on the dock, waiting to catch the 7:30 ride to the city.

For 61-year-old Nisa, a lifelong resident of the Bronx, the new ferry has been life-changing. Prior to the ferry, Nisa would take two buses and two trains to get to the city with a two-hour commute time. “Getting to the city in half the time I would normally get there is unbeatable.” Nisa said. “I also enjoy the nice breeze on the boat while I am riding into the city.”

On average, 18,000 people take the ferry each weekday and about 28,000 people on weekends, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The busiest times of travel are during the morning and afternoon rush hours, when people are commuting to work. “We have had a few instances of the boat maxing out due to popularity.said a spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Despite the new ferry, overcrowded transportation remains an issue because the population is growing.  There are nearly 200,000 people living in District 9, where the ferry is located and more than 62% of them use public transit to get to work. The city average is slightly lower, at 56% according to the 2013, five-year American Community Survey. This overcrowding problem has been in the district needs budget for the past two years.

Bus 27 has extended its route to provide transportation to the ferry. This route has experienced more than a 10% increase in ridership since 2010.

A petition to ask for additional ferry stations throughout the South Bronx for communities such as Throggs Neck and City Island, was created by a long time resident soon after the launch of the ferry. As of September 10th , 125 people had signed it.  The petition was created on, one of the largest petition platforms with over 200 million users.

“I used to ride the trains into the city but they were too crowded for me. The ferry can get crowded at certain times of day, but another boat would relieve that congestion during work hours on the ferry.” said 63-year-old Bronx native, Nelson, when asked about the petition.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Community Resources, Southern Bronx, Transportation0 Comments