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The Bronx loves Obama… still

Video by David Patrick Alexander and Elettra Fiumi.

Bronx voters bucked the national trend at the polling booths during Tuesday’s midterm elections, rallying behind President Barack Obama even as they expressed concerns about rising unemployment and the faltering economy. The majority of 300 voters interviewed by Bronx Ink reporters at 29 polling stations Nov. 2 said they voted for the Democrats on the ballot in large part because they wanted to show their support for the president. Many believed that the halfway point was too early to judge his presidency. “I think he’s doing good,” said Maritza Rivera, who voted in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. “There’s too much pressure on him; somebody else would have just passed out already.” An engineer at St. Joseph’s School of Yorkville in Manhattan said he sympathized with the heavy burden born by the nation’s first black president. “He has resolved a little bit of the problems created by Bush,” said Jose Quinonez, as he voted in Belmont. “His hair is white now.” Nationally, the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives and is expected win a number of state gubernatorial races previously held by Democrats. Control of the seats in the U.S. Senate, as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, was still in the balance. In New York State, 13 Congressional seats are being contested. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo beat Republican Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino in a tighter than expected race for governor. But in the Bronx, where nearly 90 percent of the population is non-white, many continued to vote Democratic down the line and hoped the party would keep the momentum it gained in 2008, when 89 percent of borough voters cast ballots for Obama. “I’m concerned about Republicans gaining control over the House,” said Barbara Curran, who voted in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “They’re going to make getting President Obama out of office their mission.” For some supporters, the rising national dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and the Obama administration added extra incentive to get to a polling booth early in the morning. One Fordham voter said Obama needs confidence from his supporters to implement the changes he promised in the 2008 campaign. “There’s a lot of excess baggage he walked into,” said Perneter McClary. “A lot of times when he tries to get something done, nobody wants to help him. And he can’t do it alone.” But for others, the President still had a long way to go. “I still support him,” said Floyd Sykes of Highbridge, “but not as enthusiastically. Like a lot of people, I wish he’d show some emotion, get mad.” The staggering unemployment rate in Bronx County also prompted many Bronxites to head to the polls. With the latest unemployment figures putting the number of jobless in the borough at 12.5 percent - almost 5 percent higher than Manhattan, according to the State Department of Labor - the economy was an issue for many voters. “I’ve been unemployed for two years,” said Darlene Cruz who voted today in Soundview. “I voted Democrat down the line.” Other issues raised by voters included health care, education, mayoral term limits, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration and gay rights. "I care about maternal health and getting money for schools," said Carmen Mojica outside St. Brendan School in the Norwood section of The Bronx. "I really didn't care about the propositions. I honestly couldn't care less about arguing over term limits. We could be voting for more important things." Beverly Scriven, a Jamaican immigrant who turned up to vote in Soundview just as the polls opened at 6 a.m., said health care was on her mind. "I care about the economy and Medicare. We're seniors, so it affects us more than the youngsters. Regardless of the issues, we'll come out and vote. It's a privilege." On the State level, gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo was popular in the Bronx - even among the Bronx Ink survey’s few staunch Republicans. Williamsbridge resident and Republican Anna Presume said she voted for Cuomo because she liked his stance on crime. “I like Cuomo ... I didn’t vote for him just because he’s good looking,” she laughed. Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, was vilified for his offensive statements about gay people during his campaign, words that may cost him votes. When asked if he had voted for Paladino, East Crotona Park resident Winston Collymore, who does not vote along party lines, replied, “Do you think I am crazy? Do I look crazy?”
Bronx Voters Sound Off: Why I came out to vote? “Right now the city never takes care of us,” said Iqbal Chowdhury, 55, from Norwood. “Robberies are way up. We don’t have enough police support.” “I woke up at 5 a.m., and thought I should make history,” said Chevonne F. Johnson, 43, from East Tremont. “United we stand, divided we fall. That’s why I’m voting today.” “I’m 53 and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Lisa from Prospect Avenue, who did not want to reveal her last name.  “I got laid off from Department of Homeless Services and now I can’t find a job in this economy.” “I came to vote so I can help keep Republicans from ruining the country,” said William Byne, 56. “Trickle down doesn’t work.” “I always vote,” said Ousmane Bah, 49, from Grand Concourse. “People get killed for the right to vote, you have to come use it.” Do I think Obama is doing a good job? “I think that instead of a bag of gold, he got a bag of dirty laundry,” said Adam King, 36, a Board of Elections coordinator in Castle Hill but lives in Throgs Neck. “We can’t blame Obama for our problems since they came before him. And they’ll probably be here after him.” “It may take more than ten years to fix all this mess,” said Sidney Ellis, 73, from East Tremont. “I want him to take his time and do everything right,” said Natasha Williams, 25, from Tiebout Avenue. “I don’t want him to rush because of what other people said...He’s got eight years to clean up.” “He has no experience. He’s not fit to be president,” said Robert Healy, 49, from Fordham. “A painter doesn’t paint a house unless he’s got experience. I didn’t vote for him before, and I won’t vote for him in 2012.” “I think he’s doing a good job... There’s always going to be crises coming up,” said Luis Padilla, 45. “There’s more eyes on him because he’s the first black president.” What party did I vote for? “I never voted Republican in my life, and I’ve been voting a very long time,” said Kitty Lerin, 63, from Riverdale. “I think the tea party is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing for the Republicans,” said Luis Agostini, 38, from Fordham. “I’m for Cuomo, not Paladino,” said Ziph Hedrington, 43, from Melrose. “Paladino is somebody who I just didn’t trust. He seemed ‘gangsterish’ to me.” “For me, I don’t need to know the candidates,” said Jennifer Clery, 50, from Mott Haven. “I want a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, a Democratic everything.” What do I think about gay rights? “It’s getting a little crazy out there,” said Anthony McDonald, 56, from Grand Concourse. “I do what I have to do.  I’m from the old school.  Whatever you do is your private business, but it shouldn’t be on TV.” “I think gay rights are being used to get more votes,” said Anthony Neal, 50. “I don’t think any politician cares whether a person is gay or not.” “You should allow people to be who they are,” said Chevone F. Johnson, 43, from East Tremont. “It’s not our job to judge each other. That’s God’s job to judge.” “Friends of mine are suffering those problems due to the restrictions and the violence,” said Yvonne Long. “It affects everyone, it affects all of us.” “I don’t care about gays,” said Bertram Ferrer, 69, from Fordham. “I retired from the military and I believe in ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.”
Additional reporting by David Alexander, Elisabeth Anderson, Alexander Besant, Elettra Fiumi, Amara Grautski, Nick Pandolfo, Catherine Pearson, Connie Preti, Irasema Romero, Zach Schonbrun, Yardena Schwartz, Yiting Sun and Caitlin Tremblay.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Election 2010, Politics, Special Reports1 Comment

Roaring blaze empties Sheridan Avenue apartment building

By Stephanie Apstein and Zach Schonbrun
Highbridge apartment goes up in flames on a hot Friday afternoon

Highbridge apartment goes up in flames on a hot Friday afternoon

HIGHBRIDGE — A three-alarm fire tore through the top three floors of a six-story apartment building in the southeast Bronx on Friday afternoon. Four firefighters and two bystanders sustained minor injuries, but all the tenants were safely evacuated.

The fire quickly escalated from a two to three-alarm blaze due to the 90-degree heat and need for relief.

“It was hot,” said one firefighter who was in the building and declined to be named. “By the time we got here, it was roaring.”

Deputy Chief James J. Nichols said the cause of the fire is officially under investigation. “We think it’s accidental,” he said. “We think it’s electrical.”

The fire began on the fifth floor at approximately 3:30 p.m. at 1504 Sheridan Ave., a large grey-brick residential complex across the street from William Taft High School. FDNY Ladder Company 44 was the first to respond, followed by Ladder Company 49.

Because the building is large and the main entrance was far from the site of the fire, firefighters had to thread their hoses both through the lower levels of three adjacent buildings and also across the roof. The flames were extinguished in about 45 minutes.

Jason Monegro, 20, was the first to call 911 after he saw flames leaping from an electrical outlet near the television in his aunt’s fifth-floor apartment. He was doing laundry in the kitchen when his Yorkshire terrier, Bam-Bam, began barking and running back and forth.

“I saw smoke coming out of my cousin’s bedroom,” Monegro said. “And then I saw the crib catch on fire.”

Monegro said he poured a bucket of water on the fire, but when that had no effect he called 911.

“Everybody got out, thank god,” Monegro said.

The manager of Juhysa Beauty Salon on the building’s ground floor also called 911 when he noticed flames coming out of the windows on the fifth floor.

“I ran along the street and yelled up to the windows, ‘Fire! Fire!’” said Areliz Rodriguez.

Outside, throngs of bystanders crowded around the building, even as pieces of charred debris fell onto the street. Monegro, who was shirtless and barefoot, fielded questions from police, reporters and then dumbfounded family members as they slowly arrived on the scene. Monegro said glumly that his family had lived in the building for over 50 years.

“I don’t know,” Monegro said, when asked what he plans to do now. “I guess we’ll stay with relatives and see what the damage is.”

The building’s new superintendent, Juan Rosa, said he was working on the fourth floor when he heard the smoke alarms and saw the whole fifth floor filled with smoke.

“I was knocking and banging on the doors trying to get everyone out,” Rosa said when reached by telephone. “Now we’re picking up the mess.”

The entire length of the first floor was soaked with water from the firefighters’ hoses. From the ground, onlookers could see blue sky through the windows of some burnt-out sixth-floor apartments — an indication that the roof had collapsed.

Pamela Wright, a resident on the third floor, was not in her apartment at the time of the fire but arrived shortly thereafter. She was relieved to find out her apartment was not damaged.

“My granddaughter came and told me about it,” Wright said. “I was worried about my cat and my other stuff. It hasn’t really set in yet.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Southern Bronx3 Comments