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Dept. of Transportation to push for 20 mph speed limit on some Bronx streets

The city’s Department of Transportation is considering lowering the speed limit on some Bronx streets to 20 miles per hour (Daily News).

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Bronx killer’s hand of ‘peace’ dealt death

The gunman suspected of fatally shooting a straight-A student to death in the Bronx first made a peace offer (NY Post).

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Cops arrest suspected ‘Ice-pick robber’

Cops arrested an ex-con from NJ who allegedly terrorized women in robberies with an ice pick throughout Manhattan and Co-Op City in the Bronx (NY Post).

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‘Give me a chance,’ Black says in TV interview

New city schools Chancellor Cathleen Black defends herself in a Sunday interview with ABC7, asking parents to wait-and-see before judging. (NY Times)

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PS 35 thanks donors after computer thefts

A Morrisania elementary school held a thank-you breakfast for the donors of 10 new computers (Daily News).

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South Bronx United hoping to educate more kids through soccer

Five Bronx community organizations have submitted entries for grants through the Pepsi Refresh Project, a monthly program sponsored by the soft-drink giant that awards up to $250,000 to organizations across the country.

The South Bronx United, a youth soccer league, which was the subject of a feature story in October, is in the running for a $25,000 grant. Joining it are three local youth development programs — Good Shepherd Services, Elevate New York, and Project Life Impact — and P.S 170, in Highbridge, which is hoping for a grant to restart its after-school arts program that was closed due to budgetary constraints this year.

“This grant would be a huge step towards helping us to sustain and hopefully expand our Education Through Soccer program for South Bronx youth,” said Andrew So, executive director of the South Bronx United, in an email. “It would directly fund resources for our college preparatory program, college visits, and after-school tutoring, so that we can reach our goal of getting every one of our youth to graduate high school and into college.”

The organizations are reliant on votes at the project’s web site in order to collect the prize money. Since February, more than a dozen ideas have been proposed to provide money for services in the Bronx. All have come up short in the voting.

These five programs are hoping those fortunes change this time around.

Recently, the South Bronx United started an after-school tutoring program for more than 100 kids on its travel soccer teams. In three years, the soccer league has grown to serve almost 450 boys and girls in the Bronx, with 50 volunteer coaches and six travel squads.

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A fifth term for Diaz

Senator Diaz was out of the office on election day. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Diaz was out of the office on election day. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Bronx voters proved the power of incumbency on Tuesday, re-electing the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., an outspoken opponent of gay rights, to serve a fifth consecutive term as state senator.

The veteran Democrat’s re-election by an overwhelming majority comes amidst violent attacks on New York’s gay community and a public outcry against anti-gay hate crimes, the most brutal of which occurred in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx on Oct. 3.

Diaz took the 32nd District by an overwhelming 94 percent margin over his opponent, Michael Walters — a slight dip from his 99 percent victory in 2008, but a sign that voters cared more about party loyalty than Diaz’s anti-gay stance.

That’s a contrast to Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, who was vilified for his statements about gays during his campaign, words that may have hurt him in the race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, which he lost by a 27 percent margin. Yet Diaz’s controversial stance on gay issues did not appear to present a similar hurdle to his quest for another two years in office. Of dozens of Bronx voters interviewed Tuesday, many distanced themselves from his extreme beliefs, yet voted for him nonetheless.

“Everybody has the right to choose who they want to love and spend their life with,” said Darlene Cruz, 53, of Soundview. “I don’t really care for Diaz, but I voted Democrat down the line.”

The wave of recent hostility against the gay community included the Oct. 3 hate crime, in which members of the Latin King Goonies allegedly tortured three Bronx men they suspected of being gay; the beating of two gay men at Julius Bar, New York’s oldest gay bar; and an attack on a gay man at the historic Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots largely credited with starting the modern gay rights movement. These incidents came after the highly publicized suicides of five gay teens across the country, among them Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22.

Diaz, who is a Pentecostal minister at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue, has 17 siblings, two of whom are gay. He released a statement days after suspects were arrested in the Bronx hate crime, condemning the attack but not the bias that motivated it. The omission sparked outrage from the gay community, which blamed the attack, in part, on Diaz’s own rhetoric. Diaz’s office declined to respond to several requests for an interview.

In the past, Diaz, the father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., has called homosexuality an “abomination” and likened it to bestiality. He has also been the face of the opposition to same-sex marriage in the State Senate, blocking a May 2009 bill sponsored by Gov. David Paterson that would have legalized gay marriage in New York.

If Bronx residents were dismayed by the senator’s remarks, however, it did not change their vote.

“He’s entitled to his beliefs,” said Parkchester resident Lloyd Mitchell, 65. “I might not agree with everything he does, but I’ll still vote for him because he’s a Democrat.”

Diaz has long benefited from wide support from senior citizens because of his role as chair of the Senate Aging Committee. His campaign this year focused on blocking tax cuts in order to balance the budget.

Such work has struck a chord with Bronx voters, who did not seem to share the widespread dissatisfaction with incumbents that has surfaced in other parts of the country.

“He does a lot for the community, especially the seniors,” said Marilyn Villanueva, 37, of Castle Hill. Seventy-eight-year old Antonia Rosado affirmed that sentiment: “He’s one of ours,” she said, adding, “He’s been here a long time so he has experience.”

It may be Diaz’s connection to an older and more conservative constituency that has kept him in office. The most recent poll of New Yorkers on the legalization of same-sex marriage, from May 2009, showed a wide gap between support within younger and older generations. According to the Quinnipiac University poll, only 37 percent of New Yorkers older than 55 favor legalization, compared with 61 percent of those younger than 34.

“He has a certain amount of Latino voters that are older and tend to be more conservative on social issues,” said West Farms resident James Goodridge, 50. “As long as he has them, he’s not going anywhere soon.”

Last Tuesday, a rally outside Bronx Supreme Court gathered community activists who voiced their concern over the Morris Heights anti-gay hate crime. While there, they used bullhorns to vehemently denounce Diaz’s outspoken opposition to gay rights.

But a week later, the polls revealed that his stance was not a factor in voters’ decision to keep him in office. While his positions on gay issues are controversial in light of recent incidents, they are not shocking to the voters who have come to know him.

“He’s a Pentecostal preacher who doesn’t agree with gay marriage,” said Adam King, 36, of Throgs Neck. “For the gay community to fight about it only increases his defensiveness. The more they protest and criticize him, the more he wants to dig in.”

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Firefighters hurt in Bronx blaze

Two firefighters were injured, and two residents sought medical attention early Thursday morning after a fire ripped through the upper levels of a five-story apartment building in the West Bronx.

More than 50 residents were evacuated from the walk-up apartment building at 1793 Sedgwick Avenue in Morris Heights shortly before 4 a.m. Forty-nine people were transported by bus to a nearby Red Cross reception area for food and shelter.

One firefighter was seriously injured when the third-floor landing of the building’s staircase collapsed.

According to one resident, the fire appeared to have started in the hallway of the third floor, where someone had recently placed an old sofa waiting to be disposed. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

1793 Sedgwick Ave, the site of the fire. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

1793 Sedgwick Ave, the site of the fire. Photo: Zach Schonbrun

“Everybody was panicking — nobody knew where the smoke was coming from,” said Carlos Mosleh, who lived on the third floor. “People were screaming, kids were crying.”

A fire department spokesperson said Engine 75 was the first to respond and eventually 12 units and 65 firefighters turned up at the 37-year-old building located adjacent to the New York State Thruway along the western edge of the borough. The fire was brought under control by 4:45 a.m.

Those who witnessed the incident recalled a scene of panic and confusion as residents piled down the stairwell and clambered out fire escapes to evacuate. Others on the lower levels, however, did not even know what happened until later in the morning.

“I walked outside and saw a flooded hallway with black water on the floor,” said Jasmin Hernandez, who lived on the second floor. Hernandez and her four children, ages 7 to 1 year-old, were unaware what was going on above them. The alarms in her apartment did not go off.

“I just heard people running down the stairs and I heard a lot of commotion,” Hernandez said. “But nobody knocked on my door.”

A first-floor resident, Christopher Graves, said he and his family were sound asleep during the ordeal. He opened up his apartment door hours afterward to find a gaping black hole where the stairwell used to be.

“It’s a little berserk in there right now,” Graves said.

The landing on the stairwell between the third and fourth floor was the segment that collapsed under the weight of several fire fighters and residents.  In September 2008, a complaint was filed through the city regarding the condition of the stairwell, but a subsequent inspection revealed no structural defects.

The Department of Buildings has put a partial vacate order on the building, and many residents were still unable to reach their apartments due to the damaged stairwell. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said 16 families have been displaced from their apartments and will receive temporary housing, but there is no indication of when they will be able to return to their homes.

Other residents were concerned about how long it would take the building’s owners to repair the damage, and whether the fire-stricken area would become a target for criminals.

“This is like the worst place in New York,” said the clerk at the Deli Grocery market underneath the apartment building. He was fearful that the blaze has left the block  more vulnerable now to thefts and burglary.

The building sits less than a mile from where the violent anti-gay attacks on three men took place earlier this month.

“There’s always fights, always bums hanging on the stairs,” the store clerk

— Amara Grautski contributed reporting on this article

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