Tag Archive | "Co-op City"

Restoring grace to a river dedicated to an American hero

Hutchinson River Restoration Project volunteers gather garbage on the shore of a Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary clean-up site. (LINDSAY MINERVA/The Bronx Ink)


Ten years ago, Eleanor and Giles Rae began a journey to search for a house and instead found an unexpected new mission in life.  The couple spent many hours driving on the Hutchinson River Parkway to City Island, Giles Rae’s hometown. In the process, they became fascinated by the history of the parkway’s namesake, Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan who fought religious orthodoxy and was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century.

Eleanor Rae’s look back at over 400 years of American history brought her to the present: the Hutchinson River.  Hutchinson’s battles against the establishment inspired Rae, 77, to clean up part of the river that was filled with garbage. Her goal was to restore the river dedicated to her newly discovered hero.

Three years ago, Eleanor Rae helped found the Hutchinson River Restoration Project together with other board members, the youngest of whom is in her 50s. Rae, the current president, acknowledges that the group doesn’t fit the stereotype of environmental activists.

“We are pretty ancient,” she said. “We would love to have young people be active.”

But their age hasn’t stopped them from cleaning up the river. On a sunny mid-September day, volunteers stood along the shore of Eastchester Bay on the 420th anniversary of Hutchinson’s birth.  Gray and white hair stuck out beneath their matching red Hutchinson River Restoration Project hats.  Eleanor Rae’s enthusiasm was contagious.  The clean-up crew was ready to gather up glass bottles, cans, plastic bags, wrappers, PVC pipes, lighters, and condoms scattered around Goose Island.

The small island, which is home to a colony of nesting birds, is directly across the river from Co-op City.  It was one of the seven Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary clean-up sites.  By the end of the day, the group had filled nearly 70 large black garbage bags.

Dressed in rubber boots and red life jackets, Rae and 34 other volunteers paddled up river in red canoes that were supplied by Pelham Bay Park, the largest park in New York City (it spans over 2,700 acres).

But the group’s mission was larger than just restoring the five-mile river that runs from Scarsdale in Westchester County and flows south through the Bronx where it empties into Eastchester Bay at the most southern tip of City Island.  The nonprofit organization also wanted to honor Anne Hutchinson’s legacy.

The courageous Puritan stood for religious freedom, the right to assembly, and freedom of speech.  In 1642, she ultimately settled in the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx.

Toby Z. Liederman, 75, one of the original founders of Hutchinson River Restoration Project and current coordinator of the Anne Hutchinson Year project, sees Hutchinson as the first feminist in American history.

“Anne Hutchinson has made her place in herstory, standing for separation of religion and government, religious freedom, tolerance, the right to dissent, freedom of assembly, free speech, and women’s rights, all of which have become part of our American Constitution and Bill of Rights,” said Liederman.  “She had the courage to stand up for her beliefs, even when there were personal consequences.”

Over four centuries later, Giles Rae, 76, was part of the clean up effort that day.  Sitting at a table full of pamphlets and maps, he said he cared about the river.  “We are here to bring awareness to the Bronx and the people affected by the river,” he said.  “People should have access to water.”

“I can see Goose Island from my house,” said Rochell Thomas, a Co-op City resident and clean up volunteer. “It’s disgusting.”

In 1999, the Hutchinson River was designated one of the most polluted rivers in New York State, according to testing by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.  Several years ago, the government agency told Eleanor Rae that the river was too silted for its research vessels to enter and do water monitoring.

The Hutchinson River Restoration Project studied the 2011 Harbor-Wide Water Quality Monitoring Report for the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary, and the group contacted the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in September to ask why the Hutchinson River was not being monitored for water quality.  She said a DEP spokesman offered the “old excuse” of it being difficult to bring boats into the waterway. But  she told him she saw two large tugboats with loaded barges making the trip without difficulty just the day before.  In an email response, a DEP spokesman said,  “DEP is currently working closely with the state to establish water quality monitoring protocol for the Hutchinson River.”

In August, a white-painted, wooden motorized dinghy, donated by 82-year-old board member Jack Ullman, was christened the Anne Hutchinson. Violet Smith, a Hutchinson River Restoration Project board member, even dressed up as the historical figure.

Piecing together a costume, she wore Eleanor Rae’s black doctoral graduation gown that hung in her closet unused for years since receiving her PhD from Fordham University in contemporary systematic theology.  Rae said they had fun re-creating history.  To complete the 17th century look for the celebratory launch, the outfit was topped off with a white apron and collar.

The boat was small and modest.  But those traveling aboard the Anne Hutchinson understand it is making a larger statement.  With the Throgs Neck Bridge in the distance, Ann Hutchinson motored up and down the river, collecting one trash bag at a time onto its bow and restoring grace to the river.

On the crisp, bright autumn day, this unlikely group made a dent in cleaning up the pollution of the sanctuary and resurrecting the memory of an American heroin.  “When will our goals be accomplished?” Eleanor Rae said.  “Not in my lifetime but many years down the road when we can say hooray.  Right now, we have little hoorays along the way.”

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Court orders Co-op City to be more handicap-friendly, NY Daily News

In a victory for a handicap man from the Bronx, a New York judge cited Co-op City for discriminating against wheelchair-bound residents, NY Daily News reported Thursday.

For the second time in less than a year, John Rose prevailed against the management of the sprawling building complex in North Bronx.

State Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann Brigantti-Hughes upheld a November ruling by the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

Riverbay argued it obeyed federal law when it made the side doors of Rose’s building accessible. But Brigantti-Hughes sided with the commission, finding that Riverbay failed to offer Rose an “unsegregated accommodation,” as required by city law.

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One Man, One Beat: Michael Horowitz’s Lifetime As Co-op City’s Journalist

One Man, One Beat: Michael Horowitz’s Lifetime As Co-op City’s Journalist

Michael Horowitz makes no secret of his opinions. Talking animatedly from behind the piles of yellowing newspapers that hide him behind his desk and spill into mountains of printed words over the floor, he shares his thoughts on politics, journalism and Co-op City – the Bronx community he has been covering since 1974.

Journalist Michael Horowitz has been covering Co-op City since 1974. (Speri/BronxInk)

Journalist Michael Horowitz has been covering Co-op City since 1974. (Speri/BronxInk)

City News, the community paper he almost single-handedly authors every week, goes to print on Wednesday nights. On Thursday mornings, the 64-year-old Manhattan-raised Riverdale resident has plenty of time to discuss his passionate dislike for President Obama, health care reform and the “left-wing ideologue idiots” opposing calls for the privatization of Co-op City, the world’s largest cooperative housing development.

“Co-op City can use the capitalist system to its own advantage,” said Horowitz, who describes himself as a former leftist grown realistic. “Now that I’m in my 60s I have questions about everything.”

Horowitz arrived at Co-op City when he was 28, a naïve journalist responding to an ad in the paper, he said. His first story – about teargas guns sold in the mail to Co-op City residents – was followed by thousands more, an average of 15 stories he untiringly pounds out every week.

With the exception of a break from 1987 to 1998, during which he covered a different community in Brooklyn, Horowitz has been Co-op City’s one-man journalist, chasing one management scandal after another and writing about everything from rent strikes to charter schools, to the recurring problem of mold in many of the cooperative’s 15,372 housing units.

“Journalists spend too much time covering the seediest part of life, things we can’t do anything about,” said Horowitz, who makes it a point to use his journalism as a tool to instill action.

Horowitz passionately endorses calls for the privatization of Co-op City, despises the management’s bureaucracy, and thinks Obama’s “socialism” is going to the destroy the country. And when it comes to these or any of the many issues he feels strongly about, Horowitz admittedly blurs the line between reportage and commentary. Though he pens both news pieces and op-ed columns in his paper, the two often read similarly and his feisty voice and wholehearted dedication to Co-op City seep through all copy.

“Community journalism is kind of a cross between being objective and doing advocacy,” Horowitz said. “However we are less phony about it than The New York Times is.”

His readers have learned to tell the difference.

“Sometimes he’s objective and sometimes he editorializes,” said Al Shapiro, a Co-op City board member who has known Horowitz for more than 20 years.

“Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I disagree,” Shapiro said, referring to the question of privatization of the co-op as an example. “I interact with him on a professional level but I consider him a friend.”

Horowitz turns to advocacy, he says, to attempt to reverse the general indifference that over the years has taken over Co-op City. The cooperative was founded in 1951 by the United Housing Foundation, a trust of politically involved soft-good unions who believed that workers needed more than just jobs but also a place to live. A largely Jewish community well into the ’80s, Co-op City is home today to a black majority, a large Hispanic population and an aging white one, a lower- to middle-income working community of 50,000.

While most residents work outside the 35-building compound, Co-op City remains somewhat of an insulated community from the rest of the Bronx and while faltering, Co-op City pride is not dead, Horowitz said.

“But there is a tremendous amount of apathy,” he added.

Reflective of national trends, the paper’s readership has declined over the years and though the front page still carries the 35-cent price for which the weekly originally sold, 16,000 copies of the City News have been distributed free of charge for more than 20 years and are paid for by ads.

“I think they read it, but there’s a problem with people reading things in general,” said Horowitz, who also teaches writing classes at Mercy College in the Bronx.

“I think our country is going down, the culture has been dumbed down,” he added.

Horowitz keeps years of old issues of City News stacked in his office. (Speri/BronxInk)

Horowitz keeps years of old issues of City News stacked in his office. (Speri/BronxInk)

Horowitz, who is married to Housing Court Judge Arlene Hahn, has two sons, one studying Chinese acupuncture in Arizona and the other a molecular biology professor in Indiana. When the latter recently won a prestigious fellowship, Horowitz turned from reporter to proud father and ran two stories about his son in City News.

His relationship with Co-op City, too, resembles that of a father and Horowitz, who criticizes current residents and administrators alike, also talks of the community with the affection of someone who has spent most of his life writing about this 320-acre corner of America.

“I have a love/hate relationship with this place,” Horowitz said, adding that he is not interested in living here but would consider investing in an apartment for his sons if the cooperative ever privatizes. His smile, however, shows only love.

Life in the co-op frustrates him daily, he says, from the close-mindedness of those suspicious of any proposed change to the endless fights with management “who think that if we put enough roadblocks on the way to solving them, all problems will simply go away.”

Horowitz has plenty of unpleasant stories to share. Not long ago he walked to his office, a slightly rundown space in the underground level of a local mall, to find feces in front of the glass door.

“That doesn’t happen when people care about a place,” Horowitz said, denying that the incident was intended as an attack but noting instead that when the community center closes at 10 p.m. so do the public restrooms.

“People in this country need ownership in order to care,” he drew as a lesson from the episode, reinforcing once again his call for privatization and his attack on the president. “If Obama thinks he’s going to change this, he’s mistaken.”

But like a loving father, Horowitz also speaks proudly of Co-op City’s achievements, like the power plant the cooperative’s residents have dreamed about for years, which is slated to open in weeks and will generate enough electricity to provide for the community as well as to export.

“One of the big customers of Co-op City is going to be Con-Edison, which is kind of ironic,” Horowitz said. “The savings in income will be probably between two and three million dollars a month.”
To Horowitz, Co-op City is both unique and a cross-section of humanity. His stories are populated with many of the housing development’s characters, the louder their dissent and the more eccentric their stories, the more space Horowitz dedicates to them in his writing.

One of them is Frank Belcher, who has been a “pain” for Co-op City’s management and a protagonist of Horowitz’s stories for many of the personal battles he fought, against everything from sex-offenders living in the development when they are usually excluded from public housing to the mold and humidity in his apartment.

“Michael is doing the people a service,” said Belcher, who regularly sends Horowitz letters to publish in the paper. “People call him about problems, they seek his help, everyone knows him.”

Belcher said there is a second newspaper in the community, run by the management, but praises City News for its fairness.

“Michael’s paper is the only voice people in the community really have. Management have their own paper, but they won’t print complaints, they won’t print anything negative, Michael Horowitz will” he said. “I wish we had a couple more people like Michael Horowitz here in Co-op City.”

Belcher also praised Horowitz’s for staying on top of issues in the community in a way management does not.

“In 2007 we had 19 registered sex offenders living here illegally,” Belcher said about one of his favorite issues. “Since Michael has been writing about this subject the number went down to four.”

Belcher and Horowitz are equally passionate people and the sympathy is reciprocal.

“He’s been in the paper for the past three weeks,” Horowitz said of Belcher, the way an author would talk of a favorite character in a book.

And for Horowitz, a book on Co-op City may just be the next step.

“I know more about this than anything else,” he said. “This is a fascinating place.”

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Bronx Church Hosts Haiti Relief Concert

On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Church of the Savior, Co-op city hosted a benefit concert for the disaster stricken island nation of Haiti. The concert featured singer Ron Anthony, a protégé of Luther Vandross, TransJazz and a dance routine by Lady Theresa Smith. The event organized by the church’s pastor Dr. Robert Smith raised over $1000 for the Haiti relief effort.

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