Tag Archive | "elections"

Challenging The Party Machine: Newcomer Runs Against Incumbent in the 85th Assembly District

Michael Beltzer speaks with a local worker.

Michael Beltzer speaks with a local worker.

The position of district leader doesn’t usually attract much attention in election coverage or amongst voters. It is unpaid, listed low on the ballot, and doesn’t involve direct legislative power. Despite this, Michael Beltzer, a 30-year-old independent democrat in the 85th Assembly District, has dedicated much of the last year to campaigning for the job. The race pits him against longtime incumbent, Marcos Crespo, who is also the assemblyman for the district, chairman of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, and chairman of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

It’s a David versus Goliath contest with low stakes, but Beltzer said it’s important to challenge the party machine.

“The way leadership has traditionally been is that there’s very consolidated power, a very top-down kind of hierarchy,” he said. “That’s where I have real fault with the leadership style in the Bronx. We can’t keep the next generation at bay.”

Beltzer said his goal in the campaign is less about winning and more about showing that it’s possible for politically engaged citizens – not just established party members – to run for local positions. “It’s a test of pure electoral politics,” he said of the race.

The role of district leader as Beltzer sees it, is to be “the eyes, ears and voice of the community.” But in the South Bronx, where voter turnout is notoriously low, there’s a bit more to it. In addition to monitoring and raising community issues to elected officials, district leaders are responsible for staffing poll sites for elections.

If a district leader is also running for Assembly, this is particularly advantageous. “If you do your work correctly, you can go into the election with 300 votes in the bag,” said Michael Benjamin, retired Assembly member for the 79th district.

Beltzer, a Long Island native, moved to the South Bronx in 2007. He got his start in New York politics working for John Liu on his 2009 campaign for comptroller, where he discovered the importance of making direct contact with individual voters. “You could tell that nobody really touched them, they never really met politicians, they didn’t know how do access local government,” he said.

He sees the role of district leader as an opportunity to close the gap between residents and their elected officials. “Your elected official should come to your tenant association meetings, be at your church events, and be at the park having conversations,” he said.

Beltzer has taken a very hands-on approach to canvassing. He collected all of his own signatures for his nomination petition, and spent weeks meeting residents and registering them to vote.

He is fearless about approaching people, is unfazed by rejection, and recites his introductory spiel perfectly every time. It begins with description of the position, with an emphasis on the fact that it’s unpaid, and includes a reference to the fact that his 6-year-old daughter goes to school in the district.

The official requirements to run for district leader are very straightforward – be a resident of your district, be registered democrat and get 500 signatures on a nominating petition – but getting on the ballot without County support in the Bronx is not an easy task. The nominating petitions of non-party candidates are often heavily scrutinized for cases of voter fraud – if a signature or an address doesn’t look quite right, it can easily be discarded. Given this, it is advisable to collect double the required of signatures, if not more, on nominating petitions (Beltzer collected 1500 signatures on his petition). Without a campaign staff, this is a labor intensive and time-consuming process. In addition to this, candidates need to have the resources to defend their petitions in court if accused of voter fraud. Because Beltzer isn’t working full-time at the moment, he was able to dedicate more time to this process than some of his contemporaries.

Candidates who are endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee, on the other hand, can tap into the party’s manpower, legal, and financial resources.

“If you run against County, you’re not running against an individual,” said Julio Pabón, who ran for council and lost twice against County-backed candidates.

As a member of the Bronx Young Democrats, Beltzer initially tried to get County support for his campaign. He pitched the idea of running for district leader to his assemblyman, Marcos Crespo, the current district leader, in 2014. Eventually, though, he decided to run on his own. “I couldn’t just sit out a year, wait my turn, do things the ‘right’ way,” he said. Assemblyman Crespo could not be reached for this story at the time of publication.

Because of the difficulties associated with running against County endorsed candidates, few independents have tried to run in the past, allowing many officials to keep their positions for decades at a time. In the 2014 New York State primaries, the incumbent reelection rate was 96.67%. In next today’s election, however, there are several unaffiliated candidates who are challenging County-backed incumbents.

While chance of any of these candidates winning is low, they say the act of running – and providing an alternative to voters – is powerful in itself. For democracy to work, Pabón said, “we need to run people for every position – from dogcatcher up to US senators.” The challengers say they hope that by campaigning hard, registering people to vote, and raising community issues, incumbent candidates will be forced to do more on-the-ground work too.

For Michael Beltzer, if he is able to make any impact on the polls the campaign will have been worth it. “If we see an increased voter turnout,” he said, “there’s power in that and people will pay attention.”


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Three Bronx Polling Locations Changed Due to Sandy

Three polling locations in the Bronx have changed due to Superstorm Sandy, the Board of Elections in the City of New York announced. Residents originally stationed to vote at Locust Point Civic Hall, 4400 Locust Point Drive, will now go to the MTA Throggs Neck Parking Lot, 4260 Throggs Neck Expressway. Voters headed to PS 69 Journey Prep School, 560 Thieriot Avenue, will now go to the Archimedes Academy of Math, 456 White Plains Road. And residents for the Manhattan College Draddy Hall location, at 4513 Manhattan Coll Parkway, will now vote at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, located at 3700 Henry Hudson Parkway.

The red balloons on the map represent the new polling locations. The blue ballons signify the former sites.

To find out your polling location, check the Board of Elections’ poll site locator.


View Three Bronx Polling Locations Changed Due to Sandy in a larger map

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Nov. 6 Election May Determine the Future for Young Bronx Immigrants

Eduardo Resendiz woke up in Mexico City to his mother’s whisper. “My son, get your things ready, we are about to leave,” she said seven years ago. “We’re going to meet your dad in the United States.”

The next thing the lanky teen remembered were two grueling bus trips along 700 miles to the northern border, and a frightening trip with a dodgy coyote — a human smuggler — who would paddle the family of three for a fee in a small, inflatable raft over the Rio Grande River along the Texan border.

“We were like zombies, tired, hot and hungry,” said the now 22-year old junior at Lehman College from his apartment on University Avenue in the Bronx. All his life he had heard countless stories about migrants who never made it across.

Resendiz never imagined that seven years later he would still be living in a country where he was not able to work legally, where the threat of deportation is always looming. “I never really had a decision about this,” he said. “I didn’t really know what it meant, I just knew that we had to pack and go.”

But now, the executive order by President Barack Obama that offers deportation deferral to some young undocumented immigrants might dramatically change his future. If the offer of deferral extends to Resendiz, his immigration status would not be permanently resolved, but he would be able to apply for college scholarships.  More importantly for him, he would be able to work legally.

That’s if Obama is re-elected on Nov. 6. If the President loses, his opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney has promised to eventually put a halt to the program. The policy could be easily overturned because it was an executive order.

Eduardo Resendiz, 22, is eager for the elections to be over. If Obama wins, he could legally work in America. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

On Aug. 15, the first day that the policy was put into effect, Resendiz was among the thousands of young undocumented immigrants who lined up around schools, churches and consulates waiting to fill out applications for deferred action.

But unlike the thousands of hopefuls who jumped at the chance to change their immigration status, Resendiz’ application is sitting in a drawer, still waiting for his own signature.  He is waiting to file his paperwork until he knows the result of next week’s presidential election.

Deferred action for childhood arrivals, referred to as DACA, is meant for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and teens. Applicants must fit specific criteria. They must prove that they were brought in to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and be under 31. They must be in school, have a high school diploma or equivalent. And they must have a clean criminal record.

Some legal experts understand the fears, but believe that simply submitting papers will probably not increase the possibility of deportation. “There are risks involved, but deportation is highly unlikely,” said Maaria Mahmood, a third-year law student at Brooklyn Law School, who assisted Eduardo with the application. “The government is saying that they won’t go after the families, but you have to understand that you are giving all your information to the government.”

While the president’s offer of temporary amnesty is promising, Resendiz remains skeptical. The politically divisive climate has led to anxiety, and while Republican candidate Mitt Romney has publicly said that he won’t reverse approvals, he has also stated that he will halt the program as soon as he’s in office. “I don’t want to put my family in danger,” said Resendiz, noting that his mother, father and sister are also undocumented. “I think it’s too risky knowing that Romney could reverse the decision.”

Applicants are screened by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. Those who meet the criteria will be allowed to remain in the United States and work legally for two years. As the policy stands now, they will be able to re-apply after the initial two-year deferral passes.

With deportations at a record high, averaging 400,000 per year under Obama’s presidency, the new policy could benefit up to 1.7 million of the 4.4 million unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.

From 2005 to 2010 the department of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is overseen by Homeland Security, apprehended over 34,000 New Yorkers, according to a study published last July by the Immigrants Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law. Apprehensions have increased 60 percent since 2006, averaging at 7417 each year. The report also noted that 91 percent of those detained in New York are deported.

Resendiz fears that if he does not get approved, or if the policy is reversed, he could be putting himself and his family at risk of deportation. “I’m afraid of being separated from my family, afraid of having to go back to Mexico and having to start all over again,” he said.

Seven years after arriving to the United States, diplomas awarded for his academic performance line the walls of the young man’s room. He dreams of being a music teacher, and of being to others what his mentors have been to him.

“All the teachers remember him, even the principal,” said Ian Mustich, Resendiz’ former music teacher at New World High School, the school where Resendiz landed when he arrived as a teen to New York.

At the time he found walking around New York City was “unreal,” and settling into a new life in the Bronx, tough. “You don’t know how to get around, you don’t know the language,” said Eduardo. “You feel like you don’t belong.”

When Resendiz arrived to the U.S. with his mother and his 7-year old sister, his father had already been living in the Bronx for three years. His father had left Mexico in 2002 when Eduardo was only 12 years old.  He had come to make more money as a construction worker and support his family back home.

A photograph of the Resendiz family when Eduardo, his mother and sister first arrived to the United States. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

Three years later, Resendiz’ mother decided that it was time to reunite her family. She felt that her children needed a father. “They needed to recognize who he was, they needed to know who was putting food on the table,” she said in Spanish.

The first day as a high school freshman was rough. Resendiz, who said he had always been a straight A student, found himself frustrated and unable to communicate. “All my classes were in English and I didn’t even know how to ask for permission to drink water or go to the bathroom,” he recalled. “I got home and I told my parents that I didn’t want to go back.”

Resendiz was disillusioned, but his parents pushed him to keep trying. Six months later he finally began to adapt. Mustich, who taught at the school for eight years, described Eduardo as an outstanding student. Three years after graduation the principal still has a picture of Eduardo and his friends on his desk.

Today, Resendiz feels at home. He identifies as both Mexican and American, but feels he cannot grow lasting roots in the U.S. as long as he remains undocumented. “I live here, I speak the language, I feel accepted,” he said.

As of Sept. 14, over 32,000 undocumented immigrants have applied for the Obama Administration’s deferred action. So far, 29 applicants have been approved, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Services.

“The chances that Eduardo won’t be granted deferred action are slim to none,” said Thanu Yakupitiyage, a communications associate at The New York Immigration Coalition. “He is a highly qualified candidate.” She calculates that once Eduardo sends his application, he would have the result in roughly six months time.

Yakupitiyage, who got to know Resendiz when he was granted a college scholarship through the coalition in 2012, was with Resendiz when he put his application materials together. There were hundreds of people inside and out of lower Manhattan’s St. Mary’s church. Resendiz gathered his documents quickly but did not leave when he was done, remembered Yakupitiyage. He stayed and offered his help to other deferred action hopefuls throughout the day. “He is very talented, very smart and very active in his community,” she said.

Pending the results of next week’s election, Resendiz will be ready to file his paperwork. “It’s necessary to have peace of mind and not have the fear of deportation always present,” he said. He wants to make his parents proud, graduate from college and get a master’s degree. “But when you’re not stable in a country, you can’t do much, you can’t put roots down.”

Eduardo Resendiz, 22, a music major at Lehman College: “When you’re not stable in a country, you can’t do much, you can’t put roots down.” (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)




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What Does It Take to Go from Fat to Fit?

by Sarah Wali

Mohamed Islam manages one of the 175 new Green Carts in the Bronx in East Tremont.

Mohamed Islam manages one of the 175 new Green Carts in the Bronx in East Tremont.

The Bronx has seen its share of problems.  It was burning in the 1970s and stricken with a drug epidemic in the 1980s.  As the crime rates went down throughout the 1990s, a new statistic made headlines: the Bronx was getting fatter.

According to the New York City Community Health Survey,  obesity rates had more than doubled by the end of the 1990s to 24 percent.  By the time Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, it was the fattest borough in New York City, and by 2003, almost 62 percent of the Bronx was either obese or overweight.

In response to this health crisis, Mayor Bloomberg introduced a number of initiatives, including a law that requires all restaurants with 15 or more locations in New York City to display calorie counts on their menus, and 1,000 new licenses to Green Cart vendors, small carts selling fresh fruits and vegetables in areas with the least access to healthy food.

“It is the job of the government, if something is detrimental to your health to a, warn you and b, if it’s serious, try to prevent it,” he said at the Oct. 13 mayoral debate.

Mayor Bloomberg’s use of calorie count to warn diners that McDonald’s, KFC and other fast-food restaurants were unhealthy did little to deter shoppers from their cravings.  According to an Oct. 6 web article in Health Affairs, Bronx residents may have been shocked to find that a muffin at Dunkin’ Donuts they once thought was a healthy alternative for a 220-calorie glazed donut was actually 630 calories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will buy lower calorie food.  Rather, researchers from New York University found that customers were, on average, buying 846 calories per meal, up from 825 before the implementation of the program.

Clearly, the Bronx is not slimming down. Karen Washington, a long-time health activist in the South Bronx, says that the main issue in the Bronx today is food  and obesity.

“The overall concern throughout the Bronx is health and nutrition,” she said.   “Lack of quality food need(s) to be addressed.”

Washington, who sits on the board for Just Food, an initiative to bring healthy community grown food the Bronx, has started the East Tremont Farmer’s market and is currently working on establishing a farmer’s school to help people learn how to grow their own food. She says she and her neighbors are limited by the fatty choices offered in their area.   Plus, with the financial crisis hitting the Bronx especially hard, residents are forced to consider expenses.

“When you don’t have money and you can’t provide for your family you are going to buy the cheapest food items,” she said.  “You need to feed your family.”

Bloomberg has tried to create an opportunity for Bronx residents to make healthier decisions.  In 2007, his administration began pushing legislation to license 1,500 fresh fruit and vegetable vendors in the fattest boroughs, including the Bronx.

The Bronx is now home to 175 of the 1,000 Green Carts in the city.  It’s a promising idea, but it has only been in effect since this July.   The true impact of the Green Carts has yet to be seen.

The little carts covered by yellow and green umbrellas imprinted with the logo “NYC Green Carts” carry an array of fruits and vegetables.    From apples and oranges to okra and peppers, the carts are supposed to offer a healthy alternative for residents, and open doors for employment.

Mohamed Islam, who runs the Green Cart in front of Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, makes the hour-and-a-half trip every morning from his home in Queens because he loves produce, and believes in the Green Cart program.

Islam, 44, arrived in the United States almost a year ago.  He waited years for an opportunity to leave his home in Bangladesh.  Finally, in October, 2008, his brother’s sponsorship was accepted, and he and his wife boarded the plane excited about the chance for a better life.

Now, he makes the long trek from Queens to the Bronx hoping he will one day be able to own his own Green Cart.   Although he struggles to find the words in English that describe his passion for food and produce, his smile radiates with emotion and his eyes light up as he explains that fresh produce is often overlooked by many in this country.  His is an expert opinion. In Bangladesh, he was a government employee who focused on teaching and promoting the importance of agriculture.

He feels that the Green Cart program is a great way to promote healthy produce decisions in the Bronx.  As he waits for approval from the city for his own license, he manages the Bronx cart and for $80 per day, sells $250 to $300 worth of fruits and vegetables per day at the corner of Mt. Eden Avenue and Grand Concourse.

But for activists like Karen Washington, the waiting game is over.   Washington and the Northwest Bronx Community Coalition have started a program to teach youth the importance of urban gardening, and have just launched a new farmer’s market in the East Tremont area.   She says these initiatives are designed to put the power of change back in the community’s hands.

“I felt really lucky that we started a farmer’s market,” she said,  “which not only produces locally grown produce, but we teach people in the neighborhood, not only how to grow it but how to use it and how to cook it, which is very, very important.  “

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