Tag Archive | "New York City"

Theater with a Latin Twist Thrives in the South Bronx

by Alex Abu Ata
The Mariachi Academy performing after "Viva Pinocho!" at Teatro Pregones - Photo by Alex Abu Ata

The Mariachi Academy performing after "Viva Pinocho!" at Teatro Pregones - Photo by Alex Abu Ata

A large prop of Uncle Sam with glowing red eyes appears above the stage.  In a booming, deep voice, the threatening figure reprimands a wooden puppet for not working enough. “Go back to work!” orders the voice, making children and adults in the audience laugh. The scene is part of “Viva Pinocho!” (Pinocchio´s name in Spanish), a musical and puppet show that premiered last Friday at Teatro Pregones in the South Bronx. In an original twist of the children´s tale, Pinocchio is Mexican and immigrates to the United States to earn money instead of going to school. The musical uses puppets, special effects and colorful props to tell a Latino version of the traditional tale. Instead of the fairy in the original story, there's the Lady of Guadalupe, a 16th-century icon of the Virgin Mary. Pinocchio is re-named Pino Nacho (“pino” is pine in Spanish, and Nacho is the contraction of the name Ignacio), which is shortened to “Pinocho.” The plot unfolds in a mix of English and Spanish, reflecting the local community. "Our audience lives and understands each other in many languages,” said Jorge Merced, 44, an associate artistic director. The poverty-stricken South Bronx seems an unlikely soil for nurturing theater, but Teatro Pregones has defied the odds for three decades by rooting its productions in Puerto Rican and Latino culture. Its goal is to reach an audience that is often ignored. The formula is clearly a hit with the locals. Pregones celebrated its 30th anniversary last month with a musical entitled “Aloha Boricua,” inspired by a short story by the late Puerto Rican writer Manuel Ramos Otero. The show was so successful that tickets sold out early, so Pregones plans to bring it back next spring. The theater group's origins were much more humble, even by the standards of the South Bronx. In 1979, a group of young Puerto Rican actors living in New York decided to produce plays inspired by artists from their homeland. The result was “La Collecion, 100 Anos de Teatro Puertorriqueno 1878-1978” (“The Collection, 100 Years of Puerto Rican Theater 1878-1978”).  At first, the shows were performed in an Off-Broadway theatre provided by the husband of one of the actresses. In 1982, the Bronx Council of the Arts offered the group an office in an abandoned school in the Bronx, and Pregones settled for good in the borough. Between 1986 and 1994, the group worked in St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. Despite this continuous struggle, Pregones grew and finally found a permanent home on Walton Avenue in 2005. With donations from individuals and non-profits like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, Pregones built a 130-seat theatre. The group now includes eight full-time professional artists and a dozen designers, technicians and artists on contract, and has received numerous awards and recognitions for its important cultural role in the borough. “We’re very happy, our neighbors are very happy, and the community is very happy,” said Alvan Colon Lespier, another artistic associate director at Pregones. “It’s a joy to be able to do this.” Pregones has performed in 37 states, 18 countries and more than 400 cities. “We've become ambassadors of the Bronx,” said Lespier. The group’s aim is to show people that the Bronx is not the dreadful area that most think, explains Lespier. But even in the U.S., Pregones has been an ambassador of Latino culture. Fifteen years ago, recalls Lespier, the group was the first Latino group to perform in Whitesburg, KY. “They had never seen a Puerto Rican live, in the flesh,” said Lespier with a chuckle. Lespier, 61, has been with the company for 26 years. During his first years with the group, in addition to taking care of the technical parts, Lespier performed in some of the plays—but he doesn’t miss acting. He is now in charge of the productions, and supervises all the productions showed at Pregones, whether theirs or the production of another company. Pregones often works in collaboration with other Latin American cultural groups. In addition to its 50 original plays, Pregones presented over 100 visiting companies over 30 years, and has performed in other Latino theatres as well. “We try to support each other,” said Jorge Castilla, the production manager and assistant to the artistic director of Teatro Sea, a Latino children's theater group and the creators of "Viva Pinocho." The production was written, produced and performed by Manuel Antonio Moran, the founder and director of Teatro Sea. The stories may evoke laughter from the audience, but they also carry a serious message.  “We’re touching a lot of social and political stuff, but in a fun way,” said Castilla, 40. In “Viva Pinocho!,” the mischievous puppet follows the advice of a coyote and immigrates to the United States. “I saw similarities between Pinocchio, who runs away from home, and Latino immigrants, who seek a better life in the U.S.,” said Moran, who started thinking about the story three years ago. In the musical, Pinocho crosses a Mexican border heavily guarded by American authorities before being hired in a circus as puppet and working under the watchful eye of Uncle Sam. The story is inspired by the experiences of immigrants, who lose their cultural identity after leaving their country, explains Moran. “I try to be as respectful as possible, but also to motivate dialogue,” he said. In the end, Pinocho understands that the American authorities are simply doing their jobs and following the rules, and saves them from drowning. The audience clearly identifies with the theme. Vicente Roman, who came to watch the musical with his wife and three children, learned about Pregones through a newspaper ad. Roman, 38, arrived in this country 16 years ago, and had to work two jobs at once in order to support his family. “Life is too expensive in the U.S.,” he said. Like Pinocho, Roman’s dream of obtaining a better life was replaced by the harsh reality of economic struggle and difficult integration that immigrants typically face; he now works as a driver and lives in Brooklyn. But, at least for one night, Roman’s family can forget about these difficulties and enjoy the musical. Snacks and drinks are served in the lobby, which is decorated with Puerto Rican photographs and the many awards that the group received over the years. While waiting for the musical to begin, children run around, impatient to see the show. The audience, predominantly Hispanic, is a tight-knit community: many spectators know and greet each other and the theater staff as they arrive. Daniela, 7, Roman’s youngest daughter, is excited to see the musical, even though she doesn’t remember the story of Pinocchio. There's a another draw: her 11-year-old sister Ana will be on stage with the Mariachi Academy of New York, which has been invited to perform at Pregones after the musical. Like Teatro Sea, the Mariachi Academy, now in its seventh year, often collaborates with other Latino groups, explains Jorge Martinez, 39, a member of the board of directors of the academy. Ramon Ponce, the director, appears minutes before the musical begins. After Pinocho’s adventures, Ponce and a dozen children, all wearing traditional Mariachi costumes, appear on the stage forming a single line and play “Canta y no llores,” a famous Mexican song. The audience, familiar with the song, sings and claps along. After the musical, the audience streams out . The children are excited about the story, and recall their favorite moment. “I like when Pinocho goes to the other side,” says Daniela, beaming. But Daniela doesn’t realize the “other side” was the country she is now living in, where her father works hard as part of a minority. Oblivious to the political implications, Daniela will go home with the memories of Pinocho’s new adventures, and a happy-ending: how Pinocho returns to Mexico, and becomes a real boy.

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx Life, Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (1)

1744 Clay Ave.

by Sarah Omar Wali and Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Workmen with blue shirts labeled “JLP Home Imp. Inc” were a welcome sight for the tenants of 1744 Clay Ave. in East Tremont one fall week in October. Their 73-year-old building has been collapsing rapidly into disrepair for the last two years.  For many, the conditions have become unbearable. The team of repairmen has been hired by JLP Management Inc., which holds a temporary lien on the property.  Five bathrooms have already received new tiles and a paint job. The rest of the repairs for the 42 units are expected to be completed by the end of the month. Still, tenants in the 38 occupied apartments continue to be overwhelmed by the mold, the collapsing ceilings, and the general decay that accelerated under Ocelot, and later Hunter Property Management LLC.  The tenants have filed 51 complaints with the Department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) citing serious problems that include the broken elevator, the unstable structure, and problems with the heat. According to Carmen Pineiro, president of the tenants association, conditions turned from bad to worse when Hunter took over management of the building in November, 2008. Since then, she said, the tenants lost hot water and heat several times, the elevator went out of service for almost a year, and repairs to holes in the walls and ceilings were neglected. Niger Harris, who lives in apartment 1C, worries that the derelict conditions will affect the health of her asthmatic 7-year-old daughter, Nyla.  Doctors found that the levels of lead in Nyla’s system have tripled since the two moved into 1744 Clay Ave. along with Harris’s sister. According to Harris, doctors ordered a Bi-Level Positive Air Pressure (BIPAP) machine the machine when Nyla failed a sleeping test this year. She lost her ability to breathe for five seconds while she was asleep. Doctors warned Harris that her daughter’s health will not improve unless she moves out of the building. Others stay because they feel a deep connection to the building – even now. For many, 1744 Clay Ave. has been home for over 25 years.  Pineiro said they are connected to the building through memories and experiences and find it hard to imagine living anywhere else. There is a strong sense of community in the building.   The unlocked security gate doesn’t deter neighbors from keeping their apartment doors open.   While the halls may be stained with dirt by the years of neglect, they are clean enough for children to run and play in while adults stand around the stairs chatting.

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1804 Weeks Ave.

by Sarah Omar Wali and Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The newly painted pink and blue walls in apartment 52 in the building at 1804 Weeks Ave. give the illusion of a well-cared for living space.  But the bright colors provide only a thin cover for the vermin-infested apartment Fernando Diaz shares with his wife and two young daughters. Outside, boarded-up windows and broken glass leave the impression that the East Tremont building is abandoned.  Inside, graffiti splashes the hallways, doors are missing, and the shaky staircase is pocked by holes. “Don’t Rent Here,” is scrawled on the doors of empty apartments. More than 20 families, most of them Latino, are attempting to survive in this five-story building,which was bought by an Ocelot entity in August 2007. It has been in foreclosure since April of this year. Twenty-seven of the 33 apartments are occupied and the rent averages $850 a month.  According to the Department of Housing and Preservation’s (HPD) records, tenants have filed 338 complaints in the past year. HPD took note of the broken windows, trash strewn floors, lack of security and hot water, and put the building under the Alternative Enforcement Program in early 2008.  The year-old program, was designed to identify and fix dwellings in severe distress.  The law allowed the city to sweep in to make necessary repairs, and then slap the derelict owner with a hefty fine. Yet this program has had little to no impact on the quality of life inside 1804 Weeks Ave.  According to the program’s report, as of Oct. 2007, the owners owed $19,100 as a tax lien to the city for open violations against the building.  This included a $16,500 fee that was carried over from the previous fiscal year on April 24, 2009.  Under the program’s guidelines, the city charges a fee for violations that remain unresolved. This building currently carries 581 outstanding violations, according to HPD. Diaz has been living on the fifth floor with his wife, Rosie Benitas, and their two daughters Jacquelin, 7, and Tanya, 4, since February. They used to live in a second-floor apartment, but a fire forced them to move upstairs. Diaz tried calling the maintenance supervisor in the building, he said. But he was told the super would not do any work in the apartment until he received his paycheck.  Diaz understands the super’s dilemma, but said he is more concerned about the mice and rats that could crawl into his daughters’ beds at night. Using 311, Diaz has attempted to file formal complaints about rodent problems, lack of hot water and falling ceilings.  However, after months of neglect, he decided to at least try and make the apartment cheery. Diaz painted the walls in bold hues to cover up the holes around the bathroom knobs.   The girls’ room was given a cool turquoise color to divert them from the windows that don’t open--creating an inferno in the summer. However, most of the damage cannot be ignored, he said.   His bedroom ceiling leaks when it rains, and the crack is edging closer to the light fixture.  At night he lays in bed, staring at his ceiling, hoping that faulty wires will not cause another fire, and force them out once more.

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2254 Crotona Ave.

By Maia Efrem

From a distance, the building at 2254 Crotona Ave. looks like all the other dwellings in the surrounding blocks. On closer inspection, however, the lock is knocked out on the front door, the windows on the first floor are boarded up and graffiti covers concrete slabs that block the entrance to many apartments in the building. An Ocelot entity bought the Crotona Avenue building along with four others from Loran Realty X Corporation in July 2007 for almost $7 million. Since then, the six-story, 28-unit structure has gone through three management companies: Ocelot, Hunter Property Management, and now JLP Metro Management, Inc. Large swaths of graffiti covered the hallways and apartment doors until they were painted by JLP Metro several weeks ago. Tenants are pleased to see the graffiti gone, but they said they still suffer from moldy walls and plumbing problems. When Ocelot, and later Hunter Property Management, stopped providing maintenance services for the tenants, the conditions swiftly deteriorated. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has 859 open violations for the building, 738 of which are either "hazardous," or "immediately hazardous." Complaints include exposed electrical wires, faulty and leaky plumbing, and lack of a working carbon monoxide detecting device. According to the current superintendant, Victor Garcia, the building had no landlord for roughly six months. Rent was not collected during that period, and the building deteriorated because of lack of upkeep. There was no heat and hot water. “It was chaos, every man to himself,” said Garcia. “There was no one to complain to or answer to.” According to Garcia, some tenants owe as much as $20,000 in unpaid rent. Altagracia Rogers has two holes in her bathroom, one in the ceiling and one in the floor; both offer her a view of her neighbors and them of her. “We try to cover it up with bags but it doesn’t always work,” she said, pointing towards the ceiling where the gaping hole reveals a blue bathroom upstairs. She has endured several floods in the last year. “No one helps us, we have to help ourselves,” she said. Because there was no one to pay for the repairs in the building, there was also no one to pay Garcia for his work. “Everything I did I did for free,” he said. “I even bought a five-gallon can of paint, walked away for a minute and a tenant had stolen it to paint her own apartment. I couldn’t even be mad, I just laughed it off.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, HousingComments (0)

Tenants Complain of ‘House of Horrors’

by Sarah Wali

LaDonna Clements the white tile pictured above were a preventive measure against mold on her bathroom ceiling, but realized her mistake when it too was covered.  LaDonna Clements waited impatiently at the foot of the stairs at 689 E. 187th St. in the Bronx one afternoon in October. She and her son, Rondell, were moving some of their belongings to another, safer apartment in Harlem.  A loud crash sent her running. On the third floor landing she saw her son’s left leg dangling from the landing above her.  He had fallen through, spraining his back and neck, and twisting his ankle. “We knew eventually the staircase was gonna cave in,” said Clements, a 32-year-old nursing aide.   “We knew, we had a feeling because it would shake.” Tenants had filed complaints about conditions in this building regularly, according to the New York City Department of Housing and Development. In the past year, it received 31 citations. Although inspectors from the city’s Building Department deemed it safe, the owner, Solieman Rabanipour, was cited for failure to maintain the property. Rabanipour adamantly denies tenants’ claims of disrepair in the apartment.  He blames Clements and her son for the damage on the landing. “She’s lying,” said Rabanipour, when asked about Clements’ claims that the stairs were dangerous.  “They were moving furniture, they dropped a piece and the steps broke.” Rabanipour pointed out that there are no open violations against the building.   He fixed the issues raised in the citations. However, the dilapidated conditions are hard to miss. A wooden block replaces the broken landing between the shaky structure’s third and fourth floors.  Out of the six units, five are currently occupied.  Tenants complain of vermin, falling ceilings and lack of hot water. Yet, Clements, at least at first, felt blessed for the opportunity to move into this real home.  She, like many of her new neighbors, had been living in homeless shelters with her son for months.  She craved stability.  But living without reliable hot water, heat and electricity killed her spirit. She said her living room windowpane came off shortly after she arrived.  Then mold and mildew piled up until it caked the bathroom ceiling and Rondell ’s bedroom.  If a fuse blew at night, they would have to wait until morning for the restaurant downstairs to open and give them access to the fuse box. Clements says she tried calling Rabanipour, a Manhattan dentist with a home on Long Island, but got no response.    After over a dozen attempts to file a complaint with the city through 311, an inspector came to check on her apartment in this February. “They had to close down my living room because they said it was poisonous,” she said. According to the Department Housing and Development, inspectors found high levels of asbestos and lead poisoning from the paint in the room.    To pass inspection the room had to be gutted and redone.   It was only then, she said, that Rabanipour sent someone to fix the mold problem in the bathroom. At first she thought the newly installed white plastic on the ceiling was to prevent the problem from occurring once more.   She quickly realized it had only been covered up when it too was spotted with the dark green. In May, Clements said inspectors advised her to stop paying rent, and to move out of the apartment.  She and Rondell took what they could, and relocated to a housing project in Manhattan. Rabanipour claims he didn’t know the apartment had been vacant for four months. “If I knew they had left, why wouldn’t I rent the apartment out to someone else?” he said. Yessina Rodriguez, 25, who lives in the apartment directly below LaDonna’s, said she has attempted to call the landlord about the damage in her apartment since she moved in a year ago.  The first time she saw anything being fixed was after Rondell fell through the stairs. “We don’t have a super at all,” she said.  “We have a guy from the restaurant downstairs who comes and cleans once a month, that’s it.” Rodriquez doesn’t allow her 3 and 8-year-olds to leave the apartment because she feels the hallway is dangerous.  With no buzzer on the door, the narrow dark stairwell is an ideal spot for strangers to loiter.  By morning, she said, the hallway reeks of urine because two of the three windows are jammed shut. She hasn’t received mail for the year she’s been in her apartment because her mailbox door is broken.  There is no superintendent to fix it, so she’s stuck paying her bills online and finding and trying to keep up with her due dates.  When she tried to call Rabanipour, she couldn’t reach him, and he has yet to return her calls. Rabanipour claimed Rodriquez  never called him about her complaints.   He blamed the tenants for breaking the buzzer, and not locking the front door. “I’m there once a week,” he said. “I have a super there.  I don’t understand what they want.  I can’t be there 24-hours a day.” Rodriquez decided to take things in her own hands when she found mice in her pantry.   The rodents were eating through her food supply, and she could not afford to let food go to waste. No matter how high she put her food, the mice would come to get it.   She bought a small mixed breed puppy to scare them off, even though it’s a pet-free building. “I don’t care,” she said.  “I’m afraid of putting my hand on the kitchen wall in the dark because I don’t know what will crawl on it.” According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development Rodriquez has called 311 more than 50 times to file complaints, since her attempts to contact the landlord were futile. Now, fresh patches of paint spot the wall.  Tenants say the building is the cleanest it has ever been.   The dirt-stained floor has been swept and the putrid smell is slightly masked by fresh paint.    But they still worry about the shaking staircase. To Rabanipour, this is just part of owning a building, and there is nothing wrong with 689 E. 187th St. “It’s in perfectly livable shape,” he said. Rodriquez may disagree, but without steady work she has no other option.  She will continue to endure its conditions for the next two years, until her lease runs out.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (1)

Bloomberg Parties On

Bloomberg gives his victory speech at midnight, after a very close election. Photo by Leslie Minora

Bloomberg gives his victory speech at midnight, after a very close election. Photo by Leslie Minora

by Leslie Minora and Matthew Huisman

Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrated a surprisingly close win over his rival William Thompson for a third term Tuesday night at the lavish Metropolitan Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Bloomberg narrowly edged out Thompson by only 50,000 votes, with more votes going to his challenger than polls had predicted. Unofficial results showed the mayor won by a 51 to 46 percent margin, with a light turnout of more than 1.1 million New Yorkers going to the polls. In his victory speech, Bloomberg tried to put uncertain voters’ minds at ease. "Conventional wisdom says that historically third terms haven’t been too successful," Bloomberg said from the ballroom stage. "We’ve spent the past eight years defying conventional wisdom.” He added, “If you think you've seen progress over the past eight years, I've got news for you. You ain't seen nothing yet." The mayoral victory party was a carefully choreographed and obviously expensive event at the Sheraton on 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue, an appropriate finale to his record $90 million bid for re-election. Waiters in starchy suits served mini-burgers, mini-hot dogs, and chicken fingers on silver platters, while the open bar kept the guests supplied with Brooklyn Lager—all in keeping with the New York food theme. There was even Amstel Light for the financial investment crowd and mini-veggie burgers for the non-meat eaters. It was a people-pleasing event that catered to a crowd very diverse in age, background, and profession. One retired construction worker originally from Ecuador, Alberto Pedro Savinovich, 86, who has worked for all three of the Bloomberg campaigns, said this party was the nicest of all.
Bloomberg supporters chanted "four more years" throughout the night. Photo by Leslie Minora

Bloomberg supporters chanted "four more years" throughout the night. Photo by Leslie Minora

The ballroom walls were covered in blue with star shapes reflected by lighting. Accents of red and white completed the patriotic theme. Jumbo screens in each corner set on a loop showing Bloomberg high-fiving and smiling at people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. New Yorkers filled the soccer field-sized room as a full band played crowd favorites like "Celebration" and "We Are Family". Speakers took the stage periodically, drawing larger and larger crowds as the evening progressed. Like fans waiting for the headliner of a concert, supporters anxiously awaited the arrival of their rock-star mayor. Positions near the lectern were highly coveted by both press and party-goers. Elbows were thrown and spots were saved as the night drew on. At about midnight, Jimmy Fallon, host of “Late Night,” introduced the newly reelected mayor to screaming supporters. In his 20-minute speech, Bloomberg promised to create more jobs and small businesses, improve schools and make New York City more environmentally friendly. Bloomberg also said that while the entire country is suffering from the recession, New York City is doing its best to recover quickly. "We have come so far in these past years by staying united, and that’s how we’ll climb out of this national recession--together," Bloomberg said. "I think he's a uniter, not a divider, said Scott Weinberg, 28, who is a bus boy and a registered Democrat. "This is the guy that's really going to bring the city together." Throughout the party, supporters stressed their personal reasons for attending. "For right now, he has proven that he is the best man for the job," said Carmel Geoghean, 27, who works in advertising. "He knows what New York needs." One Bloomberg supporter summed up the celebration: “This is probably the hottest party in New York City tonight,” said Mark Robinson, 45, a campaign volunteer.
Reporting contributed by Alex Abu Ata

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Thompson Concedes, After a Last-Minute Surge of Hope

By Connor Boals and Maia Efrem

Comptroller William Thompson, Jr. announces his defeat to his supporters at the New York Hilton Hotel and Towers Tuesday evening. Photo by Connor Boals

Comptroller William Thompson Jr. announces his defeat to his supporters at the New York Hilton Hotel and Towers Tuesday evening. Photo by Connor Boals

As the early polling results came in, the supporters of Democratic mayoral candidate William Thompson Jr., believed they were going to witness the upset of the most expensive campaign in New York City’s history. They almost did. At 9:30 p.m., the air was electric. Hundreds of supporters were gathered inside the third floor Trianon lounge of the New York Hilton Hotel and Towers in midtown Manhattan. At 9:51 p.m., with nine percent reporting, Thompson was only one percent behind his opponent Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was still anyone’s race. Strangers hugged, fists were raised and even a few tears were shed. “I believe we have victory,” said the Rev. J.T. Causer from Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Thompson supporters celebrate early poll results that put Mayor Bloomberg only one percent ahead of Thompson. Photo by Connor Boals

Thompson supporters celebrate early poll results that put Mayor Bloomberg only one percent ahead. Photo by Connor Boals

Others, like Sybyl Silverstein, an education consultant from Floral Park, Queens, maintained a “cautious compassion” as the pundits had almost unanimously predicted Bloomberg in a landslide. Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem acted as master of ceremonies for the evening. He and a string of labor leaders and borough politicians delivered rousing chants of “eight is enough!” and “We can’t be bought!” at an ear-blasting volume. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. dominated the stage and announced the Bronx votes had gone to Thompson. "In the city of New York, while there was a billionaire who wanted to buy the election, there were thousands of people who would not sell out," said Diaz,  as he pumped a fist in the air. As the results trickled in, Bloomberg crept ahead, but only by four percent with 17 percent reporting. Gov. David Paterson waited by the stage for almost half an hour as other politicians gave short inspirational speeches to the crowd. The tiny stage was swelling with a who’s who of the city’s Democratic leaders. After a short stump speech from the Rev. Al Sharpton, he took the stage with a tone of seriousness. "I would like to thank Thompson for keeping the dream alive for those who are told 'no' but believe 'yes,' " he told the cheering crowd. With praise came reproach as well. "Too many Democrats stayed home today,” he said. “And too many Democrats who should have stayed home were tantalized away."
Thompson supporters watch the poll results being reported. Bloomberg's one percent gap eventually expanded and Thompson conceded the race at 11:40 p.m. Photo by Connor Boals

Thompson supporters watch the poll results being reported. Bloomberg's one percent gap eventually expanded and Thompson conceded the race at 11:40 p.m. Photo by Connor Boals

At 11:40 p.m., Thompson, his wife and his daughter approached the podium. He was met with vigorous applause. “A few minutes ago, I called Mayor Bloomberg to congratulate him on his victory,” he said. A wave of boos swept forward, overwhelming Thompson, who calmly asked for order. “Tonight the votes are not in our favor,” he said. “But we still have so much to be proud of. This campaign was about standing strong.” Monica Hankins, an office manager from Story Avenue in the Bronx said she felt Bloomberg's term limit was one of the key issues in the election. At the end of the four years, she wanted the question of reversing the three-term limit to be put to the voters. "I feel like Bloomberg disrespected us," she said. "It feels like a dictatorship now." Another Bronx resident from Pelham Parkway, Aisha Ahmed, said she was "disgusted" by the results. "We live in a rich country where a mayor just spent $100 million on a campaign but people still sleep outside of churches,"  said Ahmed, the president of a medical consulting company. Although the mayor’s seat didn’t go to the Democrats, spirits were high over the election of Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “The Democratic Party had some tremendous gains tonight, the people rejected the politics of Mayor Bloomberg,” said Fernando Ferrer, former Bronx borough president and 2005 mayoral candidate. “I think he’s going to have a rough four years.”

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The Healthcare Debate Takes to the Pavement

by Carmen Williams

Members of MoveOn.org staged a rally in support of new Healthcare Legislation

Members of MoveOn.org staged a rally outside the New York Times building in midtown in support of new healthcare legislation

Bodies lay strewn across the pavement in front of the New York Times building in Manhattan Nov. 2, representing those who die every year for lack of health insurance in America. The Halloween-esque "corpses" were members of Moveon.org, a liberal public advocacy group staging a Stand for HealthCare rally  as part of its national push for healthcare legislation that includes a public option for government-funded insurance. “We are here today because Americans and New York State residents desperately need real healthcare options," said David Braun, a council coordinator for the group and spokesman for today’s rally. Moveon.org recently voted to withdraw support from any politician who did not support the president's healthcare reform.  One passerby paid rapt attention to Braun. Pablo Rapado, a Spanish violinist, said as an uninsured freelance musician, this rally made sense. “I saw a film about America’s healthcare system before I moved here and it scared me," said Rapado. "In Spain, we have the best health insurance in the world. Everyone is insured.” He echoed a sentiment of the many uninsured Americans-- that he could not afford to fall ill in America. “My friends have told me it’s cheaper to get a ticket home to Spain," said Rapado, " rather than to pay for an emergency room visit here in America.” Lucy Bannon, 20, a student from Chicago, Illinois found the visual of the death toll sobering. Bannon questioned why so many lives are being lost because of the lack of healthcare. The rally spokesman quoted a study that found that nearly 45,000 people die each year because of a lack of insurance. He said that nearly five people would have died in the hour it took for the rally to be staged. He called on the members and spectators to contact  Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer to offer their support of the legislation. “The mark of a civilized society is measured by its ability to care of our sick," said Braun. "We are not caring for our sick. The public option is the best way to save people money.” Jacob James-Vogel, a former insurance company employee, said his sole job used to be to protect the insurance company’s assets. James-Vogel participated in the death scene, and viewed today’s rally as a way to give voice to those who have died without coverage. “Over the past 10 years healthcare premiums have doubled as wages have been stagnant," said Vogel. "It has outpaced inflation, and it’s a tragedy. We care more about profits and bottom lines than people.”

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