Tag Archive | "Soundview"

VIDEO – Bronx Boxer Keeps Chasing Golden Gloves Dream

Photos and Text by Mamta Badkar

Video by Shreeya Sinha

Javier Baez, a 17-year-old boxer from the World Class Boxing Gym in Soundview, walked into the Theater at Madison Square Garden shrouded in darkness for his bout with 19-year-old Luis Cruz. His trainer, Luis Olmo, stood behind him while coach Ron Gibson massaged his shoulders as he waited for the announcer to call his name.

Having won the 2009 Metropolitan Championships in the 132-pound novice division and beaten two worthy opponents at the Golden Gloves this year, Baez had arrived at the tournament finals.

Javier Baez prays in the corner as his rival in the 132-pound division, Luis Cruz warms up in the ring. (Mamta Badkar/The Bronx Ink)

Javier Baez prays in the corner as his rival, Luis Cruz, warms up in the ring. (Mamta Badkar/The Bronx Ink)

The annual tournament tests young boxing hopefuls around the city, yet no one at South Bronx Prep knew about Baez’s fight — the high school senior intentionally kept it quiet to avoid inviting trouble. “They might want to fight,” he said. Waleska Roldan, the wife of his trainer, suggested another reason. “He’s very reserved,” she said of Baez. “He comes in, says hello, changes and gets to work.”

Baez is uncommonly mature for a teenager. “I don’t really wanna be like anybody else,” he said, admitting he has no idols. At the gym, it is hard to hear him over the ricocheting speed bag and the buzzer that sounds every three minutes keeping the boxers rotating through their warm-ups. While other kids earn reprimands from Roldan, Baez keeps at the bags, rotating through them. He exhales heavily every time he makes contact, occasionally scrutinizing himself in the mirror to ensure his stance is right, that he’s pivoting and hitting the bags the right way.

“He serves as a mentor for the younger kids here,” Roldan said. One of them, Ivan, gushed about jogging with Baez, being in the dressing room with him and helping him wrap his gloves at his last fight. “I look up to him. I call him my brother,” he said, before turning to Baez. “I call you brother, don’t I?” Baez nodded and returned to his bag.

Watching him closely at the gym was his grandmother, Marguerita Fuentes. She has a heart condition and underwent surgery when Baez’s older brother, Jaime Stewart, won the Golden Gloves. “I like that he’s in here boxing and not out in the street,” she said, sitting in her usual ringside spot wearing a blue Yankees bomber jacket.

Fuentes acts as Baez’s driving force. “I want to win my fight for my grandmother,” he said. “She’s asking me to win. I can’t let her down.”

Baez is part of the “Adopt a Boxer” program at the gym and his membership and training fee is sponsored by Roldan. He used to train at Betances Boxers in The Bronx before it closed down, while Olmo, who put his savings into World Class Boxing Gym, used to work for the New York City Housing Authority teaching young people at the community center how to box until he was let go in February 2009. With a number of Police Athletic League boxing programs shutting down and the fire at Morris Park Boxing Club, the Bronx community was in need of boxing gyms for amateurs.

Olmo opened the gym Aug. 1 with a ring and a few punching bags. There were no mats or mirrors at first, but equipment started to follow after he received donations and grants awarded by Assemblyman Marcos Crispo and State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. The gym has a family feel to it, and Roldan said she felt sick watching Baez fight describing it as her “mother hen syndrome.” She looked over at Fuentes and laughed, asking her to bring in her pills for the actual match. “I’m proud as his sponsor,” Roldan said. “He has so much on his plate at such a young age. He’s doing it very gracefully.”

Roldan said she checked her boxers’ report cards, didn’t let them cuss, made sure they dressed appropriately and was pleased to see them help out in keeping up the gym. “We close at 9 and they’re still sitting here,” she said. “It’s like a safe haven for them. I’d rather them be sitting here than be out on the street getting into trouble.”

She recognized that this is a tough neighborhood and wanted “Javi,” as she calls Baez, to win because it would keep the other young boxers training hard. But she could not attend his match at Madison Square Garden because she had to pick her daughter up from dance practice.

“When I fight, I only think about winning,” Baez said during a training session, without a trace of arrogance. Even at 17 he has a quiet determination about him.

At the Garden, it was hard to tell if Baez was nervous beneath his head gear. His eyes seemed focused on the ring. He climbed in, did a quick round kneeling at the corner and crossing himself, threw a few uppercuts into the air and retired to his corner.

After the opening bell, Baez threw a jab at Cruz and missed. He dodged one punch and then ducked to deliver a blow to the stomach. The fighters remained at arms length for most of the fight, but Cruz seemed to be landing more punches. Baez received penalties for ducking and holding before referee Jihad Abdul Aziz stopped the match.

Javier Baez holds Luis Cruz during the final at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The hold got him a warning in a match that was eventually stopped. (Mamta Badkar/The Bronx Ink)

Javier Baez holds Luis Cruz during the final at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. The hold got him a warning in a match that was eventually stopped. (Mamta Badkar/The Bronx Ink)

“He kept ducking low and after the warning he ducked again,” Aziz said. “They train hard to get here and the last thing I want to do as a referee is stop a match. I am disappointed he didn’t follow the rules because he has experience.”

The dream was over for this year, but Baez said he planned to continue boxing at the World Class Boxing Gym because he didn’t want to leave his trainers. He wants to box until he is 28, and he is applying to study business at colleges in New York.

“It’s also because of his grandmother,” Roldan said. “It’s hard to go to college and not have your family there.”

Additional filming by Dan Fastenberg

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia, SportsComments (0)

For Pedro Espada, Accusations Swirl as Patients Wait and Watch

In the days since the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit charging State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr. with using a Bronx healthcare organization as his own “personal piggybank,” the senator’s son defended their family as details emerged about Espada’s expensive sushi habit and accusations that the senator doesn’t live in the Bronx district he supposedly represents.

See what patients at one of the Soundview clinics had to say:

Attorney general Andrew Cuomo’s lawsuit charges Espada with “siphoning” $14 million from Comprehensive Community Development Corporation, also known as “Soundview,” a company that provides low cost health care services to patients in the Bronx from five locations. Espada founded the company in 1978. He is currently Soundview’s president and chief executive officer.

Nineteen current and former Soundview employees are also named in the lawsuit including seven of Espada’s family members. Cuomo’s lawsuit alleges Espada and his relatives received vacations and lavish compensation packages through Soundview. The senator’s contract with the company included a $9 million severance bonus. Espada is also accused of using his corporate credit card for campaign expenses and personal expenses including $20,000 bills at two sushi restaurants.

Espada was elected to represent the 33rd District in 2008. In order to serve in the Senate, he is required to live within the district. Espada’s benefits at Soundview included $2,500 monthly housing allowance for a co-op apartment at 325 E 201st St. in the Bronx. During the two years Espada has maintained his apartment in Bedford Park, various residents of the building have spoken to news outlets claiming he does not live there. In the past, Espada’s response to these allegations has been that he divides his time between his home in the Bronx and his office in Albany.

Espada is also listed in the public phone directory as a resident of 115 Beechwood Road, a leafy cul-de-sac in Mamaroneck, with his wife, Connie, and their children. The home is located near the two sushi restaurants, Toyo Sushi and Red Plum, where Espada allegedly used his Soundview credit card to purchase meals. Peter Chen, the owner of both restaurants, said the Espadas visited Red Plum “probably once a week” and ordered takeout from Toyo Sushi “three or four times a month.” Though he said he couldn’t recall if they had a favorite dish, Chen said the Espadas were “average tippers.”

In 2004, Sandra Love and three other Soundview officials plead guilty to charges that they diverted money from Soundview to Espada’s political campaign. Espada and Love were previously acquitted on similar charges in 2000. According to Cuomo’s lawsuit, all four Soundview staffers who were convicted of criminal charges were retained by the company and two of them were named to the company’s Compliance Committee. Love’s son, Jerry Love Jr., was hired by Espada in 2009. Love Jr. is named in the current lawsuit.

Records show that the senator’s political action committee, Espada for the People, paid $1,265.82 to Soundview in December 2007. The senator did not respond to messages left at his offices in Albany and East Fordham Road as well as calls made to his addresses in the Bronx and Mamaroneck asking for an explanation of these charges to Soundview and the attorney general’s allegations of misconduct. An intern at Espada’s Bainbridge office said he had “no idea” where the senator was and that he last saw him in Bainbridge “a couple weeks ago.”

But Espada did appear on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” show on Thursday to defend himself against the charges. He said there was no intention for him to receive the $9 million severance bonus and that the case was “politically motivated.” Espada stated he has no plans to resign from the senate while he fights the lawsuit. On Friday morning, he continued his counter attack on MyFoxNY.com. “This is a witch hunt by the prince of darkness himself,” he said, referring to Cuomo.

Lourdes Espada, the senator’s daughter-in-law, is also named in the attorney general’s suit although her husband, Pedro Gautier Espada, is not named. One of the allegations against the senator is that Soundview awarded a $400,000 yearly janitorial contract to a management company run by his son. On Wednesday night, Gautier Espada posted a message on his Facebook profile that said: “Who ever thinks that the liberties and freedoms we enjoy as Americans are free has never paid and must walk through life with blinders on. The truth is, those principles that our union uses as it’s foundation are very expensive. They have been paid for in blood. sacrifice, sweat and tears. Today I keep my head up knowing that someway I have paid a small price in maintaining the very principles of our existence.”

The note has since been deleted. Gautier Espada has not responded by e-mail requests seeking further comment on this story.

*The 33rd District includes the neighborhoods of Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights, Bedford Park, Van Cortlandt Village, University Heights, Fordham, Tremont, East Tremont, Norwood and Mount Hope.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Health, Multimedia, PoliticsComments (3)

An Ex-Addict Pushes a Message of Hope and Healing

By Amanda Staab

Reinaldo Daniel Diaz had to hit rock bottom before he could turn his life around and  stop his addiction. Now, he is an active member of the Bronx community, reaching out to as many young people as he can. Photo by Amanda Staab

Reinaldo Daniel Diaz had to hit rock bottom before he could turn his life around and stop his addiction. Now, he is an active member of the Bronx community, reaching out to as many young people as he can. Photo by Amanda Staab

On a recent cold and windy Friday night in the Bronx, rumors spread on the street about a gang initiation week about to start. While some residents were afraid to leave their homes after dark, one man opened the doors to a local church and invited the community to come together in song.

Reinaldo Daniel Diaz, a 40-year-old man with a robust frame and a big smile, took center stage alongside his seven teen backup singers, and the crowd joined in, singing “Healing rain is falling down. I’m not afraid,” a gospel song by Michael W. Smith.

La Iglesia Evangelio de Amor church on Van Nest Avenue was packed with kids and adults, all of them standing in rows and clapping to the beat, some of them closing their eyes and gently shaking their heads. The happy clamor echoed outside, and even more people came in and took a look around.

The focus of the event, though, was not the religion or the music. It was the young people of the Bronx.

“We want to show them that you can be part of a community without being part of a gang,” said Diaz, once he came down from the stage.

Diaz, commonly called Danny within the community, is a substance abuse counselor who has been organizing similar events up to three times a month at local churches, schools, and youth prisons. He began this work a year and a half ago through LifeCause, a grassroots organization he started from his parents’ basement in Soundview.

“I live right in the midst of this war zone, which I call the Bronx, New York City, and we’re fighting for the lives of our kids, to give them a shot,” he said.

LifeCause aims to raise awareness among young African-Americans and Hispanics about HIV and AIDS, gangs, substance abuse, domestic violence, and any other issue that disproportionately affects those communities. Since he started, Diaz has recruited approximately 12 kids who either met him through the various congregations he visits or at the events LifeCause sponsors.

In addition to acting out real-life scenarios in skits and helping distribute free AIDS tests, Diaz’s team tries to reach out to other teens and talk to them about the issues and whatever else they may be facing. The goal, said Diaz, is to send a message to the young people that they can persevere despite difficult circumstances.

“The dream is to let this movement, so to speak, LifeCause affect these kids and, hopefully, they’ll affect others and their families,” said Diaz. The group not only addresses awareness and prevention, but also what the kids are doing to prepare for a successful future.

“We try to get them involved in GED courses,” said Diaz. “We try to get them involved in jobs. We bring them back into community, help them get connected with other youth, other churches, and with other people who are striving to do the same thing.”

Though local churches and other community groups sometimes help host events, Diaz funds most LifeCause events entirely on his own, with his own money. Though he’s not a rich man – he makes little more than $40,000 salary – Diaz manages to make it work.

“This is not an overnight thing,” said Diaz. “I’ve been just saving and buying, saving and buying.” Little by little, he has accumulated tables, chairs, and sound equipment. This past summer, his parents and sister helped him purchase a concert-grade stage for LifeCause events.

Diaz and his team are careful about their methods. They don’t lecture. They try to break the issues down and present them in music, skits, or games, any way that will get through to the kids.

“We tell them how it is,” said Carlos Aristy, 21, who’s known Diaz for years and started helping him write and act out skits about drug abuse and gang violence. “This is real life. This is what they go through.”

Aristy was raised by his grandmother in Hunts Point. At a very young age, he had witnessed exactly how drug addiction can destroy a person’s life. While his peers hung out on the street, Aristy used that example to keep him motivated in school. He managed to graduate high school on time, but dropped out of college after only one year. After talking it out with Diaz, Aristy said he was inspired to go back to school, and now he plans to start at Bronx Community College in January to pursue a degree in digital arts.

While he’s in college, Aristy said he plans to continue helping Diaz. He said his experiences with the group have opened his eyes. The event that moved him most was two months ago. Diaz and his crew visited a Bronx youth prison, where Aristy noticed a small kid, a nine-year-old boy, sitting in the back of the room full of teenagers.

“I was like, ‘We really got to hit the community,’” said Aristy.

LifeCause also organized and sponsored several block parties this past summer with music, raffles, basketball, and even free haircuts. Local churches hosted the events, which also included health information and free HIV tests.

“Our goal is to make it so normal for a person to want to get tested or to want to implement a coping strategy or a condom negotiation strategy,” said Diaz. He’s also organized conferences for pastors, so that they can raise awareness about health concerns with their own parishioners.

LifeCause hosted a block party outside the Rock of Salvation Church at 1179 Hoe Ave. last October. Photo courtesy of LifeCause

LifeCause hosted a block party outside the Rock of Salvation Church at 1179 Hoe Ave. last October. Photo courtesy of LifeCause

“There are issues that need to be spoken about in church,” said Diaz. “People may not readily want to hear what the doctor has to say. They may trust the pastor.”

Diaz and his LifeCause team are praised by members of the community. “He’s great at what he does,” said Albie Sanabria, the youth minister at Crossway Church on Bruckner Boulevard who met Diaz at an event a year ago. “He loves people. I see the joy when he deals with people, even on the street.”

Diaz wasn’t always hitting the sidewalks and passing out pamphlets on HIV. He openly talks about the years he was a drug addict, lost on the streets.

“I came up in the city, and even though I had great parents, somewhere along the cracks, I was traumatized,” he said. Diaz said that he was sexually abused when he was four years old by a family friend who used to babysit him. He kept it a secret, but the effects carried into his adolescence.

“I started to act out,” he said. “I started to be very angry and wanting to hurt myself, and slowly but surely, I began to medicate.” Diaz got hooked on alcohol and drugs. He started with nicotine and moved on to marijuana, then cocaine.

Diaz dropped out of high school as a junior and began hitting the clubs. He eventually worked at a few, stocking the bars and collecting bottles during parties. For nearly three years, this kept him and his drug business busy. The extra money also helped him fuel his own habit.

By the time he was 20, Diaz hadn’t acknowledged the trauma of his past. He buried who he really was under a shell, he said, and it felt horrible. His addiction isolated him, and he was losing relationships. Diaz would be gone from home for days at a time, and his parents had no idea where he was. When he did sometimes return, he said his mother would hide her face and cry when she saw him.

“I was in the grips of addiction where all that was important for me was the next high,” said Diaz. It wasn’t until he found himself reeking of urine and smoking crack alone beneath the staircase of a Morrisania project that he thought he might have hit rock bottom. That’s when, he said, he asked for a sign from God.

“I decided to give him a chance,” said Diaz, “because I had lost a lot, lost relationships, lost family, was losing my home. The turn-around comes when you begin to lose everything and you become aware of it.”

Two days later, Diaz made his way home to tell his parents everything. His family had been praying for him and asking close friends to keep him in their thoughts. That afternoon, his older sister, Elizabeth Diaz, asked him to go with her to her church, a place where people had gone for help with problems similar to his.

As children, the two siblings had been very close. Diaz said every time someone offered him a candy, he always asked for another for his sister. He never left her out. As a teenager, Diaz wrote a rap with a friend that haunted his sister while she witnessed his decline. “‘There’s more to life than this,’” she said the hook went. “‘There’s more to life than this.’ That’s what comes to my mind when I think about those days.”

The church she took him to was the Love Gospel Assembly on the Grand Concourse  in the heart of the Bronx.  Diaz, hard and streetwise, took a seat in the back next to his sister. To his surprise, he recognized a prostitute he knew standing a few pews ahead with her hands up in the air, singing.

“I look at this woman, and I see the tracks, the heroin tracks on her arms, and I couldn’t believe that she was beautiful, clean, and she had tears in her eyes, but she was smiling,” said Diaz. “I was like, ‘How can she be smiling and crying at the same time?’ I didn’t understand, and then it hit me that she was experiencing something that I wanted.”

The pastor stopped the service in the middle and announced that God wanted  him to ask if there was anyone in the pews who needed to approach the altar and receive a blessing. Diaz’s sister looked over at him and told him to go.

“I challenged Danny that afternoon,” she said. “I said, ‘Danny, what’s it going to be? If you’re a real man, you’re going to go up there.’” Reluctantly, Diaz walked to the front of the church. The pastor placed a hand on Diaz’s forehead.

“It was like God stopped everything that he had to do in heaven just for me in that very moment and made himself real to me in that very moment,” said Diaz, who previously hadn’t been much of a believer. The blessing was his first experience with God, he said, and what made him really change his life.

That same pastor, the late Bishop Gerald Julius Kaufman, helped Diaz find a rehabilitation center, and when Diaz made it through the 18-month program, Kaufman hired him as a janitor for the church.

“That place made it happen for me,” said Diaz. Focusing on his new job and avoiding old acquaintances helped him stay clean. On his lunch breaks, said Diaz, he volunteered at the church’s kitchen, which served about 400 meals to the homeless every weekday. He was taking his apron off, getting ready to return to work, when a woman, a social worker who also attended the church, approached him.

She asked him to have a seat with her on the white marble stairs leading to the first floor. She told him that she could see his potential and that he could do whatever he wanted with his life. “You know what happened that day?” Diaz paused and started again a bit softer. “I believed her.”

The woman suggested he start with his GED, and he did. He went on to apply to Fordham University, but the admissions counselor there told him he might have a better chance getting in somewhere else. Just as he was walking back toward the subway and about to give up, his cousin told him, over the phone, about the college’s Higher Education Opportunity Program, run by the state to give economically and educationally disadvantaged students a chance at college. Diaz turned around and ran to the program director’s office and asked for a chance to prove himself. He said he also promised the director that if he did make the cut, he would stay in the city to reinvest in the young people who were just like him.

“When she saw that I was serious, she gave me a chance, she gave me a shot,” said Diaz. He was admitted and enrolled at the age of 24. Diaz graduated in four years, and that’s when he started his work as a substance abuse counselor in the Bronx.

Diaz is now helping recovering addicts through his job at the Next Steps program, run by Albert Einstein College of Medicine on 161st Street. “It’s the fulfillment of who I was born to be,” said Diaz. “I really feel that this is my purpose and calling in life. Anything that I do with it almost feels like part of a puzzle is coming together.”

In the future, Diaz plans to develop a program through LifeCause that would help at-risk teens or young people already abusing drugs or dealing with other issues get back on track and get access to education and jobs. For now, he is also taking night classes, working toward a dual master’s degree in social work and theology at Fordham.

His aim, though, is not be a pastor with a single congregation. Instead, Diaz said he would like to continue spending his weekends reaching out to as many young people as he can by walking the streets and organizing various LifeCause events.

“He’s a leader,” said Diaz’s sister. “He’s always been a leader, and to see him lead is really a beautiful thing.” He’s dynamic and creative, she said, and knows how to motivate people.

His team members value the way Diaz has used his experiences to inspire others. “He’ll look at something, and he’ll say, ‘I want to do this, this, and that,’” said Adam Olazabal, 20, who volunteers as security for LifeCause events whenever he can. “He’ll come up with a little idea, and as he goes on, the idea will keep growing… and you’ll see it.”

Because he spends his own money to fund events, Diaz lives in a few rooms in his parents’ basement. The space that might otherwise serve as a bedroom is filled with folding tables, tents, a collapsible stage, sound equipment, and boxes upon boxes of HIV tests.

Diaz has managed to carve out a corner for his office, a small desk with a computer that is surrounded by shelves overflowing with books on health and religion.

“My thing now is reading up on gangs, homelessness, and all types of social ills that I address,” said Diaz, “things that help me sharpen my skills.” A thick book with Billy Graham’s smiling face on it was turned toward Diaz as he sat. He said he also tries to follow the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi.

Like some leaders from the past, Diaz believes his faith and his responsibility to his community go hand in hand. To explain it, he paraphrased words from the Bible: “Do away with your religious rites and your religious ceremony. That’s not important. Be just. Do what’s right by your brother.”

Though he grew up in Soundview, Diaz does most of his work in Morrisania, a section in the Bronx, he said, that really needs help. “Morrisania has one of the highest rates of everything,” said Diaz. He then listed diabetes, HIV infections, and gang violence. “It’s an epicenter.”

Poverty and an overall lack of resources and opportunities necessary to succeed, said Diaz, have held back several Bronx neighborhoods. And, many times, those who actually do make it, don’t come back to help.

“When people usually get it together, let’s say, they want to get out,” said Diaz. “To them, that means success. Nobody wants to stay. Nobody wants to reinvest within the community.”

Olazabal, who met Diaz at the church on Grand Concourse, grew up in Bronx projects and said he’s seen much of the same.

“Everybody feels they’ve done enough,” he said. “Everybody thinks, ‘Well, you know, I’ve already put my part in, so let me let the next person do whatever I didn’t really finish.’ That’s how a lot of things never get done. That’s how there are a lot of gaps.”

The young man said Diaz is different and he believes in what the LifeCause founder is trying to do. After all, Olazabal himself is another example of Diaz’s success. He recently took the GED exam, after Diaz helped him register. Olazabal, who’s been in and out of trouble, now plans on going to college, and he’s considering a career in music or carpentry.

Though Diaz himself is a success story, he has kept his promise and stayed to be a positive force in the Bronx. Again, he referred to the Bible:  “He said you are the salt of the city. He said you are the preservative of the city. If you leave, the city will rot, the city will go and be no more. In other words, the city needs you.” Then, he took a breath. “Powerful,” he said, and let out a bellowing laugh.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (0)

Bronx Residents Protest Poor Living Conditions

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, HousingComments (0)

1585-1589 E. 172nd St.

By Matthew Huisman

Martha Castro remembers when she moved into 1585 E. 172nd St. in  the Soundview section of the Bronx. “It was a very beautiful building,”  Castro said. “I’ve been here 22 years and this is the worst.”

Between 2006 and 2007, Ocelot bought 1585 and a neighboring building, 1589. After Ocelot ran out of money and abandoned the buildings, conditions deteriorated at a rapid rate. Tenants continued to pay rent, even as they lived with holes in the walls, rat infestations and sparse heat.

“All we want is to get our service done and live decently,” said Castro, 65. “It´s a struggle because you want to live comfortable and not having to worry about, `Are we gonna have hot water?´”

A company connected to Hunter Property Management purchased the two buildings, along with four other Ocelot properties, in May 2009. Since then, residents have been rebelling against their new landlords.

Residents of 1585 E. 172nd Street are organizing against their poor living conditions. Photo by Matthew Huisman

Police were called when residents at 1585 E. 172nd Street organized a protest in the lobby. Photo by Matthew Huisman

Residents’ anger at the decrepit living conditions bubbled over during a tenants’ meeting on Oct. 14. Castro, president of the tenants association, invited the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a non-profit organization that helps low-income residents collectively own and govern their buildings, to talk to residents about ways to improve their quality of life.
“Management apparently called the police and said there was some disturbance at their building,” said Dan DeSloover of Urban Homesteading.  “We told police the tenants are holding a meeting and they invited us to come. Then they left.”

A lawyer for Sam Suzuki, the principal manager of Hunter Management, said her client had no problem with tenants organizing, but the police were called because the UHAB members at the meeting were trespassing.

“The buildings have over 3,000 code violations total,” said DeSloover of the six Hunter-owned buildings. “These buildings were under Ocelot before  Hunter and so the people here have had bad, bad conditions for years.”
DeSloover and his colleagues from Urban Homesteading are chronicling the conditions that continue to exist in the five-story apartment buildings that butt up against one another. DeSloover said he plans to present this evidence to Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburg, the bank that issued the mortgages initially for Ocelot, then for Hunter in May 2009.  ”It will help make our case if we do get a meeting with the bank,” said DeSloover. “Maybe we can work with them to change ownership and better conditions.”
mlh2171@columbia.edu

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, HousingComments (2)

Gourmet Tacos in a Truck

by Matthew Huisman

Medardo Florencio, owner of Taqueria Guadalupe, cooks up tacos for residents living in Soundview.

Medardo Florencio of Taqueria Guadalupe cooks up tacos for residents living in Soundview. Photo by Matthew Huisman

It’s lunchtime on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx and my stomatch growls, reminding me that I haven’t eaten since 9 a.m.  Instead of grabbing a greasy slice of pizza, or stopping in at one of the many fast food joints that litter the area, I opt instead for Taqueria Guadalupe.

The chrome taco truck sits where Manor and Westchester Avenues meet, a shining, silver oasis of food. Medardo Florencio–owner, chef and cashier–greets me at the window. There is no table, no cash register, no building–only Florencio’s truck converted into a mobile kitchen. The sole concessions to traditional dining are two lonely chairs leaning against the brick wall of D&G Fashions, a store that sells ladies wear and plus sizes.

Florencio didn’t ask what I’m ordering, only how many.

“Tres, por favor,” I said, as I was feeling particularly hungry.

Florencio immediately goes to work, dicing onion and pineapple. Together with a fistful of flavored pork, Florencio tosses the mixture on the grill. The meat sizzles, wafting the smell of al pastor tacos to the street curb. The reaction causes my mouth to water like one of Pavlov’s dogs. By this time I am not alone.

Jenny Cosme walks up to the window, glancess briefly at the menu and orders one bistec and one chicken taco and waits patiently.

“Their food is good, and it’s healthy too,” says Cosme. “It’s healthier than the fast food because it’s on a grill.”

Cosme likes crema y pico de gallo, a mixture of raw onion, tomato and cilantro, on her tacos.

“They cut everything daily,” Coseme said while piling on the pico.

Taqueria Guadalupe at the corner of Manor and Westchester Avenues in the Soundview neighborhood. Photo by Matthew Huisman

Taqueria Guadalupe at the corner of Manor and Westchester Avenues in Soundview. Photo by Matthew Huisman

Florencio has been feeding his hungry neighbors in the Soundview neighborhood for more than seven years. He arrived in this country 20 years ago from Guerrero, a state in southwest Mexico known for its tourism and silver. Florencio says he has about 80 customers a day, enough to support his wife and four kids. A fifth is on the way.

But on the streets of the Bronx, where good, cheap and healthy food can be as scarce as a Phillies fan, Taqueria Guadalupe is one of the few places that offer a healthier alternative.

“It’s all fresh,” Florencio says in Spanish pointing to a tray of toppings. “We make it fresh every day.”

Spicy red salsa, avacado puree, pico de gallo and fresh lime are a few of the extras that Florencio offers his customers.

In a few minutes my order is up. I pay the $7.50 and walk back to the chairs. Steam rises from the plate in the cold air. The first bite is packed with pineapple. The sweet juice runs down my chin and I lap it up with a lick of my tongue.

“No sense in being proper when you’re on the sidewalk,” I muse, plowing through the first taco.

I had no problem with the second and third. The spicy pork, tangy lime and crisp onion make a heavenly treat wrapped in two corn tortillas.

Sidewalk dining at its finest.

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx Neighborhoods, FoodComments (0)

Where Was Ruben Diaz Jr.?

by Jose Leyva

Ruben Diaz Jr. at William Thompson Jr.'s party last night. The borough president cancelled his plans to stump for Thompson at the last minute, appearing only to speak at the evening's event. Photo by Connor Boals

Ruben Diaz Jr. at William Thompson Jr.'s party last night. The borough president cancelled his plans to stump for Thompson at the last minute, appearing only to speak at the evening's event. Photo by Connor Boals

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. was nowhere to be seen on election day. He voted quietly before 6:30 a.m. at P.S. 93 in Soundview.

Election workers and school employees at the voting site said Diaz arrived early and left quickly, as if in a rush.

“He was one of the first voters,” said Diane Jones, a Republican poll worker at the P.S. 93 election site. “He said he came early because he had to take one of his children to Catholic school.”

Then, instead of stumping for William Thompson, the Democratic mayoral candidate he had endorsed early in the race, Diaz slipped from view.

One of his only campaign statements appeared on his Facebook page on the eve of the election: “Don’t forget to vote for me, Billy Thompson and the democratic ticket! On Tues. Nov. 3rd from 6am-9pm!!!!! Bring a friend!!!!!”

The former city comptroller, Thompson, had to wait until 10:30 that evening to hear from Diaz at his election party at the Hilton Hotel Towers in mid-town Manhattan. By that point, Diaz had himself won re-election as borough president by a 73 percent margin, and early results pointed to an expected defeat to incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg by an unexpectedly close margin for Thompson in his bid for mayor.

In his three-minute speech last night, an excited Diaz said change was needed in City Hall.

“The Bronx needs a friend,” said Diaz. “Millionaire corporations are getting all the money, they are getting all the profits, and they are not doing business for the people. They are not paying wages, they are not giving benefits to the workers.”

Once on the podium, Diaz triggered some of the most excited applause of the evening. He talked about the Yankees’ domination in the World Series, the economic inequity of the city’s residents, and Bloomberg’s indifference to the Bronx.

“There are thousands of Democrats who understood that to be a true Democrat, we had to reach out and help our brothers and sisters out. We together never ever sold out,” said Diaz, to a cheering crowd of about 300 people.

Several Bronx Democrats expressed support for Ruben Diaz, Jr.’s next bid for borough  president, but were skeptical about changes in quality of life under another Bloomberg term.

Inspite of the borough president’s absence on election day, Bronx voters went for Thompson on election day by a greater margin than any other borough (61 percent for Thompson, 37 percent for Bloomberg). Unofficial results pointed to a 51 percent Bloomberg win citywide, to 46 percent of the vote for Thompson.
“I think Rubencito is trying, and I have to give him credit for that. But he needs more help, and I think that with Bill Thompson in office, a change might occur,” said Beverly Dumpheys, a 34-year-old social worker living in Grand Concourse, earlier in the day.

When asked at the Hilton party about a continuing relationship with Mayor Bloomberg, Diaz said, “I don’ want to think about that.”

Diaz was set to fly to Puerto Rico the morning after the election to moderate a workshop on economic development at a five-day Hispanic legislative conference, called Somos el Futoro (We are the Future), according to his communications director, John Desio.

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