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Nicaraguan diplomat dead in Fordham

Fordham residents and media gathered in front of 2070 Grand Concourse. Photo: Amara Grautski

Fordham residents and media gathered in front of 2070 Grand Concourse. Photo: Amara Grautski

Residents of 2070 Grand Concourse arrived home Thursday afternoon to a scrum of police requesting identification, and a stream of anxious parents negotiating their way under the yellow police tape to pick up their children from day care inside.

Inside, until late into the evening, lay the body of a Nicaraguan diplomat near the front door of his sixth floor apartment, his throat sliced open and stab wounds in the abdomen, with a knife by his side.

According to published reports, Cesar Mercado, 34, who had lived in the building for four years, was discovered by his driver around 10:30 a.m. near his front door, covered in blood. Mercado, who had been working as a consul for the Nicaraguan embassy in New York for eight years, was expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting yesterday.

Neighbors described Mercado as a quiet man, who kept to himself.

“He’s very kind,” said Veronica Castro, who has lived on the same floor as Mercado for a year. “Yesterday, he came up with us on the stairs, I mean on the elevator, after school.”

One woman, who asked not to be identified, said that most neighbors kept to themselves in the building, so his behavior was not unusual.

“Here, almost no one talks,” she said in Spanish. “No one knows each other, no one knows anything. I don’t talk to my neighbors. Everyone rides the elevator in silence.”

Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who had been in the area on other business, pulled up to the scene at 5:30 p.m. to speak with police and community members in front of First Union Baptist Church nearby.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera talking to community members in front of the First Union Baptist Church. Photo: Amara Grautski

Councilman Fernando Cabrera talking to community members in front of the First Union Baptist Church. Photo: Amara Grautski

“When we heard the news, we were very saddened,” said Cabrera, who didn’t have any information relating to the investigation. “I just came just to make sure that the investigation is moving, it’s flowing, and that once they get accurate information, they’re able to bring it right back out.”

According to La Prensa, a Nicaraguan newspaper, the country’s foreign minister, Samuel Santos Lopez, was still in the process of contacting Mercado’s family.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Northwest Bronx, Politics0 Comments

Long road ahead for new senator

The Soundview Heath Centre, run by former state senator Pedro Espada, Jr. and at the centre of allegations against him. Photo: Nicola Kean

The Soundview Heath Centre, run by former state senator Pedro Espada, Jr., and at the centre of allegations against him. Photo: Nicola Kean

Gustavo Rivera may be packing for Albany after ousting the tainted Pedro Espada, Jr. from his state senate seat by a two-to-one margin in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

But for some residents, the former campaign worker still has a long road ahead to earn the trust of the Bronxites who voted for him.

“Usually a lot of these officials, they come into office they say they need your vote to do this, to do that, but when they get to office nothing is done,” said 25-year-old Soundview resident Antony Johnson. “It’s a big disappointment. They fly away, whatever they do.”

Simon Delacruz, 57, who was standing with Johnson on the corner of White Plains Road and Lafayette Avenue, couldn’t contain his cynicism.

“They show up when they want something from you,” Delacruz said. “But after that it’s hard to see the people.”

Fordham resident Jackie Rivera, 36, said she didn’t have time to vote, but even if she had, would not have voted anyway.

“I don’t really like Espada, and Rivera I don’t know him much,” she said, “but I don’t think any of them are worth it.”

Although Rivera posted a convincing margin, Monroe College business professor Will Crittendon believes voters were more interested in ousting Espada than securing a Rivera victory. Crittendon said he didn’t vote in the primary because he was turned off by both campaigns.

But Rivera, who said he knocked on doors every day in the months leading up to the primary, argued that his experience was vastly different. He believes Bronx residents were strongly dissatisfied with the status quo in Albany.

“It was clear that they do have an understanding that not only have they been failed by the current senator,” Rivera said, “they also have an understanding that dysfunction in Albany impacts their lives. If that was not the case, we would not have had the numbers that we had.”

Rivera had spent about $76,400 less on his campaign than Espada as of Sept. 3, when both candidates were required to file their disclosure forms with the State Board of Elections, but drew in 6,870 voters, according to Espada grabbed 3,607 votes. And Dan Padernacht, who had withdrawn his candidacy, yet remained on the ballot, finished with 567 votes.

Although he is not sworn in until January and does not yet have an office or staff, Rivera plans to start holding town hall forums with other community politicians and state agencies. “This district has been ignored for way too long,” he said.

Rivera’s campaign stances ranged from marriage equality to creating a clean energy economy to improving schools, but perhaps the cornerstone was restoring trust in the government.

For now, Rivera is spending time thanking members of the community who helped with his campaign and is focused on developing a transitional plan.

“I understand why people would be resistant to believing change is possible,” Rivera said. “The only thing I can ask from them is to keep me accountable just like we kept Espada accountable on Tuesday. I will work to make sure that I gain their trust…I understand the responsibility that entails. I’m taking that seriously, and I understand who I work for.”

Tonight David King from Gotham Gazette and Roberto Perez from the Perez Notes will delve deeper into the primary election reaction on BronxTalk. Bronx residents can tune in at 9 p.m. on Bronxnet’s channel 67, or phone in their own opinions during the program by calling 718-960-7241

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Politics1 Comment

Don’t vote for me

Dan Padernacht, a former candidate for the 33rd Senate district, sits in his Bronx office.

Dan Padernacht, a former candidate for the 33rd Senate district, sits in his Bronx office.

Dan Padernacht stood next to the turnstiles of the Mosholu Parkway subway station yesterday, greeting early-morning commuters with political fliers and a grin that masked any disenchantment over his washed-up campaign for state senator.

The 34-year-old Bronx real estate lawyer was in the unusual position of convincing voters to cast their ballots for his former political rival, Gustavo Rivera. Padernacht teamed up with Rivera when he realized he couldn’t win, in an effort to take down the incumbent in the Democratic primary race for the 33rd Senate district, Pedro Espada, Jr.

So there he was at 7:20 a.m., the day before the primary, dressed in an unassuming dark brown suit, standing alongside Rivera and Councilman Oliver Koppell, trying to be the least popular political figure amongst voters.

Two days before he officially withdrew from the race on Sept. 5, the New York Times endorsed Rivera, calling Padernacht a distraction and questioning his understanding of state issues.

“What I wanted to do from the very beginning was just kind of tell people, ‘These are the candidates. Come out and vote,’” said Padernacht, who admits to now having a jaded view of journalism. “I tried doing that as long as possible. Then it came to a point where a lot of papers only wrote about me being a spoiler and that was it.”

Padernacht had also suffered another setback a day prior to the Rivera endorsement. A 1,300-plus word New York Times article entitled, “Critics Root for Espada’s Exit, but He’s Dug In,” reported in passing that Padernacht had done pro bono legal work for State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., an Espada supporter.

“The truth is I’ve never done pro bono work for Senator Díaz himself. The truth is I was part of a pro bono program, which was set up by the New York state attorney who was assigned to Rubén Díaz,” Padernacht said of his work in the summer of 2008 with lawyer Luis Sepulveda, who is a current candidate for the 76th district state assembly seat. “Basically, at that point, they were trying to say, ‘Well, you were doing free legal work for Senator Díaz,’ which wasn’t true. I was doing legal work for poor people who couldn’t afford an attorney.”

Padernacht thought his portrayal in the media would confuse voters. He predicted he could take second place in the race, but that Espada would still win. Estimating that he held about 3,500 votes that could go toward defeating the state senator, Padernacht did what he thought was best for the community where he was born and raised. He tried to serve the greater good.

Rivera was grateful, at least. “It shows the kind of community activist that Dan is,” Rivera said of his withdrawal. “We feel that there hasn’t been true representation here, because we have somebody who does not respect the people here. The best way is to get rid of Espada, and the best way to do that is together.”

By 8 a.m. Padernacht had parted ways with Rivera and company and headed back to his law office. He strolled past P.S. 95, his own elementary school on Sedgwick Avenue, where he attended before J.H.S. 143 and Fordham Preparatory High School.

About a quarter mile further he walked into a group of buildings by Giles Place historically known as the Sholem Aleichem Houses, where he grew up, lives and works.

His office is in the ground floor of a five-story brick walk-up, and the walls are covered in memories: diplomas from Fairfield University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, and John Marshall Law School in Chicago where he earned his law degree.

Encased in glass above his desktop computer rests the orange T-shirt he wore for the 2009 ING New York City marathon. Padernacht ran as a member of Fred’s Team, a program that supports the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Written in pen along the front are the words, “In Memory of Howard Padernacht,” his father who first came to the housing complex in 1949 and died of throat cancer almost a year and a half ago.

His mother Pamela, who still lives in the same complex, is a second grade teacher at Our Lady of Angels; and his two brothers, Steven and Michael, work out of their shared office.

“When they talked about how Gustavo’s the favorite and everything, they hadn’t walked through this neighborhood,” said Padernacht’s younger brother, Steven, who described his act to back out of the race as noble. “This is our area.”

“I had a core of people here in these buildings. It’s people I’ve known for a very long time,” said Padernacht, who also serves on his local community board. “For me, I’m just disappointed.”

He had to pull down his large vinyl banner for candidacy that was hung on the corner of Sedgwick and West 238th Street. He’s taken down signs, recorded robocalls, and updated his Facebook to show he’s now backing Rivera.

Aside from personal appearances, the only other way to spread the word is through the very institution on which he remains skeptical: the media.

“What I’ve learned over the last few months, right or wrong, the media has huge influence on elections,” Padernacht said.

Today, Padernacht plans to vote up the street at Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center. He’ll see his name on the ballot, and he’ll have to place a vote for someone else. As for the rest of his supporters, he’s unsure where they’ll fall.

“Now what they’re going to do, I don’t know,” Padernacht wondered. “Will they stay home? Will they go vote? Will they vote for Gustavo? I don’t know.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Northwest Bronx, Politics2 Comments

Helping Love Gospel Assembly

By Amara Grautski and Connie Preti

Elected officials and more than 150 community members gathered at Lehman College Saturday afternoon to rally for Operation Restoration, a fundraiser to help rebuild the Love Gospel Assembly and restore the services it provided.

On July 25, the Grand Concourse church was gutted by a four-alarm fire, leaving thousands of the hungry people who were fed every month through its Love Kitchen to seek food elsewhere.  “It’s so important that we get back up and running, because there’s a whole community of people that depend on us,” said Love Gospel Assembly Bishop Ronald Bailey. “We’re feeding 300 to 400 people every day, somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 people a month. Those people need these services that we provide, so we’re trying to move quickly.”

During the two-hour event, the college’s Center for the Performing Arts was filled with song, prayer and testimonials about the church’s importance in the Fordham community.

Brian Draper, 53, told audience members that he has been a born-again Christian for about 15 years since finding the church. “When I first was going, I was only going for the physical food,” Draper said. “It was a way of physically staying fed because of my addiction. But God has such a sense of humor, you know, I’m thinking I’m just physically getting fed, but every time you get fed physically, there always always a word said, a prayer said or someone encouraging you. So then eventually, it was like a seed being watered…and eventually that seed grew into what I am today.”

The largest contribution came from State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada  Jr. and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, who presented a check of $100,000 from the state senate to a roaring crowd.  “An institution such as this provides so much to our communities, but more so plays a vital role in the economic crisis we are experiencing here,” Sampson said. “And the only way we are going to rise from that is through our faith, through institutions, churches like this, who extend beyond the four corners of those institutions.”

“We all know government and the faith have to work together,” Espada added. “God is everywhere.”

Bronx Borough President Rueben Diaz Jr. also spoke and contributed $1,000 to the cause.

Bailey said he believes the turnout from elected officials is evidence that the community cares about the work of the church.  “It’s good to get recognition, because it’s not about us, it’s about the work that we’re doing,” Bailey said. “So we thank them, we take the pat on the back and keep going.”

Love Gospel Assembly Deacon Tasha Andrews said the fire resulted in $150,000 worth of equipment damage alone. The church will continue to accept donations through its website:

Andrews said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, North Central Bronx1 Comment

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