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A Challenger Emerges for Bronx Senate Seat

Carlos Ramos is a candidate who says he knows firsthand the challenges of living in the poorest areas of the Bronx. Ramos, who is challenging New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., in the 32nd District in September’s Democratic primary, said he grew up in a single-parent home in Soundview with little guidance, mingled with friends from similarly low-income backgrounds and fell into trouble with the law.

Carlos Ramos (Photo courtesy of Carlos Ramos)

Carlos Ramos (Photo courtesy of Carlos Ramos)

“My journey was not an easy one,” said Ramos, 40, during a telephone interview Friday. As a teenager, he was sentenced to a short time in prison for a drug-related offense. “Eventually I did some soul-searching and I realized there was more to life,” he said.

Since that realization, Ramos said he has been dedicated to helping others in his community through his involvement in public service initiatives and grassroots organizations. He first became involved with a local Hispanic Democrats club in Westchester in 1998 and has since worked for national campaigns in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania before  returning to the Bronx to work for  William C. Thompson Jr., the former New York City comptroller.

It was during the 2009 Thompson campaign for mayor that Ramos said he found the inspiration to step forward as a candidate for the Senate. “There was a guy there helping us every day,” Ramos said. “I was sharing my idea with him that I was thinking about running, and he told me ‘If you run against Ruben Diaz, I promise to give you my last $20.’ ” Ramos said the volunteer was HIV-positive, living in a homeless shelter, surviving off government benefits and hurting because of a lack of political leadership. “The only way you’re going to get some leadership in there is to run,” he said.

Ramos thinks there is currently a lack of political leadership in the Bronx because elected officials have been pushed into office without obtaining the proper skills to lead. He attributes this to weaknesses in the current education system in public schools — one of the top priorities that he proposes to tackle if elected to the state Senate.

“We need to be prepared for all these new people that are moving in and have the proper school system for them,” he said. “And we need to better prepare the next generation of Bronx leaders.”

Job creation and affordable housing are the other big issues for Ramos. Too many residential buildings, he said, are owned by conglomerates who are dealing with the fallout of the recession. “What happens is their problems trickle down to the tenants,” he said. “Sometimes their services are not being met, their apartments are not being painted, or there’s no repairs being done. Many times the tenants don’t even know how to address these problems.”

Ramos says there is a “stark contrast” between himself and Diaz, both in their political ideologies and in their campaign methods. Social media plays an important part in getting his messages across and he thinks that the use of digital technology gives him an edge in fundraising. Diaz could not be reached for comment on the coming election.

Ramos said he received about 4,000 messages, mostly supportive, on the day his campaign went live, and that he has attracted campaign donations from across the United States.

“When we run the campaign, we’re going to have the latest technology to be able to micro-target voters,” Ramos said. “Diaz doesn’t have that advantage. They run campaigns the old-fashioned way.”

In an age where indiscretions by public figures are also amplified by social media and the Internet, Ramos believes that the mistakes of his past will not become an issue. “Many people in my community can identify with some of my challenges, so I’m not even worried about it,” he said. “When I talk to people, I’m very frank about it. It’s not something that I’m hiding. They’re actually glad that I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Politics0 Comments

Bronx Walk in Search of Fame (hint: look up)

Bronx Walk of Fame signs on Grand Concourse

Bronx Walk of Fame signs on Grand Concourse (Photo by Ian Thomson/Bronx Ink)

While Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is known around the world, few people have heard of the Bronx counterpart, which stretches south along the Grand Concourse from 161st Street to 140th Street. Even many Bronxites, it seems, are unaware of the tourist attraction hovering from the street lights above their heads.

“I’ve never heard of it, and I pass here a lot,” said Louis Gonzalez, a resident of nearby High Bridge, as he waited for a bus outside the Bronx County Building — the very spot where the walk begins.

On May 23, the borough hosts its 14th annual induction ceremony where four Bronx-born public figures will see their names go up on signs as they join 82 existing inductees recognized for their lifetime achievements. Singer Jerry Vale, flautist Joanie Madden, former Congressman Herman Badillo and magazine founder Edward Lewis will be honored at the event, after which the quartet will serve as grand marshals for a parade along Mosholu Parkway to mark the end of Bronx Week 2010.

Doris Quinones, executive director of the Bronx Tourism Council, describes the ceremony as a “great Bronx Week tradition” that bestows the borough’s highest honor upon the inductees. Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, will unveil four signs to be placed on street lights at the intersection of Grand Concourse and 161st Street for one year before they are moved to a permanent place along the walk’s lengthening route.

This year’s additions will join a list including high-profile names like boxer Jake LaMotta, the subject of the Robert De Niro film “Raging Bull,” singer Luther Vandross, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

According to Quinones, of the Bronx Tourism Council, the president had pushed for changes to this year’s Bronx Week to increase the involvement of the local community. The May date, one month earlier than in previous years, allows children from more than 80 local schools to take part in the final day’s parade and help to raise awareness of an event that aims to celebrate the borough’s multicultural identity.

“The four inductees are such a beautiful reflection of the diversity of the Bronx,” Quinones said. “We place the signs high up for everyone to see and look up to.”

Still, it appears that many locals have yet to notice. Monique Clarke, a nurse at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, said she had never heard of the Bronx Walk of Fame despite living in the borough for her entire life. She laughed when the signs above her were brought to her attention.

“I didn’t even look up,” said Clarke, before offering her advice on how the walk could generate greater interest. “Al Pacino’s from the Bronx. They need to put him in there.” Pacino spent part of his childhood in the South Bronx.

The walk and other Bronx attractions are beginning to gather more attention, Quinones said.  “Writers are making reference to it,” she said. “They’re telling travelers to leave Manhattan otherwise you miss out on what the real New York is about. There are a growing number of people coming up to the Bronx.”

Out in the plaza on East 161st Street opposite Quinones’ office window, Dutch tourists Ilse Van Der Lei and Maike Kroese were reading their New York City guidebook and contemplating their next move. The two girls, visiting the city on vacation from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said they wanted to escape from Manhattan to see New York’s other neighborhoods, but they too were unaware that the Walk of Fame started a few yards away from where they sat.

“It sounds like a good idea,” Van Der Lei said. “They should put it in Lonely Planet.”

Posted in Uncategorized0 Comments

Trial date for “road rage” police officers delayed

Michelle Anglin and Kollen Robinson, the two police officers accused of assaulting a Bronx motorist in a traffic dispute in Williamsbridge, were back at the Bronx County Supreme Court this morning to learn the start date for their trial, but the decision was postponed until June 3.

On the afternoon of Aug. 15, 2008, the two off-duty officers became involved in a confrontation with Marlon Smith near the intersection of East 218th Street and White Plains Road. According to press reports, Robinson was driving her black Chevy Suburban SUV along White Plains Road when she was impeded by the open driver-side door of Smith’s parked vehicle.

Obscenities were exchanged between the officers and Smith, but the incident quickly escalated when, according to witnesses, Anglin got out from the passenger’s side and allegedly sprayed Smith with mace. Smith tried to leave his car to grab Anglin, but was thwarted when Robinson intervened and punched him. The New York Sun reported at the time that, according to the New York Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau’s criminal complaint, the officers then “repeatedly struck him about the head and body with closed fists.”

The bureau report stated that Anglin hit Smith with her gun, and one of the officers placed a gun at his head. Smith required 25 staples to close three lacerations suffered during the incident. The officers were arrested the following day after Smith provided the license plate number of Robinson’s SUV.

Sharifa Milena Nasser, the officers’ lawyer, said she expected the trial to commence in midsummer.

Upon leaving the courtroom, Anglin said she was not allowed to comment on the case.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Crime0 Comments

Fordham Shortstop Kownacki Enjoying Instant Celebrity

Tuesday evening was shaping up to be just another night at the ballpark for Brian Kownacki, Fordham University’s 20-year-old shortstop. Fordham, limping into its match against Iona College with a 12-22 record, trailed 9-3 at the bottom of the eighth inning, but a miraculous turn of events saw the Rams win 12-9 and Kownacki transformed into an overnight Internet phenomenon.

“I was just thinking about scoring a run,” Kownacki said. “It was a one-time thing. I’d never thought about it until I got to five feet away from the catcher.”

Kownacki, blocked from home plate by Iona catcher James Beck, improvised by leaping over the head of his befuddled opponent to score the game’s final run — a play that was caught on video by school officials and quickly spread worldwide.

“I knew the sports information director had sent it to ESPN. I thought it might get into the top plays,” said Kownacki, a native of Woodbridge, Conn., who is in his sophomore year of a business administration degree. “I woke up to 20 missed phone calls saying I had interviews on ESPN and that it had made No. 1.”

Kownacki’s life has since been turned upside down by a barrage of media requests. “It’s all a big blur right now,” he said this afternoon before boarding the team’s bus ahead of a flight to Ohio. “I’ve done 11 or 12 interviews. It’s really fun.” CBS’s “Early Show” awaits his arrival in Dayton, where the Rams play a three-game series this weekend.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time that Kownacki’s acrobatics have gained notice — he was featured in a Sports Illustrated photo spread earlier this year. But his latest dazzling maneuver has pushed unheralded Fordham firmly into the spotlight. Diana Mackie, a communications student who works part time in the sports office, said the school deserves the attention. “We have excellent sports programs here, and it’s about time we were recognized,” she said.

Mark Stevens, the team’s hitting coach, said he is surprised by the reaction but delighted by the exposure that Kownacki and the program are receiving. “It was an amazing play. He’s a very athletic kid,” Stevens said. “I think he needs an agent.”

The resulting media circus could be a distraction for the team, but Head Coach Nick Restaino is confident that his shortstop will not be affected. “Brian is the last guy that’s ever going to look for attention,” Restaino said. “He’s very grounded. I think he’ll handle it well.”

Restaino admitted that he had never seen anything like Kownacki’s leap in 18 years of coaching, but his reaction was straight out of the coaching manual. “He did a great job getting the run scored and that’s what really matters,” he said.

Any lingering thoughts that Kownacki might get carried away were quickly deflated by a sobering reaction from his family. “I talked to my parents,” Kownacki said. “They said it was a very nice play, but very dangerous and I shouldn’t try it again.”

Posted in Sports0 Comments

VIDEO – Gaelic Games Reaching Beyond the Irish Community

The gymnasium in the Church of the Visitation annex building at the southwestern corner of Van Cortlandt Park reverberated to the sounds of balls bouncing on its tiled floor, sneakers screeching against the gleaming surface and the wheezing of 13 energetic young women desperately trying to catch their breath. Pennants draped from the rafters commemorated the parish basketball team’s championships, but the hoops were firmly tucked away into storage on this night at the end of March. There were no free throws or slam dunks at this training session.

Having been rained out of their regular training field in Van Cortlandt Park, the players from the Fermanagh Ladies’ Gaelic football team were diligently going through their practice drills in preparation for the New York Ladies’ Gaelic Athletics Association season. The sport, largely unknown outside of Ireland, has seen fluctuating participation rates in New York, stretching back for more than 80 years, depending on the cycles of Irish immigration. Numbers are low in the current economic climate — only five women’s teams will compete for this year’s silverware — but The Bronx’s Irish community is taking steps to ensure that the game continues to thrive over 3,000 miles from its origins.

Gaelic football is thought to be one of the world’s oldest sports. According to a study by Jaime Oregan from Elon University in North Carolina, historical references to a form of the game being played in Ireland date to the 14th century. The modern game is best explained as a hybrid of soccer and rugby. Teams of 15 players play on a rectangular field with a round ball. The aim is to kick or strike the ball with the hand past a goalkeeper into a soccer-type goal for three points, or between posts rising above the goal for one point. Players cannot carry the ball in their hands for more than four steps without either bouncing it or dropping it to the foot and kicking it back into their grasp. The team scoring the most points at the end of two 30-minute halves wins the game.

Mary Murphy, a prominent member of the New York Ladies GAA board of officers, arrived to observe the girls as they practiced their kicking and hand-passing. She is familiar with the challenges of keeping the sport alive among New York’s Irish community, having been active in founding the women’s organization in 1991. “We didn’t have cell phones then, and we didn’t have computers,” she said. “So we stood at a corner candy store in Riverdale with fliers.” Before long there were enough participants to form a cluster of teams, largely named after the counties of Ireland, who have fought for the annual league championship every year since 1992.

Ms. Murphy, the daughter of Irish parents, was born in the Bronx in 1962 and grew up living near Fordham Road. “It used to be a big Irish neighborhood, from there all the way up to Woodlawn,” she said. “But then, one by one, the neighborhoods changed.” Today, Woodlawn remains as one of the last bastions of true Irishness in the city, and it serves as the base for most of Fermanagh’s team.

With the young native Irish population dwindling, the New York GAA launched the Gaelic 4 Girls organization in 2003 to promote the sport among the next generation, whether they be of Irish-American heritage or otherwise. There are now six youth teams from Under-8s to Under-18s who have competed against similar programs from Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Chicago and San Francisco. Gaelic 4 Girls is host to summer training camps as well as arranging annual trips to Ireland where the New York girls can test their skills in competition against Irish teams. Results have been encouraging so far with a number of teams reaching the semifinals and finals of tournaments.

The investment in the next generation is also beginning to pay off in the ladies’ league. Of the 13 Fermanagh players training that night, Ms. Murphy said eight were American-born.

By the middle of the summer, the make-up of the Fermanagh team will be slanted toward native Irish girls as college students cross the Atlantic for work experience or to visit friends and family members. But thanks to the efforts of Ms. Murphy and her fellow board members, ladies’ Gaelic football in New York looks to be in a healthy state with or without another influx of Irish immigrants.

Posted in Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Northwest Bronx, Sports1 Comment

Marchers Oppose Cuts to Education Spending

Hundreds of students and other protesters gathered this afternoon opposite the Midtown offices of Gov. David Paterson to protest against an array of state education policies which, according to activists, have cut spending on CUNY and SUNY by a greater proportion than any other state agency in New York. The rally concluded a daylong series of protests that included an event at Lehman College in the Bronx.

“Education is a right. Fight, fight, fight,” chanted the crowd as they listened to speeches from students and representatives from organizations fighting to defend the right to free education. Today’s protests also included walkouts at Hunter College, NYU, and the New School, while other rallies took place at City Hall, Queens College, CCNY, the CUNY graduate center, and Lehman College.

Protesters gather opposite Governor Paterson's offices in Manhattan. (Ian Thomson / The Bronx Ink)

Protesters rallied against budget cuts in education. (Ian Thomson / The Bronx Ink)

Activists’ Web sites said they are demonstrating against CUNY tuition hikes, the elimination of free student Metrocards, mayoral control of the board of education, and the privatization of public schools. A loose coalition of political groups sponsored the protests including the CUNY Professional Staff Congress Union and groups at NYU and the New School that were responsible for the occupation of school buildings last year.

A blog created to promote the protests listed the diverse interests of the participants apart from supporting public education: “Money for… Hospitals, Housing and Jobs, No Budget Cuts, No Layoffs, No CUNY Tuition, No More Money for War, No Money for the Military Occupation of Haiti, No More Money for Corporate America!”

Paterson’s education policies have been sharply criticized in recent months. At the beginning of this school year, CUNY tuition went up $295 per semester. In October of last year, the state legislature rejected Paterson’s proposal to cut $686 million in state school aid. At the end of 2009, the governor withheld $190 million in state payments from the public school system, about $84 million of which was due to New York City schools. Paterson has said these drastic measures were necessary to keep the state from insolvency.

Matt Anderson, a spokesman from the governor’s budget office, said that the proposed cuts were ” a difficult choice in terms of closing the budget deficit,” which he said was now approaching $9 billion. He said that reductions were being made across every area and not being targeted solely at education.

“What we’re proposing is to provide flexibility to SUNY and CUNY to provide more rational tuition increases based on inflation,” Anderson said. He said the proposed system would prevent students from facing tuition hikes during fiscal crises when the state needs to close the budget shortfall.

Additional reporting by Ian Thomson

Posted in Bronx Beats, Education0 Comments

Sentencing Delayed for Man Who Confessed in Murder

The sentencing of Carlos Cruz, who previously admitted to conspiring to kill his girlfriend in a staged robbery in the Bronx in April 2008, was deferred on Thursday afternoon after prosecuting lawyers launched a motion to have his plea bargain invalidated.

Cruz, 38, had pleaded guilty to Murder 1 and gave testimony against his cousin, Devon Miller, who is also on trial. Under the terms of the agreement, the plea deal could not be withdrawn at a later date by Cruz and any violation would lead to an unrestricted sentence instead of a possible minimum 20 years.

A New York City detective leads Carlos Cruz, 36, of Southbridge, Mass., away from the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx borough of New York, Tuesday, April 15, 2008, after he was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old girlfriend, Chelsea Frazier. Cruz was charged along with his cousin, Devon Miller, 25, of the Bronx, in the murder of Frazier, who was gunned down Sunday after driving to the Bronx's Castle Hill neighborhood with Cruz and their infant son, according to police. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

A New York City detective leads Carlos Cruz, 36, of Southbridge, Mass., away from the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx borough of New York, Tuesday, April 15, 2008, after he was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old girlfriend, Chelsea Frazier. Cruz was charged along with his cousin, Devon Miller, 25, of the Bronx, in the murder of Frazier, who was gunned down Sunday after driving to the Bronx's Castle Hill neighborhood with Cruz and their infant son, according to police. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

According to the prosecuting lawyers, Cruz later stated that he was completely innocent — a declaration they said was a direct violation of his plea and should lead to a life sentence without parole.

Cruz and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Chelsea Frazier, had driven from their home in Southbridge, Mass., for a day of shopping in the Bronx on April 13, 2008, when, according to Cruz’s initial account, they pulled over on Barrett Avenue in the Castle Hill neighborhood to attend to their 1-year-old son Elijah. Cruz claimed that a robber appeared at the car door and, during the subsequent struggle, fatally shot Frazier as well as shooting Cruz in the leg.

A witness described seeing the attacker, a man with dreadlocks who was driving a green SUV, being chased down the street by Cruz, who was shouting, “You forgot to shoot me.” The description and vehicle matched those of Miller.

Cruz’s lawyer chose to reserve comments to the court until the new sentencing hearing on March 22.

Posted in Crime0 Comments

VIDEO – History of the South Bronx in pictures at Bronx Museum

From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, photographer Lisa Kahane embarked on frequent trips to the South Bronx to capture the desolation that dominated the neighborhood.

Over two decades later in 2008, she released a collection of her vivid images in her book “Do Not Give Way to Evil: Photographs of the South Bronx, 1979-1987.”

Extracts of her work remain on display at the Urban Archives: That Was Then This Is Now exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts through March 1.

Thanks to Lisa Kahane for permission to use her images. All other pictures by Ian Thomson.

Posted in Bronx Tales, Multimedia1 Comment

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