Tag Archive | "Bloomberg"

Gimme Shelter

A representative from Coalition for the Homeless surveys clients at the PATH center in the Bronx. (HAZEL SHEFFIELD/ Bronx Ink)

“The new Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) facility was designed to provide compassionate and efficient services that had not previously been offered by the City. The center we are standing in today reflects our commitment to tearing down an old system that was fragmented and slow.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the opening of the new PATH center at 151st Street and Walton Avenue in the Bronx, May 3, 2011.

“They need someone to come in here undercover!” yelled a petite, angry mother one Thursday morning to no one in particular. The 37-year-old Queens-born woman was leaving the new PATH building in the Bronx, which serves as the only administrative gateway for families into the city’s homeless shelter system.

“The kids are sleeping on benches! The food is horrible!” she added. A small group of women joined her trailing children and strollers. The mothers gathered outside, sharing stories of their struggles on the streets and inside and outside the center.

For Angela Marougkas, there was nowhere else to go. With her 9-year-old daughter Jasmine by her side, and her 19-year old daughter and baby grandson close by, Marougkas said she had quit her job in order to care for her dying mother earlier in the year, leaving her unable to pay the rent when her mother passed away. In May, pregnant with twins, and suddenly homeless, she arrived at Mayor Bloomberg’s new PATH center in desperation.

Marougkas’s family is one of nearly 1,500 new city families who seek homeless shelter every month. Their first stop is the new PATH center with its sleek, mirrored walls. It replaced its notoriously grim Power Street predecessor, which was plagued by long waits and poor conditions.

When Bloomberg cut the ribbon last May, he promised that processing times would be cut from 20 hours to seven or eight and that families would receive placements the same day they applied. But the experiences of many families applying for shelter do not reflect that pledge.

“They treat us like animals,” said Marougkas. “We wait here all day just to get placed in shelter for the next 10 days. And we hope and pray we’re found eligible.”

The majority of families – a staggering 67 percent in February 2011 – are found ineligible. To comply with Department of Homeless Services regulations, homeless families must have written proof that they have no other viable housing option. This creates a culture of suspicion, rather than compassion, said Lindsey Davis, director of homeless services at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless, a national advocacy group. “The city’s focus is on investigating fraud and knowing whether or not someone has another place they can stay,” said Davis. “That’s to the detriment of knowing whether someone is safe in that place.”

The high number of rejections spell grave consequences for a growing number homeless families as winter approaches. Bloomberg’s 2004 promise to reduce the number of homeless by two-thirds in five years was undercut by the latest figures, which show that there are 45 percent more families on the streets today than when Bloomberg took office in 2002. The data, compiled by Coalition for the Homeless from city statistics, show that the number of homeless is at an all-time high of 41,000 as of October.

Homeless families say they become trapped in a damaging 10-day cycle. They are allowed to stay in a temporary shelter for little more than a week before they are called back for review. The caseworkers at PATH require families to sign in and out of each shelter, maintaining perfect records of each stay. If they do not have the right documents when they are called back, often at little more than a morning’s notice, they risk being turned away.

The system also requires every member of the family be present at PATH before being found eligible for shelter. This means parents often face a tough choice: take their children out school for a day or end up on the streets for a night.

Every Thursday, at the bottom of the long, concrete ramp up to the PATH center, three young women clutching clipboards addressed families as they leave. The women handed out flyers for the Coalition’s Crisis Intervention Program at Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. “We are not allowed inside,” said Jessica Horner, a children’s advocate, “so we wait here to catch people on their way out.” The Coalition helps 3,500 families a day with job training, emergency food and gathering the all-important documents.

Rats, mice and roaches

Those lucky enough to be granted shelter may find themselves in worse conditions than they imagined. In November, Maxine Rice, a young black mother from Brooklyn, said the places she stayed in were so infested with cockroaches, that she stuffed her sons’ ears with cotton wool to stop the bugs from crawling in them as they sleep.

Things were looking up last November for Quanisha Henderson, a 21-year Brooklyn mother with painted, almond-shaped eyes.  She said she had become homeless two years earlier when she aged out of foster care. The agency placed her in a scatter-site apartment where she could live with her son. She’d found a job at nearby salon braiding hair. Then she was called back in after she failed the background check because she couldn’t provide documents showing her accommodation for the last two years.

Henderson’s eyes filled with tears as she talking about ending up back back in the shelters. She remembered that in the evenings, men stalk young women. “They think we’ll be desperate,” she said. “They think we’ll do anything for $10.”

For Angela Marougkas, bouncing from shelter to shelter  came to a head on a hot day last August. She was six-months pregnant with twins when the PATH center assigned her to a room on the fourth floor of a scatter site in Brooklyn. The next day the family traveled back to the PATH center, jumping the turnstiles in the subway, to ask for a new shelter without four flights of stairs.

Her family was immediately sent back to the fourth floor apartment to sign out with their caseworker. By the time the papers were signed, it was getting late. The family was sent to a shelter in Brooklyn, five of them crammed in a tiny room with one window. It was too hot to get any rest. Instead, they slept on trains between trips to the PATH center.

A month later, in September, nurses told Angela that her stress levels were dangerously high. She had an emergency C-section on October 7. One of her twins was stillborn.

In November, she found herself again standing outside the PATH center, worrying about her surviving son. “I’m supposed to be at the hospital,” said Marougkas. “He’s in critical care and I’m supposed to breastfeed him. I cannot be here all day.” She railed against the center, angry at her caseworker’s familiar news that she had to go to each shelter she’d stayed in and get the papers to prove each move.

Putting fraud investigations before people

Families often need help assembling documents correctly. “So we step in and try to help them create documentation of the problems that they’ve experienced,” said Lindsey Davis of Coalition for the Homeless.

At PATH, part of the caseworkers’ job is to do everything they can to keep people from entering the shelter system in the first place. Clerks will try to send the family back to any home they might have stayed in during their quest for shelter, even if the home is not safe, or they are not longer welcome.

Davis has worked with families who have been told to stay with people the barely. Sometimes the tenant will not let them in. Unless the family can prove that they cannot stay, they are deemed ineligible for shelter and forced onto the street.

“We have to try to figure out if there’s a way to document these things, so that they will be included in an investigation that the city is doing into their situation,” Davis said. Despite several calls and emails, the Department of Homeless Services refused to comment.

One weary mother recalled her struggles trying to get her paperwork together. Marie Searle lost the lease on her home in Maryland and brought her two sons, ages two and four, to live with family in New York in July. When her family put her out, she turned to PATH, which has rejected her bid for shelter twice because she failed to provide letters proving her situation.
To make things worse, her sons became sick after eating the city-provided food at the center. No food is allowed inside PATH.

“The same day we left here they ended up in the hospital with stomach viruses for four days,” said Searle. “Both my babies were hooked up on tubes and IVs. They’re giving kids spoiled food, old food, cold food and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The end of Advantage

Despite his early promises, Mayor Bloomberg has significantly reduced the number of programs available to the homeless. In March, the state announced that it would cut all the funding for the city’s Advantage program, which provided rental subsidies to help the homeless transition from emergency shelters to self-sufficiency.

“There are no new people entering that program,” said Davis, “so that really means people staying in shelter for longer periods of time. It’s one reason why the number of people in shelter has increased.”

Sensing a coming crisis, lawyers from Legal Aid secured an injunction to prevent the city from cutting off Advantage payments to households whose contracts had not expired. But those contracts are NOW coming to an end, and there are no new programs to replace them. Department of Homeless Services data shows that, by January 2011, 40 percent of Advantage families had reapplied for shelter.

A 32-year-old mother of four with red hair scraped back from her freckled face found herself in a bedbug-infested shelter after losing her Advantage payments. “I just got evicted yesterday,” Tiffany Branigan said in a quiet voice, while her sons, between the ages of five and 14, slumped over suitcases behind her. “For non-payment of rent, because I used to have the Child Advantage but they stopped the payments.”

The family was sent to a temporary shelter at 8 p.m. the night before, but the address they had been given didn’t exist, so they came back to PATH. When they finally got to the right shelter at 11 p.m., the mattresses were crawling with bedbugs and the children couldn’t sleep. Branigan collected some of the bugs in plastic wrapping and brought her children back to the center the next day to complain, but she was told by her caseworker that there was nothing she could do to get a transfer. “So I have to stay there and deal with it,” Branigan said. “She told me to wash our clothes in hot water, but it’s not us. It’s the beds.”

In mid-November, Angela Marougkas went to pick up her premature son from the hospital. But when she got to the shelter on East New York Ave and Junior, she was turned away at the door because the baby’s name was not yet added to their case file. “We wound up going all the way back to the Bronx with a premature baby, and he’s under special instructions he’s not supposed to be out in the cold,” said Marougkas. “And not only this: they wanted us to leave the next day because the capacity of our room was five people, and with the baby we made six.”

Eventually, Marougkas’s caseworker said the family could fit six of them in the room because the baby was so small.

Still, her struggle is not over.

“Today is the tenth day,” said Marougkas, on a cell phone in her temporary apartment. “But they didn’t contact us with a letter, yet. I don’t want to jinx things. I’m just hoping and praying that we can stay here, somewhere stable, until we find ourselves an apartment.”

Posted in Bronx Tales, Featured, Housing, Southern BronxComments (1)

Working hard for less than a living

For many New Yorkers, including Cecilia Cudjoe, working full time doesn't pay enough. (Rani Molla/BRONX INK)

Cecilia Cudjoe, or Cici, has traveled more than 10,000 miles in search of a brighter future for herself—and now also for her 6-year-old daughter. In the span of eight years, Cudjoe, 30, has moved from the tropical savanna of her native city of Accra, Ghana, to the colder climate of Stuttgart, Germany, to the the desert in White Sands, N.M., and finally to the Bronx. But while her life has improved, it’s still not as good as she’d want it to be.

“You really need a lot if you want to live comfortably,” she said sitting on a small brown couch amid boxes of possessions in her cramped basement apartment. “It’s not a comfortable life for me.”

Wearing a short-sleeved black blouse that droops at the neck, bright blue pants and crisp tennis sneakers, Cudjoe looks years younger than she does at work, where a bulky white chef’s coat and a black newsboy hat hide her petite figure and soft skin. Her youthful face hides the miles she’s traveled and the challenges she faces every day.

After dropping off her daughter at P.S. 226 in her University Heights neighborhood, the divorced single mother takes a bus and two trains for 45 minutes to reach her job at an upscale Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. At Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, she makes $10.50 an hour and works just under 40 hours per week slicing specialty Italian meats that go for $20 a pound. After taxes each week, she brings home approximately $370.

While her wages put her above the federal poverty level for a family of two ($14,710 a year), she makes only half of what the National Center For Children in Poverty, a Columbia University-based policy group geared toward children, considers a living wage for her and her daughter.

Cudjoe is one of 35 million Americans—a quarter of the adult workforce—who work full time but do not make enough money to meet their families’ basic needs, according to Beth Shulman, a fellow at Demos, a public policy organization based in New York City. Situations like Cudjoe’s highlight the difficulties of the working poor in America. They also show the need to change  the way poverty is measured.

This month, the Census Bureau announced the creation of a supplemental poverty measure that accounts for the costs of housing, clothes and utilities—a step Mayor Michael Michael Bloomberg’s administration took citywide in 2008.

The supplemental poverty measure raised last year’s national poverty level from 15.2 percent to 16 percent. When the Bloomberg administration switched its method of calculation in 2008, poverty rates in New York went from 19 to 23 percent.

However, these measurements are merely academic: to gauge the effectiveness of anti-poverty efforts. Neither affects the way the federal government disperses money. Washington still disperses aid based on a 1960s calculation in which groceries account for one-third of a family’s income. Monthly grocery costs are then multiplied by three with corrections made for inflation. But food costs are much lower today than they were in the ’60s, while other living costs have skyrocketed.

Nor are the new measurements accurate enough to alleviate the problems of poverty, according to the National Center For Children in Poverty.  Jennifer Shaffer, a research analyst at the center, said that both the Census and Bloomberg’s figures “set a much more minimal threshold of poverty-level expenses while NCCP’s Basic Budget sets a higher standard of what a family would need to spend to have a basic and modest standard of living.”

Calculating poverty based on that “basic subsistence level,” Shaffer said, leads to other problems. “The questions we must ask then is what do people sacrifice to make a poverty wage cover the bills? Do they go without health insurance? Live in doubled-up housing? Skimp on meals? Use less or lower-quality child care than they would like to?”

The center estimates that Cudjoe would need to make $46,433 a year to meet her family’s basic needs in the city; Cudjoe’s yearly earnings (before taxes) and child support add up to $31,760.

Cudjoe’s low income has affected every aspect of her and her daughter’s lives, from where they sleep to what they eat. Fortunately Cudjoe is good at getting by on very little.

Cudjoe emigrated from Ghana in 2003, where she left behind a large, tight-knit family.

“When you’re in Africa, you want a better life,” Cudjoe said, in her heavily accented but grammatically perfect English. She’s also fluent in Ga, Akan and Fanti, languages of her homeland. To leave Ghana, she applied for visas in several countries. Only Germany granted her one.

“Whichever visa you get, you go, and you see what happens,” Cudjoe, who completed secondary school in Ghana, said. In Stuttgart, Germany, she worked with her aunt, a tailor at the U.S. Army base there. At the base, Cudjoe met Sara’s father, an American citizen originally from Ghana. Soon after, Cudjoe became pregnant and gave birth to Sara, who was born at the Army hospital and is thus a U.S. citizen. When the U.S. Army relocated Sara’s father to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2005, he married Cudjoe and applied for a Green Card for her.

Not long after the move, their relationship dissolved and the two separated. Cudjoe found the pace of life too slow and distant in New Mexico, so in 2006 she decided to move to New York where she had a friend. Cudjoe sent Sara to live with her family in Africa for three years to learn about her roots, while she and the friend rented a place together.

For a while, Cudjoe worked in home care but she wanted a job with a more regular schedule when Sara returned to her mother in 2008. The same year, Cudjoe and her husband officially divorced. Last year, Cudjoe found an evening job at Salumeria Rosi. While she didn’t mind the job—Cudjoe said she had never before thought about whether she liked her job, but said, “It’s OK. I like what I do”—she frequently didn’t return home until after Sara was asleep, meaning she couldn’t help Sara with her homework. Cudjoe relies on babysitters and Sara’s aunt to care for her when Cudjoe works.

Since the job was relatively new, Cudjoe was terrified of asking for daytime hours instead of her night shift.

“I prayed that they wouldn’t fire me,” she said. They didn’t, and in fact Cudjoe said her job now gives her preferential hours because she has a daughter.

To get by on what she makes, Cudjoe buys mainly inexpensive staples like rice and beans in bulk quantities. Cudjoe would like to buy more PediaSure for Sara, but says it’s too expensive.

A garden, which she splits with her upstairs neighbor, provides extra produce in the summer. Last season’s tomato and pepper plants stand in place of a front lawn.

The last time Cudjoe went grocery shopping, she spent $400 and estimates that will last them the whole month.

Cudjoe rents her tiny one-bedroom apartment from a family friend for $650 a month, including utilities. She wishes she could give Sara her own room. This winter, she hopes to rent a two-bedroom, $1,200 apartment in Woodlawn with her sister, a home health aide who spends most of her time at the home of her client, a cancer patient. In that way, Cudjoe and her daughter would frequently have their own rooms.

Cudjoe pays $20 a day for an after-school baby-sitter, but the service ends at  6 p.m.; she gets out of work in Manhattan at the same time, so frequently has to pay overtime. She says that sometimes it’s not worth it for her to work full-time because of the high cost of child care. Each month, Cudjoe pays $60 for her phone, $104 for a metro card, $150 for cable and internet, and only $18 for health care through WellCare, a health care plan that provides managed care through Medicaid.

To stretch her budget, Cudjoe must be careful with everything she buys, often forgoing basic items for herself, such as clothing or a separate bed.

“I’m the kind of person that I like everything I have,” Cudjoe said. “I don’t care if If I don’t have something unless I really need it.”

She’s less austere with her daughter. For Christmas, Cudjoe already purchased a large kitchen set that Sara really wanted. She hopes she can buy a LeapPad, a children’s learning tablet, when they go on sale this week. “I don’t mind giving her something I don’t get,” Cudjoe said. “If your child is happy, you’re happy.”

Because of Sara, Cudjoe could work less—20 hours a week—and receive welfare instead of darting back and forth from work to the baby-sitter’s. She would also be eligible for food stamps and daycare through the Human Resources Administration.

But Cudjoe says public assistance would jeopardize her application to become a U.S. citizen, a process she began in October. “People say if you have welfare, they give you a tough time,” Cudjoe said.

While the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services  prohibits those seeking a Green Card from receiving cash assistance, there are no such constraints on those looking to become naturalized citizens, according to Debora Gilmore, director of nonprofit Immigration Advocacy Services in New York. Short-term Medicaid and food stamps, she said, are acceptable in all stages of immigration.

“Naturalization is all based on good moral character,” Gilmore said.  “If you’re on public benefits as long as you received them legally and truthfully, you can become a U.S. citizen,” she said, adding that people new to this country can be overly cautious in such matters.

Cudjoe is also hesitant to demand more in child support. She contends she is eligible to receive more than the $500 a month that Sara’s father, who is currently serving the Army in Afghanistan, voluntarily gives her.  But she doesn’t want to “put herself through that”—nor does she have the time.

Time, in fact, monopolizes much of Cudjoe’s troubles. “It doesn’t matter the amount of money you have if you’re a single mother,” she said, “You don’t want to miss a young life.”

Because of her job, it’s difficult for Cudjoe to attend parent-teacher conferences and she rarely is able to supervise school trips—a big disappointment to Sara. Sara gets upset that her mother can’t be more a part of her school life. But to support them both, Cudjoe must work full-time. “Sometimes she gets it,” Cudjoe says. “Sometimes she doesn’t. But she’s just a kid.”

Cudjoe describes the instances she had to work but was unable to find a babysitter as the “worst feeling,” recalling a time when this happened to her recently and she was forced to go cry in the bathroom, located through the kitchen.

“I don’t want to lose eight hours and stay home with her,” she said, visibly upset by the prospect. Cudjoe now keeps two babysitters to prevent such a predicament. Regardless, Cudjoe doesn’t feel her current situation is tenable.

Cudjoe has plans to become a registered nurse, but must first take some preliminary courses this spring. She would like to take them at Bronx Community College, but she’d have to bring Sara, so Cudjoe is also weighing the possibility of online classes.

Sara does her part as well.

“It’s not perfect, but she dresses herself,”  Cudjoe said, laughing about her daughter’s sartorial choices. “When it’s cold, she wants to wear a skirt,” Cudjoe said. “And she mixes up all the colors.”

But Cudjoe is thankful for her daughter’s help.

Indeed, Cudjoe said her daughter rarely asks for anything, aside from books. Sara is an avid reader and frequently receives perfect scores on her spelling tests. When she grows up, she wants to be a teacher.

“I want her to do better than me,” Cudjoe said. “I don’t want her to be my age working a job like this.”

Posted in The 12 PercentComments (0)

Bronx food stamp recipients say no to ban on sugary drinks

Bronx food stamp recipients say no to ban on sugary drinks

At some Bronx grocery stores, drinks like Coca-Cola Classic, Fanta Orange, Nestea and Seagram’s Ginger Ale are cheaper than water. A recent weekly special at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood offered five 1.5-liter bottles of Coca-Cola for $5, while advertising the same-sized bottles of Poland Spring water for $7.45.

The incentive to buy drinks that promote obesity and diabetes can be seen and heard loud and clear on the supermarket shelves in the Bronx.

Sugary drinks on sale at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Sugary drinks on sale at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson want to discourage people — that is, poor people — from consuming too much sugar, by banning food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy certain sugary drinks.

Many Bronx residents believe this effort unfairly targets the poor, and worry about what’s next on the mayor’s hit list.

“If you drink too much of anything it’s not a good thing,” said Irving Scott, a Bronx carpenter, who receives food stamps and believes he’s responsible enough to moderate his own behavior. “Let people have the freedom to buy what they want.”

Outside a Fine Fare Supermarket in Hunts Point, another construction worker said the proposal felt like discrimination. “I think we should be able to have the same benefits as everyone else,” said Richard Cruz, who also relies on food stamps. “We aren’t even able to get hot sandwiches right now; they have to be cold.”

On Arthur Avenue, Virginia Martinez, who uses her food stamps to buy soda, found the proposal invasive. “Bloomberg is over-doing it,” she said.

“This time it’s soda – what’s next?”

Under the two-year plan, food stamp recipients would not be able use their electronic benefit transfer cards – the card recipients use to buy subsidized food – to buy drinks that contain more than the equivalent of one packet of table sugar in a 12-ounce serving. The only exceptions would be milk products, milk substitutes and fruit juices without any added sugar.

“The [food stamp] program has always excluded certain categories of products without nutritional value – like cigarettes and alcohol – and we believe that a strong case can be made for adding sugary drinks to that list,” Bloomberg said.

Many New York City residents are asking how far is too far, but particularly in the Bronx, where according to the U.S. Census, nearly one-quarter of Bronx residents received food stamps in 2007.

If approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, food stamp recipients in New York City could not use their benefits to buy sugary drinks. Other items already excluded from the food stamp program, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, include tobacco, liquor, vitamins, medicine, pet food, paper products, hot food and household supplies.

This proposal is not the first time elected officials have tried to block access to sugary drinks. In 2004, the Minnesota Department of Human Services asked the United States Department of Agriculture to ban sugary drinks and candy from food stamp purchases. The federal agency rejected the proposal, claiming it would cause customer stigma at supermarket cash registers and the belief that low-income people do not buy nutritious foods.

According to the department of agriculture, research showed that food stamp recipients are wise shoppers and their nutrient intakes are similar to those of higher income consumers.

In a related attempt earlier this year in New York, Gov. Paterson pushed for a penny-an-ounce tax on sugary drinks to help narrow the state’s $9.2 billion budget gap, but lawmakers eventually slashed the proposal from the revenue bill after the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes released series of unrelenting anti-tax ads. One of the ads featured a woman saying, “Tell Albany to trim their budget fat, and leave our grocery budgets alone.”

Now Bloomberg and Paterson are preparing for round two – this time with a proposal that applies to only food stamp recipients in New York City.

“There’s no denying that childhood obesity is an epidemic, and there’s no denying that it’s hurting our children in low-income communities the most,” said Bloomberg. “Eliminating these beverages from allowable food stamp purchases would give New York families millions of more dollars to spend on food and drinks that provide real nourishment to them and their children.”

Unlike the Minnesota plan, the current proposal focuses only on sugary drinks, not both candy and sugary drinks. But health officials say it is enough to put a dent in sugary drink sales, especially those coming from food stamp users.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, $75 million to $135 million in nutrition assistance benefits were spent on sugary drinks in New York City last year.

Many store owners and managers, some of whom are just starting to rebound from the recession, are concerned their sales will drop if the ban goes into effect.

Wally Hassen, the manager at Day & Night Deli Grocery in Little Italy, said his store makes about $700 a week from sugary drinks, and most of his customers use food stamps.

“It’s going to affect the small businesses,” Hassen said. “They [the government] are not fixing the economy like that.”

Spokespeople for the department of health and mental hygiene would not comment on whether a plan is in place to reimburse small businesses for sales lost because of the ban.

A statement issued by the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic drinks, criticized the proposal saying it is just another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink, and will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it.

Carl Smith, a food stamp user who was recently shopping with his wife at a Key Food Supermarket on Westchester Avenue, said the ban would affect what drinks he buys.

“I won’t be able to buy it [soda] because I have no money,” Smith said. “I think it’s stupid. We should be allowed to buy food.”

Carl’s wife, Lori, said she buys four cases of soda a month, and Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Sprite are among her favorites. She, too, thinks the ban goes too far.

“What’s next? Coffee?” she asked.

Although the proposal has many Bronxites fired-up, it is part of a larger citywide effort to fight obesity and Type 2 diabetes, two conditions exacerbated by eating or drinking too much sugar.

A 2007 neighborhood report from the Bronx District Public Health Office found that obesity is more common in the Bronx than in New York City overall.

The long-term care required to treat these conditions puts stress on the health care system, causing local and national health expenditures to skyrocket. The New York State Department of Health estimates that treatment for obesity-related diseases – like Type 2 diabetes – costs the State more than $7.6 billion every year and the U.S. $150 billion.

In 1998, Medicare and Medicaid financed approximately half of the costs of obesity-related diseases in the U.S., according to a study published in the Health Affairs journal by Eric Finkelstein and his colleagues.

Obesity-related diseases affect more than just the patients; these diseases also affect current and future generations of taxpayers.

“We feel strongly that the government should not be subsidizing or promoting a product that we know makes people sick, especially in the name of nutrition,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City Health Commissioner.

Farley said the proposal targets drinks that are essentially nothing more than sugar water.

A 12-ounce serving of water contains no sugar, but original lemon-lime Gatorade has the equivalent of about five packets of table sugar and Coca-Cola Classic has nearly 10. Under the ban, most drinks with more than one packet of sugar would be excluded from allowable food stamp purchases.

Sugary drinks contain empty calories, which pump extra energy into a person’s diet without providing nourishment, just like a roommate who takes up space in an apartment but does not help with chores.

Most sugary drinks run up calorie intake without giving the body a satisfied appetite in return, causing people to consume even more calories than they would by drinking water alone. These extra calories promote excess weight gain, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin – the ticket sugar uses to gain admission into cells – or when the body ignores it. When sugar cannot move into cells, it backs up in the blood, sometimes with insulin, acting like a line of people waiting to get inside a movie theatre.

Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage the kidneys, eyes, heart and blood vessels.

There is a clear, independent link between sugar consumption and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Frank Hu, a professor at Harvard Medical School, who studies the effect of diet on Type 2 diabetes.

“The increase in consumption of sugar has paralleled with the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the U.S.,” Hu said. “Sugar-sweetened beverages have not been on the radar screen for most health professionals until recently. In the past, so much emphasis was put on fat, but now we recognize that sugary drinks are more deleterious.”

Hu said the evidence against sugary drinks is now strong enough to start making public health recommendations.

But is the best way for a city government to combat obesity and diabetes through restricting soda for the poor?

Another solution to tax all soda drinkers crumbled earlier this year after Paterson’s penny-an-ounce tax faced opposition from the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes.

Reducing the size of cans and bottles in vending machines is also an alternative, according to Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It makes intuitive sense that the key is to reduce access,” Kushner said.

One of the challenges of reducing access, though, is identifying the many different sources of sugar available to consumers. According to Kushner, sugar is not like cigarette smoke, which comes from a single source.

Other experts, and some food stamp users, argue that restricting access alone is not enough because it does not teach people how to adopt healthier behaviors.

“There needs to be education to complement the SNAP program,” said Amy Lesh, the clinical nutrition manager at St. Barnabas Hospital. “Nothing is going to work without education.”

Food stamp recipient, Richard Cruz, a 34-year resident of Hunts Point, said he understands what the mayor is trying to do, but he does not think Bloomberg is going about it the right way.

“If he would have a class on things that make you fat, then may be people would relate to that better,” Cruz said. “I would attend one even though I’m not overweight – it’s for my health.”

Bloomberg admitted in early October that banning soda from food stamp purchases is not a perfect solution, but after a failed tax proposal, he said it is another way of going about the problem.

Dr. Peter Selwyn, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, said political officials should speak with different stakeholders in the affected population before making policies.

“This should inform the decision making,” said Selwyn. “I’m not aware this was part of the process or not.”

The proposal is currently in Washington, D.C., where it is undergoing thoughtful and careful review, according to Hans Billger, a public affairs specialist at the United States Department of Agriculture.

Some Bronxites said even if the federal agency does approve the proposal, they are not convinced it will actually stop people from buying sugary drinks.

“If they don’t buy it with food stamps, they’re going to buy it with cash,” said Ivette Lee, a food stamp user who buys ginger ale at C-Town. “Are they going to stop making cash, too?”

Posted in Bronx Life, Food, Food and Beyond, Special ReportsComments (1)

Hope for the “Ocelot” Tenants?

Entrance to Manida Street building, Photo by Wanda Hellmund

Entrance to Manida Street building, Photo by Wanda Hellmund

By Wanda Hellmund

It was a moment the tenants in the decaying apartment buildings on Manida Street had sought for more than two years. “Omni bought the debt,” Carmen Rodriguez, head of the residents’ group, declared at a tenant meeting on December 7.

The room–filled with Hunts Point residents who have endured rats, collapsing ceilings and months with no heat or hot water–erupted in applause

It has been a long fight for residents in Manida Street and hundreds of other residents in the decrepit Ocelot-owned buildings all over the Bronx. This is their first victory. But it was a victory with a caveat.

“This is a huge success for the tenants,” said Jill Roche from the Hunts Point Alliance for Children, who represented the Manida  Street tenants. “But there is still a very long road ahead for us.”

On Dec. 2, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the sale of the portfolio of 14 of 26 Ocelot-owned buildings to Omni New York LLC, a low-income real-estate development company, as a boon for residents all over the city. “The sale of these buildings to an affordable housing developer with a track record as strong as Omni’s is a home run for the residents, the neighborhood, and all of New York City,” the mayor said in a statement. “That’s something all of us can cheer.”

“Omni is thrilled to have been chosen as the successful bidder for the Ocelot portfolio,” Omni’s co-owner Maurice “Mo” Vaughn said in a statement.  Vaughan is a former New York Met player. “We look forward to moving ahead with the foreclosure process and substantial rehabilitation of these properties.”

“I want Omni to do right by us,” said Rodriguez, a 35-year-old mother of five, who had help lead the fight against Ocelot Capital Group that bought the four Manida Street buildings and 22 others across the Bronx in between 2006 and 2008, only to abandon them to foreclosure months later.

“We don’t want to be treated like trash no more.”

This pyrrhic victory may have a broader impact on future tenants’ cases against their landlords. “This is a success not only for these tenants,” said Roche. “This is a success for tenants all over the country.”

But the victory is muted. Omni did not buy the buildings outright from Ocelot. It bought their $23.8 million debt from Fannie Mae and Deutsche Bank. As long as the deeds are still held in the hands of companies linked to Ocelot, improvements may take some time.

What does this deal mean for tenants tomorrow? “Not a whole lot,” said Roche at the meeting. “But this is a huge step. It just might take a year or so.”

Omni officials pledged to transfer $1 million in emergency repairs to the current receivers in various buildings, though they are well aware that one million will not go far.

“I think $30 million is the right figure to put these buildings back to where they ought to be,” said Omni manager, Gene Schneur, acknowledging the enormity of the buildings’ decay.

For instance, the Bryant and Morris Avenue receiver claimed in October that he needed $325,000 alone to make capital improvements such as waterproofing, sidewalk repairs and new electrical services.

“Nothing is going to happen until we get the deeds,” said Schneur. “This could take 12 months, this could take 18 months. We hope it doesn’t.”

A spokesperson for Fannie Mae, which owns much of Ocelot’s bad debt, said Ocelot has not been cooperative. “So we had to sell the notes for now to secure the deeds,” said Jon Searles.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is hopeful. She visited some of the buildings Omni has rehabilitated in the city – a portfolio that includes 2,937 units of affordable housing.

“You should have seen these buildings,” Rodriguez told Manida residents at the tenants meeting. “These buildings looked beautiful!”

Tenants are both excited and skeptical about the new developments.   “We would have preferred a non-profit organization,” said Jonathan Levy, a lawyer for the Ocelot tenants. “But this is the second best option for us.”

Most prefer to hold out hope. “We didn’t have hot water and heat for a year,” said Tamara Taylor, a 48-year old Manida Street tenant and mother of two. “Nobody was there to help us. “I have waited this long. I can wait a few more months.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, HousingComments (0)

Urban Gardener Looks for a New Dream to Plant

By Sarah Wali

Last month, Tanya Fields got a call she had been dreading from Michael Holosyzk, regional manager at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.  Liberated Urban Farm, the plot of land she had spent $500 and four months cultivating, would be cleared to make room for a playground.

Adjacent to the Fox Street Playground is an empty lot Fields hopes to turn into an urban farm.

Next to the Fox Street Playground is an empty lot Fields hopes to turn into an urban farm. Photo by Tanya Fields

“He called me on Thursday and told me they are excavating on Monday so if there’s anything you want you should go tomorrow and get it,” said Fields.

She chuckles at his suggestion.   To start an urban farm, Fields and a team of community volunteers had to make raised beds, a gardening tool used to protect fertile soil from possibly polluted city soil by lining the dug-up earth with plywood.  Where would she put the plywood?  They had also planted decorative plants known to urban farmers as ornamentals.  They had no place to put them either.

So she left the garden untouched.   When she came home from work that Monday, Parks and Recreation had cleared the land.  The newly planted flowers and trees were replaced with a half-acre of overturned dirt.

“It’s gone,” she said.  “It was bulldozed, it’s gone.  The raised beds, the flowers — they’re gone. “

Of 152 community gardens in the Bronx, 72 are currently facing the same fate as the Liberated Urban Farm.  Started by neighborhood activists and financed through their fundraising efforts, these plots aren’t legal and so the gardeners can’t stop the city from tearing them down.

Aresh Javadi, board member of the gardening advocacy group More Gardens!, works with threatened gardens to create awareness and political support for their cause.   According to Javadi, the main problem is the lack of clear legal framework for obtaining and keeping community gardens in New York City.

Instead, prospective gardeners must contact the Department of Housing and Preservation to make sure the city doesn’t have plans for the lot, and then wait for approval, a process that could take months and sometimes even years.

Javadi instead urges would-be gardeners to just plunge in.

“Buy bolt cutters at the local hardware store and open the garden gates,” he said.

Javadi encourages green-thumbed activists to clear the land they are interested in farming and rally support from neighbors and politicians to expedite the licensing process.    By winning this battle, says Javadi, they are helping to fight the legal war.

No laws insure the security of the more than 600 community gardens in the five boroughs.   While yearly licenses can be granted by Green Thumbs, there are no guarantees for renewal.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani made this clear on Jan. 10, 1999.  The city was in an economic boom, and housing was scarce. In an effort to raise more money, he announced he had allocated 115 of 700 community gardens for sale to the commercial market in May. “This is a free-market economy,” he said on a WABC radio show that  January. “The era for communism is over.”

The city’s community gardeners were furious. Protests in front of City hall blocked the streets for hours, and 92 activists were arrested for civil disobedience.   But demonstrators weren’t the only ones in court.   New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer charged that Giuliani’s attempted sale of the gardens would break state environmental laws.

Finally, two days before the auction, Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project and the Trust for Public Land struck a $4 million deal with Giuliani.  They would buy 60 of the lots, be caretakers for the other 55, and, in return, the lawsuit against the mayor’s office was dropped.

In 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg began the first of his three terms, he revisited the issue of community gardening.  An agreement between Bloomberg and Spitzer laid out, for gardeners, a system that required the approval of politicians and council members for the city to take back plots from gardeners.

Four years later, Bloomberg signed another agreement with Spitzer that gave gardeners five years to rally support from community leaders and prove their worth to their communities.

That’s why Javadi encouraged prospective farmers to take up guerilla farming.   By first putting their money and efforts into the gardens and then rallying for support, More Gardens! hopes to keep community gardens on the political agenda.

For urban farmers like Field, this can be risky.  The single mother of four has been living on Fox Street in a small two bedroom apartment since 2002.  She could see the huge playground and basketball court across the street from her living room window.

“It seemed really strange to me that there was a plot of earth near a playground that hadn’t been built on,” she said.

But she brushed her concerns aside and focused first on completing her B.A. in Political Science at Baruch College then finding work.  She began as an Environmental Justice Activist with Mother’s on the move.  Her work with mothers on the move had opened her eyes to economic, social and environmental issues facing the people of Hunts Point.   So when she decided to start her gardening adventure, she was determined it would yield more than just tomatoes, sunflowers and basil.

“I live in a community that has five shelters in a three-block radius,” she said. “I can’t fart without hitting someone who might be touched by this.”

Eventually she became an Outreach coordinator with with Sustainable South Bronx, a non-profit whose mission is to create programs that address policy and planning issues in the Hunts Point area. As a program assistant with Sustainable South Bronx, she worked to inform the community of their role in creating and implementing laws and procedure.  She was shocked by the abundance of health problems in the Hunts Point area, including asthma, diabetes and obesity.

Fields decided to attack the root of these problems. “One of the parts that I really looked at that affects so many communities is lack of access to food,” she said.  “What people are consuming because of that lack of quality food, and how the psychosis of poverty manifests itself in the choices that we make in terms of what we put into our body.”

She immersed herself in her work with Sustainable South Bronx, and eventually became a program assistant for Majora Carter LLC, the private for-profit consulting group that lead by Majora Carter, creator of  Sustainable South Bronx.   The harder she worked, the more concerned she became about the community around her. She could still see the half-acre of empty land from her window, but didn’t consider starting an urban farm until the issues she had been addressing at work hit home.  Fields had gained more than 25 pounds since she moved to Fox Street, and her kids had developed serious respiratory problems.

“I’m doing this out of need,” she said.  “I was tired of buying the bad avocados at the supermarket.  I was seeing children in the community get too big and I watched myself get too big.”

Fields found that in her Hunts Point neighborhood, part of the second poorest congressional district in the country, single women just like her ran three out of four households.  Convinced that poverty is tied to gender, she decided to create a community garden that would teach as well as feed.

“I was thinking about the real business side of that would teach them real skills, things they could put on a resume,” she said.

The idea was to create a community garden that would force those participating to create a viable business model to sell their produce.  The women would develop a marketing plan; find buyers; identify aspects of the project they would not be able to do themselves, such as transporting their products, and create partnerships with other vendors in the community.

So, in June she found a partner in field manager Dwaine Lee, a co-worker at Sustainable South Bronx who had experience in farming.  Over the summer Lee provided technical assistance on how to set-up the plot of land for growing, and assisted with funding.   He also helped Fields get in touch with Just Foods, a non-profit organization that connects local growers with the communities around them.   They gained the support of Just Food’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network, a program that allows community members to pay an annual fee of $400 to $600 and receive enough vegetables to feed a two or three people on a weekly basis.

The project seemed to be moving along smoothly.  Fields and Lee began to raise awareness on their project, and a steady stream of volunteers came to assist with the garden.  They cleared the debris, and put in raised beds.  They planted hydrangea, an ornamental flower, cherry sandalwood trees and butterfly bushes to attract pollinating bees.

With the garden created and the community behind them, they focused their efforts on garnering political support.  On Sept. 26, Fields threw the Liberated  Urban Farm Family Fun Block Party, and invited neighbors, politicians and community garden advocates.   Over 100 people attended the event, including council member Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

Yet her political activities and hard work couldn’t stop Parks and Recreation from tearing down the garden in November.  Now, Fields has turned for help to the New York City Community Gardeners Coalition, a grassroots organization that promotes community gardens through political advocacy.

Karen Washington, president of the coalition and a long-time community gardening activist, created the group to insure the security of community gardens around the New York area.    Like Fields, Washington started with the empty lot in front of her house on Prospect Avenue in 1988.  From there she has created a group of 10 community gardens in the Bronx that regularly supply fruits and vegetables for the East Tremont Farmer’s market, called La Familia Verde (The Green Family).

Because of her success in creating almost a dozen community gardens in the Bronx, Washington has emerged as a leader in the legal fight for community gardens.   She attributes her success to being able to make informed arguments that politicians will listen to.

“You always follow protocol,” she said.  “Then when you go and meet your adversary, you know you’re facts and you go in there educated strong and with the nonviolent quietness of a mouse.  You don’t have to raise your voice because your words are so powerful people listen.”

It is with this philosophy that Washington began the New York City Community Gardeners Coalition, and has expanded beyond the Bronx and created partnerships with some of New York’s biggest community gardening activists.  Their goal is to get politicians to understand the impact and significance of community gardens.

“What I try to do is make people accountable,” she said. ”I know the politicians hear what is going on in the neighborhoods, but some of them don’t take the time out to go and see.”

To carry out this task, she created the Legislative Committee of the New York City Community Gardeners Coalition, made up of three community gardeners, including Javadi.  The group has created a list of nine recommendations for legislation.   They ask for classification as state parks, first pick when lots become available and the opportunity to create gardens in communities that lack open space.

While pro-green politicians such as Rep. Jose E. Serrano have stood beside the gardeners, the coalition still faces strong opposition from proponents of affordable housing.

Yet for the gardeners, affordable housing and urban gardening should go hand in hand.   Urban gardens create a sense of community, and are a way for people to have a direct interest in their neighborhoods.  This, says Fields, could help instead of hurt housing development.

“It gives people an investment in the community,” she said.  “When you do have people who have money who come into the community it’s not as scary because they feel like they do have a vested interest in the community.“

Standing in front of an empty field, Fields watches her children play in the playground adjacent to the plot.  It is they, she says, who give her the determination to make the Liberated Urban Farm dream a reality.

“When I first took them out into the garden they were digging up the soil,” she said.  “That was the first time my six-year-old had seen an earthworm,” Fields said.  She’s hoping for many more “firsts” when her next garden takes root.

Posted in Bronx Life, FoodComments (2)

An Election, Or Something Like It

By Alex Berg

On mayoral election day, polling stations in the South Bronx bared little resemblance to one year ago, when feverish crowds turned out to vote in the presidential election.

That was then, when upwards of 2.6 million New Yorkers voted in the presidential election. On November 4th of this year, the New York Times reported only 1.1 million New Yorkers came out to vote, according to the city’s Board of Elections.

I conducted exit polls at about six polling stations, along with other BronxInk.org reporters who were stationed all over the Bronx.

The Mott Haven Community Center, at 3rd Ave. and 143rd St., had the most consistent stream of voters. Still, voters were scarce enough that poll workers were able to escort them, one by one, from the street into the center. That was while other poll workers smoked cigarettes and relaxed outside.

According to one poll worker, two of the three voting machines were broken anyway. Even so, there were no lines, no complaints.

During the chilly hour I spent standing outside the center starting around 7:45 a.m., few more than eight people showed up to cast their votes.

“I believe in the process and I want my vote to count,” said Roxanne R., a 40-something year old nurse who refused to give her last name. Roxanne was one of the few and the proud who voted at the community center, in part because she felt it was her duty as a member of the community.

Her attitude was not common.

Five blocks south of the community center at the Judge Gilbert Ramirez Apartments, there was one voter over the span of 40 minutes. She declined to speak with me.

This scene repeated itself at four other polling stations, where there were either very few voters or none at all. By noon, I spoke with 11 voters in total. Eight voted for former Comptroller Bill Thompson, two voted for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and one refused to identify who she voted for.

BronxInk.org’s Bronx-wide exit polls reported Bronxites voted for Bill Thompson 2-1, most of them motivated against the mayor’s bid to overturn term limits.

“We have to get Bloomberg out of office,” said Natasha Spivey, a 40-year-old administrative assistant who voted at P.S. 154 on 135th St. “He bought his term limit.”

But perhaps the underwhelming voter turnout parallels the candidates’ absence in the Bronx.

As I walked along 3rd Avenue from 149th St. to 135th St. and up various cross streets, I saw only two campaign posters. They were signs for Thompson. One was crushed in the street outside the Mott Haven Houses, a housing project.

Teresa Hargraves, a 60-year-old who voted at P.S. 154, said she though both candidates neglected the Bronx during the campaign.

Hargraves was right. On election night, BronxInk.org reporter Maia Efrem asked the Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. if Thompson came to the Bronx during the campaign. Diaz said he did. Once.

When I called Thompson’s press contact to verify how frequently he campaigned in the Bronx, I was told at the time there was no one in the office that knew (Mayor Bloomberg’s Bronx office did not return my call or email).

At the end of the day, Mayor Bloomberg beat out Thompson by less than five percent. It’s difficult not to consider how the election might have been different if more people voted. Or if the candidates had treated the Bronx like the rest of New York City.

Posted in Bronx Blog, PoliticsComments (0)

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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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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