Tag Archive | "Politics"

AOC Town Hall Discusses Asylum Seekers, War in Ukraine and Post Office

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D – NY 14th District) explains President Biden’s marijuana pardons at her town hall meeting in the Bronx. Churchill Ndonwie for the Bronx Ink.

A town hall held by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D – NY 14th District) Wednesday night in Pelham Parkway, addressed several issues including the war in Ukraine, immigration, gun rights and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

But for Bronxite Daina Finch, 68, being able to utilize her local post office was her priority. 

“Locally, we’ve just had so much trouble with our post offices being understaffed and underfunded,” she said. Her question to Ocasio-Cortez was an update on Postmaster Louis DeJoy who was appointed by USPS Board of Governors under former President Trump to lead the agency.

On March 23, 2021, Dejoy announced the Delivering for America plan, a 10 year plan to help the agency out of its $160B projected debt and “achieve financial sustainability and service excellence.” Since implemented, the USPS has consolidated its districts from 67 to 50 and in July, Dejoy said he plans to cut the USPS workforce by 50,000. 

For Finch, this would impact her publishing business that relies heavily on mailing. 

“Fewer people at the post office, which means longer lines,” she said. 

“It all feeds on itself. if you’re understaffed, then people have to wait in lines, and it’s harder for them to do business” she continued. 

Ocasio-Cortez is part of a subcommittee within the congressional oversight committee whose scope includes the USPS. “I think it’s an issue that’s not getting enough attention,” Ocasio-Cortez  said.

 “And it’s, it’s really concerning, because we’ve seen both how much postal services are relied on, but how much they are under invested in our community, especially this neck of the woods, in this part of the Bronx,” she said.

The almost two-hour town hall was interrupted at times by protesters who did not agree with Ocasio-Cortez’s stands on the war in Ukraine and the migrants’ housing in New York City. 

“None of this matters unless there’s a nuclear war, which you voted to send arms and weapons to Ukraine…..You originally voted — ran as an outsider yet you have been voting to start this war in Ukraine. You are voting to start a third war with Russia and China, ” a protester shouted from the audience regarding the representative voting for military and financial aid to be sent to Ukraine. 

“I believed in you and you became the very thing you said you’ll fight against,” another protester erupted from the audience. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Town Hall interrupted by Anti War Protesters

Ocasio-Cortez also announced she is working with the office of Mayor Eric Adams to complete a federal Housing & Development grant program application that would help with the City’s housing crisis. “We need more housing and we need that housing to be for us. It shouldn’t be for Wall Street. It shouldn’t be for people who are trying to squeeze us every single time for rent. And we need to make sure that the city is affordable,” she said.

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two rows of metal crates each have a dog peering out

How Much Longer is That Doggie in The Window Allowed? The “Puppy Mill Pipeline” Bill sits on Governor’s desk

A state bill banning the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in retail pet shops passed the Senate and Assembly in June but is yet to be signed by the governor. Several pet dealers in the Bronx, there are five licensed in total, now await the decision of whether the “Puppy Mill Pipeline Legislation” will become law. 

Marlene Jimenez, 31, owner of R&K Pet Shop in East Tremont, said she doesn’t know how she will change her business model if the law goes into effect. 

“The only hope I have is – I hope my store doesn’t go down. A lot of businesses are shutting down and that’s my scare,” Jimenez said.

“I’m already getting people used to it. We’re minimizing our orders of dogs because the breeders are already leaving, they’re going somewhere else,” she said, arguing that pet shops “don’t make money from selling merchandise.”

Eddie Diaz, General Manager at R&K noted, “The dogs always sell, regardless. They go really fast. It’s amazing, because this is a poor neighborhood, you’d be surprised by how many people come.” The dogs usually sell for somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, depending on breed, and decreasing in price as they get older. 

Zoo-Rama, a Westchester Square pet shop, had more than 50 puppies for sale in its store on a day in September, making it one of the largest pet retailers in the Bronx. A Zoo-Rama employee said he believes the store will close if the bill goes into effect. 

Instead of banning the sale of these animals in stores, he would rather the government put more restrictions in place and close the pet shops that don’t abide.

Meanwhile, animal rights organizations including the New York State Animal Protection Federation, are championing the bill, pressuring Governor Kathy Hochul to sign.  

Looking for a dog with his partner on a Friday in September, Ivan Valerio, 30, explained that the reason that they chose to go to a pet shop was that “we got to interact with the pet.” 

Valerio and his partner petted and picked up the dog they were considering in a playpen in the center of the store. “Since we’re first time pet owners, I don’t know if we would consider shelter pets,” said Valerio, adding they would also consider buying a dog from a breeder.

When not being considered for purchase, the more than 50 dogs at Zoo-Rama are held in metal kennels  – sometimes two in one – with a blanket rolled up in the corner, leaving the kennels unlined so that the dogs’ excretions can fall through the gaps.

On the same afternoon, the dogs watched, slept, sipped their water or scratched at their cage. One black and white puppy ate the excrement off the bottom of his cage.

A young girl perused the kennels with her mother.

“No. No… you be quiet,” she said sternly to a barking dog.

Shelters and breeders, unlike pet shops, would not be affected by the ban on pet sales. The sale of animals from breeders to consumers would remain legal, as would adoption.

“The pet stores have the opportunity with this bill to rebrand as humane pet stores that care about the animals,” said Libby Post, Executive Director of the NYSAPF. They could work together with shelters, for example, placing animals up for adoption in the storefront windows instead of ordering puppies. 

The NYSAPF sent over 2,500 postcards to the governor’s office, urging her to sign the bill, Post said. Hochul is reviewing the legislation, according to her press office. 

While the bill failed to pass the assembly in 2019 and 2020 in its previous versions, in June, it passed the New York Senate 57 in favor to 5 against.  

If the bill is signed by the Governor the act will go into effect one year after becoming law. 

A dog in a pet shop in the Bronx. This video may be upsetting to watch. Marleen Kaesebier for The Bronx Ink.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Blog, Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, Morrisania, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Northwest Bronx, Politics, Southern Bronx, The Bronx BeatComments (0)

Elizabeth Warren holds her largest rally yet in NYC

Supporters wave posters at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rally in NYC.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew a crowd of roughly 20,000 at a rally in Washington Square Park Monday night, during which she called out government corruption and promised a return of power to the American people. It was her largest campaign event to date.

Warren tapped into the rally’s location near the historic site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to retell the history of the fire and the flood of legislative change that followed after 146 factory workers died due to the owners’ neglect. Warren used the anecdote to illustrate the nation’s capacity for “big, structural change,” her campaign’s tagline.

“Giant corporations have bought off our government,” Warren said sternly into the microphone, drawing out each word for emphasis. “That’s corruption plain and simple and we need to call it out for what it is.” Like many other moments that night, Warren’s statement was cut off by the deafening roar of cheers from those in attendance.

For Warren, calling out corporate corruption starts with limiting the ability of the powerful to use their wealth to influence Washington. In her speech, she called for an end to all government lobbying and said under her presidency, elected officials would not be allowed to run a business and own stock while serving in public office. 

“Take care of people’s business, or take care of your own business, but you can’t do both at the same time,” she said as the crowd, again, erupted in applause. Dozens of supporters waved light blue “I’m a Warren Democrat” posters in the air. One young girl, perched atop the neck of her mother to see Warren through the crowd, pumped her fist into the air in solidarity. 

As part of her plan to help working families, Warren reiterated her promise of universal health care under Medicare for All, and a strengthening of labor unions. As she spoke about her plan for a 2% wealth tax on the ultra-rich, the crowd chanted, “Two cents! Two cents!” referring to her proposal to tax two cents on every dollar after the individual’s first $50 million in income.

Warren also pledged various proposals aimed at America’s minorities. They included protection of Native American land, $50B in funding to historically black colleges and universities and closing the wage gap for women of color. 

“I feel like she was even stronger and more determined than I’ve heard her ever before, and people were obsessed with every word,” said Ceci Sturman, 23, who attended the event and saw Warren speak for the first time earlier this year. 

Sturman said she would like the Massachusetts Democrat to devote more time to issues of climate and health care. 

“The two-cent tax stuck out most to me because it was a very specific proposal/plan. Definitely something I want to learn more about. I look forward to learning more about the tax and her other plans,” said Nhi Diep, 23, who went to see Warren for the first time. 

The Senator’s speech was prefaced by an unexpected announcement—the endorsement of Warren for president by the Working Families Party (WFP). The move by the progressive political group sparked a reaction on Twitter, where some users expressed their dismay at the party for not backing Sen. Bernie Sanders, as it did in the 2016 presidential race. 

Warren stayed at the park taking selfies with those in attendance till just before midnight, nearly four hours after she finished her speech.

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Three Bronx Polling Locations Changed Due to Sandy

Three polling locations in the Bronx have changed due to Superstorm Sandy, the Board of Elections in the City of New York announced. Residents originally stationed to vote at Locust Point Civic Hall, 4400 Locust Point Drive, will now go to the MTA Throggs Neck Parking Lot, 4260 Throggs Neck Expressway. Voters headed to PS 69 Journey Prep School, 560 Thieriot Avenue, will now go to the Archimedes Academy of Math, 456 White Plains Road. And residents for the Manhattan College Draddy Hall location, at 4513 Manhattan Coll Parkway, will now vote at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, located at 3700 Henry Hudson Parkway.

The red balloons on the map represent the new polling locations. The blue ballons signify the former sites.

To find out your polling location, check the Board of Elections’ poll site locator.


View Three Bronx Polling Locations Changed Due to Sandy in a larger map

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From Albanian Roots to an Albany Job: Mark Gjonaj’s Long Trail to the Assembly

In the heavily Democratic 80th Assembly district, candidate Mark Gjonaj will likely be his district’s next assemblyman. (ANDREW FREEDMAN/The Bronx Ink)

Walking east along Lydig Avenue in the Morris Park area of the Bronx, you can’t help but notice that Mark Gjonaj is the 80th Assembly District’s new poster boy. His visage is plastered on the windows of businesses with his black hair brushed back and his brown eyes staring at those who pass by.

“Elect Mark Gjonaj. Democrat for Assembly,” the poster reads with red and white text on a blue background. Residents can follow the posters like breadcrumbs to Gjonaj’s Barnes Avenue campaign headquarters (decorated in the same colors as his posters), where he is running to be the next assemblyman for the district, which includes Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, Van Nest, Pelham Bay, Pelham Gardens, Norwood, Allerton and Van Cortlandt Village.

More posters cover the walls inside the headquarters, along with newspaper clippings about his campaign and awards of recognition from various local organizations. New York voter registration forms are piled on a table underneath an informational poster that reads “How to Become President of the United States.” That’s a goal far from Gjonaj’s mind. He’s focused on his district. He’s focused on the Bronx.

Gjonaj, 43, beat incumbent Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera in the Democratic primaries on Sept. 13 by a margin of 11 percent. His challenger in the general election on Nov. 6 is Republican Nicole J. Torres.

Torres does not have any contact information available. Multiple calls and emails to the Bronx County Republican Party’s headquarters and to Bronx Republican Party chairman Joseph Savino’s personal office were not returned.

Should Gjonaj defeat Torres (which is likely in the heavily Democratic Bronx), Gjonaj will be the first person in the Assembly of Albanian-American heritage, representing a district where he has spent almost his entire life.

Following various forms of community outreach, Gjonaj became well-known in his district. (ANDREW FREEDMAN/The Bronx Ink)

“This wasn’t about just having a voice, but the right voice,” he said. “The voice that would address the concerns and the issues of the 80th Assembly District.”

Gjonaj was born on Arthur Avenue in the Fordham Area of the Bronx to Albanian immigrant parents. After 10 years there, his family moved to the Pelham Parkway area. His mother worked as a housekeeper in Jacobi Hospital and his father worked as a building superintendent.

“I spoke Albanian before I spoke English,” Gjonaj said. “The traditions of hospitality and respect were enrooted into me growing up.”

His ethnic identity is proving important to the Albanian community in his district. According to the 2011 American Community Survey, the Bronx has a population of 12,438 people of Albanian descent – more than any other borough in New York City.

“To the Albanians, it means a lot because for so long we haven’t had someone to represent us,” said Marko Kepi, president of Albanian Roots, a nonprofit organization with a goal of building a stronger Albanian community in New York City. He claimed that the Albanian community had to contribute to politicians in order to gain their support in the past.

“Now we have one of our own, Mark Gjonaj, in the Assembly, that can speak up for the community himself.”

Kepi said that most people of Albanian descent tend to be conservative in their politics, but that Gjonaj energized that group. Albanian Roots helped the Albanian community to vote, and Kepi says that more than 300 Albanians in the 80th Assembly District registered as Democrats so they could vote for Gjonaj in the primaries.

Gjonaj said that though the Albanian community is only a fraction of the total population,  he can speak their language, which may make it easier for him to communicate about  community issues. He said that other elected officials have been supportive of the Albanian community, including Councilman James Vacca, Sen. Jeffrey Klein and Rep. Joseph Crowley.

Another aspect that may have helped Gjonaj topple Rivera is the fact that Rivera was fighting political scandals, including allegations that she used taxpayer money to hire her former boyfriend Tommy Torres in a part-time consulting position. The story made the front page of papers such as the New York Post and the New York Daily News. Rivera has maintained a low profile since losing the election, but she is on the ballot as an Assembly candidate for the Working Families Party. She is currently being investigated by law enforcement agencies, including the Bronx District Attorney’s office and the state Attorney General’s office.

“The primary reason to vote for him was that the other candidate, the incumbent, was sullied, was deeply stained, was seen as involved in scandal,” said David Luchins, chairman of the department of political science at Touro College and a resident of Pelham Parkway.

If Rivera’s scandal wasn’t enough of a boost, Gjonaj’s campaign has had the advantage of being well-funded.

Gjonaj attended St. John’s University in Queens and earned a degree in marketing. He is the president of M P Realty Group Corp., a real estate brokerage firm that he founded in 1999, and manages the sole property of Kramlaup Realty Corp. – an apartment building in City Island. His only political experience is as a member of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. Gjonaj insisted that if he wins in November, he will give up real estate brokerage and management to work full-time in the Assembly. He said that the business would stay in the family.

From May to September, Gjonaj’s campaign received $264,443 in contributions. Many of those came from realtors, law firms and construction companies, as well as individual donors. In comparison, Rivera received $157,497.69 in contributions from March through September.

Luchins said that registered Democrats in the area received at least a dozen mailers from the Gjonaj campaign regarding Rivera’s scandals.

“When you spend an enormous sum of money and the tabloids of the city [are] running front page articles about your opponent and then you print those and hand those out over the district – I’d be rather stunned if the guy would’ve lost,” Luchins said. He added that the Bronx democratic political machine may have “pulled the plug” on her, believing that the battle wasn’t worth fighting.

The Gjonaj campaign did have some strong challenges to overcome. Rivera was  a well-known, respected name until the scandal hit, and Gjonaj’s Albanian heritage may have been a deterrent to some Democratic voters. The district is 44.95 percent Hispanic.

Gjonaj’s campaign headquarters in Morris Park has hosted weekly Sunday barbecues and served as a cooling station during the summer months. (ANDREW FREEDMAN/The Bronx Ink)

Gjonaj made a name for himself in the community through a number of services and events. His “Gjonaj Cares” initiative sends street cleaning crew down 204th Street in Norwood and Lydig Avenue in Morris Park, picking up trash and litter on the high traffic streets. The Lydig Avenue cleaning began in July and expanded to 204th Street in August. He also holds weekly barbecues behind his Morris Park headquarters on Sundays, where his yellow-shirted volunteers grill hamburgers and hot dogs while he has time to chat with residents. The barbecues began in June, the month after the Morris Park campaign office opened.  The campaign also hosted a blood drive in August.

“If conscientious is a good word, he is extremely conscientious,” said Jeffrey M. Panish, a volunteer for the Gjonaj campaign.

“In the community he’s known as ‘Mother Teresa with a credit card,'” Kepi said (Mother Teresa was also of Albanian heritage). “Whoever went out to ask him for help, he always helped them out. Luckily, he’s a successful man, money was not a problem for him, so he ended up helping a lot of people financially.”

Gjonaj said it’s his job – whether or not he is elected – to assist the community (Panish said working with Gjonaj was a form of “give-back.”). Because his parents received community help when they immigrated, he feels he needs to help others.

“That’s a debt that I owe,” he said. “My parents have taught me that you can never give enough. And treating people the way you want to be treated has served me very well.”

In the run up to the general election, Gjonaj is placing an increasing emphasis on jobs in the Bronx.

“One in six people can’t find a paying job,” he said. “It’s a top priority and it should be for all of our elected officials and community leaders.” He said that he and his team would be spending several weeks outlining programs to create new jobs.

To boost the economy, he hopes to use his business experience to find and use underutilized resources. He suggested that the Bronx’s parks could be used to boost tourism. He also hopes to help create a service industry that will provide more jobs.

Panish said that Gjonaj has considered the possibility of a hotel near the Bronx Zoo and botanical gardens that would keep people in the Bronx if they visit the parks or if they visit students at Fordham University.

Gjonaj is also focusing on the Bronx’s youth. He pointed out of his office window to the Bronx’s P.S. 292, under construction across the street. He feels that schools should be open longer hours to provide safe spaces for children and to provide extra help for students.

Gjonaj’s two sons, Nicholas, 13, and Joseph, 12, both attend public schools in the Bronx.

He also thinks that employment for youth can help the community.

“Putting them to work will help build their character,” he said. “It will help build their responsibility. I’ve done it all as a kid from selling flowers on street corners to delivering pizza. And I’m proud of it.” He did note that this would be extremely difficult in the current economy, when jobs are still scarce.

Gjonaj said that he is humbled by the way the community has embraced him. If he wins in November, he will represent the 80th District, but having been born and raised in the Bronx, he aims to keep the whole borough on his radar.

“I look at the 80th Assembly District without any boundaries,” he said. “The borough of the Bronx is a soft spot for me. I believe that this borough has its better days ahead and with the right leadership and the right focus, it can be the borough that by all intents and purposes it should be.”


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Newcomer Trounces Incumbent in Bid for Bronx State Assembly Seat

Mark Gjonaj becomes the first Albanian American with a chance to serve in the 80th State Assembly District. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

A Bronx ballroom filled with supporters of political newcomer Mark Gjonaj erupted in cheers near midnight Sept. 13 when poll numbers pushed the real estate developer over the top in the race for the Democratic state assembly nomination in the 80th district.

Gjonaj, 43, is poised to become the first Albanian American in the Bronx to hold a seat in the assembly. He toppled two-term incumbent Naomi Rivera by a margin of 11 percent (513 votes).

More than one hundred supporters celebrated the successful campaign with food, an open bar and DJ at Maestro’s Catering on Bronxdale Avenue in Van Nest. “I’m feeling loved,” Gjonaj told the crowd, with relief. “I’m feeling blessed and I’m grateful and I’m humbled.”

Rivera, his opponent who has held the 80th assembly seat since 2005 had the backing of the powerful Bronx Democratic Committee, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. She faced criticism after political scandals surfaced during her most recent term. Most recently Rivera came under fire for placing  boyfriend Tommy Torres on her state payroll as a part-time consultant. Another investigation involving a different ex-boyfriend is also underway.

Gjonaj won the backing of social conservative New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. He outspent Rivera by about 62 percent. Gjonaj thanked his campaign volunteers and supporters in a speech, saying “without them, there’s no me.”

“This is about progress,” said Gjonaj in a speech last night. “It’s about change. It’s about moving forward.” He also acknowledged Rivera’s public service in the district for the past eight years. Gjonaj grew up in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, the son of two Albanian immigrants. He has worked as a realtor and businessman, and has served as a member of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

A homemade poster supporting Mark Gjonaj. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

According to campaign manager Emmett Hare, Gjonaj currently resides in at Eastchester Road in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood with his wife and two sons, ages 12 and 13. He used his business acumen to his advantage, and raised $227,893 for his campaign according to financial disclosure reports from April to August. His backers included several realtors, construction companies, insurance agencies, contractors and law firms, as well as many individual donors. Rivera raised $140,697.69 between March and August.

Community outreach was a key aspect of Gjonaj’s campaign. On Sundays throughout the summer, he hosted free barbecues for residents of his district. He launched a street-cleaning initiative called “Gjonaj Cares” along 204th Street in the Norwood area of the Bronx and on Lydig Avenue in Morris Park. His Morris Park campaign office opened to the public as a cooling station during the summer, he donated school supplies to the children of the Pelham Parkway Houses development and facilitated the donation of unsold food from local restaurants to shelters.

Gjonaj’s campaign team, dressed in signature yellow shirts, was out in full force in the weeks before the election, handing out pamphlets and talking to community members. Volunteer Troy Coleman said that “the experience was fantastic.” The day of the primaries, he campaigned outside of Tracey Towers, where Gjonaj was active in preventing a rent increase.

Gjonaj promised to work hard for the future of his district. “This means the 80th assembly district will have somebody that represents their best interests,” he said. “I’m going to wake up each with them on my mind and before I lay my head down to sleep. I’m going to think about them and how I serve them.”

Mark Gjonaj stands with his family and supporters after the primary results are announced. (MARGARET BADORE / The Bronx Ink)

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The Bronx loves Obama… still

Video by David Patrick Alexander and Elettra Fiumi.

Bronx voters bucked the national trend at the polling booths during Tuesday’s midterm elections, rallying behind President Barack Obama even as they expressed concerns about rising unemployment and the faltering economy.

The majority of 300 voters interviewed by Bronx Ink reporters at 29 polling stations Nov. 2 said they voted for the Democrats on the ballot in large part because they wanted to show their support for the president. Many believed that the halfway point was too early to judge his presidency.

“I think he’s doing good,” said Maritza Rivera, who voted in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. “There’s too much pressure on him; somebody else would have just passed out already.”

An engineer at St. Joseph’s School of Yorkville in Manhattan said he sympathized with the heavy burden born by the nation’s first black president. “He has resolved a little bit of the problems created by Bush,” said Jose Quinonez, as he voted in Belmont. “His hair is white now.”

Nationally, the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives and is expected win a number of state gubernatorial races previously held by Democrats. Control of the seats in the U.S. Senate, as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, was still in the balance.

In New York State, 13 Congressional seats are being contested. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo beat Republican Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino in a tighter than expected race for governor.

But in the Bronx, where nearly 90 percent of the population is non-white, many continued to vote Democratic down the line and hoped the party would keep the momentum it gained in 2008, when 89 percent of borough voters cast ballots for Obama.

“I’m concerned about Republicans gaining control over the House,” said Barbara Curran, who voted in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. “They’re going to make getting President Obama out of office their mission.”

For some supporters, the rising national dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and the Obama administration added extra incentive to get to a polling booth early in the morning. One Fordham voter said Obama needs confidence from his supporters to implement the changes he promised in the 2008 campaign.

“There’s a lot of excess baggage he walked into,” said Perneter McClary. “A lot of times when he tries to get something done, nobody wants to help him. And he can’t do it alone.”

But for others, the President still had a long way to go. “I still support him,” said Floyd Sykes of Highbridge, “but not as enthusiastically. Like a lot of people, I wish he’d show some emotion, get mad.”

The staggering unemployment rate in Bronx County also prompted many Bronxites to head to the polls. With the latest unemployment figures putting the number of jobless in the borough at 12.5 percent – almost 5 percent higher than Manhattan, according to the State Department of Labor – the economy was an issue for many voters.

“I’ve been unemployed for two years,” said Darlene Cruz who voted today in Soundview. “I voted Democrat down the line.”

Other issues raised by voters included health care, education, mayoral term limits, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration and gay rights.

“I care about maternal health and getting money for schools,” said Carmen Mojica outside St. Brendan School in the Norwood section of The Bronx. “I really didn’t care about the propositions. I honestly couldn’t care less about arguing over term limits. We could be voting for more important things.”

Beverly Scriven, a Jamaican immigrant who turned up to vote in Soundview just as the polls opened at 6 a.m., said health care was on her mind. “I care about the economy and Medicare. We’re seniors, so it affects us more than the youngsters. Regardless of the issues, we’ll come out and vote. It’s a privilege.”

On the State level, gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo was popular in the Bronx – even among the Bronx Ink survey’s few staunch Republicans. Williamsbridge resident and Republican Anna Presume said she voted for Cuomo because she liked his stance on crime. “I like Cuomo … I didn’t vote for him just because he’s good looking,” she laughed.

Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, was vilified for his offensive statements about gay people during his campaign, words that may cost him votes.

When asked if he had voted for Paladino, East Crotona Park resident Winston Collymore, who does not vote along party lines, replied, “Do you think I am crazy? Do I look crazy?”

Bronx Voters Sound Off:

Why I came out to vote?

“Right now the city never takes care of us,” said Iqbal Chowdhury, 55, from Norwood. “Robberies are way up. We don’t have enough police support.”

“I woke up at 5 a.m., and thought I should make history,” said Chevonne F. Johnson, 43, from East Tremont. “United we stand, divided we fall. That’s why I’m voting today.”

“I’m 53 and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Lisa from Prospect Avenue, who did not want to reveal her last name.  “I got laid off from Department of Homeless Services and now I can’t find a job in this economy.”

“I came to vote so I can help keep Republicans from ruining the country,” said William Byne, 56. “Trickle down doesn’t work.”

“I always vote,” said Ousmane Bah, 49, from Grand Concourse. “People get killed for the right to vote, you have to come use it.”

Do I think Obama is doing a good job?

“I think that instead of a bag of gold, he got a bag of dirty laundry,” said Adam King, 36, a Board of Elections coordinator in Castle Hill but lives in Throgs Neck. “We can’t blame Obama for our problems since they came before him. And they’ll probably be here after him.”

“It may take more than ten years to fix all this mess,” said Sidney Ellis, 73, from East Tremont.

“I want him to take his time and do everything right,” said Natasha Williams, 25, from Tiebout Avenue. “I don’t want him to rush because of what other people said…He’s got eight years to clean up.”

“He has no experience. He’s not fit to be president,” said Robert Healy, 49, from Fordham. “A painter doesn’t paint a house unless he’s got experience. I didn’t vote for him before, and I won’t vote for him in 2012.”

“I think he’s doing a good job… There’s always going to be crises coming up,” said Luis Padilla, 45. “There’s more eyes on him because he’s the first black president.”

What party did I vote for?

“I never voted Republican in my life, and I’ve been voting a very long time,” said Kitty Lerin, 63, from Riverdale.

“I think the tea party is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing for the Republicans,” said Luis Agostini, 38, from Fordham.

“I’m for Cuomo, not Paladino,” said Ziph Hedrington, 43, from Melrose. “Paladino is somebody who I just didn’t trust. He seemed ‘gangsterish’ to me.”

“For me, I don’t need to know the candidates,” said Jennifer Clery, 50, from Mott Haven. “I want a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, a Democratic everything.”

What do I think about gay rights?

“It’s getting a little crazy out there,” said Anthony McDonald, 56, from Grand Concourse. “I do what I have to do.  I’m from the old school.  Whatever you do is your private business, but it shouldn’t be on TV.”

“I think gay rights are being used to get more votes,” said Anthony Neal, 50. “I don’t think any politician cares whether a person is gay or not.”

“You should allow people to be who they are,” said Chevone F. Johnson, 43, from East Tremont. “It’s not our job to judge each other. That’s God’s job to judge.”

“Friends of mine are suffering those problems due to the restrictions and the violence,” said Yvonne Long. “It affects everyone, it affects all of us.”

“I don’t care about gays,” said Bertram Ferrer, 69, from Fordham. “I retired from the military and I believe in ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.”

Additional reporting by David Alexander, Elisabeth Anderson, Alexander Besant, Elettra Fiumi, Amara Grautski, Nick Pandolfo, Catherine Pearson, Connie Preti, Irasema Romero, Zach Schonbrun, Yardena Schwartz, Yiting Sun and Caitlin Tremblay.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Election 2010, Politics, Special ReportsComments (1)

Polling snafus persist for some Bronx voters

Adam King, a poll worker at P.S. 123 in Melrose, waits outside to welcome voters. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Adam King, a poll worker at P.S. 123 in Melrose, waits outside to welcome voters. Photo: Yardena Schwartz

Tiny font, scanner problems, and privacy complaints topped the list of Bronx voter-reported gripes during Tuesday’s general election.

Voters said the new electronic scanners caused less confusion this time compared to the chaos of September’s primary, but they were still far from perfect.

Soundview seniors complained that they couldn’t read the small type, while Mott Haven voters said the ballots were too big for the scanners.  Still other voters in Fordham were put off when asked to hand their ballots to poll workers prior to placing them in the scanners, potentially compromising their privacy.

“I thought the older version was better,” Sharon Walker, 47, of Highbridge, said of the new ballots, expressing a concern shared by many who hoped they had left ballot-related confusion behind in the primary.  “There’s too many steps.  The words on the paper were too small.  The workers seemed lost too, they weren’t very helpful.”

The 2010 election marks New York State’s debut for the electronic paper ballots, replacing the old lever polling booths.  The new method was designed to streamline voting and increase efficiency in tallying results.

However, the new machines faced so much criticism in September that Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the primary “a royal screw-up.”  The city received numerous complaints about the ballot’s typeface, confusing instructions, and non-working scanners. When the Board of Elections failed to sufficiently address the problems in time for the general election, Bloomberg took action last week, firing Board of Elections chief George Gonzalez.

“Mr. Gonzalez screwed up!” said City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell who represents portions of the north Bronx.  Of the firing, he added “It’s probably a good thing.”

Even with the firing at the top, there were fewer complaints on Tuesday than on primary day, according to Marjorie Lindblom, a lawyer working with the Election Protection Committee, a group that fields complaint calls.

Still, a smattering of on-site snafus made for a challenging general election day in the Bronx and across the city. The election committee reported a number of issues ranging from broken polling machines to unprepared workers from Brooklyn, the Upper East Side and into the Bronx.  The Bronx Ink conducted exit interviews at 29 sites throughout the borough, and participants at a majority of them reported system-related problems.

The most common complaint was that the paper ballot was difficult to read.  “I don’t think the forms were user friendly,” said Courtney Foster, 42, of Norwood.  “And I didn’t see anyone there to help you.”  Donald Lundy, 65, also of Norwood, said the layout of the ballot was “a bit too congested.”

The next step – walking the paper ballots over to an electronic scanner –  was not a voter favorite.  “I thought the voting machines stunk,” griped Ruth Lentz of Riverdale.  Lentz, who is 89, who has never missed an election, lamented the loss of the lever system.

In some neighborhoods, voters had to wait for workers to deal with glitches. In Mott Haven, one of the two polling machines at the Carmen Parsons Senior Center did not work until 7 a.m.  Problems persisted later in the day when some ballots were not cut properly and did not fit in the scanners.  “The first form that they gave me, it was bigger than the space,” she Maria Pena, 32, of Melrose.  Pena had to toss out her first ballot and fill in a second.

Voters also lamented the new lost privacy.  In the old lever system, voters cast their ballots in a curtain-enclosed booth. In the electronic system, voters hand their paper ballot to a worker to scan.  “Some people thought maybe workers were looking at their ballots while they scanned them,” Lindblom said.

“It’s not private enough,” said Perneter McClary, 64, of Fordham, who missed the old booths.  “Before, the curtains guarded you and you were alone.”

In addition, in neighborhoods such as Highbridge and Williamsbridge, lines of residents snaked outside polling sites.  Also in Williamsbridge, the polling site at P.S. 78 opened 20 minutes late because security guards wouldn’t let poll workers inside on time.

In Soundview, Freedom Party campaign workers handed out flyers just outside of P.S. 93, in violation of a prohibition against campaigning close to the polling site; they remained on the premises for more than two hours, before they left on their own.

Unprepared poll workers were the source of some complaints, albeit fewer than Lindblom anticipated. The executive director of the New York City League of Women Voters explained that poll workers were trained to instruct voters to turn over their ballot to see two propositions on the back.  They were also trained to correct the incorrect voting instructions printed on the ballot.  His colleague said she was not confident workers would act consistently.  “I think the really underreported story is the personnel,” said Kate Duran, chair of the League’s city affairs committee. Duran, who was coordinating a polling site in Brooklyn, said some of her workers didn’t show up because they would have to work from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Koppell wondered on the eve of the election if the small cadre of poll workers was up to the task of handling the complicated system.  “It requires going to one place, then taking the ballot to a second place to fill it out, and to a third place to have it counted,” he said.  “I’m very nervous.”

Elected officials and advocacy groups said they will continue to push for needed reforms.

In the meantime, Bronx voters are taking the new system in stride.

“We’ll get used to it,” said Darlene Cruz, 53, of Soundview.  “But I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

Exit polls and additional reporting by the Bronx Ink staff.

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