Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ruben-diaz-jr 2019-04-21T06:46:23+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Ruben Diaz Jr. on the Bronx Jail Plan, Specialized High Schools and His Initial 2021 Pitch 2019-04-03T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8405-ruben-diaz-jr-on-the-bronx-jail-plan-specialized-high-schools-and-his-initial-2021-pitch Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rdjr-sotb.jpg" alt="rdjr sotb" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Victor Chu/Bronx BP)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is in favor of closing the jails on Rikers Island but vehemently opposed to the joint de Blasio administration-City Council plan for a new jail site in the Bronx. Diaz Jr. isn’t against a new jail in his borough. Instead, he wants the city to use a different location, closer to the courthouse where defendants must appear, but that city officials say is less workable than their chosen site.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. made his case during <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy show</a> on WBAI radio just after the jail plan begin to move through the city’s official land use review process, known as ULURP, in which the borough president will have a formal but not binding say. In a unique twist, the city is also moving four jail projects -- one for each borough other than Staten Island -- through ULURP at the same time, which Diaz Jr. says “sets a bad precedent.”</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Ruben Diaz Jr.</a>]</p> <p>During the interview, Diaz Jr. also addressed admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and several other topics, while also giving, when asked, an early version of his 2021 mayoral pitch to voters. Diaz Jr. has said he plans to run for mayor in the next election, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration ends due to term-limits––part of what is likely to be a fairly crowded field of Democrats.</p> <p>The city’s current plan to shutter Rikers Island jails includes building a new jail on an empty NYPD tow pound in Port Morris, a neighborhood in the South Bronx, but Diaz Jr. protests the lack of input from Bronx residents when the city decided on the plan. He said residents of Kew Gardens in Queens and Chinatown in Manhattan, where other jails are planned, have also protested the lack of community input. In both Brooklyn and Manhattan currently used jails will expand under the city’s plan.</p> <p>As an alternative to the tow pound, Diaz Jr. pointed to lots on 161st Street in the Bronx, where the Bronx Supreme Court and family court are located. Criminal justice reformers advocate for close proximity between jails and courthouses and public transportation, which can alleviate detention time and ease access for families and defense attorneys. This level of access has posed a challenge on Rikers Island, which is considerably difficult to reach.</p> <p>In response to Diaz Jr.’s plan, a de Blasio spokesperson said that a jail demands more space than is available on 161st Street, including some owned by the state. “What data do they have? They haven’t even examined the site,” Diaz Jr. countered. “Some of that space belongs to the state––and maybe they don’t want to get into it with the governor, because the mayor and the governor don’t get along,” he said, referring to the notoriously contentious relationship between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. But, Diaz Jr. said he already secured a commitment from the state -- he’s close with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- to relinquish the state property at his preferred site.</p> <p>Asked about the disconnect between his rhetoric and the views of City Council Member Diana Ayala––who represents parts of northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, including the neighborhood with the tow pound in question, and has voiced her support for the new plan––<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Diaz Jr. said</a>, “Respectfully, she doesn’t live in the Bronx part of the district.”</p> <p>As conversation switched gears to the broader role of a borough president, Diaz Jr. said his team was putting forth recommendations to bolster the office’s legislative, voting, and budgetary power to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, particularly concerning land use. His comments came two days after the charter revision commission’s final “expert” hearing, which focused on the role of borough presidents, during which several experts agreed that a revised charter should strengthen borough presidents’ legislative authority (some of the panel’s experts were former borough presidents themselves) but not make drastic changes to the limited powers of the position.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. said he and his appointee to the commission, James Vacca, a former City Council Member from the Bronx, are still brainstorming proposals, but promised to publicize suggested reforms once they have formalized them. During the commission hearing on borough president powers, Vacca did not pose any questions to the expert panels about the position. Time is running thin for Diaz Jr. to make his recommendations and preferences for charter reform known.</p> <p>The hosts also asked Diaz Jr. about one of the other hot recent political issues, that of standardized testing for the city’s highly-segregated specialized public schools, two of which are located in the Bronx. Currently, admission to eight of the nine specialized schools is based on a single test: the SHSAT (Laguardia High School is a specialized performing arts school). Mayor de Blasio is seeking to scrap the test and move to multi-measures and a system whereby the top 7% of each middle school graduating class has a seat at a specialized school, but received significant blowback from the city’s Asian-American community, which is significantly overrepresented in the schools relative to broader city population, while black and Hispanic communities are severely underrepresented.</p> <p>“I agree that the status quo is not working. When you have slightly less than 11 percent of all seats at the eight specialized high schools offered to black and Latino students this year, there’s something fundamentally wrong with what we’re doing,” said Diaz Jr.</p> <p>He suggested a more holistic admissions process, akin to Ivy League universities, that considers students’ GPA and extracurricular activities. “We should not be putting one community against the other. And this is where I disagree with the mayor and his rollout,” Diaz Jr. said. Last summer, when de Blasio announced his plan, Diaz Jr. released a statement calling it a “welcome step forward for fairness and equity in the public education system.” He has since changed his tune.</p> <p>“What we need is to increase the amount of seats,” he said on Max &amp; Murphy. “Only three of the high schools are codified by state law. The other five were created and we need to just create more if we have to.” He also called for more access to gifted and talented programs for students in every community.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also discussed the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the Bronx. The project, launched last March, promised to create new retail opportunities and thousands of new affordable housing units while protecting the tenants who were already there along the way, and making investments in the surrounding community as new population density was welcomed in.</p> <p>Asked for his assessment of the initial year after the rezoning passed, Diaz Jr. said he was working with tenants rights organizations like CASA to prevent displacement (CASA leader Carmen Vega-Rivera recently told the charter revision commission she felt that the city’s outreach has been insufficient), but on the project’s overall effectiveness and the city’s ability to keep its promises, Diaz Jr. said, “The jury’s still out.”</p> <p>Lastly, in light of Diaz Jr.’s less than covert plans to run for mayor, he spoke about his vision for New York City, when asked for his initial pitch to voters ahead of the 2021 election, which is expected to feature Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Diaz Jr., and perhaps others.</p> <p>“We’re the best city on the planet. And yet, you have so many different communities in all the different boroughs who don’t feel they’re benefitting from the progress they see throughout the city,” Diaz Jr. said, in part, highlighting his efforts to bring jobs and housing to the Bronx, which he called “one of, if not the most, challenged borough in the city.”</p> <p>Earlier this month, Diaz Jr. released his 2018 Bronx Annual Development Report, boasting high levels of investment and development in the borough, which he highlighted <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8305-acknowledging-mayoral-run-diaz-jr-gives-tenth-state-of-the-borough-address" target="_blank" rel="noopener">during his ninth State of the Borough address</a>.</p> <p>“As we speak of equity, that’s going to be the message here," <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Diaz Jr. said on Max &amp; Murphy</a>. "This is a city where we can provide a better future not just for some, but for all. And we can do this in a practical, pragmatic, progressive way.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rdjr-sotb.jpg" alt="rdjr sotb" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Victor Chu/Bronx BP)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is in favor of closing the jails on Rikers Island but vehemently opposed to the joint de Blasio administration-City Council plan for a new jail site in the Bronx. Diaz Jr. isn’t against a new jail in his borough. Instead, he wants the city to use a different location, closer to the courthouse where defendants must appear, but that city officials say is less workable than their chosen site.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. made his case during <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy show</a> on WBAI radio just after the jail plan begin to move through the city’s official land use review process, known as ULURP, in which the borough president will have a formal but not binding say. In a unique twist, the city is also moving four jail projects -- one for each borough other than Staten Island -- through ULURP at the same time, which Diaz Jr. says “sets a bad precedent.”</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Ruben Diaz Jr.</a>]</p> <p>During the interview, Diaz Jr. also addressed admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and several other topics, while also giving, when asked, an early version of his 2021 mayoral pitch to voters. Diaz Jr. has said he plans to run for mayor in the next election, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration ends due to term-limits––part of what is likely to be a fairly crowded field of Democrats.</p> <p>The city’s current plan to shutter Rikers Island jails includes building a new jail on an empty NYPD tow pound in Port Morris, a neighborhood in the South Bronx, but Diaz Jr. protests the lack of input from Bronx residents when the city decided on the plan. He said residents of Kew Gardens in Queens and Chinatown in Manhattan, where other jails are planned, have also protested the lack of community input. In both Brooklyn and Manhattan currently used jails will expand under the city’s plan.</p> <p>As an alternative to the tow pound, Diaz Jr. pointed to lots on 161st Street in the Bronx, where the Bronx Supreme Court and family court are located. Criminal justice reformers advocate for close proximity between jails and courthouses and public transportation, which can alleviate detention time and ease access for families and defense attorneys. This level of access has posed a challenge on Rikers Island, which is considerably difficult to reach.</p> <p>In response to Diaz Jr.’s plan, a de Blasio spokesperson said that a jail demands more space than is available on 161st Street, including some owned by the state. “What data do they have? They haven’t even examined the site,” Diaz Jr. countered. “Some of that space belongs to the state––and maybe they don’t want to get into it with the governor, because the mayor and the governor don’t get along,” he said, referring to the notoriously contentious relationship between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. But, Diaz Jr. said he already secured a commitment from the state -- he’s close with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- to relinquish the state property at his preferred site.</p> <p>Asked about the disconnect between his rhetoric and the views of City Council Member Diana Ayala––who represents parts of northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, including the neighborhood with the tow pound in question, and has voiced her support for the new plan––<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Diaz Jr. said</a>, “Respectfully, she doesn’t live in the Bronx part of the district.”</p> <p>As conversation switched gears to the broader role of a borough president, Diaz Jr. said his team was putting forth recommendations to bolster the office’s legislative, voting, and budgetary power to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, particularly concerning land use. His comments came two days after the charter revision commission’s final “expert” hearing, which focused on the role of borough presidents, during which several experts agreed that a revised charter should strengthen borough presidents’ legislative authority (some of the panel’s experts were former borough presidents themselves) but not make drastic changes to the limited powers of the position.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. said he and his appointee to the commission, James Vacca, a former City Council Member from the Bronx, are still brainstorming proposals, but promised to publicize suggested reforms once they have formalized them. During the commission hearing on borough president powers, Vacca did not pose any questions to the expert panels about the position. Time is running thin for Diaz Jr. to make his recommendations and preferences for charter reform known.</p> <p>The hosts also asked Diaz Jr. about one of the other hot recent political issues, that of standardized testing for the city’s highly-segregated specialized public schools, two of which are located in the Bronx. Currently, admission to eight of the nine specialized schools is based on a single test: the SHSAT (Laguardia High School is a specialized performing arts school). Mayor de Blasio is seeking to scrap the test and move to multi-measures and a system whereby the top 7% of each middle school graduating class has a seat at a specialized school, but received significant blowback from the city’s Asian-American community, which is significantly overrepresented in the schools relative to broader city population, while black and Hispanic communities are severely underrepresented.</p> <p>“I agree that the status quo is not working. When you have slightly less than 11 percent of all seats at the eight specialized high schools offered to black and Latino students this year, there’s something fundamentally wrong with what we’re doing,” said Diaz Jr.</p> <p>He suggested a more holistic admissions process, akin to Ivy League universities, that considers students’ GPA and extracurricular activities. “We should not be putting one community against the other. And this is where I disagree with the mayor and his rollout,” Diaz Jr. said. Last summer, when de Blasio announced his plan, Diaz Jr. released a statement calling it a “welcome step forward for fairness and equity in the public education system.” He has since changed his tune.</p> <p>“What we need is to increase the amount of seats,” he said on Max &amp; Murphy. “Only three of the high schools are codified by state law. The other five were created and we need to just create more if we have to.” He also called for more access to gifted and talented programs for students in every community.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also discussed the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the Bronx. The project, launched last March, promised to create new retail opportunities and thousands of new affordable housing units while protecting the tenants who were already there along the way, and making investments in the surrounding community as new population density was welcomed in.</p> <p>Asked for his assessment of the initial year after the rezoning passed, Diaz Jr. said he was working with tenants rights organizations like CASA to prevent displacement (CASA leader Carmen Vega-Rivera recently told the charter revision commission she felt that the city’s outreach has been insufficient), but on the project’s overall effectiveness and the city’s ability to keep its promises, Diaz Jr. said, “The jury’s still out.”</p> <p>Lastly, in light of Diaz Jr.’s less than covert plans to run for mayor, he spoke about his vision for New York City, when asked for his initial pitch to voters ahead of the 2021 election, which is expected to feature Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Diaz Jr., and perhaps others.</p> <p>“We’re the best city on the planet. And yet, you have so many different communities in all the different boroughs who don’t feel they’re benefitting from the progress they see throughout the city,” Diaz Jr. said, in part, highlighting his efforts to bring jobs and housing to the Bronx, which he called “one of, if not the most, challenged borough in the city.”</p> <p>Earlier this month, Diaz Jr. released his 2018 Bronx Annual Development Report, boasting high levels of investment and development in the borough, which he highlighted <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8305-acknowledging-mayoral-run-diaz-jr-gives-tenth-state-of-the-borough-address" target="_blank" rel="noopener">during his ninth State of the Borough address</a>.</p> <p>“As we speak of equity, that’s going to be the message here," <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Diaz Jr. said on Max &amp; Murphy</a>. "This is a city where we can provide a better future not just for some, but for all. And we can do this in a practical, pragmatic, progressive way.”</p> <p> </p> Where Top Officials Stand on the SHSAT and Specialized High School Admissions 2019-03-28T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8406-where-top-city-officials-stand-on-the-shsat-and-specialized-high-school-admissions Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/40733260400_a45196408a_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio SHSAT" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio announces specialized high schools plan (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In June of 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/06/02/mayor-bill-de-blasio-new-york-city-will-push-for-admissions-changes-at-elite-and-segregated-specialized-high-schools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">rolled out a plan</a> to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for New York City’s specialized public high schools, in an effort to increase diversity, especially for black and Latino youth, at the city’s eight elite test-based institutions. Joined for a press conference in Brooklyn’s JHS 292 school by a Hunter College student, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and a number of City Council members and State Assembly members, he hosted a rally-like announcement, where he initiated a call-and-response: “Time for change?” de Blasio asked three times. “Yes!” the audience yelled back.</p> <p>“For thousands and thousands of students and neighborhoods all over New York City, the message has been these specialized schools aren’t for you,” de Blasio said in June. “So, the solution is simple: the test has to go.”</p> <p>But it’s not simple. He received swift backlash from the city’s Asian-American community––especially those of low income, who comprise a significant portion of the specialized public high school student body. Though his plan was celebrated by some local politicians, as months passed, some began to shy away from their support for de Blasio’s plan and insisted on a more broadly palatable path.</p> <p>De Blasio had not gotten much of the necessary buy-in to move his plan in the state Legislature -- state law dictates that the SHSAT is the sole criteria for entry into the three largest specialized high schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech -- the mayor did little else to push his plan, and the discussion fizzled.</p> <p>Then came <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/nyregion/black-students-nyc-high-schools.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Feliza-shapiro&amp;action=click&amp;contentCollection=undefined&amp;region=stream&amp;module=stream_unit&amp;version=latest&amp;contentPlacement=5&amp;pgtype=collection">the news earlier this month</a> that of the 895 students offered admission to Stuyvesant High School, the city’s most rigorous and exclusive public school, only seven of those students were black. The controversy reenergized the debate around school admissions, the SHSAT, the city’s larger school system, and other key issues, embroiling not only city politicians, but also those who work in Albany.</p> <p>The latest data for admissions to Stuyvesant and the other specialized schools set off a new round of questioning the use of the SHSAT (few if any other learning institutions at any level across the country use a single test to determine admissions) and reinvigorated interest in plans put forth by de Blasio and others to ensure more racial and ethnic diversity at the schools. While those who prefer the current system dug in.</p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed the lack of diversity at the schools is a problem and said the city should change admissions at the five schools it controls and then put pressure on state legislators to follow suit for the other three. He did not offer any specifics on what he believes to be the right admissions criteria.</p> <p>Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has taken a concrete position on the SHSAT and specialized high school admissions. Heastie did say on March 8 that he wants to see “more specialized slots” and the schools "more reflective of the city's population," but he did not go further. He said the Assembly majority would take the issue up at some point.</p> <p>A group of state senators called for “open dialogue and consensus-building on school diversity and admissions.” Queens Senator John Liu, who chairs the Senate’s New York City schools subcommittee, said de Blasio’s plan exacerbates racial tension, but brought together colleagues to announce a plan to hold hearings later this year.</p> <p>“What we need is open-mindedness and open dialogue in order to build a consensus for a plan going forward,” Liu said. Other senators echoed Liu, decrying the city’s diversity statistics and calling for a series of community forums, but neglecting to offer any other concrete solutions.</p> <p>De Blasio said he looked forward to future dialogue. A couple of weeks later, on Thursday,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2019/03/28/de-blasio-shsat-segregation-proposal-asian-american-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he acknowledged</a> that he did not roll out his plan well, and pledged more engagement with the city’s Asian communities.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote an <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2019/03/28/corey-johnson-nyc-specialized-high-schools/">op-ed in Chalkbeat NY on Thursday</a> in which he called for the eventual elimination of the use of the SHSAT for admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and for “additional City-designated elite high schools, separate from the eight test-based high schools governed by state law.” Johnson wrote that this process “would allow the [Department of Education] to pilot new admissions criteria that will promote diversity without needing state approval.”</p> <p>Johnson also wrote that City Council will soon consider new legislation addressing diversity in specialized high schools and beyond, including a task force to determine new admissions criteria, codification of the School Diversity Advisory Group, establishing District Diversity Working Groups in each school district, and the creation of an oversight role housed in the city Human Rights Commission called a School Diversity Monitor.</p> <p>"The problem with the specialized high schools’ admissions process runs much deeper than one test," said Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, in a statement, noting that he will hold a hearing on school segregation next month. Treyger also cited an op-ed published <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-keep-the-test-change-the-system-20190327-i5hraxljj5bazhlfgqg77dgdtq-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in the New York Daily News</a> on Wednesday by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who argued against eliminating the test and pushed for expanding gifted-and-talented programs citywide.</p> <p>"I won’t support a plan that solely abolishes an exam, which was essentially the Mayor’s plan," Treyger said. "I’m open to a plan that includes revamping and expanding enrichment programs, adding more crucial seats, across all districts, particularly in communities of color. We must engage with all marginalized communities as we examine how to better integrate schools, from pre-k to high school. We need full integration, which means examining evidence-based multiple measures to enter specialized schools, and the pipeline of schools that populate them and the rest of our school system."</p> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams initially backed de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the use of the SHSAT and move to multiple measures for admissions to the specialized schools, even appearing at the announcement to lend his support,&nbsp;but <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/06/18/brooklyn-president-turns-on-school-testing-plan-after-donor-backlash/">he then backtracked</a>.</p> <p>Adams <a href="http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2018/jul/02/bp-eric-adams-states-his-shsat-position/">penned an op-ed in the Amsterdam News</a> last July voicing his support for the SHSAT––with caveats. He called for “free preparatory services for every student who wants to take the SHSAT but faces economic hardship,” funded by the city, in addition to expanding middle school gifted and talented programs. Additionally, he advocated creating five new specialized high schools, one per borough, and incorporating other academic metrics like class performance into the admissions process. This week, Adams’ office told the Gotham Gazette that his position remains the same.</p> <p>After de Blasio announced his plan, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. also voiced his support, calling it a “welcome step forward” and a “validation of the diligent work of so many elected officials, educators, activists and parents whose efforts have focused on this issue for years, if not decades.” Like Adams, he has since walked back his support, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr">telling the Max &amp; Murphy podcast this week</a> that he favors a more holistic admissions approach that includes the SHSAT in addition to a number of other academic criteria.</p> <p>Asked for her position by Gotham Gazette, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer advocated for methods of improving diversity beyond eliminating the entrance exam and also called for community forums. The city should engage in “a back and forth with students and parents about the many options to reform the admissions at these specific high schools,” she said.</p> <p>City Comptroller Scott Stringer has not responded to a request for comment.</p> <p> </p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with comment from Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Committee on Education.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/40733260400_a45196408a_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio SHSAT" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio announces specialized high schools plan (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In June of 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/06/02/mayor-bill-de-blasio-new-york-city-will-push-for-admissions-changes-at-elite-and-segregated-specialized-high-schools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">rolled out a plan</a> to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for New York City’s specialized public high schools, in an effort to increase diversity, especially for black and Latino youth, at the city’s eight elite test-based institutions. Joined for a press conference in Brooklyn’s JHS 292 school by a Hunter College student, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and a number of City Council members and State Assembly members, he hosted a rally-like announcement, where he initiated a call-and-response: “Time for change?” de Blasio asked three times. “Yes!” the audience yelled back.</p> <p>“For thousands and thousands of students and neighborhoods all over New York City, the message has been these specialized schools aren’t for you,” de Blasio said in June. “So, the solution is simple: the test has to go.”</p> <p>But it’s not simple. He received swift backlash from the city’s Asian-American community––especially those of low income, who comprise a significant portion of the specialized public high school student body. Though his plan was celebrated by some local politicians, as months passed, some began to shy away from their support for de Blasio’s plan and insisted on a more broadly palatable path.</p> <p>De Blasio had not gotten much of the necessary buy-in to move his plan in the state Legislature -- state law dictates that the SHSAT is the sole criteria for entry into the three largest specialized high schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech -- the mayor did little else to push his plan, and the discussion fizzled.</p> <p>Then came <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/nyregion/black-students-nyc-high-schools.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Feliza-shapiro&amp;action=click&amp;contentCollection=undefined&amp;region=stream&amp;module=stream_unit&amp;version=latest&amp;contentPlacement=5&amp;pgtype=collection">the news earlier this month</a> that of the 895 students offered admission to Stuyvesant High School, the city’s most rigorous and exclusive public school, only seven of those students were black. The controversy reenergized the debate around school admissions, the SHSAT, the city’s larger school system, and other key issues, embroiling not only city politicians, but also those who work in Albany.</p> <p>The latest data for admissions to Stuyvesant and the other specialized schools set off a new round of questioning the use of the SHSAT (few if any other learning institutions at any level across the country use a single test to determine admissions) and reinvigorated interest in plans put forth by de Blasio and others to ensure more racial and ethnic diversity at the schools. While those who prefer the current system dug in.</p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed the lack of diversity at the schools is a problem and said the city should change admissions at the five schools it controls and then put pressure on state legislators to follow suit for the other three. He did not offer any specifics on what he believes to be the right admissions criteria.</p> <p>Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has taken a concrete position on the SHSAT and specialized high school admissions. Heastie did say on March 8 that he wants to see “more specialized slots” and the schools "more reflective of the city's population," but he did not go further. He said the Assembly majority would take the issue up at some point.</p> <p>A group of state senators called for “open dialogue and consensus-building on school diversity and admissions.” Queens Senator John Liu, who chairs the Senate’s New York City schools subcommittee, said de Blasio’s plan exacerbates racial tension, but brought together colleagues to announce a plan to hold hearings later this year.</p> <p>“What we need is open-mindedness and open dialogue in order to build a consensus for a plan going forward,” Liu said. Other senators echoed Liu, decrying the city’s diversity statistics and calling for a series of community forums, but neglecting to offer any other concrete solutions.</p> <p>De Blasio said he looked forward to future dialogue. A couple of weeks later, on Thursday,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2019/03/28/de-blasio-shsat-segregation-proposal-asian-american-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he acknowledged</a> that he did not roll out his plan well, and pledged more engagement with the city’s Asian communities.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote an <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2019/03/28/corey-johnson-nyc-specialized-high-schools/">op-ed in Chalkbeat NY on Thursday</a> in which he called for the eventual elimination of the use of the SHSAT for admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and for “additional City-designated elite high schools, separate from the eight test-based high schools governed by state law.” Johnson wrote that this process “would allow the [Department of Education] to pilot new admissions criteria that will promote diversity without needing state approval.”</p> <p>Johnson also wrote that City Council will soon consider new legislation addressing diversity in specialized high schools and beyond, including a task force to determine new admissions criteria, codification of the School Diversity Advisory Group, establishing District Diversity Working Groups in each school district, and the creation of an oversight role housed in the city Human Rights Commission called a School Diversity Monitor.</p> <p>"The problem with the specialized high schools’ admissions process runs much deeper than one test," said Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, in a statement, noting that he will hold a hearing on school segregation next month. Treyger also cited an op-ed published <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-keep-the-test-change-the-system-20190327-i5hraxljj5bazhlfgqg77dgdtq-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in the New York Daily News</a> on Wednesday by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who argued against eliminating the test and pushed for expanding gifted-and-talented programs citywide.</p> <p>"I won’t support a plan that solely abolishes an exam, which was essentially the Mayor’s plan," Treyger said. "I’m open to a plan that includes revamping and expanding enrichment programs, adding more crucial seats, across all districts, particularly in communities of color. We must engage with all marginalized communities as we examine how to better integrate schools, from pre-k to high school. We need full integration, which means examining evidence-based multiple measures to enter specialized schools, and the pipeline of schools that populate them and the rest of our school system."</p> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams initially backed de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the use of the SHSAT and move to multiple measures for admissions to the specialized schools, even appearing at the announcement to lend his support,&nbsp;but <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/06/18/brooklyn-president-turns-on-school-testing-plan-after-donor-backlash/">he then backtracked</a>.</p> <p>Adams <a href="http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2018/jul/02/bp-eric-adams-states-his-shsat-position/">penned an op-ed in the Amsterdam News</a> last July voicing his support for the SHSAT––with caveats. He called for “free preparatory services for every student who wants to take the SHSAT but faces economic hardship,” funded by the city, in addition to expanding middle school gifted and talented programs. Additionally, he advocated creating five new specialized high schools, one per borough, and incorporating other academic metrics like class performance into the admissions process. This week, Adams’ office told the Gotham Gazette that his position remains the same.</p> <p>After de Blasio announced his plan, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. also voiced his support, calling it a “welcome step forward” and a “validation of the diligent work of so many elected officials, educators, activists and parents whose efforts have focused on this issue for years, if not decades.” Like Adams, he has since walked back his support, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr">telling the Max &amp; Murphy podcast this week</a> that he favors a more holistic admissions approach that includes the SHSAT in addition to a number of other academic criteria.</p> <p>Asked for her position by Gotham Gazette, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer advocated for methods of improving diversity beyond eliminating the entrance exam and also called for community forums. The city should engage in “a back and forth with students and parents about the many options to reform the admissions at these specific high schools,” she said.</p> <p>City Comptroller Scott Stringer has not responded to a request for comment.</p> <p> </p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with comment from Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Committee on Education.</p> Max & Murphy Podcast: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8396-max-murphy-podcast-bronx-borough-president-ruben-diaz-jr Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/1rubendiazjr.jpg" alt="1rubendiazjr" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>March 27, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/ruben-diaz-jr-150.jpg" alt="ruben diaz jr 150" width="150" height="154" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. joined the show to discuss a variety of topics, including the fight over a jail site in the Bronx, reforming admissions to the city's specialized high schools, his initial 2021 mayoral pitch to voters, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/596983356&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/1rubendiazjr.jpg" alt="1rubendiazjr" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>March 27, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/ruben-diaz-jr-150.jpg" alt="ruben diaz jr 150" width="150" height="154" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. joined the show to discuss a variety of topics, including the fight over a jail site in the Bronx, reforming admissions to the city's specialized high schools, his initial 2021 mayoral pitch to voters, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/596983356&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Rep. Serrano’s Retirement and a Looming Rumble in the Bronx 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8394-rep-serrano-s-retirement-and-a-looming-rumble-in-the-bronx Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rubendiazjr-richie-torres-cm.jpg" alt="rubendiazjr richie torres cm" width="600" height="483" /></p> <p>Rep. Serrano, BP Diaz Jr., CM Torres (l-r) (photo: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>It’s time for a rumble in the Bronx. After 29 years in Congress and 44 years in elected office, Congressional Rep. José Serrano has decided to retire from office. Together with the likes of Herman Badillo, José Rivera, Robert Garcia, Gerena Valentin, and Ramon Velez in the Bronx, Serrano has been a pioneering figure within the Latino/Puerto Rican political landscape in New York City.</p> <p>Serrano fought at the frontlines for Latino political representation at a time when Puerto Ricans were left out of the political equation despite their burgeoning numbers. Serrano, and the rest, fought arduously for this long-sought-after recognition. Their hard work paid off. Serrano won an Assembly seat in 1975.</p> <p>While Serrano’s early work to gain Latino political representation is not debatable, the rest of his legacy is more dubious. Serrano has not been known for any sort of legislative prowess. The South Bronx, which he represents, has long been a poverty stricken area that has seen scant federal resources for decades, despite Serrano’s long tenure in Congress.</p> <p>As a result of this record, observers like long-time political operative Mike Nieves had surmised that a formidable and credible candidate could defeat Serrano. No one ever did.</p> <p>Serrano’s legacy notwithstanding, the eyes of our political world will now turn to the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx to see who will succeed him in Congress.</p> <p>The timing of Serrano’s retirement announcement coincides with City Council Member Ritchie Torres’ own recent announcement that he would challenge the incumbent representative for the seat. In <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6937-the-future-of-latino-politics-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a previous column</a>, I mentioned that Torres would be one to watch as we eye the future of Latino politics in the city. His intellectual abilities, grasp of public policy, and ability to articulate his view have deservedly caught people’s attention.</p> <p>Torres is clearly a formidable candidate for the “open” congressional seat. Most of his Council district, which he first won in 2013, lies within Serrano’s Congressional district. After six years in the Council, Torres has been able to gain some recognition among voters for his work on behalf of his constituents, particularly in areas affecting NYCHA residents.</p> <p>Various other names are being floated at this nascent stage. Among them are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito has just come off a dismal showing in her race for the citywide position of public advocate. Yet she still holds some name recognition, particularly among Latinos.</p> <p>Her home congressional district is currently represented by Adriano Espaillat but since there are no in-district residency requirements for a congressional seat, she could still make a play for the Serrano seat.</p> <p>Then there is Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is also the Bronx Democratic leader. Crespo’s Assembly district lies entirely within Serrano’s Congressional district and he would therefore potentially go into a race of this sort with a natural base of followers. Some will question his alliance with Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., who has been challenged for repeated homophobic statements and positions. But given Crespo’s potential to capitalize on some of the resources that would naturally come his way by virtue of his party position, he would quickly be considered a leading candidate for the position.</p> <p>Yet another recent public advocate candidate might also throw his hat in the ring. Since Michael Blake’s election to the Assembly, and then his appointment to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, rumors have swirled that he would one day challenge José Serrano.</p> <p>That day never came. But this opening can provide an opportunity for Blake. Despite losing the public advocate race, Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and did fairly well in the portion covering Serrano’s Congressional district.</p> <p>And if he’s the only African-American in the race, that could also create a path to victory for Blake. With multiple formidable Latino candidates, a strong African-American candidate could win the seat.</p> <p>Almost a third of the Democratic electorate in this Congressional district is African-American. Over 55 percent is Latino. If the race takes an ethnic path, that could lead to a split Latino vote and a more consolidated African American vote.</p> <p>Then there’s state Senator Gustavo Rivera. Rivera, first elected in 2010, represents a swath of Serrano’s district in the state Senate. He has earned admiration from many progressives for standing up to the Bronx political machinery and for policies that progressives have long championed.</p> <p>Lastly, if he were to step up, one elected official who could clear many if not all in the field would be Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Diaz, Jr. is known throughout the borough and remains popular among many voters. Furthermore, this district has always been his home district -- he represented parts of it in the Assembly for 13 years.</p> <p>Diaz Jr.’s capable communications guru, John DeSio, has tweeted that the borough president is not interested in the position. The borough president appears focused on launching a mayoral bid. But politics is practical and a congressional run could be an easier path to victory than a citywide mayoral race.</p> <p>All this is conjecture, of course. What’s certain is that we can expect a free-for-all for the position ahead of the 2020 vote, and thus another rumble in the Bronx.</p> <p>***<br /> Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/rubendiazjr-richie-torres-cm.jpg" alt="rubendiazjr richie torres cm" width="600" height="483" /></p> <p>Rep. Serrano, BP Diaz Jr., CM Torres (l-r) (photo: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>It’s time for a rumble in the Bronx. After 29 years in Congress and 44 years in elected office, Congressional Rep. José Serrano has decided to retire from office. Together with the likes of Herman Badillo, José Rivera, Robert Garcia, Gerena Valentin, and Ramon Velez in the Bronx, Serrano has been a pioneering figure within the Latino/Puerto Rican political landscape in New York City.</p> <p>Serrano fought at the frontlines for Latino political representation at a time when Puerto Ricans were left out of the political equation despite their burgeoning numbers. Serrano, and the rest, fought arduously for this long-sought-after recognition. Their hard work paid off. Serrano won an Assembly seat in 1975.</p> <p>While Serrano’s early work to gain Latino political representation is not debatable, the rest of his legacy is more dubious. Serrano has not been known for any sort of legislative prowess. The South Bronx, which he represents, has long been a poverty stricken area that has seen scant federal resources for decades, despite Serrano’s long tenure in Congress.</p> <p>As a result of this record, observers like long-time political operative Mike Nieves had surmised that a formidable and credible candidate could defeat Serrano. No one ever did.</p> <p>Serrano’s legacy notwithstanding, the eyes of our political world will now turn to the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx to see who will succeed him in Congress.</p> <p>The timing of Serrano’s retirement announcement coincides with City Council Member Ritchie Torres’ own recent announcement that he would challenge the incumbent representative for the seat. In <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6937-the-future-of-latino-politics-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a previous column</a>, I mentioned that Torres would be one to watch as we eye the future of Latino politics in the city. His intellectual abilities, grasp of public policy, and ability to articulate his view have deservedly caught people’s attention.</p> <p>Torres is clearly a formidable candidate for the “open” congressional seat. Most of his Council district, which he first won in 2013, lies within Serrano’s Congressional district. After six years in the Council, Torres has been able to gain some recognition among voters for his work on behalf of his constituents, particularly in areas affecting NYCHA residents.</p> <p>Various other names are being floated at this nascent stage. Among them are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito has just come off a dismal showing in her race for the citywide position of public advocate. Yet she still holds some name recognition, particularly among Latinos.</p> <p>Her home congressional district is currently represented by Adriano Espaillat but since there are no in-district residency requirements for a congressional seat, she could still make a play for the Serrano seat.</p> <p>Then there is Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is also the Bronx Democratic leader. Crespo’s Assembly district lies entirely within Serrano’s Congressional district and he would therefore potentially go into a race of this sort with a natural base of followers. Some will question his alliance with Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., who has been challenged for repeated homophobic statements and positions. But given Crespo’s potential to capitalize on some of the resources that would naturally come his way by virtue of his party position, he would quickly be considered a leading candidate for the position.</p> <p>Yet another recent public advocate candidate might also throw his hat in the ring. Since Michael Blake’s election to the Assembly, and then his appointment to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, rumors have swirled that he would one day challenge José Serrano.</p> <p>That day never came. But this opening can provide an opportunity for Blake. Despite losing the public advocate race, Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and did fairly well in the portion covering Serrano’s Congressional district.</p> <p>And if he’s the only African-American in the race, that could also create a path to victory for Blake. With multiple formidable Latino candidates, a strong African-American candidate could win the seat.</p> <p>Almost a third of the Democratic electorate in this Congressional district is African-American. Over 55 percent is Latino. If the race takes an ethnic path, that could lead to a split Latino vote and a more consolidated African American vote.</p> <p>Then there’s state Senator Gustavo Rivera. Rivera, first elected in 2010, represents a swath of Serrano’s district in the state Senate. He has earned admiration from many progressives for standing up to the Bronx political machinery and for policies that progressives have long championed.</p> <p>Lastly, if he were to step up, one elected official who could clear many if not all in the field would be Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Diaz, Jr. is known throughout the borough and remains popular among many voters. Furthermore, this district has always been his home district -- he represented parts of it in the Assembly for 13 years.</p> <p>Diaz Jr.’s capable communications guru, John DeSio, has tweeted that the borough president is not interested in the position. The borough president appears focused on launching a mayoral bid. But politics is practical and a congressional run could be an easier path to victory than a citywide mayoral race.</p> <p>All this is conjecture, of course. What’s certain is that we can expect a free-for-all for the position ahead of the 2020 vote, and thus another rumble in the Bronx.</p> <p>***<br /> Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Acknowledging Mayoral Run, Diaz Jr. Gives Tenth State of the Borough Address 2019-02-21T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8305-acknowledging-mayoral-run-diaz-jr-gives-tenth-state-of-the-borough-address Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/ruben_diaz_jr_sotb.jpg" alt="ruben diaz jr sotb" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Bronx BP's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. delivered his tenth State of the Borough address on Thursday afternoon, where he informally advanced his inevitable campaign for mayor and outlined his vision of a more progressive New York City, using his work in the Bronx as a blueprint.</p> <p>As is customary in “state of” speeches, Diaz Jr. outlined what he believes are the top accomplishments of his tenure, highlighting the steadily low crime rate of fewer than 100 murders per year for six consecutive years, environmental projects including the revitalization of Orchard Beach and the reopening of Roberto Clemente Park, and a combined $85 million in capital funds to public housing and 443 school projects. The latter investment, Diaz Jr. said, comprised “nearly a quarter of my total capital allocation.”</p> <p>Creating a better future for the Bronx’s children emerged as the key theme of Diaz’s speech at the Samuel Gompers campus of H.E.R.O. High School in the South Bronx, as he touched on ideas for addressing climate change, promoting local small businesses, creating affordable housing, and funding anti-violence programs.</p> <p>The Democratic borough president called for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses, a full 2020 Census count, and a series of public housing reforms under the social media campaign #CleanUpNYCHA, most prominently including new <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s3437">state legislation</a> he supports that proposes a rent reduction for NYCHA tenants when they fail to receive “basic services.”</p> <p>“If social media shaming is the only way we’re gonna get results, then dammit, we’re gonna shame them,” he said of NYCHA, and the city government that runs it.</p> <p>At it has been in years past, swiping at Mayor Bill de Blasio was another recurring theme of the address, as Diaz Jr. admonished the mayor’s plan to build a jail in Mott Haven, inaction on NYCHA, and “sweeten[ing] the pot for Amazon.”</p> <p>On the other hand, he commended Staten Island Borough President James Oddo for his work fighting opioid addiction. Diaz Jr. called for a multiagency effort that “matches compassion with enforcement.”</p> <p>The borough president spoke to a need to reform all levels of education. He called for an increase in the number of school buses to “protect children from the dangers of the streets,” vocational programs in high schools, and better career opportunities for CUNY graduates, such as in local tech and finance.</p> <p>A cornerstone of the speech was his introduction of Camp Junior, created in honor of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, a 15-year-old Bronxite who was infamously beaten to death by gang members last summer in a case of mistaken identity. The camp, which will be located in Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange Counties, is open to kids age 9-13 who live in certain Bronx zip codes, including the neighborhoods of Mott Haven, Port Morris, Highbridge, Morris Heights, Morrisania, Tremont, Fordham, Longwood, Van Nest and parts of Parkchester. It introduces campers to an anti-violence curriculum with educational and outdoor recreational activities. After visiting the camp, Diaz Jr. said, “I saw in my mind just how amazing this camp could be, how we could create an oasis for this borough’s youth,” he said. The initiative drew a standing ovation from the attendees.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. noted that Bronxites under 18 comprise 25 percent of the borough’s population.</p> <p>On fighting climate change, Diaz Jr. said, “The environment has always been my top priority,” and pointed to his 2008 initiative to provide tax credits to buildings with green roofs. He pledged to only fund future projects with a “green component,” but did not specify what exactly he considers green.</p> <p>The Trump Administration ran as an undercurrent throughout the speech, as Diaz Jr. sought to offer New York City as its aggravator and antithesis.</p> <p>Deputy Bronx Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden, who was introduced by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, the minority leader, gave a brief speech introducing Diaz Jr. She also played a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6WrK-L-nP8">video promo</a> for a new television show, Desus and Mero, a late night program hosted by the two eponymous Bronx comedians, where they visit Diaz Jr.’s office and ask if he has intentions of running for the White House. “No,” Diaz Jr. said. “But I would like to go to another house, perhaps in the east side of New York City, called Gracie Mansion.”</p> <p>As it has been for years, the prospect of a Diaz Jr. run for the mayoralty in 2021 -- a race that is in some ways now already underway -- hung over the State of the Borough address. Each year the talk becomes more overt, it seems.</p> <p>While he said he agreed with closing the Rikers Island jail complex, Diaz Jr. denounced de Blasio’s efforts to build a new jail in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx and questioned the city’s priorities, calling the de Blasio administration “entirely misguided,” pointing to schools in the Bronx that struggle to secure funding for items as simple as chairs.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also advocated for expunging the records of those with marijuana charges if the state government passes adult use legalization, as is expected this year.</p> <p>The housing crisis in both the Bronx and citywide comprised a significant portion of Diaz Jr.’s speech. At 20 percent, the Bronx has the lowest rate of home ownership in the city, he said. He decried the city’s Third Party Transfer Program that allows city-selected sponsors to purchase and “improve and preserve,” as the Housing Preservation and Development Department explains, affordable housing. Critics of the program, including Diaz Jr., argue that many of the homes are seized from families of color and turned over to developers.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also said there must be real urgency to address the city’s transit crisis. He called for new funding streams for the state-run MTA, like earmarking revenue created from congestion pricing, a contentious issue that has yet to be signed into state law but is supported by Diaz Jr. and Governor Cuomo, among others. The borough president chided the poor relationship between Cuomo and de Blasio as a significant factor behind the MTA’s state of disarray. Diaz Jr. has long been Cuomo’s ally, though he did call for the state to return control of the subways and buses back to the city, something Cuomo has not publicly expressed support for.</p> <p>Near the end of his remarks, Diaz Jr. spoke to the importance of filling out the 2020 Census to maintain the Bronx’s representation in Washington, D.C. In an attempt to ease concerns over a potential citizenship question that the Trump administration has advocated but is the source of a legal challenge, Diaz Jr. promised, “I will not answer any question about my citizenship status and I encourage all of my fellow citizens to do the same.”</p> <p>The Census determines congressional representation and federal funding on a number of fronts. With its high poverty rates, a great deal of federal dollars wind up in the Bronx.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. closed his address by condemning bigotry and pleading to the spirit of equality in an increasing unaffordable New York City. He displayed a photograph of himself at a gay pride event and said, “New York must never ever lose its authenticity and flavor.” (This appeared to also provide a public response from Diaz Jr. to his father’s homophobic comments that have <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8283-city-council-strips-diaz-sr-of-committee-after-latest-homophobic-remarks">shaken the City Council</a> and beyond in recent weeks, though he has also previously denounced the statement.)</p> <p>“The challenge of our time,” Diaz said, “is to provide a chance in an equitable city while keeping New York’s soul.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/ruben_diaz_jr_sotb.jpg" alt="ruben diaz jr sotb" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Bronx BP's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. delivered his tenth State of the Borough address on Thursday afternoon, where he informally advanced his inevitable campaign for mayor and outlined his vision of a more progressive New York City, using his work in the Bronx as a blueprint.</p> <p>As is customary in “state of” speeches, Diaz Jr. outlined what he believes are the top accomplishments of his tenure, highlighting the steadily low crime rate of fewer than 100 murders per year for six consecutive years, environmental projects including the revitalization of Orchard Beach and the reopening of Roberto Clemente Park, and a combined $85 million in capital funds to public housing and 443 school projects. The latter investment, Diaz Jr. said, comprised “nearly a quarter of my total capital allocation.”</p> <p>Creating a better future for the Bronx’s children emerged as the key theme of Diaz’s speech at the Samuel Gompers campus of H.E.R.O. High School in the South Bronx, as he touched on ideas for addressing climate change, promoting local small businesses, creating affordable housing, and funding anti-violence programs.</p> <p>The Democratic borough president called for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses, a full 2020 Census count, and a series of public housing reforms under the social media campaign #CleanUpNYCHA, most prominently including new <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s3437">state legislation</a> he supports that proposes a rent reduction for NYCHA tenants when they fail to receive “basic services.”</p> <p>“If social media shaming is the only way we’re gonna get results, then dammit, we’re gonna shame them,” he said of NYCHA, and the city government that runs it.</p> <p>At it has been in years past, swiping at Mayor Bill de Blasio was another recurring theme of the address, as Diaz Jr. admonished the mayor’s plan to build a jail in Mott Haven, inaction on NYCHA, and “sweeten[ing] the pot for Amazon.”</p> <p>On the other hand, he commended Staten Island Borough President James Oddo for his work fighting opioid addiction. Diaz Jr. called for a multiagency effort that “matches compassion with enforcement.”</p> <p>The borough president spoke to a need to reform all levels of education. He called for an increase in the number of school buses to “protect children from the dangers of the streets,” vocational programs in high schools, and better career opportunities for CUNY graduates, such as in local tech and finance.</p> <p>A cornerstone of the speech was his introduction of Camp Junior, created in honor of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, a 15-year-old Bronxite who was infamously beaten to death by gang members last summer in a case of mistaken identity. The camp, which will be located in Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange Counties, is open to kids age 9-13 who live in certain Bronx zip codes, including the neighborhoods of Mott Haven, Port Morris, Highbridge, Morris Heights, Morrisania, Tremont, Fordham, Longwood, Van Nest and parts of Parkchester. It introduces campers to an anti-violence curriculum with educational and outdoor recreational activities. After visiting the camp, Diaz Jr. said, “I saw in my mind just how amazing this camp could be, how we could create an oasis for this borough’s youth,” he said. The initiative drew a standing ovation from the attendees.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. noted that Bronxites under 18 comprise 25 percent of the borough’s population.</p> <p>On fighting climate change, Diaz Jr. said, “The environment has always been my top priority,” and pointed to his 2008 initiative to provide tax credits to buildings with green roofs. He pledged to only fund future projects with a “green component,” but did not specify what exactly he considers green.</p> <p>The Trump Administration ran as an undercurrent throughout the speech, as Diaz Jr. sought to offer New York City as its aggravator and antithesis.</p> <p>Deputy Bronx Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden, who was introduced by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, the minority leader, gave a brief speech introducing Diaz Jr. She also played a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6WrK-L-nP8">video promo</a> for a new television show, Desus and Mero, a late night program hosted by the two eponymous Bronx comedians, where they visit Diaz Jr.’s office and ask if he has intentions of running for the White House. “No,” Diaz Jr. said. “But I would like to go to another house, perhaps in the east side of New York City, called Gracie Mansion.”</p> <p>As it has been for years, the prospect of a Diaz Jr. run for the mayoralty in 2021 -- a race that is in some ways now already underway -- hung over the State of the Borough address. Each year the talk becomes more overt, it seems.</p> <p>While he said he agreed with closing the Rikers Island jail complex, Diaz Jr. denounced de Blasio’s efforts to build a new jail in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx and questioned the city’s priorities, calling the de Blasio administration “entirely misguided,” pointing to schools in the Bronx that struggle to secure funding for items as simple as chairs.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also advocated for expunging the records of those with marijuana charges if the state government passes adult use legalization, as is expected this year.</p> <p>The housing crisis in both the Bronx and citywide comprised a significant portion of Diaz Jr.’s speech. At 20 percent, the Bronx has the lowest rate of home ownership in the city, he said. He decried the city’s Third Party Transfer Program that allows city-selected sponsors to purchase and “improve and preserve,” as the Housing Preservation and Development Department explains, affordable housing. Critics of the program, including Diaz Jr., argue that many of the homes are seized from families of color and turned over to developers.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also said there must be real urgency to address the city’s transit crisis. He called for new funding streams for the state-run MTA, like earmarking revenue created from congestion pricing, a contentious issue that has yet to be signed into state law but is supported by Diaz Jr. and Governor Cuomo, among others. The borough president chided the poor relationship between Cuomo and de Blasio as a significant factor behind the MTA’s state of disarray. Diaz Jr. has long been Cuomo’s ally, though he did call for the state to return control of the subways and buses back to the city, something Cuomo has not publicly expressed support for.</p> <p>Near the end of his remarks, Diaz Jr. spoke to the importance of filling out the 2020 Census to maintain the Bronx’s representation in Washington, D.C. In an attempt to ease concerns over a potential citizenship question that the Trump administration has advocated but is the source of a legal challenge, Diaz Jr. promised, “I will not answer any question about my citizenship status and I encourage all of my fellow citizens to do the same.”</p> <p>The Census determines congressional representation and federal funding on a number of fronts. With its high poverty rates, a great deal of federal dollars wind up in the Bronx.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. closed his address by condemning bigotry and pleading to the spirit of equality in an increasing unaffordable New York City. He displayed a photograph of himself at a gay pride event and said, “New York must never ever lose its authenticity and flavor.” (This appeared to also provide a public response from Diaz Jr. to his father’s homophobic comments that have <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8283-city-council-strips-diaz-sr-of-committee-after-latest-homophobic-remarks">shaken the City Council</a> and beyond in recent weeks, though he has also previously denounced the statement.)</p> <p>“The challenge of our time,” Diaz said, “is to provide a chance in an equitable city while keeping New York’s soul.”</p> <p> </p> City Council Strips Diaz Sr. of Committee After Latest Homophobic Remarks 2019-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8283-city-council-strips-diaz-sr-of-committee-after-latest-homophobic-remarks Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ruben-diaz-sr-comm-vehicles.jpg" alt="ruben diaz sr comm vehicles" width="600" height="418" /></p> <p>(Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In a rare move on Wednesday, the New York City Council voted to dissolve a standing committee after its chair, Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., made homophobic remarks in a recent radio interview and repeatedly refused to apologize for them in the days after.</p> <p>Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister with a long history of anti-LGBT positions and actions, said last week in the radio interview that the City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community," <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2019/02/09/city-council-speaker-corey-johnson-demands-apology-after-bronx-councilman-ruben-diaz-sr-comments" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as reported by NY1</a>. The comment drew a swift backlash from dozens of elected officials, including several openly gay members of the Council, and others demanding that he apologize. But Diaz Sr. doubled down, leading many Democrats, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to call for his resignation.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the Council voted 45-1 to dissolve the For-Hire Vehicles committee chaired by Diaz Sr. The committee was created at Diaz Sr.’s request last year to oversee the burgeoning ride-hailing service industry and has passed 16 bills in that time, including measures to increase wages paid to for-hire vehicle drivers. It’s jurisdiction will be transferred to the transportation committee under Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.</p> <p>At Wednesday’s vote, Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who also holds anti-LGBT views, was the sole dissenting voice, saying the Council should educate Diaz Sr. and “bring him closer than further and let him know that words are very strong.” Council Members Rodriguez, Andy King, and Fernando Cabrera (also a conservative member from the Bronx) abstained from the vote. Diaz Sr. himself was not present in the chamber.</p> <p>For Johnson, who is openly gay and openly HIV positive, the vote was an emotional moment as he grappled with his own personal experiences and the hurt he said Diaz Sr.’s comments had caused to Council members and staff. Johnson has spent days apologizing for having given Diaz Sr. the benefit of the doubt and elevating him to committee chair, considering the reverend’s long history of anti-LGBT positions and actions. “I will apologize again, deeply, for making a mistake and having a blind spot to begin with in trying to give everyone a fresh start...I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I'm sorry to all the people who came before me and allowed me to be here today, and I'm sorry to gay and lesbian New Yorkers who deserve so much better,” he said.</p> <p>Johnson’s comments do not necessarily tell the whole story, though, given that his ascent to the speakership included support from the Bronx Democratic Party, where Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the Council member's son, is especially powerful, and after he had courted Diaz Sr.’s backing.</p> <p>The resolution to dissolve Diaz Sr.’s committee moved swiftly through the Council. The Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges met on Wednesday morning at a hastily convened hearing and unanimously approved the measure before it was voted on by the full Council. Separately, the Committee on Standards and Ethics is also probing Diaz Sr.’s remarks and could recommend disciplinary action ranging from censure to removal from office.</p> <p>Council Members Ritchie Torres, Daniel Dromm, Carlos Menchaca, and Jimmy Van Bramer, all of whom are openly gay, took turns critiquing Diaz Sr. and commending Johnson for taking the necessary steps to hold him to account.</p> <p>“This behavior is not new,” said Dromm, speaking just after Council Member Deutsch. Dromm cited his own decades-long opposition to Diaz Sr.’s homophobia and said, “I don’t think any amount of education at this point is really going to help him.”</p> <p>Torres, with tears in his eyes, emphasized that Diaz Sr.’s comments were not reflective of the politics of the Bronx, which he also represents, and he said he was “naive to expect redemption” from Diaz Sr. based on his record. “Imagine if someone said the Council was controlled by a black cabal or a Jewish cabal. The Council would take action,” he added.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has announced that he is holding a rally with supporters on Thursday in the Bronx. The Council member is eligible to run for another term in the Council in 2021. One of his 2017 Democratic primary opponents, Amanda Farias, has already announced her intention to run for the seat.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who spoke about struggling with suicidal thoughts as a young gay man, condemned Diaz Sr.’s “hate speech.” “Demonizing people causes real and permanent pain,” he said. “When elected officials speak with such hate, young people internalize that hate. That in and of itself is a form of violence.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/ruben-diaz-sr-comm-vehicles.jpg" alt="ruben diaz sr comm vehicles" width="600" height="418" /></p> <p>(Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In a rare move on Wednesday, the New York City Council voted to dissolve a standing committee after its chair, Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., made homophobic remarks in a recent radio interview and repeatedly refused to apologize for them in the days after.</p> <p>Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister with a long history of anti-LGBT positions and actions, said last week in the radio interview that the City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community," <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2019/02/09/city-council-speaker-corey-johnson-demands-apology-after-bronx-councilman-ruben-diaz-sr-comments" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as reported by NY1</a>. The comment drew a swift backlash from dozens of elected officials, including several openly gay members of the Council, and others demanding that he apologize. But Diaz Sr. doubled down, leading many Democrats, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to call for his resignation.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the Council voted 45-1 to dissolve the For-Hire Vehicles committee chaired by Diaz Sr. The committee was created at Diaz Sr.’s request last year to oversee the burgeoning ride-hailing service industry and has passed 16 bills in that time, including measures to increase wages paid to for-hire vehicle drivers. It’s jurisdiction will be transferred to the transportation committee under Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.</p> <p>At Wednesday’s vote, Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who also holds anti-LGBT views, was the sole dissenting voice, saying the Council should educate Diaz Sr. and “bring him closer than further and let him know that words are very strong.” Council Members Rodriguez, Andy King, and Fernando Cabrera (also a conservative member from the Bronx) abstained from the vote. Diaz Sr. himself was not present in the chamber.</p> <p>For Johnson, who is openly gay and openly HIV positive, the vote was an emotional moment as he grappled with his own personal experiences and the hurt he said Diaz Sr.’s comments had caused to Council members and staff. Johnson has spent days apologizing for having given Diaz Sr. the benefit of the doubt and elevating him to committee chair, considering the reverend’s long history of anti-LGBT positions and actions. “I will apologize again, deeply, for making a mistake and having a blind spot to begin with in trying to give everyone a fresh start...I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I'm sorry to all the people who came before me and allowed me to be here today, and I'm sorry to gay and lesbian New Yorkers who deserve so much better,” he said.</p> <p>Johnson’s comments do not necessarily tell the whole story, though, given that his ascent to the speakership included support from the Bronx Democratic Party, where Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the Council member's son, is especially powerful, and after he had courted Diaz Sr.’s backing.</p> <p>The resolution to dissolve Diaz Sr.’s committee moved swiftly through the Council. The Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges met on Wednesday morning at a hastily convened hearing and unanimously approved the measure before it was voted on by the full Council. Separately, the Committee on Standards and Ethics is also probing Diaz Sr.’s remarks and could recommend disciplinary action ranging from censure to removal from office.</p> <p>Council Members Ritchie Torres, Daniel Dromm, Carlos Menchaca, and Jimmy Van Bramer, all of whom are openly gay, took turns critiquing Diaz Sr. and commending Johnson for taking the necessary steps to hold him to account.</p> <p>“This behavior is not new,” said Dromm, speaking just after Council Member Deutsch. Dromm cited his own decades-long opposition to Diaz Sr.’s homophobia and said, “I don’t think any amount of education at this point is really going to help him.”</p> <p>Torres, with tears in his eyes, emphasized that Diaz Sr.’s comments were not reflective of the politics of the Bronx, which he also represents, and he said he was “naive to expect redemption” from Diaz Sr. based on his record. “Imagine if someone said the Council was controlled by a black cabal or a Jewish cabal. The Council would take action,” he added.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has announced that he is holding a rally with supporters on Thursday in the Bronx. The Council member is eligible to run for another term in the Council in 2021. One of his 2017 Democratic primary opponents, Amanda Farias, has already announced her intention to run for the seat.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who spoke about struggling with suicidal thoughts as a young gay man, condemned Diaz Sr.’s “hate speech.” “Demonizing people causes real and permanent pain,” he said. “When elected officials speak with such hate, young people internalize that hate. That in and of itself is a form of violence.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals 2018-10-29T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8026-prominent-elected-officials-oppose-de-blasio-charter-revision-proposals Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27811376699_c0b0d6b3ca_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking to make a lasting impact on city governance through a charter revision commission that would transform the city’s campaign finance system, promote greater civic involvement in city affairs, and inject new blood into local community boards. But prominent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats like de Blasio, don’t agree with the proposals the mayor’s commission has put on the November 6 ballot and are urging New Yorkers to reject them.</p> <p>The mayor’s commission put <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/charter/downloads/pdf/2018_charter_revision_commission_ballot_proposals_1_pdf.PDF" target="_blank" rel="noopener">three questions</a> on the ballot for voter approval through a simple majority. The first would significantly reduce individual campaign contribution limits and expand the city’s public matching funds program; the second would create a civic engagement commission with appointments mostly by the mayor to coordinate citywide participatory budgeting and other initiatives such as interpreting services at polling sites; and the third would impose term limits on community board members and alter how those members are recruited and appointed to ensure greater diversity.</p> <p>Though the mayor appointed the commission and announced its areas of focus, he was not to have direct say over its final report or proposals, but he did announce support for all three and is now campaigning to see them approved by voters.</p> <p>“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” he said in a September statement, when the proposals were released. “There's no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.” <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/10/28/de-blasio-stumps-for-his-ballot-initiatives-667543" target="_blank" rel="noopener">On Sunday</a>, de Blasio spoke at two churches in Manhattan, urging congregants to flip their ballot and decide on the three questions. “[V]ote yes, yes, yes. So we can open up the doors of democracy wide and make this an even greater city,” he said at Bethel Gospel Assembly.</p> <p>Other elected officials, however, are not so certain, and are expressing somewhat mixed reviews, though many are opposed to community board term limits.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for instance, supports lowering contribution limits and creating a civic engagement commission, but not term limits for community board members. “I don’t think term limits are necessary,” Johnson, a former community boar chair, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These aren’t lifetime appointments. They must be reappointed by elected officials who are term limited. I think that provides enough checks and balances to our community boards, while allowing us to keep the good members with experience and wisdom. It is also our job as elected officials to always be looking to appoint new civic minded leaders who are interested in serving.”</p> <p>It’s an argument that’s also been advanced by four of the five borough presidents -- only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams supports the term limits question.</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in fact, led the creation of an independent expenditure committee to oppose both term limits and the civic engagement commission, an effort in which she was joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo (Oddo is the lone Republican in the group). “These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters earlier this month, arguing that it could lead to a drain in institutional wisdom and give real estate interests and lobbyists a leg up in discussions about community development. The proposal does include a provision whereby individuals term-limited off of community boards are eligible to serve again after a one-term, two-year “cooling off period.”</p> <p>“Our community boards are the eyes and ears of our neighborhoods and are often the first line of defense against unwanted projects as well as the initial point of contact between city agencies and our neighbors,” said Diaz Jr. “We should be working to strengthen their role, not strip them of the knowledge and historical focus that makes them so important in the first place.”</p> <p>Katz said the current appointment process allows “ample opportunity” to pick diverse candidates “for a dynamic mix of talent,” while Oddo worried that the “one-size-fits-all solution” could have unintended consequences.</p> <p>Adams, however, has argued, “While institutional knowledge is valuable, a reasonable term limit for Community Board members will allow the best of both worlds: institutional knowledge and new voices.”</p> <p>On expanding the campaign finance system, however, only Adams and Oddo have publicly opposed the question among the borough presidents, though for different reasons. “[Brooklyn BP Adams] opposes the campaign finance reform measure because it doesn’t go far enough as he believes in 100 percent public financing,” said an Adams spokesperson. Oddo, on the other hand, has been a staunch opponent of public financing and simply said, “Hell no!” about proposal one.</p> <p>Spokespeople for Katz and Diaz Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign finance reform proposal.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8000-brewer-creates-committee-to-oppose-charter-revision-proposals" target="_blank">Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals</a>]</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer also opposes the second and third questions while supporting the first on campaign finance reform. “The City must take a serious look at our Charter — it’s critical to tackling the important issues facing New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. Stringer has laid out his own exhaustive plan of charter proposals to the 2019 charter commission, a separate one from the mayor’s that was created through City Council legislation that is taking a far broader look at the city’s governing principles.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stringer added, “I support the first initiative because we need a campaign finance system that does everything it can to engage New Yorkers and help people run for office. I oppose proposals 2 and 3 which will weaken communities’ voices in shaping their own development.”</p> <p>At an October 31 news conference at City Hall, Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Johnson if he would urge the 2019 commission to reverse community board term limits if they should pass. Johnson said he would not. "I think it's important to lice by the will of the voters," he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not provide her stances despite multiple requests for comment, one of which was acknowledged.</p> <p>Among a few rank-and-file City Council Members, reception of the proposals seems to be mixed. Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, for example, supports all three proposals and has in particular been advocating for the creation of the civic engagement commission -- Lander had proposed the idea through legislation and presented it to the commission.</p> <p>“I truly believe these ballot proposals give us an opportunity to do something important to strengthen our local democracy: To improve our campaign finance rules. To turbo-charge civic engagement. To expand participatory budgeting city-wide,” he said in an email blast to supporters, calling on New Yorkers to pledge their support.</p> <p>Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”</p> <p>City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, is also <a href="https://twitter.com/JimmyVanBramer/status/1057284940314918913" target="_blank" rel="noopener">urging a "yes" vote</a> on all three proposals. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has expressed support for the campaign finance proposal, but a spokesperson did not respond to a request for his positions on the other two.</p> <p>On the other end, there’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, again a Manhattan Democrat, who opposes all three measures. “The spirit of the first two proposals is positive and some of the substance is even promising, but each raises significant concerns to the point where I cannot support them,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Also noting a criticism that was raised when the mayor first announced his commission, she added, “Of course, all three proposals could be implemented through the current legislative process.”</p> <p>Even government reform groups appear somewhat split on the ballot proposals. Reinvent Albany is advocating for all three. “Reinvent Albany believes a YES vote on these ballot measures will collectively amplify the voice of everyday New Yorkers and create new opportunities for injecting fresh perspectives into the public debate over how to make our city better for everyone,” the group said in an email blast on Monday.</p> <p>Citizens Union, another good government advocacy organization <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-citizens-union-charter-revision-questions-20181024-story.html">opposes</a> the proposal for a civic engagement commission, supports community board term limits, and has not taken a position on the campaign finance question.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Jumaane Williams. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27811376699_c0b0d6b3ca_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking to make a lasting impact on city governance through a charter revision commission that would transform the city’s campaign finance system, promote greater civic involvement in city affairs, and inject new blood into local community boards. But prominent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats like de Blasio, don’t agree with the proposals the mayor’s commission has put on the November 6 ballot and are urging New Yorkers to reject them.</p> <p>The mayor’s commission put <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/charter/downloads/pdf/2018_charter_revision_commission_ballot_proposals_1_pdf.PDF" target="_blank" rel="noopener">three questions</a> on the ballot for voter approval through a simple majority. The first would significantly reduce individual campaign contribution limits and expand the city’s public matching funds program; the second would create a civic engagement commission with appointments mostly by the mayor to coordinate citywide participatory budgeting and other initiatives such as interpreting services at polling sites; and the third would impose term limits on community board members and alter how those members are recruited and appointed to ensure greater diversity.</p> <p>Though the mayor appointed the commission and announced its areas of focus, he was not to have direct say over its final report or proposals, but he did announce support for all three and is now campaigning to see them approved by voters.</p> <p>“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” he said in a September statement, when the proposals were released. “There's no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.” <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/10/28/de-blasio-stumps-for-his-ballot-initiatives-667543" target="_blank" rel="noopener">On Sunday</a>, de Blasio spoke at two churches in Manhattan, urging congregants to flip their ballot and decide on the three questions. “[V]ote yes, yes, yes. So we can open up the doors of democracy wide and make this an even greater city,” he said at Bethel Gospel Assembly.</p> <p>Other elected officials, however, are not so certain, and are expressing somewhat mixed reviews, though many are opposed to community board term limits.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for instance, supports lowering contribution limits and creating a civic engagement commission, but not term limits for community board members. “I don’t think term limits are necessary,” Johnson, a former community boar chair, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These aren’t lifetime appointments. They must be reappointed by elected officials who are term limited. I think that provides enough checks and balances to our community boards, while allowing us to keep the good members with experience and wisdom. It is also our job as elected officials to always be looking to appoint new civic minded leaders who are interested in serving.”</p> <p>It’s an argument that’s also been advanced by four of the five borough presidents -- only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams supports the term limits question.</p> <p>Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in fact, led the creation of an independent expenditure committee to oppose both term limits and the civic engagement commission, an effort in which she was joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo (Oddo is the lone Republican in the group). “These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters earlier this month, arguing that it could lead to a drain in institutional wisdom and give real estate interests and lobbyists a leg up in discussions about community development. The proposal does include a provision whereby individuals term-limited off of community boards are eligible to serve again after a one-term, two-year “cooling off period.”</p> <p>“Our community boards are the eyes and ears of our neighborhoods and are often the first line of defense against unwanted projects as well as the initial point of contact between city agencies and our neighbors,” said Diaz Jr. “We should be working to strengthen their role, not strip them of the knowledge and historical focus that makes them so important in the first place.”</p> <p>Katz said the current appointment process allows “ample opportunity” to pick diverse candidates “for a dynamic mix of talent,” while Oddo worried that the “one-size-fits-all solution” could have unintended consequences.</p> <p>Adams, however, has argued, “While institutional knowledge is valuable, a reasonable term limit for Community Board members will allow the best of both worlds: institutional knowledge and new voices.”</p> <p>On expanding the campaign finance system, however, only Adams and Oddo have publicly opposed the question among the borough presidents, though for different reasons. “[Brooklyn BP Adams] opposes the campaign finance reform measure because it doesn’t go far enough as he believes in 100 percent public financing,” said an Adams spokesperson. Oddo, on the other hand, has been a staunch opponent of public financing and simply said, “Hell no!” about proposal one.</p> <p>Spokespeople for Katz and Diaz Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign finance reform proposal.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8000-brewer-creates-committee-to-oppose-charter-revision-proposals" target="_blank">Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals</a>]</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer also opposes the second and third questions while supporting the first on campaign finance reform. “The City must take a serious look at our Charter — it’s critical to tackling the important issues facing New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. Stringer has laid out his own exhaustive plan of charter proposals to the 2019 charter commission, a separate one from the mayor’s that was created through City Council legislation that is taking a far broader look at the city’s governing principles.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stringer added, “I support the first initiative because we need a campaign finance system that does everything it can to engage New Yorkers and help people run for office. I oppose proposals 2 and 3 which will weaken communities’ voices in shaping their own development.”</p> <p>At an October 31 news conference at City Hall, Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Johnson if he would urge the 2019 commission to reverse community board term limits if they should pass. Johnson said he would not. "I think it's important to lice by the will of the voters," he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not provide her stances despite multiple requests for comment, one of which was acknowledged.</p> <p>Among a few rank-and-file City Council Members, reception of the proposals seems to be mixed. Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, for example, supports all three proposals and has in particular been advocating for the creation of the civic engagement commission -- Lander had proposed the idea through legislation and presented it to the commission.</p> <p>“I truly believe these ballot proposals give us an opportunity to do something important to strengthen our local democracy: To improve our campaign finance rules. To turbo-charge civic engagement. To expand participatory budgeting city-wide,” he said in an email blast to supporters, calling on New Yorkers to pledge their support.</p> <p>Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”</p> <p>City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, is also <a href="https://twitter.com/JimmyVanBramer/status/1057284940314918913" target="_blank" rel="noopener">urging a "yes" vote</a> on all three proposals. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has expressed support for the campaign finance proposal, but a spokesperson did not respond to a request for his positions on the other two.</p> <p>On the other end, there’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, again a Manhattan Democrat, who opposes all three measures. “The spirit of the first two proposals is positive and some of the substance is even promising, but each raises significant concerns to the point where I cannot support them,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Also noting a criticism that was raised when the mayor first announced his commission, she added, “Of course, all three proposals could be implemented through the current legislative process.”</p> <p>Even government reform groups appear somewhat split on the ballot proposals. Reinvent Albany is advocating for all three. “Reinvent Albany believes a YES vote on these ballot measures will collectively amplify the voice of everyday New Yorkers and create new opportunities for injecting fresh perspectives into the public debate over how to make our city better for everyone,” the group said in an email blast on Monday.</p> <p>Citizens Union, another good government advocacy organization <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-citizens-union-charter-revision-questions-20181024-story.html">opposes</a> the proposal for a civic engagement commission, supports community board term limits, and has not taken a position on the campaign finance question.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Jumaane Williams. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
Bronx Electeds, Residents Cry Foul as Mayor and Council Announce Jail Site 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7486-bronx-electeds-residents-cry-foul-as-mayor-and-council-announce-jail-site Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_1.jpg" alt="Bronx jail site NYPD tow pound" width="600" height="310" /></p> <p>Planned Bronx jail site (photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that they’d reached a deal to speed up the closure of Rikers Island by creating or expanding jail facilities in every borough except Staten Island, it seemed to be a clear sign of a productive partnership between the administration and local elected officials.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker made the announcement at a news conference at City Hall, alongside four Council members -- Diana Ayala, Karen Koslowitz, Stephen Levin, and Margaret Chin -- willing to accept the political risk of a new or expanded jail in their districts. The city will launch a unified land use review application for all four jails, the mayor and speaker said, combining the arduous and lengthy multi-stage approval process for siting certain municipal facilities.</p> <p>But the proposal to build the Bronx jail -- the only one of the four that is not either a current or former jail facility -- immediately raised the hackles of elected officials from the borough other than Ayala, a newly elected Council member whose districts spans East Harlem and part of the South Bronx.</p> <p>“Look the site in the Bronx is a site owned by the City of New York. It is a very smart site in terms of its closeness to the courthouses,” de Blasio explained at the news conference, when asked about a critical statement put out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had not been kept in the loop by the administration or the Council. “There is going to be a full community process, but let's be clear, we're going to talk to everyone, we're going to listen to everyone, we're going to try in every way possible address community needs and address other benefits that communities need.”</p> <p>De Blasio emphasized, “That being said, up here are the people who ultimately have to make the decision – the Council, represented by the Speaker, the members who represent those individual districts, and me and my administration.”</p> <p>Ayala was aware of the criticism she may face for supporting a site in her district. “We all know that this siting process is bound to be controversial,” she said. “In the Bronx in particular, we are not repurposing an existing detention center but instead building a brand new facility that will require additional careful thought, serious consideration and robust community engagement, and I really wanna underline that…We also know that in the Bronx, too often we see a concentration of city facilities in our borough and there is rightfully some resistance to that. But we in the Bronx also understand the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”</p> <p>Top Bronx officials were taken aback that this was the first they were hearing of a new jail intended for their backyard. Any consultations that had happened had excluded Borough President Diaz Jr.; Assemblymember Michael Blake, whose district neighbors the one where the proposed site is located at 320 Concord Avenue, currently an NYPD tow pound; and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Democratic Bronx County party leader whose support helped Johnson win the speakership.</p> <p>“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx,” said Diaz Jr. in a statement that preceded the mayor and speaker’s Wednesday news conference. The proposed site had been first revealed by the <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-to-build-jail-in-the-bronx-1518565743?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories&amp;tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wall Street Journal</a> the previous night, just after de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. “I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” Diaz Jr. said. (At the news conference, Johnson showed some contrition immediately, apologizing to Diaz Jr. and promising a “robust, meaningful” community engagement process.)</p> <p>“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Assemblymember Blake, in a statement released Wednesday night.</p> <p>Crespo, the Democratic Bronx county boss, took to Twitter, calling out the mayor and speaker. “We spent so much time talking the last few months how did this rikers plan in my district never come up?” he wondered.</p> <p>“I think we were all caught off guard with how far ahead the city seems to be when no one in the Bronx was informed of the process,” Crespo later elaborated, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “Once you decide on a site, that’s gonna have an impact for generations.”</p> <p>Crespo and the other electeds aren’t opposed to the administration’s goal: building capacity in the boroughs so that Rikers can close. But, he said the Concord Avenue site is not the best option, and the city should explore alternatives. The community and the borough already host their fair share of municipal facilities, Crespo insisted, echoing widespread criticism that the city has long chosen to place seemingly undesirable facilities such as jails, homeless shelters, and waste treatment plants in low-income communities of color. “Make no mistake about it, this borough has been handling an unfair share already for a long time,” he said.</p> <p>“There’s major investments and their success would also be endangered,” he said of the Mott Haven neighborhood, where new development is underway literally across the road from where the jail would be situated.</p> <p>The rapid outpouring of criticism didn’t seem lost on Speaker Johnson, who quickly seemed to equivocate on the Bronx site. “I am committed to facilities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Johnson <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/bronx/politics/2018/02/16/council-speaker-says-he-is-not-wedded-to-specific-locations-for-new-jails" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told NY1</a>. "We are not wedded to an individual location. If there is a better location I am happy to have that conversation."</p> <p>Responding to an assertion that he was backpedaling, Johnson said in a subsequent tweet that he is “not at all” backing away from the site, but reiterated that the main goal is closing the jails on Rikers Island and that he is “not wedded” to one location. “If there's a better one,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/964309861688336384" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he wrote</a>, “I'm all ears. No other location has been presented.”</p> <p>If the Bronx elected officials were stunned by the announcement, it’s little wonder that those who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site were likewise surprised and offended to learn of the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_2.jpg" alt="bx jail site 2" width="325" height="187" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The site is located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, north of the Harlem River, with large industrial and manufacturing spaces running between the waterfront and the Major Deegan Expressway.</p> <p>Residents and others expressed a mix of astonishment, resignation, anger, and resentment as Gotham Gazette told them on Friday that the city intended to build a jail within blocks of their homes and places of work.</p> <p>“I thought they were gonna do a mall,” said Jesus Ortiz, 50, who runs an auto-repair shop across the street from the NYPD tow pound that occupies the block.</p> <p>The site is sandwiched between East 141st and 142nd Streets, next to Bruckner Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mix of housing and commercial properties. Enclosed by metal sheet walls, the tow pound is almost a hill overlooking its neighbors, with impounded cars visible from the street through a peripheral treeline that is leafless in February.</p> <p>“They’re trying to rebuild the South Bronx to make it nice,” said Ortiz, “That’s not the way to rebuild, by putting a jail here.” Having worked there 15 years, Ortiz said he’s seen rapid development in recent times. Even the building that houses his auto shop was recently bought out, he said, and the landlords gave him a one-year lease till 2019. He’ll soon be gone from the neighborhood too.</p> <p>“They’re buying all around,” he said.</p> <p>Adam Bele, 40, loads containers at the lumber supply warehouse that sits behind 320 Concord. “Nobody wants to be near a jail,” he said. His biggest concern, one that others shared as well, is for the children that attend the several schools in the neighborhood.</p> <p>“You don’t want children hanging around a jail,” said the father of two infants who will likely attend one of those schools, he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with other residents, Bele was wary of the process for choosing the site. “It’s like they know it’s gonna be unpopular so they tried to hide it and do it quick, quick, quick,” he said. He had a simple piece of advice for the mayor. “Be transparent. Listen to this community, and take our recommendations into consideration.”</p> <p>But Bele empathizes with the city’s rationale that detainees deserve to be housed closer to their families in humane and modern facilities, and that Rikers needs to close. “You don’t want them treated like animals, they’re human like us,” he said. The mayor and speaker have promised to seek community feedback on the proposed site and, as required by the city’s land use review process, community boards will get an opportunity to hold votes, albeit nonbinding, to approve or reject the proposal. Borough presidents also get to weigh in with advisory opinions.</p> <p>Along Concord Avenue, in what could eventually be the shadow of a new jail, sit rowhouses, a few of them old and abandoned and showing signs of disrepair. “For Sale” signs hung in a few windows.</p> <p>In one of those houses lives Nereida Chavez, 38, a stay-at-home mom with four kids. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed on hearing that her biggest neighbor could one day be a jail.</p> <p>“I don’t like the idea of having a jail here,” she said. “It’s just scary.”</p> <p>She worried that a jail could mean more traffic along a little-traversed street. “We have our kids and they love to play out here with their bikes,” she said. And, it might also mean that parking, which has become an issue already owing to the large lumber and oil and gas companies around them, might worsen. “We hardly have any parking here. It’ll be even more complicated if they put a jail here,” she said.</p> <p>But Chavez was more concerned that she hardly had an opportunity to be heard on an issue that quite directly would affect her. “It makes me worried that things happen around us and we don’t know anything,” she said. “They also put shelters around us. They don’t let us know until it’s there.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_3.jpg" alt="bx jail site 3" width="325" height="161" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />At a bodega on East 141st Street, Mel McKenzie, 33, was buying milk. Gotham Gazette asked if the homemaker knew about the city’s plan to build a jail, three blocks from her home.</p> <p>“For real?” she said.</p> <p>“I’m not with it,” she frowned. “It should stay an impound lot....[A jail] won’t bring the community together. It’ll probably make us scared. And it’s too close to home.”</p> <p>Another shopper, Nancy Lopez, 43, chimed in. “Why move it so close when there’s other areas where they could put it?” she wondered. “Put it across Bruckner where it’s more industrial. There’s kids that walk by everyday on Concord.”</p> <p>The city’s plan to close Rikers and replace some of its capacity in borough facilities near courthouses entails building for about 6,000 inmates, with the goal of getting the jail population down to about 5,000, according to the mayor.</p> <p>McKenzie acknowledged that its a laudable objective to help detainees, most of whom are pre-trial and not convicted of any crime, remain connected to their communities. “That makes sense,” she said, but she also expressed concern about what school-going children would take away from it. “That’s the message they’re sending? You’re gonna be close to home if you get locked up.”</p> <p>“What happens if a prisoner escapes?” said Lopez, who said she is on disability and lives on Concord Avenue in the same row as Nereida Chavez. Instead, she proposed a “positive” alternative. “Why don’t they build affordable housing?”</p> <p>Both women had one shared concern, however, that neither of them had received an opportunity to weigh in. “They should notify the public,” McKenzie said.</p> <p>“As it’s happening, not when it’s already decided,” added Lopez. The city will present plans to the public, particularly through the community board, when the site is set for its place in the land use review process. It may be up to local residents to seek out opportunities to hear more and provide their feedback.</p> <p>Presenting the site as a “fait accompli” would undermine the process, said the Bronx borough president in his statement, but it’s what one resident seemed to expect from the administration. “The city does whatever it wants,” said Hector Camilo, 55. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t argue with the city.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been corrected to note that Assembly Member Michael Blake does not represent the district where the proposed jail site at 320 Concord Avenue is located. He represents a neighboring district.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_1.jpg" alt="Bronx jail site NYPD tow pound" width="600" height="310" /></p> <p>Planned Bronx jail site (photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that they’d reached a deal to speed up the closure of Rikers Island by creating or expanding jail facilities in every borough except Staten Island, it seemed to be a clear sign of a productive partnership between the administration and local elected officials.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker made the announcement at a news conference at City Hall, alongside four Council members -- Diana Ayala, Karen Koslowitz, Stephen Levin, and Margaret Chin -- willing to accept the political risk of a new or expanded jail in their districts. The city will launch a unified land use review application for all four jails, the mayor and speaker said, combining the arduous and lengthy multi-stage approval process for siting certain municipal facilities.</p> <p>But the proposal to build the Bronx jail -- the only one of the four that is not either a current or former jail facility -- immediately raised the hackles of elected officials from the borough other than Ayala, a newly elected Council member whose districts spans East Harlem and part of the South Bronx.</p> <p>“Look the site in the Bronx is a site owned by the City of New York. It is a very smart site in terms of its closeness to the courthouses,” de Blasio explained at the news conference, when asked about a critical statement put out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had not been kept in the loop by the administration or the Council. “There is going to be a full community process, but let's be clear, we're going to talk to everyone, we're going to listen to everyone, we're going to try in every way possible address community needs and address other benefits that communities need.”</p> <p>De Blasio emphasized, “That being said, up here are the people who ultimately have to make the decision – the Council, represented by the Speaker, the members who represent those individual districts, and me and my administration.”</p> <p>Ayala was aware of the criticism she may face for supporting a site in her district. “We all know that this siting process is bound to be controversial,” she said. “In the Bronx in particular, we are not repurposing an existing detention center but instead building a brand new facility that will require additional careful thought, serious consideration and robust community engagement, and I really wanna underline that…We also know that in the Bronx, too often we see a concentration of city facilities in our borough and there is rightfully some resistance to that. But we in the Bronx also understand the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”</p> <p>Top Bronx officials were taken aback that this was the first they were hearing of a new jail intended for their backyard. Any consultations that had happened had excluded Borough President Diaz Jr.; Assemblymember Michael Blake, whose district neighbors the one where the proposed site is located at 320 Concord Avenue, currently an NYPD tow pound; and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Democratic Bronx County party leader whose support helped Johnson win the speakership.</p> <p>“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx,” said Diaz Jr. in a statement that preceded the mayor and speaker’s Wednesday news conference. The proposed site had been first revealed by the <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-to-build-jail-in-the-bronx-1518565743?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories&amp;tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wall Street Journal</a> the previous night, just after de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. “I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” Diaz Jr. said. (At the news conference, Johnson showed some contrition immediately, apologizing to Diaz Jr. and promising a “robust, meaningful” community engagement process.)</p> <p>“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Assemblymember Blake, in a statement released Wednesday night.</p> <p>Crespo, the Democratic Bronx county boss, took to Twitter, calling out the mayor and speaker. “We spent so much time talking the last few months how did this rikers plan in my district never come up?” he wondered.</p> <p>“I think we were all caught off guard with how far ahead the city seems to be when no one in the Bronx was informed of the process,” Crespo later elaborated, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “Once you decide on a site, that’s gonna have an impact for generations.”</p> <p>Crespo and the other electeds aren’t opposed to the administration’s goal: building capacity in the boroughs so that Rikers can close. But, he said the Concord Avenue site is not the best option, and the city should explore alternatives. The community and the borough already host their fair share of municipal facilities, Crespo insisted, echoing widespread criticism that the city has long chosen to place seemingly undesirable facilities such as jails, homeless shelters, and waste treatment plants in low-income communities of color. “Make no mistake about it, this borough has been handling an unfair share already for a long time,” he said.</p> <p>“There’s major investments and their success would also be endangered,” he said of the Mott Haven neighborhood, where new development is underway literally across the road from where the jail would be situated.</p> <p>The rapid outpouring of criticism didn’t seem lost on Speaker Johnson, who quickly seemed to equivocate on the Bronx site. “I am committed to facilities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Johnson <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/bronx/politics/2018/02/16/council-speaker-says-he-is-not-wedded-to-specific-locations-for-new-jails" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told NY1</a>. "We are not wedded to an individual location. If there is a better location I am happy to have that conversation."</p> <p>Responding to an assertion that he was backpedaling, Johnson said in a subsequent tweet that he is “not at all” backing away from the site, but reiterated that the main goal is closing the jails on Rikers Island and that he is “not wedded” to one location. “If there's a better one,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/964309861688336384" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he wrote</a>, “I'm all ears. No other location has been presented.”</p> <p>If the Bronx elected officials were stunned by the announcement, it’s little wonder that those who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site were likewise surprised and offended to learn of the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_2.jpg" alt="bx jail site 2" width="325" height="187" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The site is located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, north of the Harlem River, with large industrial and manufacturing spaces running between the waterfront and the Major Deegan Expressway.</p> <p>Residents and others expressed a mix of astonishment, resignation, anger, and resentment as Gotham Gazette told them on Friday that the city intended to build a jail within blocks of their homes and places of work.</p> <p>“I thought they were gonna do a mall,” said Jesus Ortiz, 50, who runs an auto-repair shop across the street from the NYPD tow pound that occupies the block.</p> <p>The site is sandwiched between East 141st and 142nd Streets, next to Bruckner Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mix of housing and commercial properties. Enclosed by metal sheet walls, the tow pound is almost a hill overlooking its neighbors, with impounded cars visible from the street through a peripheral treeline that is leafless in February.</p> <p>“They’re trying to rebuild the South Bronx to make it nice,” said Ortiz, “That’s not the way to rebuild, by putting a jail here.” Having worked there 15 years, Ortiz said he’s seen rapid development in recent times. Even the building that houses his auto shop was recently bought out, he said, and the landlords gave him a one-year lease till 2019. He’ll soon be gone from the neighborhood too.</p> <p>“They’re buying all around,” he said.</p> <p>Adam Bele, 40, loads containers at the lumber supply warehouse that sits behind 320 Concord. “Nobody wants to be near a jail,” he said. His biggest concern, one that others shared as well, is for the children that attend the several schools in the neighborhood.</p> <p>“You don’t want children hanging around a jail,” said the father of two infants who will likely attend one of those schools, he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with other residents, Bele was wary of the process for choosing the site. “It’s like they know it’s gonna be unpopular so they tried to hide it and do it quick, quick, quick,” he said. He had a simple piece of advice for the mayor. “Be transparent. Listen to this community, and take our recommendations into consideration.”</p> <p>But Bele empathizes with the city’s rationale that detainees deserve to be housed closer to their families in humane and modern facilities, and that Rikers needs to close. “You don’t want them treated like animals, they’re human like us,” he said. The mayor and speaker have promised to seek community feedback on the proposed site and, as required by the city’s land use review process, community boards will get an opportunity to hold votes, albeit nonbinding, to approve or reject the proposal. Borough presidents also get to weigh in with advisory opinions.</p> <p>Along Concord Avenue, in what could eventually be the shadow of a new jail, sit rowhouses, a few of them old and abandoned and showing signs of disrepair. “For Sale” signs hung in a few windows.</p> <p>In one of those houses lives Nereida Chavez, 38, a stay-at-home mom with four kids. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed on hearing that her biggest neighbor could one day be a jail.</p> <p>“I don’t like the idea of having a jail here,” she said. “It’s just scary.”</p> <p>She worried that a jail could mean more traffic along a little-traversed street. “We have our kids and they love to play out here with their bikes,” she said. And, it might also mean that parking, which has become an issue already owing to the large lumber and oil and gas companies around them, might worsen. “We hardly have any parking here. It’ll be even more complicated if they put a jail here,” she said.</p> <p>But Chavez was more concerned that she hardly had an opportunity to be heard on an issue that quite directly would affect her. “It makes me worried that things happen around us and we don’t know anything,” she said. “They also put shelters around us. They don’t let us know until it’s there.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_3.jpg" alt="bx jail site 3" width="325" height="161" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />At a bodega on East 141st Street, Mel McKenzie, 33, was buying milk. Gotham Gazette asked if the homemaker knew about the city’s plan to build a jail, three blocks from her home.</p> <p>“For real?” she said.</p> <p>“I’m not with it,” she frowned. “It should stay an impound lot....[A jail] won’t bring the community together. It’ll probably make us scared. And it’s too close to home.”</p> <p>Another shopper, Nancy Lopez, 43, chimed in. “Why move it so close when there’s other areas where they could put it?” she wondered. “Put it across Bruckner where it’s more industrial. There’s kids that walk by everyday on Concord.”</p> <p>The city’s plan to close Rikers and replace some of its capacity in borough facilities near courthouses entails building for about 6,000 inmates, with the goal of getting the jail population down to about 5,000, according to the mayor.</p> <p>McKenzie acknowledged that its a laudable objective to help detainees, most of whom are pre-trial and not convicted of any crime, remain connected to their communities. “That makes sense,” she said, but she also expressed concern about what school-going children would take away from it. “That’s the message they’re sending? You’re gonna be close to home if you get locked up.”</p> <p>“What happens if a prisoner escapes?” said Lopez, who said she is on disability and lives on Concord Avenue in the same row as Nereida Chavez. Instead, she proposed a “positive” alternative. “Why don’t they build affordable housing?”</p> <p>Both women had one shared concern, however, that neither of them had received an opportunity to weigh in. “They should notify the public,” McKenzie said.</p> <p>“As it’s happening, not when it’s already decided,” added Lopez. The city will present plans to the public, particularly through the community board, when the site is set for its place in the land use review process. It may be up to local residents to seek out opportunities to hear more and provide their feedback.</p> <p>Presenting the site as a “fait accompli” would undermine the process, said the Bronx borough president in his statement, but it’s what one resident seemed to expect from the administration. “The city does whatever it wants,” said Hector Camilo, 55. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t argue with the city.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been corrected to note that Assembly Member Michael Blake does not represent the district where the proposed jail site at 320 Concord Avenue is located. He represents a neighboring district.&nbsp;</p>
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages 2018-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7446-bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages Ben Max <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome-ave-aerial.jpg" alt="jerome ave aerial" width="600" height="394" /> <p>Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning</p> <hr /> <p>The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/jerome-ave/jerome-ave-updates.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan</a> put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community. &nbsp;</p> <p>While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome_ave_vertical.png" alt="jerome ave vertical" width="320" height="412" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services</p> <p>As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.</p> <p>“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”</p> <p>As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.</p> <p>“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.</p> <p>Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.</p> <p>“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings">extracted</a> a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/jerome-ave/bronx-president-recommendation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formal approval</a> in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.</p> <p>The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.</p> <p>“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.</p> <p>“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”</p> <p>Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”</p> <p>Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a&nbsp;spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome-ave-aerial.jpg" alt="jerome ave aerial" width="600" height="394" /> <p>Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning</p> <hr /> <p>The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/jerome-ave/jerome-ave-updates.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan</a> put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community. &nbsp;</p> <p>While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome_ave_vertical.png" alt="jerome ave vertical" width="320" height="412" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services</p> <p>As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.</p> <p>“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”</p> <p>As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.</p> <p>“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.</p> <p>Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.</p> <p>“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings">extracted</a> a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/jerome-ave/bronx-president-recommendation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formal approval</a> in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.</p> <p>The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.</p> <p>“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.</p> <p>“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”</p> <p>Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”</p> <p>Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a&nbsp;spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In Surprise to Some, Diana Ayala Victorious in Tight Primary 2017-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7197-in-surprise-to-some-diana-ayala-appears-on-verge-of-victory Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv-ayala.jpg" alt="mmv ayala" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito with Diana Ayala (photo: Samar Khurshid/GothamGazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The primary election on Tuesday saw incumbents retain power across most of the city and few upsets in contested races. But in one of the most competitive races of the day, a first-time candidate prevailed over a long-time elected official, overcoming an expected gap in name recognition and other deficits, in a City Council district struggling with concerns for its future and looking for its next local leader to advocate for its interests.</p> <p>District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, is the constituency of current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who faces term limits and cannot run for reelection. Four Democratic candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary to replace her: Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff and preferred successor; sitting state Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez; community activist Tamika Mapp; and former state Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>As soon as the field of candidates was clear, it was evident that it would be a race between Ayala and Rodriguez, with the sitting elected official coming into the race with distinct advantages, including in terms of raising funds.</p> <p>After months of tense campaigning, split establishment allegiances, and some mudslinging, it all came down to primary day, September 12, where -- like in most districts across the city -- the outcome would determine the next officeholder given the overwhelming Democratic advantage.</p> <p>A grueling day of crisscrossing the district to canvas for votes, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., culminated with a race that was too close to call once most of the returns were in. Yet, Ayala claimed victory with a margin of just 122 votes in a race that saw only 8,471 ballots cast. She received 3,705 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Rodriguez’s 3,583, good for 42.3 percent. Mapp took 814 votes and Martinez took 369.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ayala declared victory from Harley’s Smokeshack at 11:20 p.m. to a room full of allies and supporters, including Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez soon put out a public statement saying that every vote needed to be counted, given the possibility of affidavit and absentee ballots perhaps yet tallied. One week later, on September 19, all the ballots had been accounted for and Ayala still came out on top. "With all vote counting complete, I am proud to declare victory today," she said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>"El Barrio and the South Bronx are at a crossroads, like so many other communities in our City," she added. "I will fight tirelessly to ensure that we do everything to protect the lives and provide affordability for those who have grown up, are raising their families, or are retiring here." Rodriguez, who will continue to serve in the state Assembly, conceded defeat on Tuesday. "I offer my congrats to Diana Ayala, and I hope she can fulfill the promises she made," he said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 14 hours before she declared victory on primary day, Ayala was standing at the corner of East 109th Street and 2nd Avenue, asking residents for their votes.</p> <p>“My legs are starting to get numb,” said Ayala, around 8:30 a.m., already more than two hours into her time there, as the sun was beginning to warm the crisp morning air. Ayala shifted on her feet as she stood, arms folded at the waist, surveying the scene, as if steadying herself for the long day ahead. It was the first of many stops she would make.</p> <p>Campaign volunteer Joe Taranto, a top government aide to Mark-Viverito, passed out campaign literature as Ayala greeted each voter. “I feel good, I’m excited to see what the results will be,” she said, with a composure that she wouldn’t betray until she was saying she had won, holding back tears with a beaming smile on her face.</p> <p>Around 8:45 a.m., a campaign barker walked by across the street, yelling, “Vote for Robert Rodriguez for City Council, Robert Rodriguez for City Council!!” He had come from the 110th Street subway station where he had been spotted earlier.</p> <p>Ayala has worked for Mark-Viverito for nearly 12 years and, as her director of constituent services, she has been in direct contact with members of the community, hearing residents’ problems firsthand and seeking to help them as she could. It’s one of the reasons she expected that people would vote for her. “They know me personally, they know my work ethic,” she said. “They know I deliver.” It explains why voters recognize her on the street, why some stopped to hug her and wish her good luck.</p> <p>“The best team in the world! That’s my girl!,” exclaimed one voter, Susan Rodriguez, walking down the street seeing Ayala at the corner. Rodriguez, the founding director of Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research &amp; Treatment, a nonprofit, said Ayala had personally assisted her when the nonprofit faced an office space issue. “She’s been a champion of the community,” Rodriguez said. “She goes out of the way to help people. She’s always been accessible. She loves this community and you know that.”</p> <p>Seeing Ayala’s name on the ballot gave her “goosebumps,” Susan Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t need to put her name all over the place, We know her.”</p> <p>“Diana’s been a rock for our community and we’d be blessed and privileged to have her in the Council,” she added. “We love Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and she’s passing the torch to Diana, who will continue her legacy and build her own.”</p> <p>What about her main opponent, Robert Rodriguez? “I only hear about him when he’s running for something,” she said.</p> <p>Another voter, 95-year-old Josephine Surita had just walked out of PS/JHS 117 after voting for Ayala. “Diana la gana! Diana la gana!” she yelled in Spanish. “Diana will win! Diana will win!”</p> <p>It was 9 a.m. and time to head to PS 206, Ayala’s polling site. Ayala and Taranto hopped into her Toyota RAV4 and headed west. First, a quick stop at her favorite coffee cart at the corner of Lexington and 116th, where she gets a cup everyday. Ayala had been up since 2 a.m., she said, tossing and turning in bed, but not out of apprehension, she explained. “I tried to go to sleep early, but I only slept for four hours,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous, though; maybe subconsciously.”</p> <p>Standing in line for coffee, Ayala recounted how four years ago she’d worked, as part of Mark-Viverito’s staff, with the city to help find a suitable location for that very coffee vendor. The owner had faced harassment from a local business across the street where it was located earlier. Throughout the day, Ayala relayed similar anecdotes, pulled from her decade-plus working in the community. “Who are you gonna vote for?” the cart’s owner asked Ayala as she handed her two steaming cups. “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” Ayala chuckled.</p> <p>At the polling site, Ayala’s two adult children and her mother were already waiting. First she had to pick up 11-year-old Isaiah, the youngest of her four children, from the East River North apartments where she lives with her parents. “He’s my baby. He refuses to stop growing,” said the proud mother, who also has three grandchildren from her only daughter. “We measure the amount of time I’ve worked for Melissa by looking at him, because when I started working for her, he was born.”</p> <p>By 9:40 a.m., the entire clan was at PS 206 and soon they had cast their votes. Seeing her own name on the ballot “was a little surreal,” Ayala said with excitement.</p> <p>“She takes care of everybody,” said Abraham, 27, Ayala’s oldest son, thrilled after having just voted for his mom. “She’s always been for the community. She’s been about family, everybody’s her family. She’s just the best candidate. She’ll make sure she does what she has to do to make sure that everybody in the community will thrive and survive.”</p> <p>For Ayala, perhaps the hardest part of running for office, ostensibly a full-time commitment, was the time away from her children and grandchildren. And, at the same time, keeping them removed from what can sometimes be a nasty affair. She spoke of the time an independent group plastered the neighborhood with flyers that depicted her on all fours like a dog, and how she had to explain that to her children. “This is very new to them,” she said. “It can get pretty dirty out there and I didn’t want them tainted by that.”</p> <p>Her children played no small part in her decision to run for office. “If you had asked me three years ago, I would’ve said never,” she said of jumping headlong into a City Council campaign. Her kids were younger and needed their mother, and her infirm parents had also moved in with her. Her family has been supportive, and her youngest also appeared in a campaign ad for her. “They don’t need me anymore, they’re OK without me,” she said, with her typical chuckle. “It’s mama that misses them.”</p> <p>What drove her decision was term limits and the Speaker’s entreaties. The one-time term limit extension passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg had allowed Mark-Viverito to serve a third four-year term on the Council. “Because of term limits, it allowed us four more years, so a lot of things kinda settled,” Ayala said, “in a way that made it possible for me to consider this an option.”</p> <p>Her decision was made over time, in conversations with the speaker, who prodded Ayala to run. “I had never really thought about it,” Ayala said. “I don’t come from a political background. I consider myself more of a social services person. I wanna know the issues. I wanna know people. Even though I have an appreciation for politics, it does tend to get in the way of doing the work sometimes.”</p> <p>It was the realization, she said, that there were so few women on the City Council that pushed her across the line. “I figured, ‘If not me, then who?’ You don’t have to be a politician to run for office,” she said. The term that ends this year includes 13 women in the 51-seat Council. “We’re regular people with life experiences that have shaped who we are,” Ayala continue. “I think that my life experiences allow me some insight into my own community because a lot of the issues that I help constituents navigate through have been my issues.”</p> <p>Ayala regularly talks openly about her life experiences, which led her directly into public service. At the age of 17, she had her first child, whose father died a victim of gun violence earlier that year. She struggled with postpartum depression, and conflict at home with her mother meant that she couldn’t cope with the grief. She emancipated herself, and lived for a time in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side before moving to an apartment in the Bronx. She personally knows the difficulties of navigating the bureaucracy of public assistance offices.</p> <p>“Those kinds of interactions with social service providers that were not always positive left me with an interest of wanting to be helpful and doing it the right way,” she said. Alaya consistently talks on the campaign trail about how she sees the residents of the district through her lived experience. “A lot of people helped me and I just wanna give back,” she said.</p> <p>Just after 10 a.m., Ayala headed to PS 57, where she was met by Mark-Viverito, who had been stumping all morning for her preferred successor. Mark-Viverito’s popularity in the district is distinct. For many voters, she’s immediately recognizable and her opinion carries weight. “I’m not running for reelection so I need you to vote for Diana,” she told residents who passed the two at the corner. Several members of her staff volunteered for Ayala’s campaign. A few, including Taranto, took the day off to help drum up support.</p> <p>“I think that there’s a different level of energy that surrounds her campaign versus the opponent’s campaign,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette, confident of Ayala’s chances. “People are very excited and motivated and have a reason to vote for her...and I don’t get that same sense from the opposing side.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized that the race would hinge on the Ayala campaign’s ground game, which was extensive. Ayala said she had personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors over the course of the campaign and had a team of about 70 volunteers out on the streets on Tuesday, most of them women, urging voters to support her.</p> <p>For Mark-Viverito, Ayala’s campaign also carried the promise of fighting greater gender imbalance on the City Council. The 51-member body had 18 women in 2009, but is down to 13 and was at risk of dropping to single digits. The speaker has been spearheading a movement to improve women’s representation on the legislative body, aiming ultimately to elect more women in 2021 when more than 30 seats will be up for grabs -- the goal is 21 women on the Council through the next cycle. Mark-Viverito called the current gender imbalance “appalling” and pointed to other City Council races where she has tried to support women candidates to ensure what is the best-case scenario given the current situation. “If we work hard, maybe we’ll be able to make it stay the same, that’s my hope at least,” she said, “I would love to gain a little bit...Right now, to stay at least treading water is what we need to do.”</p> <p>Around 11:30 a.m., it was time for the operation to move across the river to the South Bronx, home to half the Council district. Ayala went north, but just blocks away, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez would arrive with his wife and son about two hours later to vote at his poll site at PS 102 (That also happens to be where Mark-Viverito voted that morning and where the Ayala campaign would later call it a day). Comptroller Scott Stringer, who endorsed Rodriguez, made an appearance and the two greeted voters together.</p> <p>Rodriguez, with his young son atop his shoulders, seemed confident of a victory. “I think voters are responding well,” he said as his son absent-mindedly played with his father’s hair. “I’m looking forward to good results and I think the message about our success and our track record and our experience has begun to resonate.”</p> <p>Stringer also spoke to Rodriguez’s experience, having worked with him in the past as Manhattan borough president. “I want members of the City Council who are able to also see beyond their street corner, that they can see the big picture, which is how we’re gonna create a city that everyone can live in,” he said. “And there’s no question that in El Barrio today there are people who built this community who are now being forced out. So we need to have leaders like Robert Rodriguez who understand land use and zoning, who understand community planning.”</p> <p>Ayala recognizes that gentrification has been rapid in East Harlem and is creeping into the South Bronx. “I think that voters are concerned, they would like to see the next Council member is cognizant of the fact that they are afraid, that they have real life fears that they will be displaced,” she said at one point on primary day. Mark-Viverito, Ayala and Rodriguez have stood against a de Blasio administration proposal for a comprehensive rezoning of East Harlem, and have emphasized the need for community input to inform the process.</p> <p>An alternate community-based proposal called the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan -- an effort led by Mark-Viverito, with help from Ayala -- included community priorities but was largely ignored by the administration. The rezoning is likely to be voted on under the current Council, but on Tuesday, it was one of the issues that voters took to the polls. Although some who spoke to Gotham Gazette felt that current leadership had been unable to protect them from displacement, and saw Ayala as a continuation in that direction, others believed Ayala’s close ties to the community would mean she would fight that much harder for them.</p> <p>Ayala’s ties to Mark-Viverito, in that sense, are a double-edged sword, even if one edge is sharper than the other. “Some people say, ‘I don’t know you, but if the Speaker says you’re good enough, you’re good enough for me,’” Ayala said, outside Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx. It was about 2:30 p.m. and schools were letting out. Hoards of little children rushed to a snow cone vendor at the corner and Ayala tried to catch their parents and a few more votes. Joe Pressley, another Mark-Viverito staffer volunteering for the campaign, had taken Taranto’s place and was Ayala’s sidekick for the rest of the afternoon.</p> <p>Ayala realizes that she’ll have to forge her own path, independent of Mark-Viverito. “Those are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill her shoes, I’m trying to find my own role, find my own position and how I fit in, how my experiences can benefit this community, both parts of it. I’m not in a competition with the speaker.”</p> <p>Could she fill those shoes? “One day, one day,” she said.</p> <p>By late afternoon, Ayala was running on fumes and lunch was long overdue. “One piece of advice I’d give people is definitely get in shape,” she joked, about running for Council. “Because it’s a lot of walking around and door knocking. She needed “some pep in my step” for the next stop. After a quick roast chicken lunch at Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio, Ayala and Pressley headed for the Mitchell Community Center on Alexander Avenue where they were met around 4:30 p.m. by another campaign ally, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>The charismatic Diaz Jr.’s energy was almost infectious, and no voter that passed by escaped his grip. At least three cars stopped to greet the popular Democrat, who was also on the ballot Tuesday (he easily fought off two primary challengers). Diaz Jr. said Ayala’s advantage over Rodriguez was her familiarity with both the Harlem and Bronx sides of the district. Rodriguez’s Assembly district falls entirely south of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill. “I think both sides of the river are familiar with Diana and the work that she’s done, working with Mark-Viverito, but also being the face of the office, being the face of constituent services,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>“People just want services, people want someone who can identify with them,” Diaz Jr. continued. “People want someone who is sincere, who is hardworking, and she’s exhibited and shown all of those qualities without the title...I think Diana just represents that everyday constituent, that everyday citizen that people are yearning for.”</p> <p>Diaz Jr. didn’t discount Rodriguez but preferred him to remain in the Assembly. “I respect him,” he said, adding with a slight chuckle, “I think that he’s done a great job in Albany and he should stay in Albany. He’s actually shown to be an involved and intelligent legislator and we certainly need that.”</p> <p>Having popular leaders like Diaz Jr. and Mark-Viverito on her side helped offset the establishment support that went in Rodriguez’s favor, Ayala said. Rodriguez was endorsed by the Bronx County machine, including Bronx Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other local, state, and federal elected officials. For her part, Ayala also had the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, prominent unions including 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and DC37, and activist group Make the Road New York.</p> <p>Another hour, another stop. It was almost rush hour and Ayala began to head back across the river to 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue, to grab the dozens of potential voters exiting the 6 Train. On the way, she witnessed a Rodriguez volunteer -- the same man who had been shouting across the street that morning -- yelling at one of her own campaign volunteers, a young woman. She was familiar with the man, having seen him around in previous campaigns, and said he had a history of being menacing and aggressive. She immediately directed Pressley to call campaign headquarters. “Call and send someone there. She shouldn’t be alone,” she told him.</p> <p>At 5:45 p.m., Ayala pulled over at the corner of 103rd, converging with Mark-Viverito who was already at the bustling intersection. A large blue truck, emblazoned with Assemblymember Rodriguez’s face, intermittently blared support for him between pop songs that drowned out the street traffic. The truck, and about a dozen or so individuals, represented 700 Strong, a group purportedly made up of residents of public housing, people living in homeless shelters, and those living near public housing, and even philanthropists. The group handed out dozens of fliers, including disparaging ones that showed Mark-Viverito as a puppetmaster controlling Ayala and John Ruiz, a candidate running for District Leader. Ayala picked up the phone. “This corner is all Robert Rodriguez,” she told someone at her 116th street campaign headquarters, calling for backup. “This is when anxiety starts to peek in,” she turned and said. “People tend to get tense and aggressive.”</p> <p>The volunteers for 700 Strong were either unaware or would not say who leads the group, which is not registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as is required of any independent expenditure group that engages in electioneering. Kimesha Alvarado, one volunteer, said they were out there to support Rodriguez because he “is more connected to the people, more accessible and community oriented,” while dismissing Ayala, with no hint of irony, as a “part of the establishment” that had allowed gentrification in the district to go unchecked.</p> <p>The group also encouraged residents to vote for Kelmy Rodriguez, a candidate running for District Leader against John Ruiz. Kelmy Rodriguez was on the scene and denied any knowledge of who had organized the fliers and campaigners, while acknowledging that he was a member of 700 Strong. Mark-Viverito speculated that the group was illegally coordinating its efforts with Ayala’s opponent.</p> <p>Amid the chaos of rush hour commuters, traffic and campaign teams, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez arrived, an hour after Ayala had already been there. The two candidates were barely seven feet apart, but did not acknowledge each other. Volunteers from both campaigns tried to shout over their counterparts, devolving into a barely comprehensible white noise assailing those stepping out of the subway station.</p> <p>Barely 10 minutes later, the Assembly member started to rush away. Asked what prompted him to show up, he said, “Well, you know, sometimes you can’t concede any street corners and 103rd Street is where my family grew up and I wanna make sure that on election day, they have a choice and understand that the choice should be Rodriguez. I wanna make sure that an alternative is presented this evening.” He also denied knowing anything about 700 Strong, but said he was grateful for their support.</p> <p>Having finished the last frenetic push of the day, just one stop remained for Ayala: PS 102, Mark-Viverito’s poll site. The entrance to the site had been shifted, confusing voters who had showed up there for years, including the speaker herself. She realized it would be a good place to stake out for the last leg of the race, to catch the later voters and nudge them to the ballot and towards an Ayala vote.</p> <p>“Diana is the kind of person who doesn’t mind coming to the community,” said Mildred Santiago, 56, a retired special education teacher who had just exited the poll site. “She visits the seniors, she visits the disabled, she sees what they need...she follows up on cases. She calls you directly. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’ll send someone,’ like other people. She says, ‘I’ll be in charge.’ So she knows how to manage issues.”</p> <p>For voters like Santiago, Tuesday was a bittersweet election because it also meant that Mark-Viverito was that much closer to leaving office. (Mark-Viverito also won the position of District Leader that day, which she says will keep her involved in the community.) “I’ll miss Melissa,” Santiago said, “but if she goes to Congress, I’m gonna be so happy.” Mark-Viverito heard Santiago and laughed. She has been rumored as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who is said to be considering retirement, but she wouldn’t say if she had considered a run for Congress.</p> <p>It was late, just after 8 o’clock and the polls would be closing in about an hour. Ayala had literally walked a hole into her beige ballet flats. “I didn’t take them off because they’re my lucky shoes,” she said, and she needed every bit of luck she could get. The campaign had done all it could do and now there was only the wait for results.</p> <p>Back at the campaign headquarters, there was an air of “nervous excitement” as the campaign team took a breather in the large back office, where the walls were plastered with maps of the district. At about 9 p.m., when voting was done for the day, they would head two doors down to Harley’s Smokeshack, a local barbecue joint advertising a Tuesday Tacos and Tequila special. The campaign team, including dozens of union workers from LiUNA Local 78, crowded in front of the bar as a screen switched to NY1, which was broadcasting the primary results.</p> <p>Ayala betrayed no emotion. “I’ve put everything I’ve had into it, and if it’s for me, it’s for me,” she had said earlier. “And if it isn’t, then there’s a lot of lessons to learn. It’s a new experience for me and one should never be afraid to challenge themselves and to take chances.”</p> <p>At the bar, the first precincts had begun to report. Ayala was leading and the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. “Diana! Diana! Diana!,” they roared. The next two hours would be an emotional rollercoaster as Ayala continued to lead through the night but Rodriguez inched closer and closer. At 9:30 p.m. Ayala had a five point lead. By 10 p.m., with about 85 percent of precincts counted, that lead had whittled down to three points, and then two. The race had become a nail-biter, as the numbers then stayed frozen for well over an hour. “I’m so nervous,” exclaimed Alicia, Ayala’s 25-year-old daughter.</p> <p>“It’s a little annoying that they’re not moving,” Ayala said, before retreating outside to sidebar with Mark-Viverito and her core campaign team. They repeatedly huddled outside, with anxious faces, as the ballots crawled up. Most other races had already been called and District 8 was one of only two City Council races that remained undecided.</p> <p>At 11:20 p.m., Ayala and Mark-Viverito walked back in. More than 96 percent of precincts were reporting and Ayala led by 122 votes. Mark-Viverito signalled to the bartender to kill the music and stepped up on a barstool, hushing the supporters. “I wanna introduce our next Council member,” she said smiling, declaring triumph to a roaring response.</p> <p>Ayala gingerly climbed up after her. “As a woman, and as a minority, it was not an easy decision” to run for office, she said. “Many of the women that are represented in this room, we do all of the work in the background, we do it all and we don’t ask for credit, we just ask for decency...It wasn’t until this woman said to me that I have the potential to do this, that I believed in myself,” she said, tearing up and pointing to Mark-Viverito. “I thank all of you!”</p> <p>“It was a very close race but this is a huge victory. We won against an incumbent,” she added. Supporters rushed to hug Ayala as Celebration by Kool &amp; The Gang blasted through the speakers.</p> <p>“This is a community victory, this is amazing,” Mark-Viverito said to Gotham Gazette afterwards. “I didn’t doubt it. Obviously we knew it was gonna be close. It reminds me of my first election.”</p> <p>“I think Diana was the right candidate for the moment, the right candidate for the community,” said Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78. “Diana is a person that is not a politician per se, but is a daughter of these streets...She’s real, she’s us. And we feel that people like that are the people we need representing us.”</p> <p>Rodriguez had not conceded the race, however, noting that affidavit ballots and absentee ballots will still have to be counted. “This race is far too close to call right now, and it is premature for anyone to declare a victory,” he said in a statement released just before midnight. “There are still ballots left to be counted, and we want to make sure each voter has their voice heard.”</p> <p>But Ayala’s team was confident it had the votes. “I feel great,” Ayala said. “I was really calm through all of it. I just had faith that the system was gonna work in my favor and that people were gonna turn out...It is a dream come true, for me and for a lot of little girls that come from communities of color, and I hope that I’m an inspiration to those women and that they feel that they see in me an opportunity to do what I’m doing, one day.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv-ayala.jpg" alt="mmv ayala" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito with Diana Ayala (photo: Samar Khurshid/GothamGazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The primary election on Tuesday saw incumbents retain power across most of the city and few upsets in contested races. But in one of the most competitive races of the day, a first-time candidate prevailed over a long-time elected official, overcoming an expected gap in name recognition and other deficits, in a City Council district struggling with concerns for its future and looking for its next local leader to advocate for its interests.</p> <p>District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, is the constituency of current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who faces term limits and cannot run for reelection. Four Democratic candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary to replace her: Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff and preferred successor; sitting state Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez; community activist Tamika Mapp; and former state Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>As soon as the field of candidates was clear, it was evident that it would be a race between Ayala and Rodriguez, with the sitting elected official coming into the race with distinct advantages, including in terms of raising funds.</p> <p>After months of tense campaigning, split establishment allegiances, and some mudslinging, it all came down to primary day, September 12, where -- like in most districts across the city -- the outcome would determine the next officeholder given the overwhelming Democratic advantage.</p> <p>A grueling day of crisscrossing the district to canvas for votes, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., culminated with a race that was too close to call once most of the returns were in. Yet, Ayala claimed victory with a margin of just 122 votes in a race that saw only 8,471 ballots cast. She received 3,705 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Rodriguez’s 3,583, good for 42.3 percent. Mapp took 814 votes and Martinez took 369.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ayala declared victory from Harley’s Smokeshack at 11:20 p.m. to a room full of allies and supporters, including Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez soon put out a public statement saying that every vote needed to be counted, given the possibility of affidavit and absentee ballots perhaps yet tallied. One week later, on September 19, all the ballots had been accounted for and Ayala still came out on top. "With all vote counting complete, I am proud to declare victory today," she said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>"El Barrio and the South Bronx are at a crossroads, like so many other communities in our City," she added. "I will fight tirelessly to ensure that we do everything to protect the lives and provide affordability for those who have grown up, are raising their families, or are retiring here." Rodriguez, who will continue to serve in the state Assembly, conceded defeat on Tuesday. "I offer my congrats to Diana Ayala, and I hope she can fulfill the promises she made," he said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 14 hours before she declared victory on primary day, Ayala was standing at the corner of East 109th Street and 2nd Avenue, asking residents for their votes.</p> <p>“My legs are starting to get numb,” said Ayala, around 8:30 a.m., already more than two hours into her time there, as the sun was beginning to warm the crisp morning air. Ayala shifted on her feet as she stood, arms folded at the waist, surveying the scene, as if steadying herself for the long day ahead. It was the first of many stops she would make.</p> <p>Campaign volunteer Joe Taranto, a top government aide to Mark-Viverito, passed out campaign literature as Ayala greeted each voter. “I feel good, I’m excited to see what the results will be,” she said, with a composure that she wouldn’t betray until she was saying she had won, holding back tears with a beaming smile on her face.</p> <p>Around 8:45 a.m., a campaign barker walked by across the street, yelling, “Vote for Robert Rodriguez for City Council, Robert Rodriguez for City Council!!” He had come from the 110th Street subway station where he had been spotted earlier.</p> <p>Ayala has worked for Mark-Viverito for nearly 12 years and, as her director of constituent services, she has been in direct contact with members of the community, hearing residents’ problems firsthand and seeking to help them as she could. It’s one of the reasons she expected that people would vote for her. “They know me personally, they know my work ethic,” she said. “They know I deliver.” It explains why voters recognize her on the street, why some stopped to hug her and wish her good luck.</p> <p>“The best team in the world! That’s my girl!,” exclaimed one voter, Susan Rodriguez, walking down the street seeing Ayala at the corner. Rodriguez, the founding director of Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research &amp; Treatment, a nonprofit, said Ayala had personally assisted her when the nonprofit faced an office space issue. “She’s been a champion of the community,” Rodriguez said. “She goes out of the way to help people. She’s always been accessible. She loves this community and you know that.”</p> <p>Seeing Ayala’s name on the ballot gave her “goosebumps,” Susan Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t need to put her name all over the place, We know her.”</p> <p>“Diana’s been a rock for our community and we’d be blessed and privileged to have her in the Council,” she added. “We love Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and she’s passing the torch to Diana, who will continue her legacy and build her own.”</p> <p>What about her main opponent, Robert Rodriguez? “I only hear about him when he’s running for something,” she said.</p> <p>Another voter, 95-year-old Josephine Surita had just walked out of PS/JHS 117 after voting for Ayala. “Diana la gana! Diana la gana!” she yelled in Spanish. “Diana will win! Diana will win!”</p> <p>It was 9 a.m. and time to head to PS 206, Ayala’s polling site. Ayala and Taranto hopped into her Toyota RAV4 and headed west. First, a quick stop at her favorite coffee cart at the corner of Lexington and 116th, where she gets a cup everyday. Ayala had been up since 2 a.m., she said, tossing and turning in bed, but not out of apprehension, she explained. “I tried to go to sleep early, but I only slept for four hours,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous, though; maybe subconsciously.”</p> <p>Standing in line for coffee, Ayala recounted how four years ago she’d worked, as part of Mark-Viverito’s staff, with the city to help find a suitable location for that very coffee vendor. The owner had faced harassment from a local business across the street where it was located earlier. Throughout the day, Ayala relayed similar anecdotes, pulled from her decade-plus working in the community. “Who are you gonna vote for?” the cart’s owner asked Ayala as she handed her two steaming cups. “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” Ayala chuckled.</p> <p>At the polling site, Ayala’s two adult children and her mother were already waiting. First she had to pick up 11-year-old Isaiah, the youngest of her four children, from the East River North apartments where she lives with her parents. “He’s my baby. He refuses to stop growing,” said the proud mother, who also has three grandchildren from her only daughter. “We measure the amount of time I’ve worked for Melissa by looking at him, because when I started working for her, he was born.”</p> <p>By 9:40 a.m., the entire clan was at PS 206 and soon they had cast their votes. Seeing her own name on the ballot “was a little surreal,” Ayala said with excitement.</p> <p>“She takes care of everybody,” said Abraham, 27, Ayala’s oldest son, thrilled after having just voted for his mom. “She’s always been for the community. She’s been about family, everybody’s her family. She’s just the best candidate. She’ll make sure she does what she has to do to make sure that everybody in the community will thrive and survive.”</p> <p>For Ayala, perhaps the hardest part of running for office, ostensibly a full-time commitment, was the time away from her children and grandchildren. And, at the same time, keeping them removed from what can sometimes be a nasty affair. She spoke of the time an independent group plastered the neighborhood with flyers that depicted her on all fours like a dog, and how she had to explain that to her children. “This is very new to them,” she said. “It can get pretty dirty out there and I didn’t want them tainted by that.”</p> <p>Her children played no small part in her decision to run for office. “If you had asked me three years ago, I would’ve said never,” she said of jumping headlong into a City Council campaign. Her kids were younger and needed their mother, and her infirm parents had also moved in with her. Her family has been supportive, and her youngest also appeared in a campaign ad for her. “They don’t need me anymore, they’re OK without me,” she said, with her typical chuckle. “It’s mama that misses them.”</p> <p>What drove her decision was term limits and the Speaker’s entreaties. The one-time term limit extension passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg had allowed Mark-Viverito to serve a third four-year term on the Council. “Because of term limits, it allowed us four more years, so a lot of things kinda settled,” Ayala said, “in a way that made it possible for me to consider this an option.”</p> <p>Her decision was made over time, in conversations with the speaker, who prodded Ayala to run. “I had never really thought about it,” Ayala said. “I don’t come from a political background. I consider myself more of a social services person. I wanna know the issues. I wanna know people. Even though I have an appreciation for politics, it does tend to get in the way of doing the work sometimes.”</p> <p>It was the realization, she said, that there were so few women on the City Council that pushed her across the line. “I figured, ‘If not me, then who?’ You don’t have to be a politician to run for office,” she said. The term that ends this year includes 13 women in the 51-seat Council. “We’re regular people with life experiences that have shaped who we are,” Ayala continue. “I think that my life experiences allow me some insight into my own community because a lot of the issues that I help constituents navigate through have been my issues.”</p> <p>Ayala regularly talks openly about her life experiences, which led her directly into public service. At the age of 17, she had her first child, whose father died a victim of gun violence earlier that year. She struggled with postpartum depression, and conflict at home with her mother meant that she couldn’t cope with the grief. She emancipated herself, and lived for a time in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side before moving to an apartment in the Bronx. She personally knows the difficulties of navigating the bureaucracy of public assistance offices.</p> <p>“Those kinds of interactions with social service providers that were not always positive left me with an interest of wanting to be helpful and doing it the right way,” she said. Alaya consistently talks on the campaign trail about how she sees the residents of the district through her lived experience. “A lot of people helped me and I just wanna give back,” she said.</p> <p>Just after 10 a.m., Ayala headed to PS 57, where she was met by Mark-Viverito, who had been stumping all morning for her preferred successor. Mark-Viverito’s popularity in the district is distinct. For many voters, she’s immediately recognizable and her opinion carries weight. “I’m not running for reelection so I need you to vote for Diana,” she told residents who passed the two at the corner. Several members of her staff volunteered for Ayala’s campaign. A few, including Taranto, took the day off to help drum up support.</p> <p>“I think that there’s a different level of energy that surrounds her campaign versus the opponent’s campaign,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette, confident of Ayala’s chances. “People are very excited and motivated and have a reason to vote for her...and I don’t get that same sense from the opposing side.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized that the race would hinge on the Ayala campaign’s ground game, which was extensive. Ayala said she had personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors over the course of the campaign and had a team of about 70 volunteers out on the streets on Tuesday, most of them women, urging voters to support her.</p> <p>For Mark-Viverito, Ayala’s campaign also carried the promise of fighting greater gender imbalance on the City Council. The 51-member body had 18 women in 2009, but is down to 13 and was at risk of dropping to single digits. The speaker has been spearheading a movement to improve women’s representation on the legislative body, aiming ultimately to elect more women in 2021 when more than 30 seats will be up for grabs -- the goal is 21 women on the Council through the next cycle. Mark-Viverito called the current gender imbalance “appalling” and pointed to other City Council races where she has tried to support women candidates to ensure what is the best-case scenario given the current situation. “If we work hard, maybe we’ll be able to make it stay the same, that’s my hope at least,” she said, “I would love to gain a little bit...Right now, to stay at least treading water is what we need to do.”</p> <p>Around 11:30 a.m., it was time for the operation to move across the river to the South Bronx, home to half the Council district. Ayala went north, but just blocks away, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez would arrive with his wife and son about two hours later to vote at his poll site at PS 102 (That also happens to be where Mark-Viverito voted that morning and where the Ayala campaign would later call it a day). Comptroller Scott Stringer, who endorsed Rodriguez, made an appearance and the two greeted voters together.</p> <p>Rodriguez, with his young son atop his shoulders, seemed confident of a victory. “I think voters are responding well,” he said as his son absent-mindedly played with his father’s hair. “I’m looking forward to good results and I think the message about our success and our track record and our experience has begun to resonate.”</p> <p>Stringer also spoke to Rodriguez’s experience, having worked with him in the past as Manhattan borough president. “I want members of the City Council who are able to also see beyond their street corner, that they can see the big picture, which is how we’re gonna create a city that everyone can live in,” he said. “And there’s no question that in El Barrio today there are people who built this community who are now being forced out. So we need to have leaders like Robert Rodriguez who understand land use and zoning, who understand community planning.”</p> <p>Ayala recognizes that gentrification has been rapid in East Harlem and is creeping into the South Bronx. “I think that voters are concerned, they would like to see the next Council member is cognizant of the fact that they are afraid, that they have real life fears that they will be displaced,” she said at one point on primary day. Mark-Viverito, Ayala and Rodriguez have stood against a de Blasio administration proposal for a comprehensive rezoning of East Harlem, and have emphasized the need for community input to inform the process.</p> <p>An alternate community-based proposal called the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan -- an effort led by Mark-Viverito, with help from Ayala -- included community priorities but was largely ignored by the administration. The rezoning is likely to be voted on under the current Council, but on Tuesday, it was one of the issues that voters took to the polls. Although some who spoke to Gotham Gazette felt that current leadership had been unable to protect them from displacement, and saw Ayala as a continuation in that direction, others believed Ayala’s close ties to the community would mean she would fight that much harder for them.</p> <p>Ayala’s ties to Mark-Viverito, in that sense, are a double-edged sword, even if one edge is sharper than the other. “Some people say, ‘I don’t know you, but if the Speaker says you’re good enough, you’re good enough for me,’” Ayala said, outside Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx. It was about 2:30 p.m. and schools were letting out. Hoards of little children rushed to a snow cone vendor at the corner and Ayala tried to catch their parents and a few more votes. Joe Pressley, another Mark-Viverito staffer volunteering for the campaign, had taken Taranto’s place and was Ayala’s sidekick for the rest of the afternoon.</p> <p>Ayala realizes that she’ll have to forge her own path, independent of Mark-Viverito. “Those are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill her shoes, I’m trying to find my own role, find my own position and how I fit in, how my experiences can benefit this community, both parts of it. I’m not in a competition with the speaker.”</p> <p>Could she fill those shoes? “One day, one day,” she said.</p> <p>By late afternoon, Ayala was running on fumes and lunch was long overdue. “One piece of advice I’d give people is definitely get in shape,” she joked, about running for Council. “Because it’s a lot of walking around and door knocking. She needed “some pep in my step” for the next stop. After a quick roast chicken lunch at Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio, Ayala and Pressley headed for the Mitchell Community Center on Alexander Avenue where they were met around 4:30 p.m. by another campaign ally, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>The charismatic Diaz Jr.’s energy was almost infectious, and no voter that passed by escaped his grip. At least three cars stopped to greet the popular Democrat, who was also on the ballot Tuesday (he easily fought off two primary challengers). Diaz Jr. said Ayala’s advantage over Rodriguez was her familiarity with both the Harlem and Bronx sides of the district. Rodriguez’s Assembly district falls entirely south of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill. “I think both sides of the river are familiar with Diana and the work that she’s done, working with Mark-Viverito, but also being the face of the office, being the face of constituent services,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>“People just want services, people want someone who can identify with them,” Diaz Jr. continued. “People want someone who is sincere, who is hardworking, and she’s exhibited and shown all of those qualities without the title...I think Diana just represents that everyday constituent, that everyday citizen that people are yearning for.”</p> <p>Diaz Jr. didn’t discount Rodriguez but preferred him to remain in the Assembly. “I respect him,” he said, adding with a slight chuckle, “I think that he’s done a great job in Albany and he should stay in Albany. He’s actually shown to be an involved and intelligent legislator and we certainly need that.”</p> <p>Having popular leaders like Diaz Jr. and Mark-Viverito on her side helped offset the establishment support that went in Rodriguez’s favor, Ayala said. Rodriguez was endorsed by the Bronx County machine, including Bronx Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other local, state, and federal elected officials. For her part, Ayala also had the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, prominent unions including 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and DC37, and activist group Make the Road New York.</p> <p>Another hour, another stop. It was almost rush hour and Ayala began to head back across the river to 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue, to grab the dozens of potential voters exiting the 6 Train. On the way, she witnessed a Rodriguez volunteer -- the same man who had been shouting across the street that morning -- yelling at one of her own campaign volunteers, a young woman. She was familiar with the man, having seen him around in previous campaigns, and said he had a history of being menacing and aggressive. She immediately directed Pressley to call campaign headquarters. “Call and send someone there. She shouldn’t be alone,” she told him.</p> <p>At 5:45 p.m., Ayala pulled over at the corner of 103rd, converging with Mark-Viverito who was already at the bustling intersection. A large blue truck, emblazoned with Assemblymember Rodriguez’s face, intermittently blared support for him between pop songs that drowned out the street traffic. The truck, and about a dozen or so individuals, represented 700 Strong, a group purportedly made up of residents of public housing, people living in homeless shelters, and those living near public housing, and even philanthropists. The group handed out dozens of fliers, including disparaging ones that showed Mark-Viverito as a puppetmaster controlling Ayala and John Ruiz, a candidate running for District Leader. Ayala picked up the phone. “This corner is all Robert Rodriguez,” she told someone at her 116th street campaign headquarters, calling for backup. “This is when anxiety starts to peek in,” she turned and said. “People tend to get tense and aggressive.”</p> <p>The volunteers for 700 Strong were either unaware or would not say who leads the group, which is not registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as is required of any independent expenditure group that engages in electioneering. Kimesha Alvarado, one volunteer, said they were out there to support Rodriguez because he “is more connected to the people, more accessible and community oriented,” while dismissing Ayala, with no hint of irony, as a “part of the establishment” that had allowed gentrification in the district to go unchecked.</p> <p>The group also encouraged residents to vote for Kelmy Rodriguez, a candidate running for District Leader against John Ruiz. Kelmy Rodriguez was on the scene and denied any knowledge of who had organized the fliers and campaigners, while acknowledging that he was a member of 700 Strong. Mark-Viverito speculated that the group was illegally coordinating its efforts with Ayala’s opponent.</p> <p>Amid the chaos of rush hour commuters, traffic and campaign teams, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez arrived, an hour after Ayala had already been there. The two candidates were barely seven feet apart, but did not acknowledge each other. Volunteers from both campaigns tried to shout over their counterparts, devolving into a barely comprehensible white noise assailing those stepping out of the subway station.</p> <p>Barely 10 minutes later, the Assembly member started to rush away. Asked what prompted him to show up, he said, “Well, you know, sometimes you can’t concede any street corners and 103rd Street is where my family grew up and I wanna make sure that on election day, they have a choice and understand that the choice should be Rodriguez. I wanna make sure that an alternative is presented this evening.” He also denied knowing anything about 700 Strong, but said he was grateful for their support.</p> <p>Having finished the last frenetic push of the day, just one stop remained for Ayala: PS 102, Mark-Viverito’s poll site. The entrance to the site had been shifted, confusing voters who had showed up there for years, including the speaker herself. She realized it would be a good place to stake out for the last leg of the race, to catch the later voters and nudge them to the ballot and towards an Ayala vote.</p> <p>“Diana is the kind of person who doesn’t mind coming to the community,” said Mildred Santiago, 56, a retired special education teacher who had just exited the poll site. “She visits the seniors, she visits the disabled, she sees what they need...she follows up on cases. She calls you directly. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’ll send someone,’ like other people. She says, ‘I’ll be in charge.’ So she knows how to manage issues.”</p> <p>For voters like Santiago, Tuesday was a bittersweet election because it also meant that Mark-Viverito was that much closer to leaving office. (Mark-Viverito also won the position of District Leader that day, which she says will keep her involved in the community.) “I’ll miss Melissa,” Santiago said, “but if she goes to Congress, I’m gonna be so happy.” Mark-Viverito heard Santiago and laughed. She has been rumored as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who is said to be considering retirement, but she wouldn’t say if she had considered a run for Congress.</p> <p>It was late, just after 8 o’clock and the polls would be closing in about an hour. Ayala had literally walked a hole into her beige ballet flats. “I didn’t take them off because they’re my lucky shoes,” she said, and she needed every bit of luck she could get. The campaign had done all it could do and now there was only the wait for results.</p> <p>Back at the campaign headquarters, there was an air of “nervous excitement” as the campaign team took a breather in the large back office, where the walls were plastered with maps of the district. At about 9 p.m., when voting was done for the day, they would head two doors down to Harley’s Smokeshack, a local barbecue joint advertising a Tuesday Tacos and Tequila special. The campaign team, including dozens of union workers from LiUNA Local 78, crowded in front of the bar as a screen switched to NY1, which was broadcasting the primary results.</p> <p>Ayala betrayed no emotion. “I’ve put everything I’ve had into it, and if it’s for me, it’s for me,” she had said earlier. “And if it isn’t, then there’s a lot of lessons to learn. It’s a new experience for me and one should never be afraid to challenge themselves and to take chances.”</p> <p>At the bar, the first precincts had begun to report. Ayala was leading and the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. “Diana! Diana! Diana!,” they roared. The next two hours would be an emotional rollercoaster as Ayala continued to lead through the night but Rodriguez inched closer and closer. At 9:30 p.m. Ayala had a five point lead. By 10 p.m., with about 85 percent of precincts counted, that lead had whittled down to three points, and then two. The race had become a nail-biter, as the numbers then stayed frozen for well over an hour. “I’m so nervous,” exclaimed Alicia, Ayala’s 25-year-old daughter.</p> <p>“It’s a little annoying that they’re not moving,” Ayala said, before retreating outside to sidebar with Mark-Viverito and her core campaign team. They repeatedly huddled outside, with anxious faces, as the ballots crawled up. Most other races had already been called and District 8 was one of only two City Council races that remained undecided.</p> <p>At 11:20 p.m., Ayala and Mark-Viverito walked back in. More than 96 percent of precincts were reporting and Ayala led by 122 votes. Mark-Viverito signalled to the bartender to kill the music and stepped up on a barstool, hushing the supporters. “I wanna introduce our next Council member,” she said smiling, declaring triumph to a roaring response.</p> <p>Ayala gingerly climbed up after her. “As a woman, and as a minority, it was not an easy decision” to run for office, she said. “Many of the women that are represented in this room, we do all of the work in the background, we do it all and we don’t ask for credit, we just ask for decency...It wasn’t until this woman said to me that I have the potential to do this, that I believed in myself,” she said, tearing up and pointing to Mark-Viverito. “I thank all of you!”</p> <p>“It was a very close race but this is a huge victory. We won against an incumbent,” she added. Supporters rushed to hug Ayala as Celebration by Kool &amp; The Gang blasted through the speakers.</p> <p>“This is a community victory, this is amazing,” Mark-Viverito said to Gotham Gazette afterwards. “I didn’t doubt it. Obviously we knew it was gonna be close. It reminds me of my first election.”</p> <p>“I think Diana was the right candidate for the moment, the right candidate for the community,” said Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78. “Diana is a person that is not a politician per se, but is a daughter of these streets...She’s real, she’s us. And we feel that people like that are the people we need representing us.”</p> <p>Rodriguez had not conceded the race, however, noting that affidavit ballots and absentee ballots will still have to be counted. “This race is far too close to call right now, and it is premature for anyone to declare a victory,” he said in a statement released just before midnight. “There are still ballots left to be counted, and we want to make sure each voter has their voice heard.”</p> <p>But Ayala’s team was confident it had the votes. “I feel great,” Ayala said. “I was really calm through all of it. I just had faith that the system was gonna work in my favor and that people were gonna turn out...It is a dream come true, for me and for a lot of little girls that come from communities of color, and I hope that I’m an inspiration to those women and that they feel that they see in me an opportunity to do what I’m doing, one day.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>