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Haile Rivera Suspends Council Bid

June 16, 2008

HaileIs it all over before it began?

Community activist and University Heights resident Haile Rivera has decided to press the pause button on his run for City Council.

“I’m suspending my campaign,” he said in an interview this afternoon.

Rivera, 30, had been after Maria Baez’s 14th District seat. He first announced his candidacy in September, two years before the term-limited Beaz would be forced to step down. Since then, Rivera’s sent out a barrage of e-mails attacking the very attackable Baez, outlining his positions, and reaffirming his desire to run.

Just last month, Rivera sent an e-mail to the media that read: “As far as my 2009 City Council candidacy for the 14th District in the Bronx, I can tell you that IT IS STILL ON.”

But a month, they say, is a long time in politics. As of today, everything is on hold, for Rivera’s been bitten by the Barack Obama bug.

Rivera first became aware of Obama in 2000 when he saw and heard the then state-senator on C-Span. Ever since, he’s followed his career closely, even breaking bread with him, on the back of a small donation.

Earlier this year, Rivera upped and left the Bronx to work on Obama’s quest for the Democratic nomination. With the nomination confirmed, Rivera’s now been offered a position as a campaign organizer in Florida. He plans to take it, unless a better job offer comes up on Obama’s “Advance Team.” Either way, Rivera says, he’ll be tied up until November’s election, giving him little time to get his own political career off the ground.

“I’m putting aside my personal ambitions,” he says.

Rivera also doesn’t want people accusing him of wrapping himself in Obama’s success to further his own agenda. “I want to be able to say I’m 100 percent behind Obama, and not have people say I’m doing this for [my own] political reasons,” he says.

Rivera may resurrect his City Council campaign in early 2009, but he admits it’ll be difficult to build momentum again in time for an election. Plus he has other commitments: he heads a small non-profit called Hands On New York, and runs – from afar – a foundation in the Dominican Republic which supports young boys who work as shoe-shiners.

“I have a lot of projects,” he says.

With his campaign frozen – if not officially dead – Rivera does have one awkward situation to resolve: what to do with his campaign money. Not that there’s much of it; he raised just $1700, most of it in a two-week drive last December. He said he might ask his supporters if he can give their contributions to Obama’s campaign.

So with Rivera out (at least for now), who else has their eye on Baez’s seat? Being that the election is 18 months away, the field is still coming together. According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, only Yudelka Tapia, a community activist who ran against Luis Diaz for the 86th District Assembly seat in 2002, is officially on the ballot.

Others in the mix include: Nelson Castro, a former staffer of Washington Heights Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat; Fernando Cabrera, the pastor of New Life Outreach International Church; and Mount Hope resident Hector Ramirez, the Bronx’s District Leader, and currently the only Dominican elected official in the borough.

By JAMES FERGUSSON of the Mount Hope Monitor

Hip-Hoppers Mind Their P’s and Q’s

June 6, 2008

On May 23, I went to the iconic Utopia Paradise Theater on the Grand Concourse to listen to three hours of hip-hop with no profanity. Imagine that: a hip-hop concert and no profanity. The poster used to advertise the event said it would be a day of love, peace, unity, kindness, joy, self control, faithfulness, fun and hip-hop. Performers included Bronx-raised Afrika Bambaataa, the godfather of hip-hop culture and the man responsible for the song Planet Rock – one of the most influential hip-hop songs ever made.

No Profanity

The event was held to celebrate a resolution passed in the New York Assembly the previous week, which declared May 23 “No Profanity Day.” Bronx Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. submitted the resolution on behalf of Minister Kurtis “Blow” Walker, another famous old school rapper. “Not only do I think it’s important to support no profanity in hip-hop and rap music, but also its more important to support no profanity in everyday life because in our society, most violence starts with the way we talk to each other,” said Walker in a message on his MySpace page.

Walker also performed at the concert as did Grandmaster Mele Mel, Rob Base, Dana Dane, Grand Wizard Theodore, DJ Hollywood, Lovebug Starski, and the ever graceful Force MD with their strong and magnetic stage moves and lyrics. Spoonie G gives an energized performance and had the ladies screaming (including me). Grandmaster Caz, another from the Bronx, performed his song MC Delight and got me thinking back to the first time I saw him DJ and MC in Echo Park in 1977. “What great lyrical ability and style he has,” I thought at the time. (Caz was recently elected to the Bronx Walk of Fame and will officially be inducted on June 21.)

Those in the audience read like a who’s who of hip-hop pioneers and legends. I caught sight of T Ski Valley, Sparky D, Rakim, Pebble Poo, Yoda, Ek Mike from Crash Crew, Sal, Rodney Stone, Whipper Whip (along with other members of the Fantastic Five), and Cool Clyde, just to name a few.

The night was a big success. Our stars delivered an entertaining show that featured all the songs people came to hear. There was a positive vibe, good music, respect for that good music, and – as promised – no profanity.

By ALMA WATKINS of the Mount Hope Monitor

Jerome Avenue Homeless Shelter to Open

June 5, 2008

Susan’s Place, a new residence for homeless women on Jerome Avenue at 177th Street, is on the verge of opening, according to Care for the Homeless, the organization behind the facility.

The 180-bed shelter will house mentally ill and medically frail women from across the city. The women, who will be referred by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), will have access to job training and counseling services, as well as medical and dental care. Amenities will include a TV room and even a library.

Susan's Place front

Residents will sleep in semi-private dorms – separated by partitions. The maximum stay time will “probably be six months” said Ines Calneck, Susan’s Place’s director. As well as providing women with a safe place to stay, staff hope to equip them with the skills and self-confidence needed to rebuild their lives.

Calneck said the shelter, a 40,000-foot single-story structure, could open “sometime in June” although an exact date hasn’t been set. Construction is complete, but there are still some loose ends to tie up, she said, including final approvals from the Building Department.

Susan’s Place, named after Susan L. Neibacher, a former executive director of Care for the Homeless who passed away in 2004, was originally due to open last July. Calneck, who came on board in April, said she didn’t know the reason for the year-long delay. Corinne Rhodes, a spokesperson for Care for the Homeless, said there were construction complications and a bad leak.

As the Monitor previously reported, the initial plans for Susan’s Place included a 24-hour drop-in center, designed for homeless women in need of a meal, a shower, or somewhere to wash their clothes.

According to Calneck, the drop-in center has been scrapped, although there’s some confusion over what, if anything, is replacing it. Rhodes said Susan’s Place would still provide an area for homeless women to come in off the street and sit down, although it wouldn’t be called a drop-in center. Bernice Williams, vice-chair of Community Board 5 (CB5), said she understands that the drop-in center will open in “inclement weather.” Bobby Watts, Care for the Homeless’ executive director, didn’t return calls seeking clarification.

Susan's Place side

Initially, Care for the Homeless’ plans to build Susan’s Place was met with opposition from CB5, which argued that the local area was already home to numerous shelters and drug treatment facilities. “You open your arms at the beginning, but it’s not a good way to stabilize your community,” said Xavier Rodriguez, the board’s district manager, last July.

There were also concerns that the shelter – and the drop-in-center, in particular – would result in increased drug use and loitering in the area.

But today, with construction complete, there’s tacit acceptance that the shelter is here to stay. Some board members, in fact, have warmed to Susan’s Place. “It’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous,” said Williams, who’s also a member of the Susan’s Place Advisory Board, which was set up to give community leaders a vehicle through which to channel their thoughts and concerns.

“These women are very fortunate to have something like this,” Williams continued. “It’s a positive thing. We have to take care of our people. Hopefully this will get them on the road to recovery.”

According to Care for the Homeless’ Web site, “single women are one of the most rapidly expanding homeless populations” in the city. Estimates put the number at more than 2,000; many are domestic violence victims.

In 1996, Care for the Homeless opened a women’s shelter in the Kingsbridge Armory, to help this vulnerable population. The organization was forced out in 2000, however, because the Armory was about to be developed. (Incidentally, eight years later, plans to turn the building into a shopping mall have yet to realized; the city only picked a developer two months ago.)

Susan’s Place is a direct replacement for the Kingsbridge shelter. It’s sorely needed, says Care for the Homeless, because there are just three other intake shelters for single women in the city. Only one, the Franklin Armory Women’s Shelter at 1122 Franklin Ave., is in the Bronx.

By JAMES FERGUSSON of the Mount Hope Monitor

A Forgotten Building

June 5, 2008

On June 2, last year, the roof and top floor of a building at West 177th Street and Tremont Avenue caved in.

Fortunately, no one was home.

Shortly afterwards, a sign went up, saying that a Long Island-based company called Gramercy would be demolishing the building.


But fast-forward to June 2008, and nothing has changed. “The whole thing is on hold right now,” said someone who picked up the phone at Gramercy’s office. He said the organization was waiting for further instruction from HPD.

This now-vacant building, pictured above, is an eyesore; a reminder of when this neighborhood, 30 years ago, was home to scores of abandoned apartment buildings. But more than that, it’s arguably a danger to neighborhood residents.

Obama’s Difficult Relationship With Latinos

June 5, 2008

Barack Obama is now the Democratic nominee for the Presidency of the United States; he has beaten the formidable and never-say-die Hillary Clinton. But one of his weak spots has been, and continues to be, his inability to attract Latinos.

Given that he is black, one would think that other marginalized groups would support him. But that hasn’t been the case. In New York State, for example, Clinton won 76 percent of the Latino vote during the February primary.

Why is this so? Why are Latinos reluctant to support Obama?  There are, I think, two distinct reasons. First, Latinos and African-Americans have been competing minorities in the past and Latinos are afraid of being marginalized if Obama’s elected. Some African-Americans say that Latinos immigrate to America to benefit from resources such as health insurance, housing, jobs and welfare, and schools seats, at the expense of blacks. Latinos, on the other hand, point out that these jobs don’t belong to African-Americans. Moreover, Latinos accuse African-Americans of carrying out violent crimes against them when they come to America.

Luis Jimenez, the radio host of the famous Spanish radio station 105.9, says that the “natural thing for Latinos, when choosing between a white woman or an African-American, the Latino will go with the white woman.” And if Latinos will vote for a white woman over Obama, they’ll likely turn to McCain, too.

The second reason Hispanics are unlikely to support Obama, is the more complicated and controversial issue of race, namely Obama’s skin color. Here’s an example of what I mean: when I recently asked a friend of mine’s mother if she was voting for Obama, she replied, “I am not voting for a Negro.” (She said this word in Spanish). Here is a lady who knows nothing about the candidates’ political positions; she’s making a decision based purely on what Obama looks like. To understand this concept, readers must realize that some Latinos uphold skin prejudice even against  In many Latino communities, when a light-skinned person marries a dark skinned Latino, the light-skinned individual (and their family) is seen as taking a step backwards. When my parents were newlyweds, for instance, my mother’s side of the family looked down on my dark-skinned father. In their eyes, their daughter was not advancing the family. other Latinos.

In my lifetime, I have not seen a single president in a Latin country who was of dark skin. Cuba has a light-skinned president, and so does the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Mexico, Panama, and so on. I remember an election in the Dominican Republic during the 1990s, when for the first time, a dark-skinned Latino was one of the main political party’s nominees. His name was Pena Gomez. He had strong credentials, but many Dominicans and the media downplayed his candidacy because of his skin color. Even some dark-skinned Latinos agree with the notion that a light-skinned Latino is “better” to lead than a dark-skinned Latino. And ultimately, Gomez lost the election, despite the fact that 65 percent of the Dominican Republic’s population is dark-skinned.

I, for one, hope this prejudice will go away. Latinos need to realize once and for all that Obama’s run for the White House will not just empower one group, but rather a nation. I have chosen to support Obama, not because he looks or doesn’t look a certain way, but because of his message of hope, unity and reconciliation between all Americans, regardless of race, gender, religion or political party.

Jose Roman is a regular contributor to the Mount Hope Monitor. He lives in Mount Hope. Recently he was awarded a fellowship with the Obama for America campaign, to commence in mid-June. After the program, Roman is taking a position at Obama’s Pennsylvania headquarters.

Bronx Dominicans Make Their Voices Heard

June 5, 2008

On May 16, over 50,000 New Yorkers of Dominican descent, more than 10,000 of them Bronxites, reelected Leonel Fernandez as President of the Dominican Republic.

Fernandez comfortably captured his second consecutive term, and third overall, with 53 percent of the vote to opposition leader Miguel Vargas’ 41 percent. Fernandez, representing the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), served as President from 1996 to 2000, but was unable to run for reelection because the Dominican constitution did not permit it. A constitutional amendment was passed while he was out of office allowing Fernandez to become the first Dominican president to be reelected.

In Mount Hope, hundreds of voters braved the rain to cast their ballot at the Temple of the Living God, located at 1921 Walton Ave. Local resident Constantine Matteo was there to vote for Vargas,who represented the Dominican Revolution Party (PRD). “Right now, [Vargas] is the best option we have. He has no mistakes in the past, he has a good vision,” Matteo said.

Manuel Cancel, on the other hand, was there to support the incumbent. “[Fernandez] should stay in power. He’s helping the poor; there are more jobs now than before,” explained Cancel.

Despite the voters’ differences over the candidates, they were unified in their passion to participate in the election. In part, this may be because New York Dominicans viewed this as the first time their votes would actually affect the election’s outcome.

The year 2004 was the first time Dominican citizens living abroad could cast a ballot. Zulay Mateo, the Secretary General of the youth branch of Vargas’ party, explained that the vote in 2004 was largely symbolic, because15,000 voters registered.

While Mateo was disappointed with the election’s outcome this year, she was pleased by the turnout. Mateo explained that 60,000 Dominicans registered to vote, and over 50,000 of them actually voted. Furthermore, 18,000 Bronx Dominicans registered to vote and a high percentage of them turned out. “This time around, they knew it was important,” she said.

Dominican Election

In order to vote in the U.S., one must possess dual American-Dominican citizenship. This can be obtained if one is born in the Dominican Republic or if an individual can produce documentation showing that he or she has a parent who is a Dominican citizen.

Mateo explained that Dominican-Americans, of whom over 500,000 live in New York, keep a close eye on the political scene at home. “It is very important, you have family over there so the economy and politics affect you,” she said. “And, you want the best for your countrymen.”

If this wasn’t incentive enough to vote, this year’s election focused on issues of particular importance to New York Dominicans. In particular, both Vargas and Fernandez vowed to create a congressional representative for Dominicans living in the United States. This issue will likely be decided in the congressional elections three years from now.

“Besides having voting power, we want political power,” said Mateo. “It is time for us to be recognized.” Indeed the nearly 60,000 registered voters in New York City represent a larger population than some of the provinces in the Dominican Republic.

This fact was not lost on the candidates. Both Vargas and Fernandez made over four appearances in the New York area, participating in rallies, fund-raisers, and town hall style meetings. Each purchased air time on local radio and television stations.

As May 16 approached, Mount Hope residents expressed their excitement over the upcoming election. “We are here, but our hearts are in the Dominican Republic,” said local resident Miguel Alvarez.

By CHRIS MATTHEWS of the Mount Hope Monitor

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