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Local Politicans All Ears at Recent Town Hall Meetings

June 22, 2011

From left, Assemblyman Nelson Castro, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, and State Senator Gustavo Rivera listen intently during a recent town hall meeting in Mt. Hope. (Photo by Fausto Giovanny Pinto)

By FAUSTO GIOVANNY PINTO and ALEX KRATZ

In Mt. Hope, they asked about the mounting murder count. In Kingsbridge Heights, they asked about the plan for developing the Kingsbridge Armory and alienating parkland. And in Van Cortlandt Village, they asked about the Indian Hills nuclear power plant, just a few dozen miles up the interstate.

This spring, in a departure from recent history, local elected officials are holding town hall meetings throughout the northwest Bronx and asking residents to voice their concerns, questions and conundrums. Though attendance hasn’t been overwhelming, new State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who represents a sprawling chunk of the northwest Bronx, says the forums have been helpful and will continue as long as he is in office.

“The main thing is that I want everyone in my district to have access to me and my staff and have direct interactions with me,” Rivera said.

Last month, Rivera participated in a town hall forum in Van Cortlandt Village, along with other representatives of the area.

Rivera, who just recently opened up a district office on the Grand Concourse near Fordham Road, did not organize that forum, but he did set up two recent town hall meetings — one at BronxWorks’ Morris Senior Center in Mt. Hope and another at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.

Although there have been different concerns in the different locales, Rivera said there have been a few common themes: concerns about cuts to education, questions about the state budget and talk about the so-called millionaire’s tax, which Rivera says is necessary to save many state-sponsored programs, but was not included in the state budget.

On a late Wednesday evening, in a stuffy bright pink room in the basement of the BronxWorks Morris Senior Center, Rivera joined up with Assemblyman Nelson Castro and Councilman Fernando Cabrera.

Cabrera, who is in his second year in office and founded a church in the area more than two decades ago, called the meeting historical. “I don’t remember the last time this happened in the district,” he said.

While only a handful of residents and the staff of the elected officials attended the meeting, Rivera encouraged all those who came to bring two people with them at the next meeting.

The threesome, all relatively new to elected office (Castro was the only one who had been re-elected), shared a Rat Pack-type friendliness, exchanging banter in Spanish.

Longtime resident and community activist Louella Hatch wanted to know what was being
done to curb the recent string of shootings in the area.

Cabrera said he was working with the NYPD to install security cameras throughout
the district, but added his long-term goal is to provide activities for youth in order to keep them busy and out of trouble.

After the recent success of a program in Washington Heights, Castro said he is in talks to have the Guardian Angels patrol the area.

Rivera reiterated a plan he first mentioned at Community Board 5’s last monthly meeting.
Called Operation S.N.U.G., the program brings relatable mentors, such as a reformed gang members, to counsel troubled youth. The program has been successful in parts of Yonkers, he said.

At the end of the meeting one resident spoke up saying, “I have been living here for 20
years and this is first time I have seen anything like this, Thank you.”

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