By Lulu Yilun Chen
Hundreds of people gathered on College Point Boulevard in Queens on a Saturday afternoon to denounce the beating of a gay man whom police say was a victim of a bias crime.
Standing across the street from the protest was about a dozen people who said they were friends of the two men arrested. They protested behind barracks set up by the police and held up signs saying that the public should not rush to conclusions to accuse the suspects of bias.
At about 4:30 a.m. on October 8th two men attacked Jack Price, 49, of College Point, outside a local deli at College Point Boulevard and 18 Avenue in Queens after he stopped to buy a pack of cigarettes on his way home. The two men repeatedly beat and kicked Mr. Price, all of which was caught on videotape from a security camera, according to police.
After the assault, the suspects fled the location, leaving Mr. Price with a shattered jaw, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Mr. Price managed to return to his home and call 911. He was rushed to Booth Memorial Hospital where he is currently being treated. He was able to identify the two suspects and make an account of the crime, according to police.
Police said that Daniel Aleman, 26, was arrested three days after the assault and charged with felony assaults as a hate crime. Daniel Rodriguez, 21, was apprehended in Virginia five days after the attack.
Supporters of the victim marched down College Point Boulevard from 20th Avenue to 14th Avenue, joined by many city officials, including Helen Marshall, the Queens borough president, Scott Stinger, Manhattan borough president, and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, who is openly gay.
Daniel Dromm, the Democratic candidate for City Council district 25, led the crowd chanting, “Now is the moment. Now is the time. We say no to hate crime,” “LGBT, we celebrate diversity,” and “Jack Price was under attack. What do we do? Fight back!”
It was a diverse crowd that ranged from moms carrying seven-month-old babies to men with dressed-in-pink Chihuahuas and grey-haired women holding rainbow flags with the printed words “equality.”
About 300 people stopped at the nearby Popenhusen playground to give speeches, according to organizers. Family members of Mr. Price and city officials, including William Thompson, the City comptroller and mayoral candidate, delivered speeches to the crowd.
“The answer when it comes to hate crime,” said Thompson, “The answer is no.
“We are sending out a message of what we will allow in this city and what we will not,” added Thompson. “We will not be silent in any act, in any community. We will come together, we will let those people know it is wrong and you will not get away with it.”
Joanne Guaneri, 42, the sister-in-law of Mr. Price, embraced her daughter, Amanda Guaneri, 15, listening quietly to the speeches as they stood close to the stair-converted-stage in front of the crowd.
Joanne Guaneri then walked to the microphone and spoke in husky voice, “They beat my brother-in-law until near death. For $10. And for a pack of cigarettes.
“Put aside the hate crime on this, they beat a man to near death and that is why I am out here,” said Ms. Guaneri.
The youngest speaker was Jack Price’s niece, 15-year-old Amanda Guaneri, a student at Bayside High School.
“I am proud of him (Mr. Price) to be my uncle. Whatever he is, he is my uncle. I love him and I will stick behind him,” said Amanda Guaneri, “I want to say to the people following Daniel Rodriguez: Why? Why? He did wrong. You shouldn’t be behind him.”
Those words were directed at a group of 14 people, who supported Mr. Rodriguez and rallied right across the street on College Point Boulevard, arguing that the public should not jump to conclusions and define the beatings of Mr. Price as a hate crime.
Marcel Gelmi, 26, who has known Rodriguez for 11 years, said he was not biased toward gay people.
“Why is this a hate crime? Because Jack Price says so? Those cameras pick up no sound,” said Mr. Gelmi, 26. “Danny had a lot of gay friends.”
Hate crimes are not common in Queens, according to Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker.
“The two hateful people who we believe committed this crime are not representative of Queens County or College Point,” said Ms. Quinn. “The two men who did this are a minority.”
The last time an assault related to the gay community happened in Queens was in 2001, when Edgar Garzon was attacked outside of a gay club in Jackson Heights, Queens, and died because of the injuries.
However, incidents motivated by bias based on sexual orientation were up 5.5 percent within the past two years since 2006, accounting for 16.6 percent of hate crimes conducted in the United States, according to F.B.I. reports.
President Obama signed a bill on Wednesday that finally declared it a federal hate crime to assault people based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.
In the past 10 years, the House and the Senate separately approved the hate crimes expansion numerous times. But congressional Republicans repeatedly blocked final passage.
The new policy will expand the definition of a 1968 hate crime law that applies to people attacked because of their race, religion or national origin.
“I think it’s one small part of a large picture which needs to be painted in order to have a world where everyone can be a full person without being physically, psychologically, or legally punished because of their gender or sexuality,” said Marisa Ragonese, head of Generation Q, a program for young gay and lesbians.
Mr. Price underwent surgery for a puncture in his lung last Tuesday and is now in stable condition, according to Ms. Guaneri.
Jersey City’s Historical Embankment, subject of a long campaign to turn it into a park.
By Nathaniel Adams
Robert Hammond, the man behind Manhattan’s High Line Park, is partnering up with Jersey City’s Embankment Preservation Coalition to help them in their mission, hoping to use the success of the High Line to promote their project.
“They’re in a similar place to where we were in 2003,” said Hammond, “they need a real estate and political champion.”
The Embankment is an elevated freight train line that fell out of use many years ago and has been at the center of a 12-year-old fight to decide its fate. Unlike the High Line, a structure built in 1930, wide enough for two train tracks, and constructed as a steel frame raised on metal columns, the Embankment, built in 1902, carried seven tracks and is made of huge piles of earth surrounded by stone walls up to 30 feet high.
“We sort of think of the Embankment as a land art piece we want to preserve,” said Maureen Crowley, director of the Embankment Preservation Coalition.
The coalition and the Jersey City government have been trying for years to turn the structure, which is owned by private developer Steven Hyman, into a public park. Hyman has wanted to use the property to build luxury houses. The two sides have been involved in court battles for years.
The city and the coalition have worked to have the Embankment declared a historic landmark, have tried to acquire it through eminent domain, have blocked attempts by Hyman to demolish the structure, and have filed suit claiming that his purchase of the property was invalid. Hyman has appealed decisions, run campaigns against Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy, and claimed economic hardship as a reason for wanting to replace the embankment with apartment buildings.
Currently, all sides are waiting for the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to decide in the latest of a long series of cases and appeals whether or not the original sale of the property to Hyman by the Consolidated Rail Corporation was legal and valid.
On October 25th, Mr. Hammond visited the Embankment for the first time, walking the length of it at street level and snapping photos of the vivid autumn trees lining the top and the tendrils of ivy spilling over the sides and clinging to the solid, heavy stone walls. That night he spoke at the coalition’s monthly meeting, expressing his enthusiasm for the project and inspiring the organization to keep fighting.
Since Hammond’s visit, he has publicized the project on the High Line blog, which refers to the Embankment as a “sister project.” On November 10th, he met with the Embankment Preservation Coalition in private to discuss strategies.
“It’s all in the very inchoate stage,” said Crowley. “I think he’s going to help with publicity and fundraising ideas at this point.”
The High Line endorsement comes at a time when parks and conservancy projects throughout Jersey City, Hudson County and the entire state are experiencing a surge of popularity and success. In the November 3rd elections, an item allocating 400 million dollars for, among other environmental projects, parks and open spaces, was up for public vote on ballots across New Jersey. It passed 52% to 48%, despite incumbent Governor Democrat John Corzine, the only candidate who supported the bill, losing his office to Republican Chris Christie.
On November 10th, the Jersey City Council approved a resolution to purchase a former landfill next to the Hackensack River, to be turned into a park. The land, sitting beneath the steel skeleton of the Pulaski Skyway, will be connected to a larger planned public development along the Hackensack River which will run through all of Hudson County, from Bayonne to North Bergen.
On October 15th, environmental advocacy group Hackensack Riverkeeper honored Mayor Healy with its annual Friend of Hackensack Riverkeeper award for efforts in historic preservation, creating open spaces, and promoting green policies. The group cited the above projects and the city’s work to revitalize Reservoir 3.
The reservoir is a 14-acre site in the heart of the Heights, an urban residential area of the city. Built in the 1870s to provide clean water to a city susceptible to diseases such as typhoid, the reservoir was closed in 1990. When people started venturing back onto the site in 2001, they found a vibrant mini-ecosystem behind the reservoir’s 20-foot high stone walls.
The Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance, started in 2002, has been working with the city to preserve, protect, and promote the site, offering kayaking programs, ample fishing in a lake populated with Sunnys and Largemouth Bass, and painting classes with natural subjects as diverse as lakeside cat-tails, old brick gatehouses, ducks, islands, falcons, and great blue herons.
This summer the city council passed a resolution allowing the alliance to hire an architecture firm specializing in historic preservation to first study and assess the site to create what alliance president Steven Latham calls “a place for nature to thrive.”
John Liu, democratic candidate for comptroller and a Queens councilman, last night won the election for New York City Comptroller, the city’s chief financial officer, in a landslide victory, making him the first Asian American elected to citywide office in the city’s history.
Liu beat his competitor, Republican candidate Joseph Mendola, with 75.98 percent of the votes, adding up to 696,330 votes.
“I’m ready to make changes,” said Liu as he greeted voters near Washington Heights on Tuesday night. “It’s been an exciting campaign. It’s been over four years.”
The elections of Liu, as comptroller, along with Margaret Chin and Peter Koo to City Council seats represent a significant political watershed moment: Asian American politicians on the east coast rising to political power.
“Chinese Americans being elected at a city level will change the perceptions of New Yorkers toward Asian people,” said Cynthia Lee, 39, the chief curator of the Museum of Chinese in America based in Chinatown. She explained that Asian Americans have experienced greater difficulty being accepted as Americans compared to other white ethnic groups.
Liu, 42, moved from Taiwan to America at the age of 5. A former actuary who majored in mathematical physics at Binghamton University and graduated in 1988, he was first elected to the council in 2001, and defeated Councilman David Yassky in this September’s runoff election for the Democratic slot in this fall’s comptroller race.
Liu said he plans to implement reforms to the city comptroller’s office within his first six months in office. Some of Liu’s top agenda items, listed on his official website, include dealing with the economic slump, leveling the playing field for minority and small businesses, creating jobs, and eliminating waste from the city budget.
Having had no sleep on the night before the election, Liu began his day at around 7:00 am on Tuesday. He greeted morning commuters in Queens dressed in a black suit and red tie, with his hair waxed and combed back.
“Who needs sleep? Sleep is overrated,” said Liu, with his customary energy.
Crowds gathered around Liu and he acknowledged their handshakes and hugs with a big smile and words of thanks.
“John Liu did well in the eight years he was councilman in Flushing. That’s why I voted for him,” said Zhang Lihong, a Chinese immigrant in Flushing.
Backed by strong support from the Chinese community, Liu boosted his chances of winning by reaching out to different communities and ethnic groups in New York.
“It’s different neighborhoods, but it’s one city,” said Liu. “We’re trying to unify the city and make sure that everyone gets counted.”
Liu is following on the steps of more successful Asian politicians on the West Coast. According to Linda Akutagawa, the vice president for resource and business development based in California, Asian Americans who have done well in elections pay special attention to coalition strategies – reaching out to different neighborhoods.
This has been a challenge for many Asian American candidates in New York, according to Hu Jie, the vice president for the Beijing Association of New York, based in Flushing.
“We know the Asian Americans candidates well, but it’s a challenge for them to let other ethnic groups understand them and trust them,” Hu said in Chinese. “They have to work on that hard.”
During his campaign, Liu not only traveled in different neighborhoods in New York, but also used social networking websites to promote his campaign. Even on the night before Election Day, at around 4 a.m., Liu was responding to Facebook messages and posting links to promotion videos on Youtube.
At around 4:00 p.m. on Election Day, Liu traveled to Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, a predominantly black neighborhood, and greeted commuters as they got off from work.
“His family struggled when he first moved here as an immigrant. He understands what common people need,” said Gregory Collins, 51, who has lived in Brooklyn for more than 40 years.
After numerous handshakes and several photos shot with commuters, Liu rushed off to 125th Street and St. Nicholas Street to join Bill Thompson in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood. The two Democrats greeted commuters as they traveled down the street and popped their heads into buses parked at stations, urging people to vote.
Liu ended his day’s trip on 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues in Manhattan where he received the news of his victory.
According to Lee, the Chinese Museum chief curator, the change in demography has played an important role in helping Asian American rise to political power this year.
Asian Americans on the west coast have risen to political power faster than those on the east coast because for a long time Asians were demographically concentrated on the west coast, said Akutagawa, the vice president for the Business Development organization in California.
That is changing now. The Chinese population in New York grew by 19 percent, according to an estimate from 2000 to 2007, while the city’s total population grew only by three percent over the same period, according to studies released by the Asian American Federation.
About 5.4 percent of all New York City residents are from China, up from 4.7 percent from the 2000 Census, according to the federation.
The Ridgewood Reservoir in western Queens has been allowed to re-grow into a marsh and birch forest.
By Carolyn Phenicie
Ivy has grown up a seven-foot-high fence, obscuring the view of a natural woodland where grey birch, red maple and black cherry trees grow from the leaf-covered forest floor. The whoosh of traffic on the adjacent Jackie Robinson Parkway is the only clue that indicates this little pocket of nature, the Ridgewood Reservoir in southern Queens, lies within New York City limits.
But this quiet leafy corner is about to change under a plan to renovate the area that would replace existing fences with shorter ones, install lights and repair the existing running path. This plan, like the proposals that came before it, has angered some local residents who said they feel the Parks Department is not listening to their input on the project. Many said that they believe that with the exception of a few cosmetic improvements, the area should be left in its natural state.
The reservoir, which held 154 million gallons of water, was built in 1856 and used as a source of drinking water for the growing population in Brooklyn from 1858 to 1959. Two of the three basins were drained after the Catskills aqueduct was built, and one remained a backup water supply until 1989. The Department of Environmental Protection completely decommissioned the site the next year. Since then, the area has returned to its natural habitat. Basins One and Three, about 10 and 21 acres respectively, have become forests of birch, maple, cherry and sweet gum tree. The central basin, 11.85-acre Basin Two, contains water and has returned to a marsh full of phragmites, an invasive type of reed not native to the area.
In 2004, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave authority over the nearly 43-acre reservoir to the Department of Parks and Recreation. At the time, the department intended to turn one of the basins into a park with ball fields. That proposal has since been abandoned because the budget for the project got cut, but it angered many area residents who believed it should be left alone.
“It’s so counterintuitive for a mayor who says he’s environmentally minded to go in and destroy an important habitat like that,” Rob Jett, who maintains the blog Save Ridgewood Reservoir, said in a phone interview.
Jett said the area doesn’t need any more recreation space. The reservoir is next to Highland Park, which already has two baseball fields, a basketball court, a football field and concrete area for skateboarding.
Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall believes the area should be preserved as a natural habitat, Dan Andrews, the borough president’s press secretary, said in a phone interview.
Those calling for the preservation of the area also found vocal allies in Comptroller Bill Thompson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who published an op-ed in The New York Times in May 2008 calling for the preservation of the area.
“Ridgewood Reservoir offers visitors a rare chance to lose themselves in a forest, to hear bird song, to touch wilderness and to sense the divine,” they wrote. “The city shouldn’t let that slip away.”
When the project was first proposed in 2004, the parks department held a series of public meetings with the community, Jett said. Those who attended felt the department wasn’t really listening to their ideas: primarily, to leave the reservoir mostly untouched and refurbish the recreation areas at Highland Park.
There’s not a lot of trust between the agencies involved and the public because many decisions are made behind closed doors, Geoffrey Croft, NYC Park Advocates president, said in a phone interview.
“It’s not the way these projects are supposed to work,” Croft said.
The current incarnation of the plan is the result of four listening sessions held with the public, according to Patricia Bertuccio, a press officer with the parks department. Since that time, designers and contractors have been working on three conceptual designs for the first phase of the project. The broad concepts will go through several phases of review before construction.
Despite the public meetings for the downsized project, Jett and others said they feel the department is once again not listening to residents’ concerns. Specifically, he said, community boards don’t like plans for new lighting. Also there are no plans for the installation of exercise stations or park benches along the existing track that runs around the reservoir, as residents had requested.
The department has worked “very diligently” with the community, citing meetings during which members of the community could speak directly with project designers, Bertuccio said in a phone interview.
“We think we’ve been doing a great job working with the community and we’ve gotten some positive feedback from them,” she said.
By Jeannette Neumann
For more than two decades, Ruben Sosa has worked as a community organizer in Sunset Park, helping the neighborhood’s many low-income residents access affordable housing and find help for domestic violence.
Now, Sosa, 54, said he is facing his biggest challenge to protect Sunset Park’s residents: the city’s plan to change the zoning for 128 blocks in the neighborhood by allowing more commercial development and larger buildings along the avenues.
The City Council recently voted 42-2 in favor of the plan, which supporters say protects the low-rise, residential character of the neighborhood by setting height limits on buildings along the side streets, but that opponents fear will accelerate gentrification, displacing low-income residents.
“They’re going to push the rest of us out – the working class people,” said Sosa, community outreach director for the Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors.
Many of the buildings affected by the changes in zoning are rent-stabilized. If developers tear them down and replace them with more expensive condos, Sosa and others fear it will leave fewer options for Sunset Park’s low-income residents.
“It’s not that people are against rezoning, but they want rezoning to protect them, rather than kick them out,” said Bethany Li of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
But a spokesman for City Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez said she voted in favor of the rezoning for her district precisely to protect working-class people.
“Displacement will be kept at a minimum,” said Mike Schweingsburg, communications director for Councilwoman Gonzalez.
A study by the Department of City Planning says the proposed rezoning won’t trigger major new developments like luxury condos that could price people out of Sunset Park.
But Sosa and a handful of other Sunset Park residents, community organizations and churches say it will, and they are suing the city for moving forward with the rezoning after what they say was an incomplete study of the impact of the plan on the neighborhood. If they win the lawsuit, a judge will grant an injunction against the zoning changes.
“We firmly believe it’s a flawed rezoning plan and the city should have at least disclosed all the flaws,” said Rachel Hannaford, 31, a lawyer with South Brooklyn Legal Services representing the plaintiffs. Hannaford and Li filed the lawsuit on Oct. 2.
The rezoning plan is now in legal limbo, awaiting the next hearing on Nov. 16 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
A decision could take months, leaving the battle to define Sunset Park unsettled.
Sunset Park residents realized the impact zoning has on their community two-and-a-half years ago when a developer tried to construct a 12-story building on a street of two-story houses. Uproar from residents concerned the building would change the look and feel of their street stymied the developer, but legally he could have moved forward with construction since there were no height restrictions. The incident spurred Sunset Park residents and political figures to push for rezoning, Schweingsburg said.
Now, proposed zoning changes place a four- to five-story height limit on narrow residential side streets – a plan that has received wide support.
But if the city places height restrictions on one section of a neighborhood, it typically allows bigger buildings elsewhere – part of a tradeoff to maintain a neighborhood’s character while accommodating a burgeoning population citywide, explained Paula Crespo, a planner at the Pratt Center for Community Development.
The proposed zoning changes also allow a height increase to 80 feet along 4th and 7th Avenues, two heavy traffic corridors running the length of Sunset Park.
That height increase could create greater incentives for developers to demolish existing buildings and construct their own, Crespo said, because they can earn more money adding square footage.
That could be a threat to the more than 1,000 rent-regulated housing units along 4th and 7th Aves.
As of 2007, the income of one in five families in Sunset Park was below the poverty level, according to the most recent estimate by the American Community Survey, an ongoing project of the U.S. Census Bureau. The neighborhood is home to the city’s largest Mexican population and the third largest Chinatown after Flushing and Manhattan.
More recent poverty figures aren’t available, but the number of people at the weekly food pantry at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has quadrupled in the past few months to nearly 400, as the economy continues to shed jobs, said Reverend Hector Laporta, 53. He said he has spoken out against the rezoning at Sunday sermons because he believes the changes will encourage developers to demolish lower-income housing and construct luxury condos.
Jeremy Laufer, district manager for Community Board 7, said the rezoning could actually help alleviate the housing shortage since it provides incentives for developers to construct larger buildings if they include moderately priced homes – part of the city’s inclusionary housing program.
Opponents counter that because the incentives are optional, few developers will opt to include low-income housing.
Councilman Charles Barron was one of the two councilmembers to vote against the zoning changes. Rezonings have triggered gentrification in his own district, he said, which includes parts of East New York, Brownsville, East Flatbush and Canarsie.
“It seems that Bloomberg and others are still promoting development for the affluent rather than the lower income communities,” Barron said of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The city is in danger – black and Latino communities and low-income communities are in danger of gentrification.”
The effect of the zoning changes depend largely on the market, said Crespo. Now, few developers are eager to spend the money to demolish a building and put up a luxury condo.
But as the economy improves, incentives for developers to build in Sunset Park could increase, she said.
“If there’s a demand for housing in Sunset Park combined with a robust market, you will probably see some bigger buildings on 4th and 7th Avenues,” Crespo said.
A voter inside a booth at the Active Learning Elementary School in Flushing, Queens, which was used as a polling station. All photos: Lim Wui Liang
Volunteers hand out publicity materials and flyers along Barclay Avenue, just before the polling station at John Bowne Elementary School. Any form of publicity must be done 100 feet away from the polling station.
Bernadette Koo, 56, gives out flyers to passers-by along Barclay Avenue to get them to vote for her husband, Peter Koo, Koo, 57, who is president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, is a Republican candidate running for City Council in District 20.
With just 72 hours before Tuesday’s hotly-contested primary election for City Council, three Bronx Democratic candidates, seeking to win last-minute support, took their campaigns to apartment complexes, neighborhood arts festivals and local streets.
In a battle for Council District 14, Yudelka Tápia, founder of the first Dominican political club in the Bronx, and Fernando Cabrera, founder and pastor of a local New Life International Outreach Church, are jostling to unseat incumbent Councilmember María Baez, who is seeking a third term to represent voters in Fordham, University Heights, Kingsbridge, West Bronx and the Morris Heights sections of the Bronx.
As Mr. Cabrera took his message to apartment building residents and Ms. Tápia’s campaign organized a motorcade through the district’s streets, Ms. Baez appeared with other local elected officials at the Fordham’s Renaissance Festival.
On Saturday afternoon, Yudelka Tápia departed in a motorcade of some twenty vehicles, spreading her message that “The Time is Now.” As speakers boomed “Tápia! Tápia! Táaaapia!” she rode for four hours in an open-air convertible, starting the journey outside her Grand Concourse office and making her way through the Kingsbridge, Jerome Avenue and Tremont Avenue areas. Surrounded by teenage and adult volunteers, she got out of the car on Grand Avenue and in several other places to shake hands, and encourage people to go to the polls and elect change by voting for her. Residents peered from apartment windows as Tápia smiled and waved to them. At traffic lights, her campaign staff popped out of their cars and plastered posters walls and handed out flyers.
María Baez received support from fellow elected officials as she fought back questions and criticism about her 52.5 percent 2008 attendance record as a City Council member. She was center stage at Sunday’s 2009 Fordham Renaissance Festival on Fordham Road. Assemblyman José Rivera, who co-hosted the event with his daughter, New York City State Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, gave Baez and her supporters some 15 minutes to exhort from the crowd support for her campaign. Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Assemblyman Nelson Castro were also among those showing their support for Baez on stage.
“There’s a lot of individuals trying to trick us,” Baez told the crowd, referring to the negative comments about her attendance record from opponents and the media.
“Please, we are smart voters and on Tuesday we are going to show them just how smart we are. We’re going to go out there and we are gonna vote for María Baez!”
On Monday night, at the Roosevelt Gardens apartment complex on Grand Concourse, Fernando Cabrera, a political novice who has won the support of the Bronx Democratic Party, filled his back pocket and hands with flyers and went door-to-door in the 10 building complex, shaking hands and meeting people.
He was accompanied by Nilsa Medina, a resident of the complex and member of 1199 SEIU- one of several unions that officially support Cabrera’s candidacy, as he rang doorbells and spoke with whoever would listen. He also stuck flyers beneath the doors that were not opened. Dismounting a staircase he said, “You do this every day, you get tired, but it matters.”
“It’s victory,” Medina chimed in.
Cabrera asked several of the people he met about their ethnic heritage, and used the opportunity of the one-to-one meeting to plug his own mixed Puerto Rican and Dominican background and his commitment to providing youth more opportunities, which struck a chord with the residents.
“There is nothing like human contact,” said Cabrera, referring to his choice to walk door-to-door every night for the past six months.
“People want to know you are real; New Yorkers are good at telling what is real and what is phony.” He added: “Tomorrow you can expect total, total victory.”
Cynthia Colón, a 28-year-old resident of the complex used the opportunity to tell Cabrera that despite the bad economy, she is really saddened that there are no programs in place for youth. “I’m grateful that you came out. It means a lot” she said.
For Yudelka Tápia, it was dark when her caravan returned to its starting point, where she thanked her supporters and encouraged them to join her at 9 a.m. the next day to visit the district’s seven churches: “We are going to fill the churches with Yudelka Tápia tomorrow!” she proclaimed through a loudspeaker, to a chorus of cheers. “The fight continues! This is a train that is not going to stop until Tuesday. Tuesday we are stopping when we celebrate the victory!”
Fernando Cabrera emerged victor from the September 15 primary election and will contest the general election on November 3, 2009.
On a rainy Friday evening, Bill Thompson sat in the front of the Arab American Association office, trying to convince community leaders in Brooklyn that he was their candidate, not Mike Bloomberg. The Democratic nominee arrived in Bay Ridge without any campaign staff, save a single, silent man who stood by the door looking out towards the street. The 20 people stuffed into the former gynecologist’s waiting room, including leaders in the Arab, Pakistani, and Chinese communities, as well as a few Democratic politicians, seemed receptive to Thompson’s belief that Mayor Bloomberg had ignored ethnic communities and outer boroughs at his own peril.
“In a city that’s more diverse each day, and is stronger because of it, why would you ignore that?” Thompson said.
The comptroller stressed the importance of his get out the vote effort, saying that this close to election day, the campaign becomes “ about who actually goes out to vote.” He argued that Bloomberg had been mayor to only midtown Manhattan and the financial district.
With the incumbent mayor outspending Thompson 16 to one, Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College said focusing on voters in the outer boroughs is a wise strategy for Thompson, and perhaps the only one he can employ with the resources at hand.
“If he doesn’t have money, he needs people,” Sherrill said, “If [Thompson] can’t work up some grassroots support, he’s cooked.”
Sherrill notes that Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure has been more disdainful towards participatory democracy across the board, not just in the outer boroughs. “To overstate it possibly, Bloomberg is an equal opportunity autocrat.”
Thompson’s support included his father, William “Willie” Thompson Sr., who arrived early. Thompson Sr., a former state senator, appellate judge, and city councilman, spoke animatedly with Habib Joudeh, a community board member and Khader El-Yateem, pastor of Salam Lutheran Church, about a proposal to add two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha to the calendar of the city’s public school system.
The city council passed a non-binding resolution supporting the proposal, but afterwards the mayor said that honoring every religious holiday celebrated by students in the city’s schools would be impractical. Although important to the city’s growing Muslim population, the measure has been practically stalled ever since.
Thompson, the former board of education president, released a statement in June supporting the idea. “It made sense to me,” he said again during the hour-long discussion, “We’ll find the two extra days and extend the school year if need be.”
Malik Akbar, a businessman from Midwood asked Thompson why his campaign had not reached out to the media in Pakistani groups and others. Akbar said that the impact of ethnic newspapers and television, especially non-English media, could make a big difference to the campaign.
Thompson said that his communications team would look into these suggestions. Later he acknowledged that his campaign could have been doing more to reach out to these various groups, but that “we’ve been speaking to so many different people across the city, some of them for months now,” he said, referring to the primary season.
Also in attendance were City Councilman Vincent Gentile, State Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer, and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Hyer-Spencer, a supporter of Thompson, said that while she believes that Mayor Bloomberg has done good things for the city, she found the extension of term limits to be “deeply disenchanting” .
“The vote should have gone back to the people,” she said, referring to the city council vote that extended term limits for elected city officials, including the mayor, “He’s acting more like an emperor than a mayor.”
Hyer-Spencer said that support of the Arab community in Bay Ridge had been crucial in her election to a historically Republican seat divided between Bay Ridge and Staten Island.
Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association, suggested that Thompson would be able to make a big difference in his campaign if he stopped by the mosque in Bay Ridge on 5th Avenue after Friday prayers, where thousands of worshipers from Brooklyn would be in attendance, as well as march in the Muslim Foundation of America parade that upcoming Sunday. She noted that during his entire tenure as mayor, Bloomberg had not attended the parade once.
Thompson could use the exposure. While polling shows his support among likely voters has wavered up and down, a recent Quinnipiac poll found in for Kings County, 37 percent of voters haven’t heard enough about Thompson to have an opinion about him, compared with 35 percent who felt favorably. In recent weeks, his overall polling numbers have dropped.
That Sunday, Thompson walked for part of the parade down Madison Avenue, together with with the NYPD band and various religious and community groups. Along the route, only a few people watched.