Mid Bronx Disorder

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It’s been a topsy-turvy summer for one of the city’s most prominent community development groups. In June, after months of bitter fighting, the board of Mid Bronx Desperadoes replaced several key staffers, including its longtime president, Ralph Porter.

Exactly what happened earlier this summer at the Bronx neighborhood powerhouse is under dispute, but several people close to the situation point to difficulties with MBD’s biggest project–a $37.5 million shopping center, called New Horizons, planned for Crotona Park East. First proposed in the early 1990s, the project was scheduled to open last year with a Pathmark supermarket as its anchor store. But unexpected troubles with the building’s foundation swelled the project’s $30 million budget and delayed its completion.

Neither Porter nor his two other departing colleagues could be reached for comment, but numerous sources, most of whom asked not to be named, say Porter was asked to leave. As local state Assemblymember Gloria Davis put it, “The board removed Mr. Porter.”

MBD board chair Danny Mims denies that characterization. Troubles with New Horizons, he says, exhausted Porter, who then chose to resign. “I could see he was having real problems,” said Mims. “So I told him if he wanted to resign, we would move forward. He did.”

To fight neighborhood decay, Central Bronx activists in 1974 founded Mid Bronx Desperadoes–officially renamed MBD Community Housing Corporation soon thereafter. Working principally in Crotona Park East, Morrisania and Charlotte Gardens, MBD has built or restored more than 2,400 units of housing, currently manages 35 properties and offers job training and programs for seniors and children.

Sources say tensions have long been brewing at MBD, not just over the delays and cost overruns at New Horizons, but because the board resented Porter for the considerable attention he received during his 12 years as president. Community development professionals characterize Porter as one of the city’s most skilled “rainmakers” whose charisma helped foster agreements between community leaders, funders and government officials.

After Porter left in June, MBD’s board immediately hired a new president, from within: senior vice president Marietta Carstarphen, who has worked with the group since 1994, mostly in the group’s Mid-Bronx Community Federal Credit Union. Sources close to MBD say they’re surprised the board acted so quickly and didn’t conduct a broader search.

Mims is confident that MBD’s new leadership team will keep the group strong. He says New Horizons is 85 percent done and should be up and running in early 2003.

Despite the concerns many express about Porter’s sudden departure, Assemblymember Davis believes the group has enough board and staff experience to move forward. “I’m confident that the continuity will continue,” says Davis. “I think that they are on good grounds.”