Bronx Politics: Party at Gustavo's Place

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Bronx State Sen. Gustavo Rivera moved into his new office at 2432 Grand Concourse last week. Tonight, he's inviting the public to attend an open house at the office from 5 to 8 p.m. (Photo by Adi Talwar).

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the May edition of the Mt. Hope Monitor.

Like every New York state senator, when 33rd District representative Gustavo Rivera moved into his local office, he received two flags – the stars and stripes of the United States of America and the goddesses of Liberty and Justice of New York state – as well as a copy machine and a dated set of rectangular office furniture.

“They [senate administrative staffers] told me they only had rectangular furniture,” said Rivera’s communications director Conchita Cruz, sitting in the new office on the fifth floor of the Poe Building on the Grand Concourse, across from the Loew’s Paradise Theater. “But they said they had received a lot of requests for oval tables.”

At this point, nearly four months into Rivera’s freshman senate term, Cruz and the rest of staff, including six full-timers and two part-timers, are happy to have any furniture. Since the first of the year, Rivera and his team have been essentially working out of their backpacks and briefcases as the senate negotiated a lease on the senator’s district office. (Rivera’s office identified the Poe Building space in early January and the state requires several layers of approval in order to enter into a lease agreement.)

Rivera's office is directly across the Concourse from the Loew's Paradise Theater. (A. Talwar)

While Cruz and Rivera sometimes worked out of their apartments, the staff mostly did business from a handful of mobile locations or the senate offices at 250 Broadway in downtown Manhattan.

There were blogosphere grumblings critical of Rivera for not securing a district office quickly enough. Although he said the process was completely out of his control, Rivera admitted he was frustrated about the delay and his office has said it’s a stark illustration of how even the basic functions of government machinery have broken down in Albany.

But in an interview, Rivera said he wasn’t interesting in dwelling on the past. (He is loath to mention his predecessor, Pedro Espada, Jr., who was indicted will serving out the final days of his term last year for embezzling funds from his nonprofit health clinic network.)

Instead, Rivera spoke about how he wanted to keep his new office open late on periodic weeknights and during some Saturdays so people who work regular hours can gain access. He said he’s been reaching out to colleagues and hoping to incorporate their best constituent service practices.

Now it’s just a matter of getting some constituents to go along with all of that rectangular furniture.